Help us restore a forest

12 04 2013

plantingI’m not usually one to promote conservation volunteer opportunities, but this is a little different. First, I’m involved in this one, and second, it’s very near to my home. As you might know, the Mount Lofty Ranges area has had about 90 % of its forests destroyed since European settlement, with a corresponding loss of ecosystem services. We need smart restoration on massive scale, and Monarto is one place where we can develop the best practices to achieve this goal. We really do need some help here, so I encourage anyone in the Adelaide area with an interest in evidence-based forest restoration to lend us a hand.

The Monarto Restoration Project will provide an internationally recognised opportunity to experience and engage with wild Australia as it was.

Our aim is restore and expand habitats at Monarto to represent what used to exist in the region before clearing for agriculture and the introduction of pest species. Monarto used to be teeming with wildlife. The remnant vegetation at Monarto is unique as it is located at the cross-over of two vegetation communities (the Mt Lofty Ranges and Murray Mallee). This means it provides important habitat for a range of threatened bird and plant species. However, there are still a number of species in danger of being lost from the area, so we need to focus on restoring habitat to support them too.

We provide an opportunity to see the bush in a way that is no longer possible in most parts of Australia. We hope to help you see what we have lost and encourage you to participate in conservation. It gives us the opportunity to include everyone in on-ground conservation work and pass on skills that can be applied beyond a day or this project. With your help we can reduce the impacts of pest species on the property and re-introduce some of the native species that are now locally extinct. Read the rest of this entry »





Hades, fossilised fat-parrot shit and threatened bats

4 10 2012

WTF? © P. Bendle

Sounds like a Monty Python sketch, doesn’t it? But no, it’s about the wonderful complexity of ecology.

An interesting, and very weird paper just came out in Conservation Biology co-authored by my friend and colleague, Prof. Alan Cooper at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

Here’s what they have to say about it.

Ancient dung from a cave in the South Island of New Zealand has revealed a previously unsuspected relationship between two of the country’s most unusual threatened species.

Fossilised dung (coprolites) of a now rare parrot, the nocturnal flightless kakapo, contained large amounts of pollen of a rare parasitic plant, Dactylanthus, which lives underground and has no roots or leaves itself. The pollen suggests the kakapo was formerly an important pollinator for the threatened species, known as the Hades flower or wood rose. Researchers from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at The University of Adelaide, and Landcare Research and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand report the discovery in the journal Conservation Biology.

Read the rest of this entry »





Government pulls plug on Asian honeybee eradication

3 03 2011

Here’s another one from the bee man, Tobias Smith (PhD candidate at the University of Queensland). Tobias recently blogged about bee basics here on ConservationBytes.com (something I highly recommend for anyone interested on brushing up on bee facts and dispelling a few myths), so I asked him to follow up with this very important piece on the future of pollination in Australia. It concerns a nasty little invader recently dubbed the “flying cane toad” (not my analogy).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/angela-and-andrew/1196369580/in/faves-lornet/

© 中國蜂

Over the last few weeks there has been much media attention given to the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) incursion in far north Queensland. The Asian honeybee was first detected near Cairns in May 2007. Since then an effort to eradicate the bee has been made. This peaked during 2010, when over 40 bee eradication personnel were employed to hunt and destroy in areas around Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands, and other nearby locations.

In late January this year, the committee established to manage the eradication program (governments and industry), decided to pull the plug on eradication efforts (on money to pay for efforts that is). They decided it was no longer possible to achieve eradication (a majority decision, not a unanimous decision). The position to stop resources for eradication is not supported by industry, or ecological commentators. Arguments have been made that this is the only window of opportunity for eradication (for ever!), and that more resources need to be put towards it now, while there is still a chance of success.

A few points to be made about the Asian honeybee in Australia: Read the rest of this entry »





More to bees than queens and honey

11 02 2011

Another great guest post, this time from Tobias Smith, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. Tobias is investigating bee community shifts across a fragmented tropical landscape in far north Queensland, aiming to identify landscape variation in community composition of two important rainforest pollinator groups, bees and flies. I met Tobias a few years ago as part of the Thiaki rainforest reforestation project for which he is doing baseline surveys of bees and flies.

I asked him a while ago to write a ‘primer’ on bees for ConservationBytes.com since so many people really don’t much about the taxon (I include myself in that group). He’s done a brilliant job – everything you wanted to know about bees but were afraid to ask (in 1000 words).

The frequently reported, gloomy news about bee declines is hard not to notice. Bees are in dire trouble around the world, and this trend has worrying implications for both ecosystems and human food production. As a result, popular media often reports on the plight of bees, regularly reciting the figure of one in three mouthfuls of food being dependent on the work of bees. While bees certainly are in major trouble, it can be easy to misinterpret statements often made in these kind of articles without a little general bee knowledge. So here are a few bee facts that, at the very least, we ecological representatives should be familiar with. This information should help give some perspective when interpreting bee news, and when engaging in exciting bee conversations at the shops.

There are approximately 20,000 bees species globally. Yet when most people think of bees they think of a single species, Apis mellifera, the western honey bee (introduced in most of its range, and also referred to as the European honeybee). This bee is certainly an important bee. It is managed as the usual pollinator of crops requiring biotic pollination, and it makes the honey we usually eat here in the developed world. Some say our domestication of this bee has been an important contributing factor in achieving the level of development that we humans have. There are however, about 19,999 other bee species out there, and most of them are very different to the western honeybee. Read the rest of this entry »





When weeds are wanted

31 01 2011

And in keeping with the topic of bees

© Flowergardengirl

I’ve just read a very, very cool paper in Ecology Letters about something I’ve wanted to do myself for some time. It’s a fairly specific piece of work, so it could easily be reproduced elsewhere with different species. My point though is that a hell of a lot more of these types of studies are required.

The study by Carvalheiro and colleagues entitled Natural and within-farmland biodiversity enhances crop productivity examined the role of weedy (ruderal) vegetation in supporting pollinator communities. Using sunflowers as a model crop, they showed rather convincingly how native vegetation patches interspersed amongst crop species can enhance a host of crop production measures, even when larger areas of natural habitats were far away from the crops themselves.

Based on a series of plot experiments, they tested four main hypotheses:

  1. The distance to natural habitat affects pollination visitor abundance and diversity.
  2. Plots surrounding or interspersed with ruderal vegetation affect pollinator abundance and diversity.
  3. The diversity of pollinators visiting sunflowers affects honeybee (the principal pollinators) behaviour.
  4. The diversity of pollinators affects sunflower production.

Read the rest of this entry »





A wee ditty about the bee

29 01 2011

I liked this. Another quick and entertaining look at why bees are important, why they’re crashing, and what people can do about it (at least, on a very fine scale). And it’s all done in Scottish.





Humans 1, Environment 0

27 09 2010

© flickr.com/photos/singapore2010

While travelling to our Supercharge Your Science workshop in Cairns and Townsville last week (which, by the way, went off really well and the punters gave us the thumbs up – stay tuned for more Supercharge activities at a university near you…), I stumbled across an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the state of Australia.

That Commonwealth purveyor of numbers, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), put together a nice little summary of various measures of wealth, health, politics and environment and their trends over the last decade. The resulting Measures of Australia’s Progress is an interesting read indeed. I felt the simple newspaper article didn’t do the environmental components justice, so I summarise the salient points below and give you my tuppence as well. Read the rest of this entry »





Global erosion of ecosystem services

14 09 2010

A few months ago I was asked to give a lecture about erosion of ecosystem services to students in the University of Adelaide‘s Issues in Sustainable Environments unit. I gave that lecture last week and just uploaded a slidecast of the presentation (with audio) today.

I’ve reproduced the lecture here for your viewing pleasure. I hope you find the 45-minute presentation useful. Note that the first few minutes cover me referring to the Biodiversity film short that I posted not too long ago.

CJA Bradshaw





Global pollinator declines

11 03 2010

Mention anything about ecosystem services – those ecological functions arising from the interactions between species that provide some benefit (source of food/clean water, health, etc.) to humanity1 – and one of the most cited examples is pollination.

It’s really a no-brainer, hence its popularity as an example. Pollinators (mainly insects, but birds, bats and other assorted species too) don’t exist to pollinate plants; rather, their principal source of food acquisition happens to spread around the gametes of the plants they regularly visit. Evolution has favoured the dependence of species in such ways because the mutualism benefits all involved, and in some cases, this dependence has become obligate. So when the habitats that pollinators need to survive are reduced or destroyed, inevitably their population sizes decline and the plants on which they feed lose their main sources of gene-spreading.

So what? Well, about 80 % of all wild plant species require insect pollinators for fruit and seed set, and about 75 % of all human crops require pollination by insects (mostly bees). So it’s pretty frightening to consider that although our global population is at 6.8 billion and growing rapidly, our main food pollinators (bees) are declining globally (see also previous post on bee declines). Indeed, domestic honey bee stocks have declined in the USA by 59 % since 1947 and in Europe by 25 % since 1985. Scared yet?

Another thing people don’t tend to get is that a bee cannot live on rapeseed alone. Most pollinators require intact forests to complete many of their other life history requirements (breeding, shelter, etc.) and merely forage occasionally in crop lands. Cut down all the adjacent bush, and your crops will suffer accordingly.

These, and other titbits to keep you awake at night and worry about what your grandchildren might eat are highlighted in a recent review in Trends in Ecology and Evolution by Potts and colleagues entitled Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers.

What’s driving all this loss? Several things, but it’s mainly due to ‘land-use change’ (a bullshit word people use generally to mean habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation). However, invasive species competition, pathogens and parasites, and climate change (and the synergies amongst all of these) are all contributing.

It always amazes me when people ask me why biodiversity is important. Despite the overwhelming knowledge we’ve accumulated about how functioning ecosystems make the planet liveable, despite it just being plainly stupid to think that humans are somehow removed from normal biological processes, and even with such in-your-face examples of global pollinator declines and the real, extremely worrying implication for food supplies, many people just don’t seem to get it. Every tree you cut down, every molecule of carbon dioxide you release, every drop of water you waste will punish you and your family directly for generations to come. How much more self-evident can you get?

Humanity seems to have a very poorly developed sense of self-preservation.

CJA Bradshaw

1It’s amazingly arrogant and anthropocentric to think of anything in ecosystems as ‘providing benefits to humanity’. After all, we’re just another species in a complex array of species within ecosystems – we just happen to be one of the numerically dominant ones, excel at ecosystem ‘engineering’ and as far as we know, are the only (semi-) sentient of the biologicals. Although the concept of ecosystem services is, I think, an essential abstraction to place emphasis on the importance of biodiversity conservation to the biodiversity ignorant, it does rub me a little the wrong way. It’s almost ascribing some sort of illogical religious perspective that the Earth was placed in its current form for our eventual benefit. We might be a fairly new species in geological time scales, but don’t think of ecosystems as mere provisions for our well-being.

ResearchBlogging.orgPotts, S., Biesmeijer, J., Kremen, C., Neumann, P., Schweiger, O., & Kunin, W. (2010). Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers Trends in Ecology & Evolution DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2010.01.007

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Biodiversity important? The simple case of bees

30 12 2009

If you can’t convince people that biodiversity is important, then you have to use the lowest common denominator. Even a 3-year old understands the importance of bees for pollination (see previous post on loss of pollination services). Another entertaining TED talk to drive the point home as my last post for 2009 – hidden message: don’t put all your (biodiversity) eggs in one basket. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. Warning – a little Ameri-centric, but gets the point across.

Catch you in 2010.

CJA Bradshaw





Climate change’s ugly cousin – biodiversity loss

17 05 2009

uglybaby…nobody puts a value on pollination; national accounts do not reflect the value of ecosystem services that stop soil erosion or provide watershed protection.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North (UK), Co-chairman, Global Legislators Organisation‘s International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems

Last week I read with great interest the BBC’s Green Room opinion article by Barry Gardiner, Labour MP in the UK, about how the biodiversity crisis takes very much the back seat to climate change in world media, politics and international agreements.

He couldn’t be more spot-on.

I must stipulate right up front that this post is neither a whinge, rant nor lament; my goal is to highlight what I’ve noticed about the world’s general perception of climate change and biodiversity crisis issues over the last few years, and over the last year in particular since ConservationBytes.com was born.

Case in point: my good friend and colleague, Professor Barry Brook, started his blog BraveNewClimate.com a little over a month (August 2008) after I managed to get ConservationBytes.com up and running (July 2008). His blog tackles issues regarding the science of climate change, and Barry has been very successful at empirically, methodically and patiently tearing down the paper walls of the climate change denialists. A quick glance at the number views of BraveNewClimate.com since inception reveals about an order of magnitude more than for ConservationBytes.com (i.e., ~195000 versus 20000, respectively), and Barry has accumulated a total of around 4500 comments compared to just 231 for ConservationBytes.com. The difference is striking.

Now, I don’t begrudge for one moment this disparity – quite the contrary – I am thrilled that Barry has managed to influence so many people and topple so effectively the faecal spires erected by the myriad self-proclaimed ‘experts’ on climate change (an infamous line to whom I have no idea to attribute states that “opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one”). Barry is, via BraveNewClimate.com, doing the world an immense service. What I do find intriguing is that in many ways, the biodiversity crisis is a much, much worse problem that is and will continue to degrade human life for millennia to come. Yet as Barry Gardiner observed, the UK papers mentioned biodiversity only 115 times over the last 3 months compared to 1382 times for climate change – again, that order-of-magnitude disparity.

There is no biodiversity equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (although there are a few international organisations tackling the extinction crisis such as the United Nation’s Environment Program, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature), we still have little capacity or idea how to incorporate the trillions of dollars worth of ecosystem services supplied every year to us free of charge, and we have nothing at all equivalent to the Kyoto Protocol for biodiversity preservation. Yet, conservation biologists have for decades demonstrated how human disease prevalence, reduction in pollination, increasing floods, reduced freshwater availability, carbon emissions, loss of fish supplies, weed establishment and spread, etc. are all exacerbated by biodiversity loss. Climate change, as serious and potentially apocalyptic as it is, can be viewed as just another stressor in a system stressed to its limits.

Of course, the lack of ‘interest’ may not be as bleak as indicated by web traffic; I believe the science underpinning our assessment of biodiversity loss is fairly well-accepted by people who care to look into these things, and the evidence spans the gambit of biological diversity and ecosystems. In short, it’s much less controversial a topic than climate change, so it attracts a lot less vitriol and spawns fewer polemics. That said, it is a self-destructive ambivalence that will eventually come to bite humanity on the bum in the most serious of ways, and I truly believe that we’re not far off from major world conflicts over the dwindling pool of resources (food, water, raw materials) we are so effectively destroying. We would be wise to take heed of the warnings.

CJA Bradshaw

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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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Save the biggest (and closest) ones

12 11 2008

© somapsychedelica

© somapsychedelica

A paper we recently wrote and published in Biological Conservation entitled Using biogeographical patterns of endemic land snails to improve conservation planning for limestone karsts lead by my colleague Reuben Clements of WWF has recently been highlighted at Mongabay.com. Our main result was that following the basic tenets of the theory of island biogeography, the largest, least-isolated limestone karsts in South East Asia (biologically rich limestone outcrops formed millions of years ago by the deposition of calcareous marine organisms) have the greatest proportion of endemic land snails (a surrogate taxon for uniqueness among other species). I’ll let Rhett at Mongabay.com do the rest (see original post):

Researchers have devised a scientific methodology for prioritizing conservation of limestone karsts, biologically-rich outcroppings found in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. The findings are significant because karsts – formed millions of years ago by sea life – are increasingly threatened by mining and other development.

Using data from 43 karsts across Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, authors led by Reuben Clements of WWF-Malaysia reported that larger karsts support greater numbers of endemic snails – a proxy for biological uniqueness among other species – making them a priority for protection.

“Larger areas tend to have greater habitat diversity, which enables them so support a higher number of unique species.” said Clements, species conservation manager for WWF-Malaysia.

With a variety of habitats including sinkholes, caves, cliffs, and underground rivers, and separated from other outcroppings by lowland areas, karsts support high levels of endemism among insects, snails, fish, plants, bats and other small mammals. Animals that inhabit karsts provide humans with important services including pest control, pollination, and a sustainable source of income (swiftlet nests used for bird nest soup, a Chinese delicacy, are found in karst caves). But karsts are increasingly under threat, especially from mining for cement and marble. An earlier study by Clements showed that limestone quarrying is increasing in Southeast Asia by 5.7 percent a year – the highest rate in the world – to fuel the region’s construction boom. The biodiversity of karsts – especially among animals that move to surrounding areas to feed – is also at risk from destruction of adjacent ecosystems, often by loggers or for agriculture.

Clements says the new study, which is published in the November issue of the journal Biological Conservation, will help set conservation priorities for karsts.

“The protection of karsts has been mainly ad hoc and they are usually spared from quarrying by virtue of being situated within state and national parks, or if they possess some form of aesthetic or cultural value,” he said. “Taking Peninsular Malaysia for example, our results suggest that we should set aside larger karsts on both sides of the Titiwangsa mountain range for protection if we want to maximize the conservation of endemic species. Protecting karsts on one side of the mountain chain is not enough.”

“With our findings, we hope that governments would reconsider issuing mining concessions for larger karsts as they tend to be more biologically important,” Clements said.





Conservation Scholars: Gretchen Daily

27 09 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 second Conservation Scholar is Gretchen Daily

Biography

I am an ecologist working to develop a scientific basis and financial and institutional support for managing Earth’s life-support systems. My primary efforts are focused on making conservation mainstream, economically attractive and commonplace. I came to environmental science at a young age. In the name of adventure, my family moved to West Germany when I was twelve years old. It was 1977, and I woke up to a turbulent world of street demonstrations against environmental devastation. Protesters said acid was falling from the sky and that no one was doing anything about it. I could hardly fathom this. A few years later, I heard about a high school science competition and, with the encouragement of a dream chemistry teacher, I signed up. He thought acid raid was a bit too ambitious a topic, but helped me launch a study of the pollution in a nearby river, whereby I discovered my passion for scientific research. Although I could spend lifetimes exploring the wonders of the universe for sheer pleasure, I find I cannot take my mind off of the big issues confronting society. It’s clear that scientific understanding is but one of a complex of interacting factors shaping the future. Science alone will get us nowhere. So, after post-graduate school in ecology, I took up a wonderful research position designed to foster new, integrated approaches to environmental issues. I began building a background in economics, law and other key disciplines, and cultivating a network of people far removed from academia who shared a sense of urgency about the state of the environment. This diverse group helped me arrive at new ways of thinking about the environment, revealing the wealth of opportunities to make conservation both practical and profitable. While we still need a lot more scientific understanding to proceed effectively, our greatest challenge now lies in the social realm, including trying to scale up and replicate the small models of success to date.

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. How can the conceptual framework of ‘countryside biogeography’ be used to enhance ecosystem functioning and services in human-dominated tropical landscapes?

“Countryside biogeography” is a new conceptual framework for elucidating the fates of populations, species, and ecosystems in ‘countryside’ – the growing fraction of Earth’s unbuilt land surface whose ecosystem qualities are strongly influenced by humanity. With numerous collaborators, I have launched investigations of the countryside biogeography of a variety of strategically selected taxa, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, moths, bees, and plants. We have discovered that at least half of the native species (and the vast majority of families) in each group persist, over at least the short to medium term (50-100 years), in countryside typical of much of the tropics. We have also gained considerable insight into the role that different habitat elements and configurations play in driving patterns of distribution. Major questions are whether this high potential conservation value exists in countryside globally, and whether it can be sustained over the long term (centuries to millennia). Preliminary work suggests that the patterns we have found are predictable and general, and also that substantial conservation value can indeed be sustained for thousands of years (such as in India), in a variety of agricultural production systems.

2. Your research focuses on some fundamental conservation questions such as: which constituents of Earth’s biota (and with which attributes) are likely to survive (assuming that human impacts on the environment intensify as projected)? How how has your focus on this question changed over time?

When I began addressing this question, the prevailing view was that the clues to the future of biodiversity were to be found in remnants of native habitat – Noah’s Arks floating in a hostile sea of development. The logic was that most organisms are highly adapted to their native habitats and that few, therefore, would be able to exploit areas heavily modified by human activities. In general, those few would not require or merit protection. Through my own work and recent research of others, I have since discovered, to the contrary, that human-dominated ecosystems can retain substantial conservation value, and that there is now a rapidly closing window of opportunity to sustain this value.

3. From a scientific perspective, which species/systems most merit protection?

I am actively attempting to link projected changes in biodiversity and ecosystems to changes in “services” to humanity. These services include production of goods (e.g., seafood and timber), life-support processes (pollination and water purification), life-fulfilling conditions (beauty and serenity), and options (genetic diversity for future use). An example of this work demonstrated a high value of tropical forest as an input to coffee production via the supply of pollinators – showing that conservation investments can pay off even in prime farmland within existing economic and legal systems.

4. What strategies can make conservation attractive and commonplace worldwide?

I have worked with many colleagues to launch the Natural Capital Project, a partnership among The Nature Conservancy (TNC), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and Stanford University to make conservation attractive and commonplace worldwide. The project aspires to provide maps of nature’s services, assess their values in economic and other terms, and – for the first time on any significant scale – incorporate those values into resource decisions.

CJA Bradshaw

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

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