Faraway fettered fish fluctuate frequently

27 06 2010

Hello! I am Little Fish

Swimming in the Sea.

I have lots of fishy friends.

Come along with me.

(apologies to Lucy Cousins and Walker Books)

I have to thank my 3-year old daughter and one of her favourite books for that intro. Now to the serious stuff.

I am very proud to announce a new Report in Ecology we’ve just had published online early about a new way of looking at the stability of coral reef fish populations. Driven by one of the hottest young up-and-coming researchers in coral reef ecology, Dr. Camille Mellin (employed through the CERF Marine Biodiversity Hub and co-supervised by me at the University of Adelaide and Julian Caley and Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science), this paper adds a new tool in the design of marine protected areas.

Entitled Reef size and isolation determine the temporal stability of coral reef fish populations, the paper applies a well-known, but little-used mathematical relationship between the logarithms of population abundance and its variance (spatial or temporal) – Taylor’s power law.

Taylor’s power law is pretty straightforward itself – as you raise the abundance of a population by 1 unit on the logarithmic scale, you can expect its associated variance (think variance over time in a fluctuating population to make it easier) to rise by 2 logarithmic units (thus, the slope = 2). Why does this happen? Because a log-log (power) relationship between a vector and its square (remember: variance = standard deviation2) will give a multiplier of 2 (i.e., if xy2, then log10x ~ 2log10y).

Well, thanks for the maths lesson, but what’s the application? It turns out that deviations from the mathematical expectation of a power-law slope = 2 reveal some very interesting ecological dynamics. Famously, Kilpatrick & Ives published a Letter in Nature in 2003 (Species interactions can explain Taylor’s power law for ecological time series) trying to explain why so many real populations have Taylor’s power law slopes < 2. As it turns out, the amount of competition occurring between species reduces the expected fluctuations for a given population size because of a kind of suppression by predators and competitors. Cool.

But that application was more a community-based examination and still largely theoretical. We decided to turn the power law a little on its ear and apply it to a different question – conservation biogeography. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with a social (conservation) scientist

22 06 2010

I was contacted recently by Josh Cinner, a self-titled ‘social’ scientist (now working at the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) who has published rather a lot in the conservation literature. He was recently highlighted in the journal Science for his work, and he thought CB readers would enjoy the coverage. He stated to me:

“…as a social scientist, I have spent the past decade or so working with ecologists and managers trying to integrate social science better in conservation. There are often calls for the importance of integrating social science in conservation and I thought your blog readers might appreciate some high-level recognition of the importance of this. Additionally, as far as I can tell, this is the first of these profiles that has focused on someone working in conservation.”

So, while fully crediting the source of this article and its author, Helen Fields, here is the entire text reproduced for your reading pleasure.

In the late 1980s, things were not going well for the coral reefs at Jamaica’s Montego Bay Marine Park. Overfishing had taken out a lot of the fish that eat algae, and algae were taking over the reef. “It was a classic case of ecosystem decline,” human geographer Joshua Cinner says. He arrived in Jamaica in 1996 as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a double major in environmental conservation and geography. He was particularly interested in parks and preserves.

He’d landed in the middle of a war. Lobbying by tour operators and others got spearfishing, one of the main culprits in overfishing, banned in the park. The ban did not go over well with local people. “All the park equipment got vandalized. We had park rangers get threatened; their families got threatened at spear point,” Cinner says. Spearfishing equipment is cheap and you don’t need a boat; men who do it are generally poor and are fishing as a last resort. “The cultural lens through which the fishermen viewed this issue was of struggle in a post-slavery society, of the rich, predominantly white expatriates making a law that oppressed the poorest of the poor locals to benefit the wealthy.”

The conflict got Cinner thinking about how conservation really works. “It wasn’t really about the ecology,” he says. “Making conservation work in Jamaica had a lot to do with understanding the local culture and people.” It also opened his eyes to the role oceans play. “The ocean is often viewed as an open-access resource. That extra layer of complexity interested me,” he says. “Land can often be private property,” but “the ocean is typically viewed as free for anyone to fish in, for anyone to swim in and use.” Read the rest of this entry »

ISI 2009 Impact Factors now out

18 06 2010

Last year I reported the 2008 ISI Impact Factors for some prominent conservation journals and a few other journals occasionally publishing conservation-related material. ISI just released the 2009 Impact Factors, so I’ll do the same again this year, and add some general ecology journals as well. For all you Australians, I also recently reported the ERA Journal Rankings.

So here are the 2009 Impact Factors for the journals listed on this site’s Journals page and their 2008 values for comparison: Read the rest of this entry »

Biodiversity SNAFU in Australia’s Jewel

16 06 2010

I’ve covered this sad state of affairs and one of Australia’s more notable biodiversity embarrassments over the last year (see Shocking continued loss of Australian mammals and Can we solve Australia’s mammal extinction crisis?), and now the most empirical demonstration of this is now published.

The biodiversity guru of Australia’s tropical north, John Woinarksi, has just published the definitive demonstration of the magnitude of mammal declines in Kakadu National Park (Australia’s largest national park, World Heritage Area, emblem of ‘co-management’ and supposed biodiversity and cultural jewel in Australia’s conservation crown). According to Woinarski and colleagues, most of those qualifiers are rubbish.

The paper published in Wildlife Research is entitled Monitoring indicates rapid and severe decline of native small mammals in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia and it concludes:

The native mammal fauna of Kakadu National Park is in rapid and severe decline. The cause(s) of this decline are not entirely clear, and may vary among species. The most plausible causes are too frequent fire, predation by feral cats and invasion by cane toads (affecting particularly one native mammal species).

I’ve done quite a bit of work in Kakadu myself, and the one thing that hits you every time you travel through it is the lack of visible wildlife. Sure, you’ll see horses, pigs and buffalo, as well as cane toads and cats, but getting a glimpse of anything native, from Conilurus to Varanus, and you’d consider yourself extremely lucky.

We’ve written a lot about the feral animal problem in Kakadu and even developed software tools to assist in density-reduction programmes. It doesn’t appear that anyone is listening.

Another gob-smacking vista you’ll get when travelling through Kakadu any time from April to December is that it’s either been burnt, actively burning or targeted for burning. They burn the shit out of the place every year. No wonder the native mammals are having such a hard time.

Combine all this with the dysfunctional management arrangement, and you cease to have a National Park. Kakadu is now a lifeless shell that does precious little for conservation of biodiversity (and 3 of the 5 criteria it had to satisfy to become a World Heritage Area are specifically related to natural resource ‘values’). I say, delist Kakadu now and let’s stop fooling ourselves.

Ok, back from the rant. Woinarski and others superimposed a mammal monitoring programme over top a fire-regime experiment for vegetation. Although they couldn’t sample every plot every season, they staggered the sampling to cover the area as best they could over the 13 years of monitoring (1996-2009). What they observed was staggering. Read the rest of this entry »

June 2010 Issue of Conservation Letters

9 06 2010

The third issue of Conservation Letters Volume 3 is now out. A good line-up of papers, indeed. Note that we’ve gone up to 9 papers in this issue, so keep the good submissions coming. Conservation Letters will most likely be listed on ISI Web of Science this year, and receive its first Impact Factor in 2011.

Thanks for the support.

CJA Bradshaw

Australian Ecology Research Award

7 06 2010

I had the immense pleasure of receiving a telephone call a few weeks back from the Ecological Society of Australia telling me that I had been awarded the 2010 Australian Ecology Research Award (AERA). They’ve just announced it, so I’m now allowed to boast a bit on Conservation Bytes.

If you’re going to the 50th Anniversary ESA annual conference in Canberra this year ‘Sustaining Biodiversity – the next 50 years‘ (6-10 December), I’ll be giving the AERA Plenary Lecture then. Thanks to the ESA for my selection, the University of Adelaide (The Environment Institute & School of Earth and Environmental Sciences), the South Australian Research and Development Institute, and all my students, post-docs and collaborators for your support. Many thanks also to Prof. Bill Laurance for the nomination!

The AERA blurb from the ESA site follows: Read the rest of this entry »

How many species are there?

4 06 2010

© japanprobe.com

An interesting research note just came out in the American Naturalist by Hamilton and colleagues entitled Quantifying uncertainty in estimation of tropical arthropod species richness. I retweeted a Science Daily twitter feed on this that had a terribly misleading opening line: “New calculations reveal that the number of species on Earth is likely to be in the order of several million rather than tens of millions“. This is, of course, absolute rubbish because the authors only looked at estimating tropical arthropod richness, not all species on Earth. The number of protists alone is probably > 4 million species, and there are an estimated > 1.5 fungi.

That whinge about crap reporting aside, this is what Hamilton and colleagues concluded:

  • using stochastic models, they predict medians of 3.7 million and 2.5 million tropical arthropod species globally
  • estimates of 30 million species or greater are predicted to have < 0.00001 probability
  • uncertainty in the proportion of canopy arthropod species that are beetles is the most influential parameter
  • in spite of 250 years of taxonomy and around 855000 species of arthropods already described, approximately 70 % await description

Interesting, but I didn’t give it much notice until New Scientist contacted me to get an assessment (their article will appear shortly). This is what I had to say: Read the rest of this entry »

Most accessed Conservation Letters articles

3 06 2010

Not a big post, but I thought Conservation Bytes readers would appreciate knowing the most accessed papers in the journal Conservation Letters in 2008 and 2009:


  1. Critical need for new definitions of “forest” and “forest degradation” in global climate change agreements Nophea Sasaki & Francis E. Putz
  2. Global priority areas for incorporating land–sea connections in marine conservation Benjamin S. Halpern, Colin M. Ebert, Carrie V. Kappel, Elizabeth M.P. Madin, Fiorenza Micheli, Matthew Perry, Kimberly A. Selkoe & Shaun Walbridge
  3. Hitting the target and missing the point: target-based conservation planning in context Josie Carwardine, Carissa J. Klein, Kerrie A. Wilson, Robert L. Pressey & Hugh P. Possingham
  4. Mapping cumulative human impacts to California Current marine ecosystems Benjamin S. Halpern, Carrie V. Kappel, Kimberly A. Selkoe, Fiorenza Micheli, Colin M. Ebert, Caitlin Kontgis, Caitlin M. Crain, Rebecca G. Martone, Christine Sheare & Sarah J. Teck
  5. Ecosystem services and conservation strategy: beware the silver bullet Bhaskar Vira & William M. Adams


  1. Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Lian Pin Koh & David S. Wilcove
  2. Native wildlife on rangelands to minimize methane and produce lower-emission meat: kangaroos versus livestock George R. Wilson & Melanie J. Edwards
  3. Conservation action in a changing climate T.R. McClanahan, J.E. Cinner, J. Maina, N.A.J. Graham, T.M. Daw, S.M. Stead, A. Wamukota, K. Brown, M. Ateweberhan, V. Venus & N.V.C. Polunin
  4. Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness Sarah E. Reed & Adina M. Merenlender
  5. Calibrating conservation: new tools for measuring success Valerie Kapos, Andrew Balmford, Rosalind Aveling, Philip Bubb, Peter Carey, Abigail Entwistle, John Hopkins, Teresa Mulliken, Roger Safford, Alison Stattersfield, Matt Walpole & Andrea Manica

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