News Roundup

  • “Edwin Sabuhoro, 35, was selected as winner of the [IUCN] 2008 Young Conservationist Award.” The Rwandan developed an ecotourism program to protect gorillas from poaching. Tourism’s up 40% and poaching’s down 60%. Very cool, and congratulations to him. Also congratulations to everyone 35 and under: you are still young!
  • Over at ConservationBytes, William Sutherland introduces ConservationEvidence.com, an on-line, peer-reviewed journal covering case studies of effective conservation actions. Also very cool; perhaps Sabuhoro can get a pub?
Posted by Tim on August 29th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Friday Insanity 1:2

In translation, they are saying “Isn’t it excellent that the ocean is a portal to an insane other universe?” Other than that, the YouTube commenters are far more witty and erudite than I could hope to be.

Posted by Tim on August 29th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Another conservation blog!

Oh man now we’re really cooking with fire. The Spatial Ecology Lab Journal Blog, “a blog where quantitative ecologists/conservation biologists share interesting papers.”

Posted by Tim on August 28th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Actually, This Town Might Be Big Enough for the Both of Us

Another paper from the PNAS colloquium on biodiversity extinction. In this study, the authors (Sax & Gaines) present evidence that despite an explosion of naturalized/invasive plant species on islands across the world, there hasn’t been a commensurate decrease in native flora. In fact, they find an incredibly tight, 1:1 linear relationship between native and non-native species diversity. This, on the face of it, suggests that species invasions may increase the world’s biodiversity (as non-native plants on islands begin to experience allopatric speciation). The one major worry would be that the islands are in a state of “extinction debt” where many of these species still present are going to face extinction sometime in the future, we simply haven’t observed it yet. Needless to say, extinction debt is both an important concept in conservation but also a good way to hand-wave around the fact that we haven’t seen the level of extinctions that we’d expect — yet. Here‘s a write-up on the article from Science Daily.

[edit: More from Corey on Extinction Debt]

Dov F. Sax and Steven D. Gaines. Species invasions and extinction: The future of native biodiversity on islands. PNAS, 105: 11490-11497. (doi: 10.1073/pnas.0802290105)

Posted by Tim on August 28th, 2008 • • 3 comments
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News Roundup

  • Sumatran tigers and elephants will soon enjoy an additional 48,000 hectares of forest in Tesso Nilo National Park. Global NGOs (WWF, WCS) are working to reduce human-elephant conflicts in the area by planting buffer crops that elephants don’t like and patrolling the borders with domesticated elephants. According to the technical assessment by Save the Tiger Fund, Tesso Nilo was a Class III Tiger Conservation Landscape: a “landscape that has habitat to support some tigers, but with moderate-high levels of threat, and minimal conservation investment.” However, depending on where the additional land has been gazetted, the park may be able to support a much higher number of tigers.
  • This one seems to be making the rounds on the web. Unobtainium: “Engineers have long (since at least the 1950s) used the term unobtainium when referring to unusual or costly materials, or when theoretically considering a material perfect for their needs in all respects save that it doesn’t exist.” May I suggest we start referring to umbrella species as Unobtainium elegantis?
Posted by Tim on August 28th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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ESA Pt. 7

I just can’t seem to get enough… Nature comes out with a fair and balanced editorial about the Endangered Species Act. Key quotes: “[Interior Secretary Kempthorne's] latest efforts to alter the act are neither benign nor bipartisan,” but at the same time “when it comes to habitat loss in general — the biggest threat — the act is quite constrained. Although protecting ‘indicator’ or ‘keystone’ species can bring about broader habitat protection that benefits other species, this the approach is still, at its core, purely reactive.”

…and the Ecological Society of America piles on.

Posted by Tim on August 27th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Spatial Data to Assess Conservation Actions

This paper in press at Conservation Letters by Haines et al. presents a novel method for assessing conservation actions. There’s been quite a bit of work done in the past decade, particularly by NGOs, to develop methods to assess whether their actions have actually succeeded; this work was spear-headed in particular by Nick Salafsky and his Foundations of Success. This paper suggests that many of conservation biggest problems can be monitored with spatial datasets and proposes using the Human Footprint as a basis for such monitoring. The Human Footprint is, in essence, a collection of spatial datasets that holistically represent the collective anthropogenic impact on the land. In their paper, Haines et al. suggest that by tracking these spatial datasets through time in a paired way — conservation action site randomly paired with a control — we can get a better handle on whether the particular action was successful. The nice thing about the paper is how clear-eyed it is about what is and is not possible using this approach:

The human footprint is a spatially explicit approach to conservation planning that may serve as an effective visual medium to public audiences and stakeholders worldwide by simplifying the presentation of complex information.

(This is always the last, best resort for spatial analysts: even if the model isn’t perfect, it’s a great communication tool. ) But they also warn:

Spatial data rarely produce a complete picture of what negative impacts are occurring because human footprint data are not well-suited to track anthropogenic impacts that lack a spatial signature…[e.g.] the spread of some chemical pollutants, invasive species, diseases, and impacts of poaching…

Although I have to disagree partially with these particulars — presence of roads is often a very good correlative of poaching — their main point is an important one to consider. How well does a spatial model of human influence catch these hidden factors? A few years ago I did an informal (and sadly never completed) analysis of invasive plants and the Human Footprint and found that they were actually fairly well correlated. You could also argue that disease may be higher amongst individuals that are negatively impacted by the presence of humans. There’s plenty of opportunity here for further exploration.

Haines, A. et al. A theoretical approach to using human footprint data to assess landscape level conservation efforts. Conservation Letters, in press. (doi: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2008.00024.x)

Posted by Tim on August 27th, 2008 • • 2 comments
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News Roundup

  • Fish & Wildlife de-lists the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
  • WWF believes that the “EU is losing its role as a climate leader to a range of developing countries and creative players such as Norway, Switzerland, Mexico, South Korea and India as well as the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu.”
  • With 2010 being declared “The Year of Biodiversity” by the UN, the 10 ASEAN member nations are gathering for a workshop on the state of their conservation efforts.
Posted by Tim on August 27th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Seed Salon

Seed Magazine has posted videos of artists and scientists in conversation under the moniker “The Seed Salon.” Nothing directly related to conservation, but there are interviews with Niles Eldredge (co-theoriser with Stephen Jay Gould of “punctuated equilibrium”) and with Stephen Schneider, a public voice for global environmental issues and professor of environmental biology at Stanford. The rest are mostly about the brain or particle physics but hey — every good conservationist needs to have broad horizons.

Posted by Tim on August 26th, 2008 • • Comments Off
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Where to Conserve

While I’m on the subject of what to conserve and where, I’d like to introduce you to the world’s only other biodiversity conservation blog*, ConservationBytes. Corey Bradshaw is an associate professor at the University of Adelaide (and well-respected, well-published conservationist) and has been blogging for a few months now. He’s got a different style, a different perspective, and is in a different place in his career so I’m happy to say that we fill different niches in this blog ecosystem. He has a nice post up now about a recent paper discussing how and where to focus conservation efforts.

*That I know of

Posted by Tim on August 26th, 2008 • • 1 comment
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