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Ryan Unks is an interdisciplinary scientist with training in landscape and plant ecology, rural livelihoods, and environmental governance. His research at SESYNC uses mixed methods to study landscape ecological change and pastoralist livelihoods in central and southern Kenya. His approach focuses on understanding the drivers and implications of vegetation change as situated in complex social contexts. At the heart of this work is a critical engagement with different knowledges and experiences of socio-ecological complexity. Using mixed methods including analysis of satellite images, plant community data, and qualitative and quantitative social data, his work focuses on the mechanisms of vegetation change, implications for livelihoods, and the relationship of these changes to governance processes. He is working in collaboration with the Wilson Lab at the University at Buffalo Department of Geography and the PASTRES (Pastoralism, Uncertainty and Resilience) program at the ESRC STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies.
He was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lyon where he used a qualitative approach to study social and ecological dimensions of livelihoods and subdivision of collectively titled land in three Ilkisongo Maasai group ranches in Kajiado County, Kenya. He also used remote sensing (MODIS, CHIRPS) to understand changing vegetation dynamics in relation to rainfall across the same group ranches. He holds a PhD in Integrative Conservation in Forestry and Natural Resources from the University of Georgia. His PhD research used ethnographic methods, field-based plant ecology methods, and remote sensing (Landsat) to analyze changes in LeUaso group ranches in Laikipia, Kenya. This work examined the relationship between herding livelihoods, changing access to forage, and vegetation changes.