The yob factor in conservation

29 09 2008

I believe that I am like most people when I say that I am generally annoyed by, but can live with, the yob (a.k.a. bogan, booner, westie, bevan, chigger, chav) culture pervading our society. I can live with the hooning (Why do they believe that pressing the foot 1 cm closer to the floor increases their perceived virility? I extend my curled little finger in response), bad music, mullets (indeed, those are just plain entertainment), their appalling diet, smoking and fashion statements (even more entertaining), and I can even live with their conservative political perspectives. After all, we live in an open and democratic society where one can choose to live anywhere within the yob-wanker spectrum (apologies to T.I.S.M.).

What I find more problematic is the overt anti-environmentalism the yob culture embraces. Sure, every time the petrol price notches up, I smile inside just a little bit at every unheard curse emanating from yobs around the country as they painfully fill their petrol-sucking yob cars with the latest in potential GHG emissions (small justices are hard won). But the real problem lies in the over-exploitation of our already stressed environments from some of our less-than-conscientious fisher friends. Not all recreational fishers are the kind that sport the classic ‘I Fish and I Vote’ stickers (also very amusing1) on the back of their utes, nor are they all convinced that fishing is an inalienable right granted by Poseidon himself. But a lot are.

Case in point, I found this little nugget in a certain state government’s ‘Recreational Fishing Guide‘ by a prominent producer of those petrol-guzzling yob cars:

Excuse me? Yes, you read correctly, the STATE GOVERNMENT’S Recreational Fishing Guide.

Is this really the kind of mentality that the state government is trying to promote amongst its recreational fishing community? Do we really believe that recreational fishing is so innocuous that plainly ridiculous acts that flout even the state’s own regulations are to be encouraged? I’d like to think otherwise, but I am clearly aware that there is high probability that I’ve hit the nail on the head.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fished many times myself and grew up with a father who would avoid any lake where another person was fishing just to have another lake to himself. I like fish and enjoy eating freshly caught ones when I can (which is not very often because I do not own a boat or fishing gear).

So, what’s the problem? This brings me to the core of this post and the reason I started with the uncharacteristic rant. Most fisheries around the world are already in big trouble (see previous post on this subject here), so when the number of intense-use recreational fishers is high, we have recipe for disaster.

A paper by Cooke & Cowx that appeared in 2004 entitled The role of recreational fishing in global fish crises gets my vote for the Potential list here at ConservationBytes.com. This paper identified that recreational fishing could account for as much as 12 % of the global fish harvest and lead to severe declines in fish populations, especially where participation is high and commercial fisheries operate in tandem. Again, a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. Lewin and colleagues in 2006 reiterated the point and demonstrated that recreational fishing must be tightly managed and good practices encouraged to avoid localised depletions and population declines.

So when state agencies encourage yobs to behave in ways our little advert implies (I can hear the ‘YEAHS and ‘WOOHOOS’ too clearly), we are failing to manage our tragic common goods correctly and to promote good practice. Indeed, for the very reason that good behaviour ensures a longer and more fulfilling future of angling for everyone, shouldn’t we be promoting the ‘less-is-more’ mantra more aggressively?

CJA Bradshaw

1I’ve always wondered about how people who put ‘I XXXX and I Vote’ stickers on their cars work through the logic. I eat toast and I vote, and I like rugby and I vote, and I detest listening to country music and I vote. I just ‘vote’ for the least idiotic of the choices presented before me at each election.

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Pollination worth 153 billion Euros per year

22 09 2008

Another one from Mongabay.com. Certainly the overwhelming economic benefits from maintaining biodiversity (see also related posts here, here and here) must be starting to sink in. As an eternal pessimist, I doubt it.

Pollination services provided by insects are worth $216 billion/€153 billion a year reports a new study published in Ecological Economics [Gallai et al. 2008. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics]. The figure represents about 9.5 % of the total value of world agricultural food production.

The fruit and vegetable sectors see the largest benefit $71/€50 billion each from pollination services, followed by oilseed crops $55/€39 billion. Bees play the most significant role in the pollination of food crops.

The research did not account for the production of crops for livestock consumption, biofuels, or ornamental flowers. It also omitted the value of pollination of wild plants. As such, the researchers say the overall value of pollination services are significantly higher than the $216/€153 billion estimate.

A study published in the April 2006 issue of BioScience calculated that insects are worth $57 billion to the U.S. economy, of which only $3 billion was from pollination. But at the time, the authors warned their assessment was conservative.





Primate conservation enhances human food availability

19 09 2008

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

© F. Möllers

© F. Möllers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Oil palm plantations destroying tropical biodiversity

18 09 2008

This one from MongaBay.com

Conversion of primary rainforest to an oil palm plantation results in a loss of more than 80 percent of species, reports a new comprehensive review of the impacts of growing palm oil production. The research is published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

“By compiling scientific studies of birds, bats, ants and other species, we were able to show that on average, fewer than one-sixth of the species recorded in primary forest were found in oil palm,” said led author Emily Fitzherbert from the Zoological Society of London and University of East Anglia. “Degraded forest, and even alternative crops such as rubber and cocoa, supported higher numbers of species than oil palm plantations.”

The results confirm that oil palm plantations are a poor substitute for natural forests when it comes to conservation of biological diversity.

The study warns that burgeoning demand for palm oil for use in foods, household products, and biodiesel will continue to fuel expansion in the tropics. Because planters can subsidize operations by the initial logging for forest plots, it seems likely that forests will continue to fall for new plantations despite the availability of large tracts of degraded and abandoned land.

“There is enough non-forested land suitable for plantation development to allow large increases in production without large impacts on tropical forests, but as a result of political inertia, competing priorities and lack of capacity and understanding, not to mention high levels of demand for timber and palm oil from wealthy consumers, it is still often cheaper and easier to clear forests. Unless these conditions change quickly, the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity will be substantial,” the authors conclude.

See also Koh & Wilcove. 2008. Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Conservation Letters 1: 60-64

CJA Bradshaw





Classics: Fishing down the web

17 09 2008

A Classic

Fishing_down_the_food_webDaniel Pauly and colleagues’ classic paper in Science, Fishing down marine food webs, is one that merits citation in ConservationBytes.com Classics section. The trend identified by Pauly and colleagues is fairly simple – data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations revealed that the average trophic level (i.e., the position in the food web relative to autotrophs – primary producers such as phytoplankton) has declined by an overall average of 0.2 units. In this case, a trophic unit varied from 1 (phytoplankton) to 4.6 (e.g., snappers, family Lutjanidae). The trends varied by region and whether or not one takes certain overrepresented species into account, but the average decline was more or less consistent across the dataset.

What does all this reveal? Put simply, it means that fishing on a massive and global commercial scale has essentially removed many of the larger species to the point where it has become no longer economically viable to sustain a targeted fishery. This does not necessarily mean that these species have disappeared, but it does indicate a large drop in relative abundance (and thus, ease of capture) necessary to support an industry, with the corollary that highly reduced populations are now much more extinction-prone if they fall below their minimum viable population size. The corollary is that marine species we wouldn’t consider palatable for a dog 50 years ago are now considered top-quality market delicacies.

The paper did not go without critique – Caddy and colleagues argued that Pauly and colleagues oversimplified the case for marine fishes and misinterpreted some data; however, a subsequent paper by Pauly’s team published in 2005, Fishing down marine food web: it is far more pervasive than we thought, argued that the original paper didn’t go far enough, and that fisheries over-exploitation worldwide is much worse than originally reported. Indeed, there are certainly some high-profile examples to support the case (e.g., the Atlantic cod and Peruvian anchoveta fisheries collapses, to name a few).

What did this do for biodiversity conservation? I think it can be argued that this is one of the first big papers to identify that the over-fishing problem was global in extent and massive in magnitude, and that high-seas over-exploitation was stripping our seas of its bigger (generally slower-growing and more extinction-prone) species. I believe things have changed for the better, but we’re still a long way off. Fishing in international waters still operates without an international body to enforce regulation and document catch precisely, and the classic tragedy of the commons applies so well to fisheries that it should be one of the principal examples used to illustrate the concept. People tend to jump up and down about elephants, pandas and whales, but the reduction in fish worldwide is a biodiversity crisis in progress that has not attracted nearly enough attention. We need more papers like Pauly’s on this issue, as well as demonstrations of the loss of marine ecosystem function and services with the loss of species brought about by excessive fishing harvests. Only then can we expect the careless greed driving quick-profit high-seas fisheries to ease up enough to prevent extinctions on a massive scale.

CJA Bradshaw

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Global biodiversity loss estimated at 14 trillion Euros

15 09 2008

A recent post from Ecology & Policy

Yet more evidence that we have to stop the extinction crisis.

A new report commissioned by the European Commission – ‘The Cost of Policy Inaction (COPI): The case of not meeting the 2010 biodiversity target’ – indicates that biodiversity is set to continue declining. Key drivers of biodiversity loss include overexploitation, invasion of non-native species and conversion of natural habitat to agricultural landscapes.

It has long been known that ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services to humankind, such as the provision of clean water, climate regulation, food and clothing, flood protection to mention but a few. Although these goods and services (Ecosystem Services (ES)) provided by biodiversity have been widely recognised, so far efforts to put a monetary value on these services has proved difficult at best.

The new report attempts to value ecosystem services in terms of the cost to the global economy of future biodiversity loss as a result of policy inaction. The study used a baseline valuation from 2000 to extrapolate ES loss to 2050, assuming predicted population growth takes place with the associated demand for energy and resources and that average global GDP increases 2.8% per annum with the highest growth in China and India.

The key findings of the study include:

  • 50 billion € worth of biodiversity providing ecosystem services is being lost each year
  • Land-based ecosystem loss is estimated at 545 billion € by 2010
  • Annual loss in ecosystem services from biodiversity loss could exceed 14 trillion € by 2050

This study is part of a much larger research effort on a global scale: The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity. It is hoped this study will result in a much wider global awareness of the cost of losing biodiversity and associated ES to mankind in an economic context, and ultimately result in a ‘valuation toolkit’ that will provide environmental economists and policy-makers a standardised approach to ES valuation.

Download the report here.





Primary forests as global carbon sinks

13 09 2008

Certainly one for the Potential list…

p00zbhgzA new paper by Sebastien Luyssaert  and colleagues in Nature entitled Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks deserves a mention here.

Many have argued under the climate change mitigation banner that so-called ‘old-growth’ (let’s call them primary forests henceforth to distinguish them from [usually] younger secondary forests) do not provide net carbon uptake because most of their growth has occurred in the past. In other words, they provide a carbon store, but do not take much more out of the atmosphere once they’ve attained a certain ecological equilibrium. This was a major impediment for the argument that protecting such forests could be achieved economically by valuing them in national or global carbon-trading schemes. It was a shame considering that it seems the economic incentives to protect such forests were falling on deaf ears because (a) governments and industry tend to regard the quick turn-around option of timber extraction as more economically sensible and (b) of the difficulty of valuing ecosystem services provided by primary forests.

But not so, say Luyssaert and colleagues! After scouring an array of studies and databases they conclude that forests between 15 and 800 years of age do in fact continue to uptake carbon and so are not carbon ‘neutral’. Brilliant! With this latest evidence in hand, I hope the economic incentives to preserve the little remaining primary forests around the world and the ecosystem services they provide will encourage governments and industry to invest more in their preservation than their destruction. It’s worth noting here too that once such forests are destroyed (e.g., timber extraction), the majority of their stored carbon (both actual and potential via future carbon uptake) are released back to the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change. As such, valuing the preservation of pristine forests on the carbon-trading market should receive a far higher weighting that secondary plantations or other sequestration schemes.

CJA Bradshaw

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