Classics: The Living Dead

30 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

Zombie_ElephantTilman, D., May, R.M., Lehman, C.L., Nowak, M.A. (1994) Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature 371, 65-66

In my opinion, this is truly a conservation classic because it shatters optimistic notions that extinction is something only rarely the consequence of human activities (see relevant post here). The concept of ‘extinction debt‘ is pretty simple – as habitats become increasingly fragmented, long-lived species that are reproductively isolated from conspecifics may take generations to die off (e.g., large trees in forest fragments). This gives rise to a higher number of species than would be otherwise expected for the size of the fragment, and the false impression that many species can persist in habitat patches that are too small to sustain minimum viable populations.

These ‘living dead‘ or ‘zombie‘ species are therefore committed to extinction regardless of whether habitat loss is arrested or reversed. Only by assisted dispersal and/or reproduction can such species survive (an extremely rare event).

Why has this been important? Well, neglecting the extinction debt is one reason why some people have over-estimated the value of fragmented and secondary forests in guarding species against extinction (see relevant example here for the tropics and Brook et al. 2006). It basically means that biological communities are much less resilient to fragmentation than would otherwise be expected given data on species presence collected shortly after the main habitat degradation or destruction event. To appreciate fully the extent of expected extinctions may take generations (e.g., hundreds of years) to come to light, giving us yet another tool in the quest to minimise habitat loss and fragmentation.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Show me the (conservation) evidence

29 08 2008

Guest post from Professor William J. Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Chair in Conservation Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom:

We carry out research in conservation largely under the belief that this is making a difference to the planet. However, research (e.g., Sutherland et al. 2004) shows that little of this research is used in practice. There are many good reasons why practitioners only use a small fraction of the available science: most do not have access to the scientific search engines, they usually have very limited access to scientific journals and most importantly, they usually do not have the time or training to search the literature. Another important problem is that the most important source of information is the experience of practitioners, but this is rarely quantified or documented.

To help overcome these problems the website ConservationEvidence.com has been established. It has two main objectives: (1) providing a means for practitioners to document their experience through the online journal Conservation Evidence and (2) summarising the global literature including unpublished report and papers in languages other than English. Currently (August 2008), this has details of over 1200 interventions but the aim is to increase this to 10,000 interventions. The next stage, which is currently being worked on, is then to provide summaries of the consequences of different interventions.

The ambitious objective is to change the way in which global conservation practice is carried out so that practitioners have ready access to information on the effectiveness of interventions including the experience of other practitioners.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Australian Wet Tropics Biosequestration Project

28 08 2008

Guest post from Penny van Oosterzee, Degree Celsius:

© P. van Oosterzee
© P. van Oosterzee

The Wet Tropics Regional Biosequestration Project Development Document was launched last week on the global stage, for public scrutiny, via the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) website. There are only a dozen other cases in the world that have managed to reach this level of scrutiny.

The CCB standards are used in both the voluntary global markets and also for CDM (clean development mechanism) projects (only afforestation and reforestation) that have significant biodiversity outcomes. It is well known that land use, land use change, and forestry provides the most cost-effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally, and we believe the Wet Tropics project is at the leading edge of showing how.

The Wet Tropics Project is the world’s first regional biocarbon verification case based on community NRM (Natural Resource Management) activities, aggregating different bio-sequestration activities (reforestation, assisted natural regeneration, avoided deforestation, grazing land management, reduced use of fertiliser in agriculture) of myriad landholders in one verification case.

The initiative of using NRM Regional Plan’s as a basis for biosequestration project design is an innovation that can be rolled out across the state and nationally. Using Regional Plans ensures scientifically robust monitoring outcomes because of the adoption of systems already in place for monitoring. Economically the approach allows trading to occur at the regional and landholder level, and sets the stage for new livelihoods in regional Australia in a climate constrained world.

The Wet Tropics Project is itself a pilot for the NRM regions comprising the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef which are pivotal for its the survival. The Wet Tropics Project also helps to inform national policy debates since both Garnaut and the Federal Government’s Green Paper point out the importance of forestry and agriculture but fail to provide any way forward, and are on a watching brief for solutions.

The Wet Tropics initiative with its link to regional plans immediately enables entry into other global developments such as water quality credits and biodiversity credits.

See also the Degree Celsius website for more information.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Cost, not biodiversity, dictates decision to conserve

26 08 2008

One for the Potential list:

originalEuroGreen_LogoI’ve just read a great new paper by Bode et al. (2008) entitled Cost-effective global conservation spending is robust to taxonomic group.

After the hugely influential biodiversity ‘hotspot concept hit the global stage, there was a series of subsequent research papers examining just how we should measure the ‘biodiversity’ component of areas needing to be conserved (and invested in). The problem was that depending on which taxa you looked at, and what measure of ‘biodiversity’ you used (e.g., species richness, endemism, latent threat, evolutionary potential, functional redundancy), the priority list of where, how much and when to invest in conservation differed quite a lot. In other words, the congruency among listed areas was rather low (summarised nicely in Thomas Brooks‘ paper in Science Global biodiversity conservation priorities and examined also by Orme et al. 2005). This causes all sorts of problems for conservation investment planners – what to invest in and where?

Bode and colleagues’ newest paper demonstrates at least for endemism, the taxon on which you base your assessment is much less important for maximising species conservation than factors such as land cost and the degree of threat (e.g., as measured by the IUCN Red List).

Of course, their findings could be considered too simplistic because they don’t (couldn’t) evaluate other potentially more important components of ‘biodiversity’ such as genetic history (evolutionary potential) or ecological functional redundancy (the idea that a species becomes more important to conserve if no other species provide the same ecosystem functions); however, I think this paper is something of a landmark in that it shows that ‘socio-economic’ uncertainty generally outweighs uncertainty due to biodiversity measures. The long and short of this is that planners should start investing if there is evidence of heightened threat and land is cheap.

A few other missing bits means that the paper is more heuristic than prescriptive (something the authors state right up front). There is no attempt to take biodiversity, threat or land cost changes arising from climate change into account (see relevant post here), so some of the priorities are questionable. Related to this is the idea of latent risk (see relevant paper by Cardillo et al. 2006) – what’s not necessarily threatened now but likely will be in the very near future. Also, only a small percentage of species are listed in the IUCN Red List (see relevant post here), so perhaps we’re missing some important trends. Finally, I had to note that almost all the priority areas outlined in the paper happened to be in the tropics, which stands to reason given the current and ongoing extinction crisis occurring in this realm. See a more detailed post on ‘tropical turmoil‘.

Despite the caveats, I think this could provide a way forward to the conservation planning stalemate.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Classics: Biodiversity Hotspots

25 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

info-chap7-slide-pic03Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., da Fonseca, G.A.B. & Kent, J. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403, 853-858

According to Google Scholar, this paper has over 2500 citations. Even though it was published less than a decade ago, already Myers and colleagues’ ‘hotspots’ concept has become the classic lexicon for, as they defined it, areas with high species endemism and degradation by humans. In other words, these are places on the planet (originally only terrestrial, but the concept has been extended to the marine realm) where at the current rates of habitat loss, exploitation, etc., we stand to lose far more irreplaceable species. The concept has been criticised for various incapacities to account for all types of threats – indeed, many other prioritisation criteria have been proposed (assessed nicely by Brooks et al. 2006 and Orme et al. 2005), but it’s the general idea proposed by Myers and colleagues that has set the conservation policy stage for most countries. One little gripe here – although the concept ostensibly means areas of high endemic species richness AND associated threat, people often take the term ‘hotspot’ to mean just a place with lots of species. Not so. Ah, the intangible concept of biodiversity!

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





The extinction vortex

25 08 2008

One for the Potential list:

vortexFirst coined by Gilpin & Soulé in 1986, the extinction vortex is the term used to describe the process that declining populations undergo when”a mutual reinforcement occurs among biotic and abiotic processes that drives population size downward to extinction” (Brook, Sodhi & Bradshaw 2008).

Although several types of ‘vortices’ were labelled by Gilpin & Soulé, the concept was subsequently simplified by Caughley (1994) in his famous paper on the declining and small population paradigms, but only truly quantified for the first time by Fagan & Holmes (2006) in their Ecology Letters paper entitled Quantifying the extinction vortex.

Fagan and Holmes compiled a small time-series database of ten vertebrate species (two mammals, five birds, two reptiles and a fish) whose final extinction was witnessed via monitoring. They confirmed that the time to extinction scales to the logarithm of population size. In other words, as populations decline, the time elapsing before extinction occurs becomes rapidly (exponentially) smaller and smaller. They also found greater rates of population decline nearer to the time of extinction than earlier in the population’s history, confirming the expectation that genetic deterioration contributes to a general corrosion of individual performance (fitness). Finally, they found that the variability in abundance was also highest as populations approached extinction, irrespective of population size, thus demonstrating indirectly that random environmental fluctuations take over to cause the final extinction regardless of what caused the population to decline in the first place.

What does this mean for conservation efforts? It was fundamentally the first empirical demonstration that the theory of accelerating extinction proneness occurs as populations decline, meaning that all attempts must be made to ensure large population sizes if there is any chance of maintaining long-term persistence. This relates to the minimum viable population size concept that should underscore each and every recovery and target set or desired for any population in trouble or under conservation scrutiny.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Synergies among extinction drivers

24 08 2008

Hopefully one for the Potential list:

© J. Hance

Brook, BW, NS Sodhi, CJA Bradshaw. (2008) Synergies among extinction drivers under global change. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23, 453-460

A review my colleagues, Barry Brook and Navjot Sodhi, and I have just published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution demonstrates how separate drivers of extinction (e.g., habitat loss, over-exploitation [hunting, fishing, etc.], climate change, invasive species, etc.) tend to work together to heighten the extinction probability of the species they affect more than the simple sum of the individual effects alone.

In what we termed ‘synergies’, the review compiles evidence from observational, experimental and meta-analytic research demonstrating the positive and self-reinforcing actions of multiple drivers of population decline and eventual extinction. Examples include experimental evidence that wild radishes experiencing inbreeding depression have lower fitness than expected from simple population reduction (Elam et al. 2007), inter-tidal polychaetes succumb to pollution effects much more so at low densities than when populations are abundant (Hollows et al. 2007), and habitat fragmentation, harvest and simulated climate warming increase rotifer extinction risk up to 50 times more than expected from the additive effects of the threatening processes (Mora et al. 2007).

We argued that conservation actions only targeting single drivers will more than likely be inadequate because of the cascading effects caused by unmanaged synergies. Climate change will also interact with and accelerate ongoing threats to biodiversity, so the importance of accounting for these interactions cannot be understated.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Investor creates first tropical biodiversity credits

23 08 2008

Post reproduced from TakeCover08:

An Australian investment company has launched what it describes as the first tropical biodiversity credit scheme, Mongabay.com reports (more detail here).

New Forests, a Sydney-based firm, has established the Malua Wildlife Habitat Conservation Bank in Malaysia as an attempt to raise funds for rainforest conservation.

The “Malua BioBank” will use an investment from a private equity fund to restore and protect 34,000 hectares of formerly logged forest.

The area will serve as a buffer between biological-rich forest reserve and oil palm plantations.

The credit scheme will generate “Biodiversity Conservation Certificates”, which will be sold to bankroll a perpetual conservation trust and produce a return on investment for the Sabah Government and the private equity fund.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Classics: Declining and small population paradigms

23 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

image0032Caughley, G. (1994). Directions in conservation biology. Journal of Animal Ecology, 63, 215-244.

Cited around 800 times according to Google Scholar, this classic paper demonstrated the essential difference between the two major paradigms dominating the discipline of conservation biology: (1) the ‘declining’ population paradigm, and the (2) ‘small’ population paradigm. The declining population paradigm is the identification and management of the processes that depress the demographic rate of a species and cause its populations to decline deterministically, whereas the small population paradigm is the study of the dynamics of small populations that have declined owing to some (deterministic) perturbation and which are more susceptible to extinction via chance (stochastic) events. Put simply, the forces that drive populations into decline aren’t necessarily those that drive the final nail into a species’ coffin – we must manage for both types of processes  simultaneously , and the synergies between them, if we want to reduce the likelihood of species going extinct.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Classics: Red List of Threatened Species

22 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

3_en_redlist_rgb_sitoMace, G.M. & Lande, R. (1991). Assessing extinction threats: toward a re-evaluation of IUCN threatened species categories. Conservation Biology, 51, 148-157.

I was recently fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with Georgina Mace, current president of the Society for Conservation Biology, to ask her which was the defining paper behind the hugely influential IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There is little doubt that the Red List has been one of the most influential conservation policy tools constructed. Used as the global standard for the assessment of threat (i.e., extinction risk) for now > 40000 species, the Red List is the main tool by which most people judge the status, extinction risk, and recovery potential of threatened species worldwide. Far from complete (e.g., it covers about 2 % of described species), the Red List is an evolving and improving assessment by the world’s best experts. It has become very much more than just a ‘list’.

Indeed, it is used often in the conservation ecology literature as a proxy for extinction risk (although see post on Minimum Viable Population size for some counter-arguments to that idea). We’ve used it that way ourselves in several recent papers (see below), and there are plenty of other examples. From extinction theory to policy implementation, Mace & Lande’s contribution to biodiversity conservation via the Red List was a major step forward.

See also:

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Classics: Minimum Viable Population size

21 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

Too-Few-CaloriesShaffer, M.L. (1981). Minimum population sizes for species conservation. BioScience 31, 131–134

Small and isolated populations are particularly vulnerable to extinction through random variation in birth and death rates, variation in resource or habitat availability, predation, competitive interactions and single-event catastrophes, and inbreeding. Enter the concept of the Minimum Viable Population (MVP) size, which was originally defined as the smallest number of individuals required for an isolated population to persist (at some predefined ‘high’ probability) for some ‘long’ time into the future. In other words, the MVP size is the number of individuals in the population that is needed to withstand normal (expected) variation in all the things that affect individual persistence through time. Drop below your MVP size, and suddenly your population’s risk of extinction sky-rockets. In some ways, MVP size can be considered the threshold dividing the ‘small’ and ‘declining’ population paradigms (see Caughley 1994), so that different management strategies can be applied to populations depending on their relative distance to (population-specific) MVP size.

This wonderfully simply, yet fundamental concept of extinction dynamics provides the target for species recovery, minimum reserve size and sustainable harvest if calculated correctly. Indeed, it is a concept underlying threatened species lists worldwide, including the most well-known (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). While there are a host of methods issues, genetic considerations and policy implementation problems, Shaffer’s original paper spawned an entire generation of research and mathematical techniques in conservation biology, and set the stage for tangible, mathematically based conservation targets.

Want more information? We have published some papers and articles on the subject that elaborate more on the methods, expected ranges, subtleties and implications of the MVP concept that you can access below.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Native forests reduce the risk of catastrophic floods

20 08 2008

A-Pakistan-Army-helicopte-004Each 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 »





Classics: Island Biogeography

19 08 2008

‘Classics’ is a category of posts highlighting research that has made a real difference to biodiversity conservation. All posts in this category will be permanently displayed on the Classics page of ConservationBytes.com

cimage_4c1402ed91-thumbbMacArthur, R.H. & Wilson, E.O. (1967). The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

Although this classic book was written before the discipline of conservation biology really kicked off, it has to be one of the more influential in terms of reserve design and the estimation of extinction rates. The original theory was proposed as a determinant of total species richness on islands as a function of island size. Put (almost too) simply the bigger the island, the more species it contains. This ultimately lead to the branch of biogeography/conservation biology that applied ‘species-area’ relationships to habitat fragments to extrapolate total species number and more importantly (in the context of the extinction crisis), estimate rates of species loss. The species-area literature is a hot-bed of critique and polemic, yet no one can deny that this seminal book really kicked off the idea that reduced and fragmented areas are bad for biodiversity. We wouldn’t have nature reserves today if it wasn’t for this simple, yet brilliant piece of work.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity tragedy in progress

18 08 2008

fragmentationWe recently published (online) a major review showing that the world is losing the battle over tropical habitat loss with potentially disastrous implications for biodiversity and human well-being.

Published online in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, our review Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity crisis in progress concludes that we are “on a trajectory towards disaster” and calls for an immediate global, multi-pronged conservation approach to avert the worst outcomes.

Tropical forests support more than 60 % of all known species, but represent only about 7 % of the Earth’s land surface. But up to 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest are being lost every year and species are being lost at a rate of up to 10000 times higher than would happen randomly without humans present.

This is not just a tragedy for tropical biodiversity, this is a crisis that will directly affect human livelihoods. This is not just about losing tiny species found in the canopies of big rain forest trees few people will ever see, this is about a complete change in ecosystem services that directly benefit human life. Read the rest of this entry »





Saving species does not harm poor

17 08 2008

Poor-Amongst-YouHere’s a great one for the Potential list:

A paper just published online in the journal Oryx by Kent Redford and colleagues entitled What is the role for conservation organizations in poverty alleviation in the world’s wild places? challenges one argument used by anti-conservation humanists to avoid preserving intact habitats.

When rainforests and other high conservation-value habitats are set aside for protection, humanists will often complain that it destroys the livelihoods of the people living there because the listing prevents them from farming, hunting or otherwise providing themselves with income. Not so say Redford and colleagues – they found that most of the world’s poor (measured by proxy using infant mortality rates) were predominately associated with high-density urban areas and not with more intact wild areas.

Critics of the finding argue that this should not take the onus away from richer nations or governments to bolster the economic prosperity of these people, and I agree. However, this is a major finding that in some ways validates what we are beginning to understand about habitat intactness and ecosystem services. Destroy the ecosystems around you and you generally have lower water quality, higher incidence of catastrophic events, poor agricultural returns, greater disease prevalence, etc. that will drive people into poverty, rather than drop them further down the economic scale.

If this conclusion stands up to analytical scrutiny and supporting evidence from other analyses, I dearly hope that it is noticed and embraced by governments worldwide struggling to find the balance between economic development, poverty alleviation and conservation of biodiversity to maintain ecosystem services.

CJA Bradshaw

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl





The Irwin Factor in Conservation Leadership

16 08 2008
© Channel 10 Australia

© Channel 10 Australia

In 2007 we were compelled to comment on an essential ingredient in the challenge to convince people that conserving biodiversity is in their best interest – inspirational and celebrity characters highlighting the extinction crisis.

Just how important is it to have charismatic conservation champions with celebrity status beating the drum for change? I used to think that it was essential (and some of my colleagues agree) if the majority of the human population is to alter destructive behaviour, especially considering that most people do not read the scientific literature (hence, media such as blogs that can appeal to a much wider audience).

However, there is a danger that overtly sensational representation of these issues may stimulate nothing at all, or even counter-productive behaviour. Indeed, this was our argument concerning Aussie ‘larrikin’ Steve Irwin. Our letter entitled Dangers of sensationalizing conservation biology published in the journal Conservation Biology was a response to Sébastien Paquette’s letter entitled Importance of the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ phenomenon published in the same journal.

An abbreviated version of our letter follows:

The global biodiversity crisis that spawned the discipline of conservation biology is closer to the forefront of the average person’s thoughts than it has ever been. The shift in popular thinking about conservation issues is in no small way due to the impressive and relevant work of conservation scientists worldwide. It is good science that provides the focus for the conservation spotlight, which continues to gain in intensity with problems such as anthropogenically driven climate change. That said, acknowledgement must be given to the power of advocacy wielded by people who have been successful in promoting awareness of conservation matters in the mass media.

The power of media, such as television, to influence public thought on conservation issues is, however, both a blessing and a curse. Its great benefit is that it promotes awareness of the natural world among the urbanized citizenry who are disconnected from the plight of biodiversity. Modern “nature celebrities” such as Sir David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, Al Gore, and Steve Irwin have fostered and promoted an appreciation and fascination of natural systems by people who would never otherwise have the opportunity to observe them. The curse, however, is subtler and insidious. The overarching requirement of popular entertainment is that it be eye-catching, sensational, and even eccentric if it is to attract sufficient attention to survive. Read the rest of this entry »





Global warming and biodiversity extinction

14 08 2008

My colleague Barry Brook recently posted a discussion on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity extinction rates and patterns. A very good introduction to the subject.

CJA Bradshaw





When ‘conservationists’ …aren’t

12 08 2008

There is the concept of “conservation” and its vital counterpart, “preservation”. “Conservation” is defined as the preservation and careful management of the environment and of natural resources. Although preservation is necessarily an inherent aspect of conservation, in recent years it has come to symbolise a form of environmental zealotry that would preclude, if given the chance, any advancement of knowledge in ecology and biology in general. Conservation embraces understanding – knowledge that enables a defined management of the systems we seek to conserve.

Most people are familiar with emotive zealots such as those subscribing to the extreme views in abortion laws, religion and animal rights. I am reminded here of Barry Horne, the British animal-rights activist who died in a prison hospital from hunger strike. Mr. Horne was serving an 18-year sentence after being convicted of a nation-wide fire-bombing campaign in 1997. The misplaced passion exuded by Mr. Horne not only cost him his own life, but millions of pounds to shop owners around the country. One might ask the question: What was it all for? Even the slightly more humoristic saga of eco-terrorists in Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel Monkey Wrench Gang reminds us that zealots can embrace issues with a dedication that denies the logic of constructive improvement.

A far more insidious and malignant form of zealotry is that demonstrated by individuals or organisations that on the surface advocate a particular opinion, when underneath, do not actually subscribe to their own stated convictions. A common diatribe of such preservation zealots is that researchers do “science for science’s sake”. Read the rest of this entry »





More on ‘roos

8 08 2008
Couldn’t resist posting this. Brilliant. Copyright Cathy Wilcox and the Sydney Morning Herald (in reference to previous post).




Beef is bad; Skippy is better

7 08 2008

© AWBC

One for the ‘potential‘ list – George Wilson and Melanie Edwards of Australian Wildlife Services have just published a paper in the Early View section of Conservation Letters entitled Native wildlife on rangelands to minimize methane and produce lower-emission meat: kangaroos versus livestock.I am particularly moved by this one for several reasons: (1) it is one of the first really good policy pieces on why we should be eating more kangaroos and fewer sheep and cattle in Australia, (2) it moves past the ridiculous welfare issues that have prevented people from embracing kangaroo harvest in this country, (3) it provides an excellent model for reducing our reliance on non-native livestock for protein worldwide, (4) I love eating macropods (flavour, nutritional value, tenderness – see basic cooking instructions below), and (4) I was responsible for editing the manuscript for publication in Conservation Letters.

Hard-hoofed livestock pastoralism has been the economic backbone of Australia since Europeans first managed to scratch out a living on this harsh land. It has always been a bit of a battle raising largely European-adapted livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) on the driest inhabited continent in the world, but the innovative and persevering Australian cocky has managed to pull it off. However, such livestock pastoralism has been implicated in the extinction of at least 20 mammal species and threatens around 25 % of the plant species listed as endangered in Australia (Wilson & Edwards 2008). It’s also becoming more difficult to raise water-thirsty livestock as our rainfall dwindles with climate change.

Now as Wilson and Edwards point out, there are many carbon-related benefits for switching our protein dependency to kangaroos. Read the rest of this entry »