When human society breaks down, wildlife suffers

22 01 2015

bearGlobal human society is a massive, consumptive beast that on average degrades its life-support system. As we’ve recently reported, this will only continue to get worse in the decades to centuries to come. Some have argued that as long as we can develop our societies enough, the impact of this massive demographic force can be lessened – a concept described by the environmental Kuznets curve. However, there is little evidence that negative societal impact on the environment is lessened as per capita wealth exceeds some threshold; unfortunately environmental damage tends to, on average, increase as a nation’s net wealth increases. That’s not to say that short-term improvements cannot be achieved through technological innovation – in fact, they will be essential to offset the inexorable growth of the global human population.

So poor nations as well as the wealthy ones are responsible for environmental damage. Poorer nations often have ineffective governance systems so they fail to enforce compliance in environmental regulations, but wealthier nations often exploit a high proportion of their natural resources, with the inevitable environmental damage this entails. In some cases however, biodiversity can temporarily escape some of the ravages of society because humans either perceive the area to be too dangerous, or otherwise have no incentive to go there. There are some good examples of the latter, such as the vicinity around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor that melted down in 1986, or the Korean demilitarised zone.

In this vein, I just stumbled across an extremely interesting paper today published online early in Conservation Biology that describes trends in charismatic wildlife (i.e., big mammals) as the former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and societal breakdown ensued. The authors had access to an amazing dataset that spanned the decade prior to the collapse, the decade immediately following, and a subsequent decade of societal renewal. What they found was fascinating. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s all about the variation, stupid

12 01 2015

val-1-3It is one of my long-suffering ecological quests to demonstrate to the buffoons in government and industry that you can’t simply offset deforestation by planting another forest elsewhere. While it sounds attractive, like carbon offsetting or even water neutrality, you can’t recreate a perfectly functioning, resilient native forest no matter how hard you try.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that we shouldn’t reforest much of what we’ve already cut down over the last few centuries; reforestation is an essential element of any semblance of meaningful terrestrial ecological restoration. Indeed, without a major commitment to reforestation worldwide, the extinction crisis will continue to spiral out of control.

What I am concerned about, however, is that administrators continue to push for so-called ‘biodiversity offsets’ – clearing a forest patch here for some such development, while reforesting or even afforesting another degraded patch there. However, I’ve blogged before about studies, including some of my own, showing that one simply cannot replace primary forests in terms of biodiversity and long-term carbon storage. Now we can add resilience to that list.

While I came across this paper a while ago, I’ve only found the time to blog about it now. Published in PLoS One in early December, the paper Does forest continuity enhance the resilience of trees to environmental change?1 by von Oheimb and colleagues shows clearly that German oak forests that had been untouched for over 100 years were more resilient to climate variation than forests planted since that time. I’ll let that little fact sink in for a moment … Read the rest of this entry »

Help Hawaii’s hyper-threatened birds

6 01 2015
Puaiohi or small Kaua'i thrush. Photo by Lucas Behnke

Puaiohi or small Kaua’i thrush. Photo by Lucas Behnke

You wouldn’t want to be a bird in Hawaii. There are more avian species threatened with extinction there than anywhere else in the USA. After humans arrived, some 70+ species have become extinct, and 31 are listed as threatened with extinction. In addition, 43% of 157 species are not native; among land birds, 69% are introduced species.

My friend, Cali Crampton asked me to promote their new crowdfunding project to reduce the threat of feral rats on Hawaiian birds. Please help if you can.

The Kaua‘i Forest Bird Recovery Project, a collaborative project of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the University of Hawaii Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, and Garden Island Research and Development, has announced the launch of a crowdfunding and outreach campaign to generate support for protecting the native birds of Kaua’i by controlling rats with humane, self-resetting rat traps.

The campaign, named “Birds, not Rats!” runs through to 31 January 2015, with goals of increasing awareness of the threats that rats pose to birds and native ecosystems, and raising at least $10,000 for rat control through many small, individual donations.

Hawai’i is at the epicentre of the current global extinction crisis. Of the original 130+ native Hawaiian bird species, many have been lost forever, and only 11 are not yet endangered. Today, Kaua’i is home to eight native forest bird species, three of which are federally listed as endangered: the puaiohi or small Kaua’i thrush, the akeke’e or Kaua’i akepa, and the akikiki or Kaua’i creeper. Populations of these birds have plummeted as much as 90% in the last five years; the akikiki and the puaiohi now number fewer than 500 individuals, and the akeke’e numbers fewer than 1000 individuals. The Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project’s goal is to reverse these declines. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss XXVII

31 12 2014

Here are the last 6 biodiversity cartoons for 2014 because, well, why not? (see full stock of previous ‘Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss’ compendia here).

Read the rest of this entry »

Influential conservation papers of 2014

22 12 2014

splash2Another year, another arbitrary retrospective list – but I’m still going to do it. Based on the popularity of last year’s retrospective list of influential conservation papers as assessed through F1000 Prime, here are 20 conservation papers published in 2014 that impressed the Faculty members.

Once again for copyright reasons, I can’t give the whole text but I’ve given the links to the F1000 assessments (if you’re a subscriber) and of course, to the papers themselves. I did not order these based on any particular criterion.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s time for environmentalists to give nuclear a fair go

16 12 2014

This is an article by Barry Brook and mepublished today in The Conversation. I’m republishing it here.

Should nuclear energy be part of Australia’s (and many other countries’) future energy mix? We think so, particularly as part of a solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous climate change.

But there are other reasons for supporting nuclear technology. In a paper recently published in Conservation Biology, we show that an energy mix including nuclear power has lowest impact on wildlife and ecosystems — which is what we need given the dire state of the world’s biodiversity.

In response, we have gathered signatures of 70 leading conservation scientists from 14 countries in an open letter asking that the environmental community:

weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

Energy demand is rising

Modern society is a ceaseless consumer of energy, and growing demand won’t stop any time soon, even under the most optimistic energy-efficiency scenario.

Although it goes without saying that we must continue to improve energy efficiency in the developed world, the momentum of population growth and rising living standards, particularly in the developing world, means we will continue to need more energy for decades to come. No amount of wishful thinking for reduced demand will change that.

But which are the best forms of energy to supply the world, and not add to the biodiversity crisis?

Assessing our energy options

In short, the argument goes like this.

To avoid the worst ravages of climate change, we have to decarbonise fully (eliminate net carbon emissions from) the global electricity sector. Wildlife and ecosystems are threatened by this climate disruption, largely caused by fossil-fuel derived emissions.

But they are also imperilled by land transformation (i.e., habitat loss) caused in part by other energy sources, such as flooded areas (usually forests) for hydro-electricity and all the associated road development this entails, agricultural areas needed for biofuels, and large spaces needed for wind and solar farms.

Energy density of different fuels. This infographic shows the amount of energy embodied in uranium, coal, natural gas and a chemical battery, scaled to provide enough energy for a lifetime of use in the developed world. Shown are the amount of each source needed to provide same amount of energy, equivalent to 220 kWh of energy per day for 80 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy

15 12 2014

nuclear biodiversityProfessor Barry W. Brook, Chair of Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania, Australia. barry.brook@utas.edu.au

Professor Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide, Australia. corey.bradshaw@adelaide.edu.au

An Open Letter to Environmentalists:

As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity and the degradation of the human life-support system this entails, we, the co-signed, support the broad conclusions drawn in the article Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation published in Conservation Biology (Brook & Bradshaw 2014).

Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources—including nuclear power—must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change. They provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling—as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency. This multi-pronged strategy for sustainable energy could also be more cost-effective and spare more land for biodiversity, as well as reduce non-carbon pollution (aerosols, heavy metals).

Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position. However, much as leading climate scientists have recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change (Caldeira et al. 2013), we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

Although renewable energy sources like wind and solar will likely make increasing contributions to future energy production, these technology options face real-world problems of scalability, cost, material and land use, meaning that it is too risky to rely on them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels. Nuclear power—being by far the most compact and energy-dense of sources—could also make a major, and perhaps leading, contribution. As scientists, we declare that an evidence-based approach to future energy production is an essential component of securing biodiversity’s future and cannot be ignored. It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy arena.

Signatories (in alphabetical order)

  1. Professor Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. apb12@cam.ac.uk
  2. Professor Andrew J. Beattie, Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. abeattie@bio.mq.edu.au
  3. Assistant Professor David P. Bickford, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore. dbsbdp@nus.edu.sg
  4. Professor Tim M. Blackburn, Professor of Invasion Biology, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, United Kingdom. t.blackburn@ucl.ac.uk
  5. Professor Daniel T. Blumstein, Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Los Angeles, USA. marmots@ucla.edu
  6. Professor Luigi Boitani, Dipartimento di Biologia, e Biotecnologie Charles Darwin, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. luigi.boitani@uniroma1.it
  7. Professor Mark S. Boyce, Professor and Alberta Conservation Association Chair in Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada. boyce@ualberta.ca
  8. Professor David M.J.S. Bowman, Professor of Environmental Change Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Australia. david.bowman@utas.edu.au
  9. Professor Scott P. Carroll, Institute for Contemporary Evolution and Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of California Davis, USA. spcarroll@ucdavis.edu
  10. Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia.
  11. Professor F. Stuart Chapin III, Professor Emeritus of Ecology, Department of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA. terry.chapin@alaska.edu
  12. Professor David Choquenot, Director, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia. david.choquenot@canberra.edu.au
  13. Dr Ben Collen, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, United Kingdom. b.collen@ucl.ac.uk
  14. Professor Richard T. Corlett, Director, Centre for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China. corlett@xtbg.org.cn
  15. Dr Franck Courchamp, Director of Research, Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution – UMR CNRS, Member of the European Academy of Sciences, Université Paris-Sud, France. franck.courchamp@u-psud.fr
  16. Professor Chris B. Daniels, Director, Barbara Hardy Institute, University of South Australia, Australia. chris.daniels@unisa.edu.au
  17. Professor Chris Dickman, Professor of Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia. chris.dickman@sydney.edu.au
  18. Associate Professor Don Driscoll, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, The Australian National University, Australia. don.driscoll@anu.edu.au
  19. Professor David Dudgeon, Chair Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China. ddudgeon@hku.hk
  20. Associate Professor Erle C. Ellis, Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, USA. ece@umbc.edu
  21. Dr Damien A. Fordham, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia. damien.fordham@adelaide.edu.au
  22. Dr Eddie Game, Senior Scientist, The Nature Conservancy Worldwide Office, Australia. egame@tnc.org
  23. Professor Kevin J. Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation, Director, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, United Kingdom. k.j.gaston@exeter.ac.uk
  24. Professor Dr Jaboury Ghazoul, Professor of Ecosystem Management, ETH Zürich, Institute for Terrestrial Ecosystems, Switzerland. jaboury.ghazoul@env.ethz.ch
  25. Professor Robert G. Harcourt, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. robert.harcourt@mq.edu.au
  26. Professor Susan P. Harrison, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis, USA. spharrison@ucdavis.edu
  27. Professor Fangliang He, Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Landscape Modelling, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Canada and State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol and School of Life Sciences, Sun-yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China. fhe@ualberta.ca
  28. Professor Mark A. Hindell, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia. mark.hindell@utas.edu.au
  29. Professor Richard J. Hobbs, School of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia, Australia. richard.hobbs@uwa.edu.au
  30. Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor and Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland, Australia. oveh@uq.edu.au
  31. Professor Marcel Holyoak, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, USA. maholyoak@ucdavis.edu
  32. Professor Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. lesley.hughes@mq.edu.au
  33. Professor Christopher N. Johnson, Department of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Australia. c.n.johnson@utas.edu.au
  34. Dr Julia P.G. Jones, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, United Kingdom. julia.jones@bangor.ac.uk
  35. Professor Kate E. Jones, Biodiversity Modelling Research Group, University College London, United Kingdom. kate.e.jones@ucl.ac.uk
  36. Dr Menna E. Jones, Department of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Australia. menna.jones@utas.edu.au
  37. Dr Lucas Joppa, Conservation Biologist, United Kingdom. lujoppa@microsoft.com
  38. Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia. lianpin.koh@adelaide.edu.au
  39. Professor Charles J. Krebs, Emeritus, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Canada. krebs@zoology.ubc.ca
  40. Dr Robert C. Lacy, Conservation Biologist, USA. rlacy@ix.netcom.com
  41. Associate Professor Susan Laurance, Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Studies, James Cook University, Australia. susan.laurance@jcu.edu.au
  42. Professor William F. Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia. bill.laurance@jcu.edu.au
  43. Professor Peter Ng Kee Lin, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore. dbsngkl@nus.edu.sg
  44. Professor Thomas E. Lovejoy, Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy department, George Mason University, USA. tlovejoy@unfoundation.org
  45. Dr Antony J Lynam, Global Conservation Programs, Wildlife Conservation Society, USA. tlynam@wcs.org
  46. Professor Anson W. Mackay, Department of Geography, University College London, United Kingdom. ans.mackay@ucl.ac.uk
  47. Professor Helene D. Marsh, College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, James Cook University, Australia. helene.marsh@jcu.edu.au
  48. Professor Michelle Marvier, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University, USA. mmarvier@scu.edu
  49. Professor Lord Robert M. May of Oxford OM AC Kt FRS, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. robert.may@zoo.ox.ac.uk
  50. Dr Margaret M. Mayfield, Director, The Ecology Centre, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Australia. m.mayfield@uq.edu.au
  51. Dr Clive R. McMahon, Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia. clive.mcmahon@utas.edu.au
  52. Dr Mark Meekan, Marine Biologist, Australia. m.meekan@aims.gov.au
  53. Dr Erik Meijaard, Borneo Futures Project, People and Nature Consulting, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. emeijaard@gmail.com
  54. Professor L. Scott Mills, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program in Global Environmental Change, North Carolina State University, USA. lsmills@ncsu.edu
  55. Professor Atte Moilanen, Research Director, Conservation Decision Analysis, University of Helsinki, Finland. atte.moilanen@helsinki.fi
  56. Professor Craig Moritz, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Australia. craig.moritz@anu.edu.au
  57. Dr Robin Naidoo, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability University of British Columbia, Canada. robin.naidoo@wwfus.org
  58. Professor Reed F. Noss, Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor, University of Central Florida, USA. reed.noss@ucf.edu
  59. Associate Professor Julian D. Olden, Freshwater Ecology and Conservation Lab, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, USA. olden@uw.edu
  60. Professor Maharaj Pandit, Professor and Head, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi, India. mkpandit@cismhe.org
  61. Professor Kenneth H. Pollock, Professor of Applied Ecology, Biomathematics and Statistics, Department of Applied Ecology, North Carolina State University, USA. pollock@ncsu.edu
  62. Professor Hugh P. Possingham, School of Biological Science and School of Maths and Physics, The University of Queensland, Australia. h.possingham@uq.edu.au
  63. Professor Peter H. Raven, George Engelmann Professor of Botany Emeritus, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University in St. Louis, USA. peter.raven@mobot.org
  64. Professor David M. Richardson, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. rich@sun.ac.za
  65. Dr Euan G. Ritchie, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Australia. e.ritchie@deakin.edu.au
  66. Professor Terry L. Root, Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, USA. troot@stanford.edu
  67. Dr Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Assistant Professor, Biology, University of Utah, USA and Doçent 2010, Biology/Ecology, Inter-university Council (UAK) of Turkey. c.s@utah.edu
  68. Associate Professor Douglas Sheil, Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway. douglas.sheil@nmbu.no
  69. Professor Richard Shine AM FAA, Professor in Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia. rick.shine@sydney.edu.au
  70. Professor William J. Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. w.sutherland@zoo.cam.ac.uk
  71. Professor Chris D. Thomas, FRS, Department of Biology, University of York, United Kingdom. chris.thomas@york.ac.uk
  72. Professor Ross M. Thompson, Chair of Water Science, Institute of Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia. ross.thompson@canberra.edu.au
  73. Professor Ian G. Warkentin, Environmental Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. ian.warkentin@grenfell.mun.ca
  74. Professor Stephen E. Williams, Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia. stephen.williams@jcu.edu.au
  75. Professor Kirk O. Winemiller, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Interdisciplinary Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Texas A&M University, USA. k-winemiller@tamu.edu

Note: Affiliations of signatories are for identification purposes, and do not imply that their organizations have necessarily endorsed this letter.


Brook, B. W., and C. J. A. Bradshaw. 2014. Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology doi:10.1111/cobi.12433.

Caldeira, K., K., Emmanuel, J. Hansen, and T. Wigley. 2013. An Open Letter to those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power. CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-scientists-letter/index.html. (Accessed 14 March 2014).


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