Comments : 2 Comments »
Tags: Aboriginal, Aborigine, Australia, ecology, extinction, geochronology, GRIWM, megafauna, modelling, palaeontology, Signor-Lipps effect
Categories : Australia, climate change, conservation, exploitation, extinction, harvest, modelling, science, synergies
Last July I wrote about a Science paper of ours demonstrating that there was a climate-change signal in the overall extinction pattern of megafauna across the Northern Hemisphere between about 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. In that case, it didn’t have anything to do with ice ages (sorry, Blue Sky Studios); rather, it was abrupt warming periods that exacerbated the extinction pulse instigated by human hunting.
Contrary to some appallingly researched media reports, we never claimed that these extinctions arose only from warming, because the evidence is more than clear that humans were the dominant drivers across North America, Europe and northern Asia; we simply demonstrated that warming periods had a role to play too.
A cursory glance at the title of this post without appreciating the complexity of how extinctions happen might lead you to think that we’re all over the shop with the role of climate change. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Instead, we report what the evidence actually says, instead of making up stories to suit our preconceptions.
So it is with great pleasure that I report our new paper just out in Nature Communications, led by my affable French postdoc, Dr Frédérik Saltré: Climate change not to blame for late Quaternary megafauna extinctions in Australia.
Of course, it was a huge collaborative effort by a crack team of ecologists, palaeontologists, geochronologists, paleo-climatologists, archaeologists and geneticists. Only by combining the efforts of this diverse and transdisciplinary team could we have hoped to achieve what we did. Read the rest of this entry »
Comments : 7 Comments »
Tags: conservation biology, de-extinction, extinction, fossils, geochronology, geology, Lazarus species, mass extinctions, palaentology, Signor-Lipps effect
Categories : conservation, extinction, modelling
Extinction is forever, right? Yes, it’s true that once the last individual of a species dies (apart from insane notions that de-extinction will do anything to resurrect a species in perpetuity), the species is extinct. However, the answer can also be ‘no’ when you are limited by poor sampling. In other words, when you think something went extinct when in reality you just missed it.
Most of you are familiar with the concept of Lazarus1 species – when we’ve thought of something long extinct that suddenly gets re-discovered by a wandering naturalist or a wayward fisher. In paleontological (and modern conservation biological) terms, the problem is formally described as the ‘Signor-Lipps’ effect, named2 after two American palaeontologists, Phil Signor3 and Jere Lipps. It’s a fairly simple concept, but it’s unfortunately ignored in most palaeontological, and to a lesser extent, conservation studies.
The Signor-Lipps effect arises because the last (or first) evidence (fossil or sighting) of a species presence has a nearly zero chance of heralding its actual timing of extinction (or appearance). In paleontological terms, it’s easy to see why. Fossilisation is in fact a nearly impossible phenomenon – all the right conditions have to be in place for a once-living biological organism to be fossilised: it either has to be buried quickly, in a place where nothing can decompose it (usually, an anoxic environment), and then turned to rock by the process of mineral replacement. It then has to resist transformation by not undergoing metamorphosis (e.g., vulcanism, extensive crushing, etc.). For more recent specimens, preservation can occur without the mineralisation process itself (e.g., bones or flesh in an anoxic bog). Then the bloody things have to be found by a diligent geologist or palaeontologist! In other words, the chances that any one organism is preserved as a fossil after it dies are extremely small. In more modern terms, individuals can go undetected if they are extremely rare or remote, such that sighting records alone are usually insufficient to establish the true timing of extinction. The dodo is a great example of this problem. Remember too that all this works in reverse – the first fossil or observation is very much unlikely to be the first time that the species was there. Read the rest of this entry »
Comments : 15 Comments »
Tags: Australia, CRC, dingo, dingo fence, dingoes, dog fence, pest management, poison, predator management, predators, wild dogs, xenophobia
Categories : alien species, Australia, cat, cattle, conservation, dingo, ecosystem function, environmental policy, environmental science, fox, invasive species, kangaroo, livestock, mammal, management, modelling, predator, propaganda, research, trophic cascades
The more I delve into the science of predator management, the more I realise that the science itself takes a distant back seat to the politics. It would be naïve to think that the management of dingoes in Australia is any more politically charged than elsewhere, but once you start scratching beneath the surface, you quickly realise that there’s something rotten in Dubbo.
My latest contribution to this saga is a co-authored paper led by Dale Nimmo of Deakin University (along with Simon Watson of La Trobe and Dave Forsyth of Arthur Rylah) that came out just the other day. It was a response to a rather dismissive paper by Matt Hayward and Nicky Marlow claiming that all the accumulated evidence demonstrating that dingoes benefit native biodiversity was somehow incorrect.
Their two arguments were that: (1) dingoes don’t eradicate the main culprits of biodiversity decline in Australia (cats & foxes), so they cannot benefit native species; (2) proxy indices of relative dingo abundance are flawed and not related to actual abundance, so all the previous experiments and surveys are wrong.
Some strong accusations, for sure. Unfortunately, they hold no water at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Comments : 6 Comments »
Tags: Australia, cattle, cattle station, community, dingo, Ecosystem, graziers, Kangaroo, Predation, predator, prey
Categories : agriculture, Australia, biodiversity, cattle, conservation, ecological literacy, ecology, economics, ecosystem function, environmental economics, environmental policy, environmental science, food, harvest, kangaroo, livestock, mammal, management, modelling, population dynamics, predator
Let’s face it: Australia doesn’t have the best international reputation for good ecological management. We’ve been particularly loathsome in our protection of forests, we have an appalling record of mammal extinctions, we’re degenerate water wasters and carbon emitters, our country is overrun with feral animals and weeds, and we have a long-term love affair with archaic, deadly, cruel, counter-productive and xenophobic predator management. To top it all off, we have a government hell-bent on screwing our already screwed environment even more.
Still, we soldier on and try to fix the damages already done or convince people that archaic policies should be scrapped and redrawn. One such policy that I’ve written about extensively is the idiocy and cruelty of the dingo fence.
The ecological evidence that dingoes are good for Australian wildlife and that they pose less threat to livestock than purported by some evidence-less graziers is becoming too big to ignore any longer. Poisoning and fencing are not only counter-productive, they are cruel, ineffective and costly.
So just when ecologists thought that dingoes couldn’t get any cooler, out comes our latest paper demonstrating that letting dingoes do their thing results in a net profit for cattle graziers.
Come again? Read the rest of this entry »
Comments : 29 Comments »
Tags: biodiversity hotspots, disease, famine, fertility, human population, overpopulation, pandemic, survival, sustainability, war
Categories : anthropocene, Asia, conservation, demography, economics, ecosystem services, endemism, environmental policy, famine, health, human overpopulation, modelling, population dynamics, science, threatened species
Here at ConservationBytes.com, I write about pretty much anything that has anything remotely to do with biodiversity’s prospects. Whether it is something to do with ancient processes, community dynamics or the wider effects of human endeavour, anything is fair game. It’s a little strange then that despite cutting my teeth in population biology, I have never before tackled human demography. Well as of today, I have.
The press embargo has just lifted on our (Barry Brook and my) new paper in PNAS where we examine various future scenarios of the human population trajectory over the coming century. Why is this important? Simple – I’ve argued before that we could essentially stop all conservation research tomorrow and still know enough to deal with most biodiversity problems. If we could only get a handle on the socio-economic components of the threats, then we might be able to make some real progress. In other words, we need to find out how to manage humans much more than we need to know about the particulars of subtle and complex ecological processes to do the most benefit for biodiversity. Ecologists tend to navel-gaze in this arena far too much.
So I called my own bluff and turned my attention to humans. Our question was simple – how quickly could the human population be reduced to a more ‘sustainable’ size (i.e., something substantially smaller than now)? The main reason we posed that simple, yet deceptively loaded question was that both of us have at various times been faced with the question by someone in the audience that we were “ignoring the elephant in the room” of human over-population.
Read the rest of this entry »
Comments : 2 Comments »
Tags: Apex predator, culling, environment, human-wildlife conflict, lethal, marine, policy, shark, top predator, WA, Western Australia
Categories : Australia, biodiversity, coasts, connectivity, conservation, decline, demography, environmental policy, extinction, fish, fisheries, harvest, impact, management, marine, minimum viable population, modelling, population dynamics
A major media release today coordinated by Jessica Meeuwig in Western Australia makes the (obvious) point that there’s no biological justification to cull sharks.
301 Australian and International Scientists experts have today provided their submission to the Western Australia Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), rejecting the scientific grounds for the proposed three-year drum-line programme.
Coordinating scientist, Professor Jessica Meeuwig from the University of Western Australia said:
“To have over 300 researchers, including some of the world’s top shark specialists and marine ecologists, all strongly agreeing that there is no scientific basis for the lethal drum-line programme, tells you how unjustified the government’s proposal is. If the EPA and the Federal Minister for the Environment are using science for decisions, the drum-line proposal should not be approved.”
The experts agree that the proposal presents no evidence that the lethal drum-line programme, as implemented, will improve ocean safety. It ignores evidence from other hook-based programs in Hawaii and Queensland that have been shown to be ineffective in reducing shark attacks on humans.
Dr. Christopher Neff from the University of Sydney stated:
“There is no evidence that drum lines reduce shark bites. The Western Australia EPA now faces a question of science versus politics with global implications because it is considering establishing a new international norm that would allow for the killing of protected white sharks.”
The drum lines are ineffective and indiscriminate, with 78% of the sharks captured not considered ‘threatening’ to humans. Yet, scientifically supported, non-lethal alternatives such as the South African ‘Shark Spotter’ and Brazil’s ‘Tag and Remove’ programmes are not adequately assessed as viable options for Western Australia. Read the rest of this entry »