Elena Račevska

Thesis title: Lemurs as protectors of the forest: Lemur seed dispersal, forest regeneration and local livelihoods in the littoral forest fragments of Madagascar

Start year: 2016

Contact: elena.racevska-2016@brookes.ac.uk

Supervisor(s): Professor Giuseppe Donati, Professor Catherine Hill

Research topic

Madagascar is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. Being a biodiversity hotspot makes it a global conservation priority. Unfortunately, many of the species inhabiting the island are currently facing extinction. Some of the island’s most famous inhabitants – lemurs – are no exception.

Lemurs are among the most important seed dispersers in Madagascar and the fact that many of the species are endangered poses an additional threat to the structure and regeneration of Malagasy forests. Majority of the large-seed plants growing in the already heavily disturbed forests are predominantly reliant on big lemurs species, such as collared lemurs. Their potential local extirpations and the ensuing loss of these fruit-frugivore interactions may have serious consequences to the entire ecosystem.

This uncertainty of forests' future may be putting the livelihoods of local human population at jeopardy as well, as many of the local villagers depend on the forest for crops, timber and non-timber forest products. Even though it is easy to see that determining the inter-relationship between lemurs, local population and forest regeneration should be a priority, this has to date remained almost unexamined. This project, which will be carried out in three different areas of fragmented littoral forest in south-eastern Madagascar, will assess the role that lemurs play in the forest regeneration, as well as investigate the relationship between local human population and the ecosystem.

We hope to use this study to obtain more detailed information on seed-dispersal distances, in forest fragments and plantations alike. We also aim to provide a better understanding of the effects of this type of seed dispersal on seeds themselves. This will be achieved through germination trials and subsequent seedling monitoring, as well as investigation of secondary seed dispersal and predation.

To gain knowledge of the relationship between the ecosystem and the local population, we will interview people living in nearby communities. Information gained from them will reveal which tree species they rely on, for which purpose and to what extent. This will allow us to make predictions about how the future presence or absence of large lemurs, as well as lemur-dispersed plant species could impact local people's livelihoods. Our hope is that this project will help build a way towards a more sustainable coexistence between humans and wildlife in south-eastern Madagascar.


conservation, Eulemur collaris, forest regeneration, lemur, littoral forest, Madagascar, seed dispersal

General research interests

animal behaviour, animal welfare, biological anthropology, conservation, conservation education, ethnoprimatology, ethnozoology, evolutionary psychology, human-animal relationships, social anthropology, sociobiology, zoology

Academic school / department

School of Law and Social Sciences


Work in progress

  • Human-animal relationships between western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and their keepers
  • Personality and social dynamics of zoo-housed western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
  • Perception and knowledge of, and attitudes towards local wildlife among university students in West Java, Indonesia
  • Human-animal relationships and bonds in wildlife sanctuaries in West Java, Indonesia

Conference Papers

  • Račevska, E. (2017). University students’ knowledge and perception of, and attitudes towards local wildlife in West Java, Indonesia. Student Conference on Conservation Science, 28th-30th March 2017, Cambridge, UK. (poster presentation)
  • Račevska, E. (2016) Studying human-animal relationships in a zoo environment. Canopy16(2), 23–25.
  • Nekaris, K.A.I. & Račevska, E. (2016) Folia Primatologica. International Encyclopedia of Primatology. (encyclopedia entry)
  • Račevska, E. & Hill, C. M., (2015). Investigating the human-animal relationship between zoo-housed western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and their keepers. 6th European Federation of Primatology Meeting, Roma Tre University, 25–28 August 2015 (poster presentation)
  • Račevska, E. (2014). Attitudes towards the use of non-human primates in medical research. PSGB Sprint meeting, Roehampton University, London, UK (poster presentation)
  • Račevska, E., Tomić, I., & Huić, A. (2014) Authoritarianism and attitudes toward homosexuals: mediating role of sexist beliefs about women and men. 19th Psychology Days in Zadar, Department of Psychology, University of Zadar, 29–31 May 2014 (oral presentation)
  • Račevska, E. (2014) Kids and Pets. 1st Pets Fair, West Gate Shopping City, Jablanovec, 4–6 April 2014 (oral presentation)
  • Davidović, N., Račevska, E., Bastijanić, T., & Tumbas, M. (2011) Personality and Musical Preferences. 20th Ramiro and Zoran Bujas' Days, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb, 7–9 April 2011 (oral presentation)

Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • Member of Primate Society of Great Britain
  • Member of British Ecological Society

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • MSc in Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University (2014-2015)
  • MA in Psychology, University of Zagreb (2009–2012)
  • BA in Psychology, University of Zagreb (2006–2009)

Scholarships and prizes

  • The Allison Jolly Prize for Primate Conservation (2015)
  • School of Social Sciences Research Studentship (2016–2019)

Other experience and professional activities

  • 2016: Research Coordinator at the Little Fireface Project (Garut, West Java, Indonesia)
  • 2013–2014: School psychologist (Zagreb, Croatia)
  • 2013–2014: Volunteer at Zagreb Zoo (Zagreb, Croatia)