Tropical forest resilience depends on past disturbance frequency

16 07 2014

I’ve recently come across an interesting study that perfectly marries palaeo-ecological data with modern conservation philosophy. It’s not often that such a prehistorical perspective dating at least to the Last Glacial Maximum has been used so effectively to inform future conservation outlooks. I’m particularly interested in this sort of approach considering my own palaeo dabblings of late.

Published in Nature Communications this May, Lydia Cole and colleagues’ paper Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance is a meta-analysis of 71 studies covering nearly 300 disturbance events in tropical forests over the last 20,000 years or so. Using fossil pollen records as an index of vegetation change, they demonstrated the (somewhat intuitive) main result that the time to recovery following a disturbance generally decreases as the past disturbance frequency increased.

This appears to be a vindication of the idea that a system’s adaptive strategies evolve as a product of the local disturbance regime. More importantly, they found that recovery was faster following ‘large infrequent events’, which are natural perturbations such as cyclones and major fires. While most past disturbances were caused by humans clearing forest, the fact that tropical forest systems were most resilient to ‘natural’ events means that if we can’t stop human disturbances, at least we can attempt to emulate natural processes to maximise the rebound potential. Much like many modern forestry operations try to emulate natural disturbances to limit their damage, we should at least manage our impacts by understanding so-called ‘natural’ regimes as much as possible. Read the rest of this entry »





Toothed conflict

1 11 2012

Left: An Anatolian shepherd (a Turkish breed improved in the USA) guiding a herd of boer goats whose flesh is much appreciated by people in Namibia and South Africa. Right: A cheetah carrying a radio-transmitter, within a project assessing range movements of this feline for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Cheetahs refrain from moving close to the herds when the latter are looked after by the guardian dogs. Photos courtesy of Laurie Marker.

Another corker from Salva. He’s chosen a topic this week that’s near and dear to my brain – the conservation of higher-order predators. As ConBytes readers will know, we’ve talked a lot about human-predator conflict and the inevitable losers in that battle – the (non-human) predators. From dingos to sharks, predator xenophobia is just another way we weaken ecosystems and ultimately harm ourselves.

Rural areas devoted to livestock are part of the natural landscape, so it is inevitable (as well as natural) that predators, livestock and humans interact in such a mosaic of bordering habitats. However, their coexistence remains an unresolved conservation problem. 

When two species, people, political parties, enterprises… want the same thing, they either share it (if possible) or one side eliminates the competitor. The fact that proteins are part of the diet of humans and other carnivore species has resulted in a trophic drama that goes back millennia. Nowadays, predators like eagles, coyotes, lions, wolves and raccoons are credited for attacks on cattle and poultry (and people!) in all continents. This global problem is not only economic, but interlaces culture, emotion, policy and sanitation (1-4). For instance, some carnivores are reservoirs of cattle diseases and contribute to pathogen dispersal (5, 6).

Management options

Managers of natural resources have implemented three strategies to handle these sorts of issues for livestock breeders in general (7). Those strategies can be complementary or exclusive on a case-by-case basis, and are chosen following cost-benefit assessments and depending on the conservation status of the predator species involved. (i) ‘Eradication’ aims to eliminate the predator, which is regarded as noxious and worthless. (ii) ‘Regulation’ allows controlled takes under quota schemes, normally for pre-defined locations, dates and killing methods. ‘Preservation’ is applied in protected areas and/or for rare or endangered species, and often requires monitoring and measures set to prevent illegal harvest or trade. Additionally, many livestock breeders receive money to compensate losses to predators (8).

Many experts now advocate non-lethal (preventive) measures that modify the behaviour of people, livestock or predators (2, 7). The use of livestock-guarding dogs is one of those preventive measures (9). As an example, Laurie Marker (director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund) et al. (10) studied the use of 117 Anatolian shepherds adopted by Namibian rangers between 1995 and 2002 (Fig. 1). In this African country, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) selectively forage on small-sized cattle and juveniles. Despite this feline being protected nationally, Namibian laws authorise rangers to shoot cheetahs in situations of risk to people and their properties, with more than 6,000 cheetahs having been killed in the 1980s alone (11). Through face-to-face interviews, Marker found that since the arrival of the Anatolian shepherds, > 70 % of the rangers perceived a pronounced reduction in cattle mortality (10). Although, the use of livestock-guarding dogs has worked out fine in many places worldwide, it is no panacea. In many other instances, the dogs dissuade some predator species and not others from harassing the livestock, or are only effective in combination with other measures (7, 9). Read the rest of this entry »





Threats to biodiversity insurance from protected areas

26 07 2012

A red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) from Barro Colorado Island in Panama. This small island, just 1500 ha (3700 acres) in area, is one of the tropical protected areas evaluated in this study (photo © Christian Ziegler <zieglerphoto@yahoo.co>, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute). Note: It is prohibited for any third party or agency to use or license this image; any use other then described above shall be subject to usage fees as determined solely by the photographer.

Much of conservation science boils down to good decision making: when, where and how we ‘set aside’ terrestrial or marine areas for specific protection against the ravages of human endeavour. This is the basis for the entire sub-discipline of conservation planning and prioritisation, and features prominantly in most aspects of applied conservation and restoration.

In other words, we do all this science to determine where we should emplace protected areas, lobby for getting more land and sea set aside so that we have ‘representative’ amounts (i.e., to prevent extinctions), and argue over the best way to manage these areas once established.

But what if this pinnacle of conservation achievement is itself under threat? What if many of our protected areas are struggling to insure biodiversity against human consumption? Well, it’d be a scary prospect, to say the least.

Think of it this way. We buy insurance policies to buffer our investments against tragedy; this applies to everything from our houses, worldly possessions, cars, livestock, health, to forest carbon stores. We buy the policies to give us peace of mind that in the event of a disaster, we’ll be bailed out of the mess with a much-needed cash injection. But what if following the disaster we learn that the policy is no good? What if there isn’t enough pay-out to fix the mess?

In biodiversity conservation, our ‘insurance’ is largely provided by protected areas. We believe that come what may, at least in these (relatively) rare places, biodiversity will persist despite our relentless consumerism.

Unfortunately, what we believe isn’t necessarily true.

Today I’m both proud and alarmed to present our latest research on the performance of tropical protected areas around the world. Published online in Nature this morning (evening, for you Europeans) is the 216-author (yes, that is correct – 216 of us) paper entitled “Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas” led by Bill Laurance. Read the rest of this entry »





Reforesting wealthy countries for the common good

29 06 2011

The Coalition of Financially Challenged Countries with Lots of Trees, known as ‘CoFCCLoT’, representing most of the world’s remaining tropical forests, is asking wealthy nations to share global responsibilities and reforest their land for the common good of stabilizing climate and protecting biodiversity.

“We are willing to play our part, but we require a level playing field in which we all commit to equal sacrifices,” a coalition spokeswoman says. “Returning forest cover in the G8 countries and the European Union back to historic coverage will benefit all of us in the long-term.”

Seventy-five per cent of Europe was once forested. Now it is 45 per cent. Some countries such as Ireland saw forest cover reduced to near zero. Most forest cover in the developed world is now often planted with stands of alien trees, turning them into deserts for biodiversity. Remaining natural forests are often highly fragmented and have few native species. Read the rest of this entry »





Blog Action Day 2010 – Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

16 10 2010

In my little bid to participate in Change.org’s Blog Action Day 2010 – Water, I’ve re-hashed a post from 2008 on ‘water neutrality’. This will also benefit my recently joined readers, and re-invigorate a concept I don’t think has received nearly enough attention globally (or even in parched Australia where I live). So here we go:

The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide (see also a recent post on Africa’s freshwater biodiversity’s susceptibility to climate change), and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply. Read the rest of this entry »





The lost world – freshwater biodiversity conservation

6 09 2010

Even the most obtuse, right-wing, head-in-the-sand, consumption-driven, anti-environment yob would at least admit that they’ve heard of forest conservation, the plight of whales (more on that little waste of conservation resources later) and climate change. Whether or not they believe these issues are important (or even occurring) is beside the point – the fact that this particular auto-sodomist I’ve described is aware of the issues is at least testament to growing concern among the general populace.

But so many issues in conservation science go unnoticed even by the most environmentally aware. Today’s post covers just one topic (I’ve covered others, such as mangroves and kelp forests) – freshwater biodiversity.

The issue is brought to light by a paper recently published online in Conservation Letters by Thieme and colleagues entitled Exposure of Africa’s freshwater biodiversity to a changing climate.

Sure, many people are starting to get very worried about freshwater availability for human consumption (and this couldn’t be more of an issue in Australia at the moment) – and I fully agree that we should be worried. However, let’s not forget that so many species other than humans depend on healthy freshwater ecosystems to persist, which feed back in turn to human benefits through freshwater filtering, fisheries production and arable soil accumulation.

Just like for the provision of human uses (irrigation, direct water consumption, etc.), a freshwater system’s flow regime is paramount for maintaining its biodiversity. If you stuff up the flow regime too much, then regardless of the amount of total water available, biodiversity will suffer accordingly.

Glen Canyon Dam

Image by James Marvin Phelps (mandj98) via Flickr

Thieme and colleagues focus specifically on African freshwater systems, but the same problems are being seen worldwide (e.g., Australia’s Murray-Darling system, North America’s Colorado River system). And this is only going to get worse as climate change robs certain areas of historical rainfall. To address the gap in knowledge, the authors used modelled changes in mean annual runoff and discharge to determine fish species affected by 2050.

The discharge/runoff results were: Read the rest of this entry »





Party with future conservation leaders

11 07 2010

I’ve just come back from the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Canada. I thought it would be good to tweet and blog my way through on topics that catch my attention. This is my third post from the conference, and a full conference ‘assessment’ post will follow in a few days.

I haven’t been a member of the Society for Conservation Biology for a very long time, and I’ve only now attended three annual meetings of the Society. I’ve been somewhat lukewarm about the social events at these conferences in the past, but this time I had much better experience.

After a less-than-inspiring barbecue meal and a general under-abundance of ethanol-based social lubricant, someone in our group whispered that we should ‘crash’ a party being held ‘secretly’ back at the conference venue. I had heard around the traps that the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) bashes were good, but I hadn’t attended one before. Well, not only was it a bloody good party, I’ve learned a little more about the programme and the kinds of people it promotes. Read the rest of this entry »





Global conservation priorities based on human need

13 07 2009
nf2

© Wiley-Blackwell

A paper recently posted online in Conservation Letters caught my eye as a Potential on ConservationBytes.com.

Gary Luck and colleagues’ paper Protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity in the world’s watersheds is a novel approach to an admittedly problematic aspect of conservation biology – global prioritisation schemes. While certainly coming in as a Conservation Classic, the first real global conservation prioritisation scheme (Myers and colleagues’ global biodiversity hotspots) was rather subjective in its approach, and many subsequent schemes have failed to reproduce the same kinds of priorities (the congruency problem). I’m certainly not knocking biodiversity hotspots because I believe it was one of the true paradigm shifts in conservation biology, but I am cognisant of its limitations.

Another big problem with conservation prioritisation schemes is that they are a hard sell to governments – how do you convince nations (especially poor ones) to forgo the immediate gains of resource exploitation to protect what many (incorrectly and short-sightedly) deem as irrelevant centres of biotic endemism?

Well, Luck and colleagues have taken us one step closer to global acceptance of conservation prioritisation schemes by basing this latest addition on ecosystem services. In their paper they divided the world by catchments (watersheds) and then estimated the services of water provision, flood prevention and carbon storage that each provides to humanity. Water provision was a estimated as a complex combination of variables that together can be interpreted as the capacity of ecosystems to regulate water flows and quality that benefit humans (e.g., influencing seasonal water availability or nutrient levels). Flood mitigation was estimated as the system’s capacity to reduce the impact of floods on communities, and carbon storage was estimated as the system’s capacity to uptake carbon in soils and vegetation.

In general, the catchments in need of the highest priority protection were found in the poorest areas (namely, South East Asia and Africa) because their protection would be the least costly and benefit the most people. Luck and colleagues are therefore the first to incorporate cost–benefit trade-offs explicitly in developing global priorities for protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity. I take my hat off to them for a modern and highly relevant twist on an old idea. Great paper and I hope people take notice.

CJA Bradshaw

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Celebrities actually doing something positive for conservation?

7 05 2009

When I first saw this on the BBC I thought to myself, “Well, just another toothless celebrity ego-stroke to make rich people feel better about the environmental mess we’re in” (well, I am a cynic by nature). I have blogged before on the general irrelevancy of celebrity conservation. But then I looked closer and saw that this was more than just an ‘awareness’ campaign (which alone is unlikely to change anything of substance). The good Prince of Wales and his mates/offspring have put forward The Prince’s Rainforest Project, which (thankfully) not only endeavours to raise awareness about the true value of rain forests, it actually proposes a mechanism to do so. It took a bit to find, but the 52-page report on the PRP website outlines from very sensible approaches. In essence, it all comes down to money (doesn’t everything?).

Their proposed plan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) details some of the following required changes:

  1. Payments to rain forest nations for not deforesting (establish transaction costs and setting short-term ‘conservation aid’ programmes)

  2. Multi-year service agreements (countries sign up for multi-year targets based on easily monitored performance indicators)

  3. Fund alternative, low-carbon economic development plans (fundamental shifts in development targets that explicitly avoid deforestation)

  4. Multi-stakeholder disbursement mechanisms (using funds equitably and minimising corruption)

  5. Tropical Forests Facility (a World Bank equivalent with the express purpose of organising, disbursing and monitoring anti-deforestation money flow)

  6. Country financing from public and private sources (funding initially derived from developed nations in form of ‘aid’)

  7. Rain forest bonds in private capital markets (value country-level ‘income’ as interest payments and incentives within a trade framework)

  8. Nations participate when ready (giving countries the option to advance at the pace dictated by internal politics and existing development rates)

  9. Accelerating long-term UNFCCC agreement on forests (transition to independence post-package)

  10. Global action to address drivers of deforestation (e.g., taxing/banning products grown on deforested land; ‘sustainability’ certification; consumer pressure; national procurement policies)

Now, I’m no economist, nor do I understand all the market nuances of the proposal, but it seems they are certainly on the right track. The value of tropical (well, ALL) forests to humanity are undeniable, and we’re currently in a state of crisis. Let’s hope the Prince and his mob can get the ball rolling.

For what it’s worth, here’s the video promoting the PRP. I could really care less what Harrison Ford and Pele have to say about this issue because I just don’t believe celebrities have any net effect on public behaviour (perceptions, yes, but not behaviour). But look beyond the superficiality and the cute computer-generated frog to the seriousness underneath. Despite my characteristically cynical tone, I give the PRP full support.

more about “Rainforest film brings out stars“, posted with vodpod


CJA Bradshaw

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No end in sight for tropical deforestation

20 04 2009

Just a quick one while I wade through the swamp of overdue deadlines.

Despite years of conservation biologists telling the world about the woeful state of the world’s forests, the loss of essential ecosystem services and the biodiversity extinction crisis, it seems the message doesn’t really get out. I’m in a state of semi-shock about the following Reuters release on the potential deal to deforest 10 million hectares for agricultural expansion in the Republic of Congo. There isn’t a single mention of the deforestation aspects or what it will mean for the Congolese. Sure, turn your country (the last remaining large tracts of rainforest in Africa) into a paddock, and see how long your ‘food security’ lasts under climate change. From poor to destitute in a matter of decades.

South African farmers have been offered 10 million hectares of farm land to grow maize, soya beans as well as poultry and dairy farming in the Republic of Congo, South Africa’s main farmers union said on Wednesday.

The deal, which covers an area more than twice the size of Switzerland, could be one of the biggest such land agreements on the continent agreed by Congo’s government in an effort to improve food security, Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA), told Reuters.

South Africa has one of the most developed agriculture sectors on the continent, and is Africa’s top maize producer and No.3 wheat grower.

“They’ve given us 10 million hectares, and that’s quite big when you consider that in South Africa we have about 6 million hectares of land that is arable,” De Jager told Reuters on the sidelines of an agriculture conference in Durban.

De Jager said the agreement — to be finalised in South Africa next month — would operate as a 99-year lease at no cost, with additional tax benefits.

“The offer which we got and we’ve agreed on paper, is a 99-year lease, of which the value would be zero and it’s not allowed to escalate over the 99 years. So it is free use for 99 years,” he said.

The Republic of the Congo’s population of around 4 million people is concentrated in the southwest, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited.

De Jager said some 1,300 South African farmers were keen to farm in the Congo Republic.

“We have two groups of farmers who are interested, one of farmers who want to leave South Africa and relocate entirely to farm over there and another of farmers who want to diversify their farming operations to the Congo,” he said.

“We’ve got guys wanting to get into poultry and dairy farming, as well as maize and soya bean production.”

TAX HOLIDAYS

“It is a tax holiday for the first five years and you’re also exempted from import tax on all your agricultural inputs and equipment,” he said.

“So you can import directly from the source and take all your profits out for the duration of this lease,” he said.

He said there was a government-to-government bilateral agreement on the promotion and protection of investments.

“There are also rules for disengagement, for example if they find oil or minerals on your farm they can move you off, but compensate you for the loss of income and they must give you land to the same value or more in a different area,” he said.

De Jager said food in Congo was expensive because the country lacks an established agriculture sector and most of its foodstuff is imported.

“On their side, (the Congo government) is promising the Congolese that they will be self-sufficient in food production in five years, and the way they want to do it is by importing, according to them, high technology farmers,” De Jager said.

South African farmers had also been invited to farm in Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Zambia, he said.





Tropical Turmoil II

8 03 2009

In August last year I covered a paper my colleagues (Navjot Sodhi and Barry Brook) and I had in press in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment entitled Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity tragedy in progress. The paper is now available in the March 2009 issue of the journal (click here to access). We were also fortunate enough to grab the front cover (shown here) and have a dedicated podcast that you can listen to by clicking here about the paper and its findings. I encourage ConservationBytes.com readers to have a listen if they’re interested in learning more about the woeful state of tropical biotas worldwide, and maybe some ways to rectify the problems. The intro to the podcast can be viewed by clicking here.

CJA Bradshaw





One more (excellent) reason to conserve tropical forests

26 02 2009

© K. Sloan Brown

© K. Sloan Brown

Another nail in the deforesters’ justification coffin – tropical forests are worth more intact than cut down. This one from Mongabay.com and one for the Potential section:

Undisturbed tropical forests are absorbing nearly a fifth of carbon dioxide released annually by the burning of fossil fuels, according to an analysis of 40 years of data from rainforests in the Central African country of Gabon.

Writing in the journal Nature, Simon Lewis and colleagues report that natural forests are an immense carbon sink, helping slow the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels.

“We are receiving a free subsidy from nature,” said Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds. “Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of climate change.”

But the good news may not last for long. Other research suggests that as tropical forests fall to loggers, dry out due to rising temperatures, and burn, their capacity to absorb carbon is reduced.

The research, which combined the new data from African rainforests with previously published data from the Americas and Asia, lends support to the idea that old-growth forests are critical to addressing climate change. Recent climate negotiations have included debates on compensating tropical countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (“REDD” or “avoided deforestation”).

“To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests, based on realistic prices for a tonne of carbon, should be valued at around £13 billion per year,” said study co-author Lee White, Gabon’s Chief Climate Change Scientist. “This is a compelling argument for conserving tropical forests.”

“Predominantly rich polluting countries should be transferring substantial resources to countries with tropical forests to reduce deforestation rates and promote alternative development pathways,” added Lewis.

The new findings show that tropical forests account for roughly half of the 8.5 billion tons of carbon that is sequestered in terrestrial sources each year, the balance is absorbed by soils and other types of vegetation. Another 8.5 billion tons dissolved in oceans, leaving 15 billion of the 32 billion tons emitted by humans each year in the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for roughly 6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions – greater than the emissions from all the world’s planes, ships, trucks, and cars.

Note – the contention by Muller-Landau that the Lewis and colleagues’ findings are not realistic due to ‘regeneration’ demonstrates her ignorance of recent work demonstrating the sequestration aspect of mature forests. But more importantly, this cherry-picked gripe, even if it were plausible, is almost of no consequence. With much of the world’s tropical forests already badly degraded or destroyed, there will inevitably be large areas of regenerating forests for centuries to come (i.e., time periods relevant to climate change projections). We haven’t even managed to reduce the RATE of tropical deforestation, so the opportunities for regeneration will persist, making the Lewis result all the more important. Muller-Landau is known for her unrealistic and anti-conservationist views, so her comments are hardly surprising. My advice – take her opinions with a very large shaker of salt (or better yet, ignore entirely).

CJA Bradshaw





Conservation Scholars: Stuart Pimm

5 01 2009

This series on ConservationBytes.com takes a page out of our book Tropical Conservation Biology (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw) – therein we produced a series of ‘Spotlights’ describing the contributions of great thinkers to conservation science. Each highlight of a Conservation Scholar includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on the person’s particular area of expertise.

Our ninth Conservation Scholar is Stuart Pimm

Biography

I am the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at the School of the Environment at Duke University and have a secondary appointment of Extraordinary Professor at the Conservation Ecology Research Unit at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. My interests are endangered species conservation, biodiversity, species extinction, and habitat loss. I’m the author of over 200 scientific publications, many of them in Nature and Science, and have written four books, the most recent being the critically acclaimed World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth. In 2006, Prince Willem-Alexander presented me the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences on behalf of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. How did all this happen?

Like many peers, I started out as a naturalist during my adolescence, read zoology at university, and then did a PhD in ecology. Unlike others, I worked in Hawai’i soon afterwards where I was deeply shaken by the total absence of many of the birds I expected to see – they were either extinct or close to it. I was curious about why some species succumbed while other survived. Importantly, these losses were an outrage. Scientists, I realized, could help prevent extinctions. Vitally, they had an obligation to do so. Thereafter, my research group has sought out the species and ecosystems that are in most urgent need of protection. That work takes us to the Everglades, the Amazon and the coastal forests of Brazil, to southern Africa, and to Madagascar. We work with local organisations and governments to provide the best possible advice to solving conservation problems. We’re problem driven and that means we develop whatever skills are needed to their solution. We’ve always had good quantitative skills, but in addition, my group members all use geographic information system and analyses of satellite imagery – skills we developed only in the last decade. And yes, some of the solutions come from sharing our knowledge with politicians and advising on policy issues.

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. The current biodiversity crisis has been termed the “sixth extinction”; an allusion to the five largest mass die-offs in Earth’s past. Is this comparison justified?

In the previous five die-offs – the last killed off the dinosaurs – more than half the variety of life disappeared. It took roughly ten million years to recover the former numbers of species. Human actions in the last thousand years have probably wiped out about 10 % of species, while actions in the last century have threatened at least 10 % of the remainder. By threatened, I mean that expert opinion judges that these species will become extinct in the next few decades if we do nothing to protect them. It gets worse. Tropical forests hold perhaps two-thirds of all species on land and tropical oceans, especially coral reefs, the great majority of marine species. If current trends continue, human actions will so massively reduce these ecosystems that a third or more of the remaining species will be on a path to extinction within a few decades.

2. How reliable are biogeographic proxies such as the species-area relationship for inferring extinction rates?

Our ability to predict future trends on land comes from the species-area relationship. It’s one of the great ecological laws – that is, a commonly observed pattern across different species groups in different areas. An oceanic island, half the size of larger island, will have about 15 % fewer species according to this law. Imagine we convert what was once a continuous forest – say, eastern North America – into islands of about half the forest cover. There are about 30 species of bird endemic to the forests of the region, so we’d expect to lose 4.5 species. And, indeed, four species of bird became extinct as eastern North America lost its forests in the four centuries since European colonisation – and another species in threatened with extinction! Detailed calculations like this one have now been done on many areas of tropical forest, which often contain hundreds of endemic species. The numbers of species the model predicts to go extinct and those that have done so are very similar (or are presently in danger of doing so, for extinctions take time to happen.). These excellent calibrations of the law mean that we can predict how many species will go extinct if we reduce tropical forests further.

3. How can scientists most effectively engage the often pseudo-scientific arguments posed by environmental ‘sceptics’, who claim global hazards, such as the large-scale death of species and climate change, are illusory or inconsequential?

The most effective strategy is not to engage the sceptics. I’m for honest scientific debate – it’s what I do every day. The evidence for global change and massive loss of species is unassailable, however. Sceptics ignore the evidence, usually in my experience, because they are paid to do so. There is nothing honest in the debate, indeed, it usually isn’t a debate. Would you debate someone who thought the world was flat? If you were so foolish as to do so, what would happen? You’d present all the familiar observations -Earth’s shadow on the Moon, for example, – and demolish your opponent. Would he continue with his foolish ideas? You bet! He would loudly trumpet that he’d debated a competent, thoughtful scientist at the University of Somewhere. To outsiders, his pathetically ignorant ideas would gain credibility and his sponsors would continue to pay him. Lots of good people work hard to address ways to reverse global change and reduce species loss. Get on with solving problems and don’t waste time with fools.

4. What is the future of tropical biodiversity… ‘according to Pimm’?

The important message is that we can stem the loss of tropical biodiversity – its future is not yet written. We can slow the rate of deforestation and we know enough about the patterns of where the most vulnerable species live to make their protection a priority.

CJA Bradshaw

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(with thanks to Navjot Sodhi, Barry Brook, Ward Cooper, Wiley-Blackwell and Stuart Pimm for permission to reproduce the text – buy your copy of Tropical Conservation Biology here)





Some biodiversity with your coffee, Sir?

7 12 2008

© Maksid

© Maksid

I really like my coffee. I’m sure there are a few billion humans who claim likewise, but I think I could safely categorise myself as a coffee snob. I cannot even contemplate placing powdery crystals into a cup of hot water and calling it ‘coffee’, let alone imbibing the toxic concoction. I spend way too much money on very slow-roasted, dark, oily beans that have to be ground to the exact espresso consistency to use in my Bialetti cafettiera, and I’ll search high and low for the best coffee produced in any city in which I live or to where I travel (N.B. Still haven’t found what I call a ‘great’ coffee in the CBD of Adelaide – suggestions welcome). I really, really like good coffee.

What the hell does all this meandering preamble have to do with biodiversity conservation? I’m happy you asked. With environmentally conscious consumers now demanding some sort of ‘green’ certification for many products (e.g., no palm oil, carbon-neutral, fair trade, etc.), coffee has also been targeted as a good product to certify for harvest and production of lower environmental impact than has been done traditionally. Well, how do you measure ‘green-ness’ in a product? For coffee, there are some good ways.

A recent paper (and candidate for the Potential list) by Aaron Gove and colleagues published in Conservation Letters entitled Ethiopian coffee cultivation – implications for bird conservation and environmental certification demonstrates how the cultivation of this NATIVE Ethiopian plant (Coffea arabica) can enhance or restore the biological value of lowland agricultural areas. This species of ‘highland coffee’ is harvested from forests (where it evolved and now grows naturally) and from more intensive farmland. Interestingly, this species needs some shade to grow, so trees must generally be planted in the agricultural areas to allow this. Result? Gove and colleagues found that birds who otherwise wouldn’t be seen dead in the agricultural areas were attracted there by the maintenance and proliferation of the shade trees, thus reducing regional extinction risk for fragmented populations dependent on forest remnants. The flip side was that coffee cultivation in forest remnants reduced bird diversity because of the obvious trade-off between some native trees and intensive agricultural crops.

So, the next time you’re thinking of buying certified coffee, think of this – the cultivation of INDIGENOUS (did I say that loudly enough?) coffee species requiring shade promotes the proliferation of native forest trees to reduce the extinction risk of threatened birds. The number of boxes to tick on my coffee-snobbery list has just grown by two.

CJA Bradshaw

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Conservation Scholars: Bruce Campbell

19 11 2008

This series on ConservationBytes.com takes a page out of our book Tropical Conservation Biology (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw) – therein we produced a series of ‘Spotlights’ describing the contributions of great thinkers to conservation science. Each highlight of a Conservation Scholar includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on the person’s particular area of expertise.

Our sixth Conservation Scholar is Bruce Campbell

Biography

I was trained as an ecologist, going into ecology because of the enthusiasm of a mentor who really believed in the ability of individuals to make a difference in the world. But after moving to Zimbabwe and initiating work in the tropical savannas, where humans have had an impact for 1000s of years, I found that a purely ecological perspective limited my ability to grapple with complex conservation issues. So I branched out into resource economics, and into institutional arrangements for common property management – I did this by reading basic texts, but more importantly, by working closely with some world-class resource economists and sociologists – they were important in shaping my career. For about twenty years I focussed mainly on African tropical woodlands and savannas, but then joined the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Indonesia, and started work in the humid tropics on three continents. CIFOR, with sites throughout the tropics, offers a wonderful environment for in-depth cases studies combined with synthesis based on a global perspective. Now at Charles Darwin University [Editor's note: Prof. Campbell has recently returned full time to CIFOR although he still collaborates with colleagues at Charles Darwin University], I have started work on Aboriginal natural resource management, while still working with teams of researchers in some 20 developing countries. My work currently covers household economics (can natural resources lead to pathways out of poverty?), conservation and development dynamics (can there be win-win situations for forests and livelihoods?), and common property management (can collective action and community-based management lead to improved outcomes for forests and livelihoods?).

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. Is big industry such as logging companies, or expanding human populations the more important threat to tropical ecosystems?

This depends on the context – but in general I believe that population, especially local population is not a major driver. Colleagues and I work in the Brazilian Amazon, in the forests of central Africa and in Indonesian Borneo. In the Amazon site the most important threat relates to the expansion of commercial agriculture (soya beans and livestock), resulting in considerable forest loss. In Central Africa forest is not really being lost – but the bush-meat trade for expanding urban populations, is impacting negatively on biodiversity. At the Indonesian site forest destruction is driven by logging companies and those issuing the permits. Context, context, context…

2. Why is the bush-meat trade, an ancient human activity, no longer sustainable in many tropical areas?

The scale of hunting is now much higher than before – to supply the expanding urban markets. But I should also note that areas far from roads (and there are many of those) are not that severely impacted. But as roads further penetrate into the forest, bush-meat exploitation will follow.

3. In what way can small-scale enterprises, which rely on the exploitation of tropical forest products, be beneficial to conservation?

Many conservation agencies will spend considerable resources to improve the livelihoods of those living in and around protected areas. Small-scale enterprises can be used to build good will among local people towards conservation areas. Where local people value a particular enterprise and want it to be maintained, they can themselves institute management measures to ensure sustainable harvest. Some of the best examples of this are in southern Africa where wildlife hunting is proving a win-win situation for people and conservation (but even there, context is important – some schemes will not work because of a number of factors, e.g., too many people, too few prized hunting animals, discord in communities).

4. How can cross-disciplinary co-operation and facilitation in conservation be made to work given the lack of incentives for such teamwork from bureaucracies?

I think there are a number of success factors for cross-disciplinarity. Questions posed by conservation biologists that require expertise from another discipline don’t generally provide enough excitement to that other discipline. To engage other disciplines in any real sense, one must invite resource economists, sociologists, etc. to the initial meetings where the research questions are defined. Respect is key – with the different languages and approaches of different disciplines it is easy to find fault – there must be a high degree of mutual respect in a team. To build respect and derive common visions about the research requires time. There are bureaucratic hurdles but I think these can be broken down by committed teams.

5. How is the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) being effective in changing policy and having an on-ground impact?

CIFOR has a very conscious approach to achieving impact. This can be broken down into five elements. 1) Understanding where impact is possible and getting focus on a few topics. 2) Building impact strategies so that one clearly understands, for each programme of work, the kinds of research that will be produced, who the users of that research will be, what formats are needed for the research outputs, and what processes need to be engaged with (e.g., if impact is sought at the international convention level, how do we interface with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity?). 3) Building partnerships with agencies that are crucial for the uptake of the research. 4) Making sure that there is time and budget for the necessary processes and products after the formal research is completed (e.g., media campaigns, policy briefs, key stakeholder meetings).

CJA Bradshaw

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(with thanks to Navjot Sodhi, Barry Brook, Ward Cooper, Wiley-Blackwell and Bruce Campbell for permission to reproduce the text – buy your copy of Tropical Conservation Biology here)





Water neutrality and its biodiversity benefits

5 11 2008

The world’s freshwater ecosystems are in trouble. We’ve extracted, poisoned, polluted, damned and diverted a large proportion of the finite (and rather small!) amount of freshwater on the planet. Now, most people might immediately see the problem here from a selfish perspective – no clean, abundant water source = human disease, suffering and death. Definitely something to avoid, and a problem that all Australians are facing (i.e., it’s not just restricted to developing nations). Just look at the Murray-Darling problem.

In addition to affecting our own personal well-being, freshwater ecosystems are thought to support over 10000 fish species worldwide, and the majority of amphibians and aquatic reptiles. Current estimates suggest that about 1/3 of all vertebrate biodiversity (in this case, number of species) is confined to freshwater. As an example, the Mekong River system alone is thought to support up to 1700 different species of fish.

So, what are some of the ways forward? The concept of ‘water neutrality’ is essentially the wet version of carbon neutrality. It basically means that water usage can be offset by interventions to improve freshwater habitats and supply.

A great new paper by Nel and colleagues published online in Conservation Letters entitled Water neutrality: a first quantitative framework for investing in water in South Africa (definitely one for the Potential list) gives us a good model for how water neutrality should work. Using a South African example, they describe a scheme where investors are required to (1) review their water use, (2) implement a reduction strategy and (3) replenish water to hydrological systems through the investment in catchment services equivalent to their water use. It’s in this last act that the ‘neutrality’ can be achieved for the betterment of biodiversity – in the South African example, participants replenish their water use through investment in clearing of water-intensive invasive alien plants that choke freshwater systems and otherwise use much of the available water. And we all know how destructive invasive species can be (see previous post on this subject).

Not only does the scheme produce more water, it restores fragile freshwater ecosystems and does so within the economic framework that allows schemes like carbon trading to operate. We desperately need something like this in Australia. Imagine, more water for everyone AND healthy river systems (again, think Murray-Darling) – all paid for by previously water-intensive, but now ‘water-neutral’ firms. Imagine seeing labels on Australian produce that say ‘This is a Water Neutral product that supports freshwater ecosystem health’.

CJA Bradshaw

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Moving forward with extinction risk predictions from climate change

15 10 2008

A little belated, but I thought this was worth mentioning for the Potential list…

One from Keith and colleagues in Biology Letters entitled Predicting extinction risks under climate change: coupling stochastic population models with dynamic bioclimatic habitat models is a nice example of a way forward to predict the extremely complex array of ecological processes and patterns that may arise from rapid climate change.

One of the major problems with predicting how biodiversity might respond to climate change is the typical simplicity of single-species ‘envelope’ models – these models basically use tolerance limits (generally, physiological) or optimum conditions to predict how a species’ distribution might change. Unfortunately, this usually negates the complex dynamics of populations, the dispersal capacity of individuals, and interactions with other species that may all dominate possible responses. In other words, climatic envelope models may be way, way off (and probably vastly optimistic).

Keith and colleagues have brought us a step closer to better predictions of (and hopefully, better responses to) climate change effects on species. They linked a time series of habitat suitability models with spatially explicit stochastic population models to explore factors that influence the viability of plant species populations in South African fynbos, a global biodiversity hotspot. They discovered that complex interactions between life history, disturbance regimes and distribution patterns mediate species extinction risks under climate change.

Well done! Our next challenge is to incorporate multiple species’ interactions into such models (just to make them as mind-bogglingly complex as possible) to give us better approaches for managing our depauperate future.

CJA Bradshaw

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Primate conservation enhances human food availability

19 09 2008

This one from Mongabay.com – yet another reason to conserve species for human benefit…

© F. Möllers

© F. Möllers

Primate conservation may have the unintended benefit of enhancing food availability to humans, reports a study [Koné et al. 2008. Primate seed dispersal and its potential role in maintaining useful tree species in the Taï region, Côte-d'Ivoire: implications for the conservation of forest fragments. Tropical Conservation Science 1:293-306] led by African scientists.

The research, conducted in the Taï region of Côte-d’Ivoire, found that seven species of monkeys used about 75 species of plants as a source of fruit, of which 25 were also used by local human inhabitants for various purposes. Because monkeys are key seed dispersal agents, the results suggest that primate conservation may sustain the persistence of plant resources important for human livelihoods.

“The cost of losing monkeys extends beyond the loss of the animals themselves,” write the authors. “Indeed, the local extinction of frugivorous primates is predicted to have deleterious consequences for forest regeneration and/or tree species community composition.”

The authors, led by Inza Koné from the University of Cocody in Abidjan and the Taï Monkey Project, note that monkeys in the region are already experiencing “extreme hunting pressure” as a source of protein and as crop pests. Primates are also threatened by habitat loss caused by the conversion of forest for agriculture.

Koné and colleagues suggest measures to conserve monkeys will offer multiple benefits to the primates themselves as well as local communities.

“Results of this study suggest that maintaining populations of monkeys is important not only for forest regeneration, but also for human habitat use,” they continue. “The conservation of primate species is a critically important goal in itself; by working to ensure their protection in forest fragments, we protect indirectly the seed dispersal of important human resources in these fragments as well.”

“Protection of monkeys and seed dispersal systems outside protected areas is particularly relevant in this context, since it is in these areas… that primates are most at risk, and also where people are allowed to exploit forest plant resources.”





Tropical Conservation Biology

8 09 2008

An obvious personal plug – but I’m allowed to do that on my own blog ;-)

I’d like to introduce a (relatively) new textbook that my colleagues, Navjot Sodhi and Barry Brook, and I wrote and published last year with Blackwell (now Wiley-Blackwell) Scientific Publishing – Tropical Conservation Biology.

We’re rather proud of this book because it was a timely summary and assessment of the scientific evidence for the degree of devastation facing tropical biodiversity today and in the future. I’ve summarised some of the main issues in a previous post covering a paper we have ‘in press’ that was born of the text book, but obviously the book is a far more detailed account of the problems facing the tropics.

This introductory textbook examines diminishing terrestrial and aquatic habitats in the tropics, covering a broad range of topics including the fate of the coral reefs; the impact of agriculture, urbanisation, and logging on habitat depletion; and the effects of fire on plants and animal survival.

One of the highlights of the book is that each chapter (see below) Includes case studies and interviews with prominent conservation scientists to help situate key concepts in a real world context: Norman Myers (Chapter 1), Gretchen Daily (Chapter 2), William Laurance (Chapter 3), Mark Cochrane (Chapter 4), Daniel Simberloff (Chapter 5), Bruce Campbell (Chapter 6), Daniel Pauly (Chapter 7), Stephen Schneider (Chapter 8), Stuart Pimm (Chapter 9) and Peter Raven (Chapter 10). These biographies are followed by a brief set of questions and answers that focus on some of the most pertinent and pressing issues in tropical conservation biology today. It is our intention that readers of Tropical Conservation Biology will benefit from the knowledge and be inspired by the passion of these renowned conservation experts.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Chapter 1: Diminishing habitats in regions of high biodiversity. We report on the loss of tropical habitats across the tropics (e.g., deforestation rates). We also highlight the drivers of habitat loss such as human population expansion. Finally, we identify the areas in immediate need of conservation action by elucidating the concept of biodiversity hotspots. Read the rest of this entry »




Native forests reduce the risk of catastrophic floods

20 08 2008
© Y. Agung (KOMPAS)

© Y. Agung (KOMPAS)

Each year extreme floods kill or displace hundreds of thousands of people and cause billions of dollars in damage to property. The consequences of floods are particularly catastrophic in developing countries generally lacking the infrastructure to deal adequately with above-average water levels.

For centuries it has been believed that native forest cover reduced the risk and severity of catastrophic flooding, but there has been strong scientific debate over the role of forests in flood mitigation.

Forest loss is currently estimated at 13 million hectares each year, with 6 million hectares of that being primary forest previously untouched by human activities. These primary forests are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, but this realisation has not halted their immense rate of loss.

Last year my colleagues and I published a paper entitled Global evidence that deforestation amplifies flood risk and severity in the developing world in Global Change Biology (highlighted in Nature and Faculty of 1000) that has finally provided tangible evidence that there is a strong link between deforestation and flood risk. Read the rest of this entry »








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