Monitoring internet trade to inform species conservation actions

Maurizio Sajeva, Matthew J. Smith, Wolfgang Stuppy, Noel Mcgough, Valentina Vaglica, Dylan Hutchison, Matthew J. Smith, Matthew J. Smith, Aro Vonjy Ramarosandratana, Maurizio Sajeva, Andrew D. Gordon, Claudio Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Specimens, parts and products of threatened species are now commonly traded on the internet. This could threaten the survival of some wild populations if inadequately regulated. We outline two methods to monitor internet sales of threatened species in order to assess potential threats and inform conservation actions. Our first method combines systematic monitoring of online offers of plants for sale over the internet with consultation by experts experienced in identifying plants collected from the wild based on images of the specimens, species identity and details of the trade. Our second method utilises a computational model, trained using Bayesian techniques to records that have been classified by an expert as wild collected or artificially propagated, to predict unknown properties of the traded taxa, such as whether a species being sold is collected from the wild or the identity of an unknown wild collected species. We used these methods to monitor internet trade in five genera of succulent plant species endemic to Madagascar, for which some have recently been listed for trade regulation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This revealed potential threats to wild populations: for instance, almost all species recorded were of high conservation concern yet most offers for live plants were of apparently wild collected specimens (85%). Moreover, no records of international trade in the official CITES database were from the countries featured in our survey. Our model predicted with 89% accuracy whether the live plants were classified as propagated or wild collected by an expert, although accuracy dropped for data collected in the following summer due to a change in the patterns of sales. Our results highlight potential threats by internet trade to the survival of some CITES and non-CITES listed plant species from Madagascar. These should be addressed by further conservation actions and policy. More generally, our results reveal how standardised internet surveys can provide information on levels of trade in wild collected threatened species that could impact on natural populations and can provide data that can be incorporated into models to facilitate future monitoring and enforcement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-235
Number of pages13
JournalEndangered Species Research
Publication statusPublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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