The conservation biologist’s toolbox

31 08 2010

Quite some time ago I blogged about a ‘new’ book published by Oxford University Press and edited by Navjot Sodhi and Paul Ehrlich called Conservation Biology for All in which Barry Brook and I wrote a chapter entitled The conservation biologist’s toolbox – principles for the design and analysis of conservation studies.

More recently, I attended the 2010 International Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Bali where I gave a 30-minute talk about the chapter, and I was overwhelmed with positive responses from the audience. The only problem was that 30 minutes wasn’t even remotely long enough to talk about all the topics we covered in the chapter, and I had to skip over a lot of material.

So…, I’ve blogged about the book, and now I thought I’d blog about the chapter.

The topics we cover are varied, but we really only deal with the ‘biological’ part of conservation biology, even though the field incorporates many other disciplines. Indeed, we write:

“Conservation biology” is an integrative branch of biological science in its own right; yet, it borrows from most disciplines in ecology and Earth systems science; it also embraces genetics, dabbles in physiology and links to veterinary science and human medicine. It is also a mathematical science because nearly all measures are quantified and must be analyzed mathematically to tease out pattern from chaos; probability theory is one of the dominant mathematical disciplines conservation biologists regularly use. As rapid human-induced global climate change becomes one of the principal concerns for all biologists charged with securing and restoring biodiversity, climatology is now playing a greater role. Conservation biology is also a social science, touching on everything from anthropology, psychology, sociology, environmental policy, geography, political science, and resource management. Because conservation biology deals primarily with conserving life in the face of anthropogenically induced changes to the biosphere, it also contains an element of economic decision making.”

And we didn’t really cover any issues in the discipline of conservation planning (that is a big topic indeed and a good starting point for this can be found by perusing The Ecology Centre‘s website). So what did we cover? The following main headings give the general flavour: Read the rest of this entry »





Webinar: Modelling water and life

27 08 2010

Another quick one today just to show the webinar of my recent 10-minute ‘Four in 40’ talk sponsored by The Environment Institute and the Department for Water. This seminar series was entitled ‘Modelling as a Tool for Decision Support’ held at the Auditorium, Royal Institution Australia (RiAus).

“Four in 40″ is a collaboration between The University of Adelaide and the Department for Water, where 4 speakers each speak for 10 minutes on their research and its implications for policy. The purpose is to build understanding of how best to work with each other, build new business for both organisations and raise awareness of activity being undertaken in water/natural resource management policy and research.

CJA Bradshaw





Simple educational tool to explain biodiversity

26 08 2010

I just came across this little educational video explaining what biodiversity is, what it does, and what we’re doing to it. If you’re looking to explain biodiversity and its importance to someone, this is a good place to start. Not a bad tool for school children either.




CJA Bradshaw





Long, deep and broad

24 08 2010

© T. Holub Flickr

Thought that would get your attention ;-)

More scientists need to be trained in quantitative synthesis, visualization and other software tools.” D. Peters (2010)

In fact, that is part of the title of today’s focus paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution by D. Peters – Accessible ecology: synthesis of the long, deep,and broad.

As a ‘quantitative’ ecologist (modeller, numerate, etc.) whose career has been based to a large degree on the analysis of large ecological datasets, I am certainly singing Peters’ tune. However, it’s much deeper and more important than my career – good (long, deep, broad – see definitions below) ecological data are ESSENTIAL to avoid some of the worst ravages of biodiversity loss over the coming decades and centuries. Unfortunately, investment in long-term ecological studies is poor in most countries (Australia is no exception), and it’s not improving.

But why are long-term ecological data essential? Let’s take a notable example. Climate change (mainly temperature increases) measured over the last century or so (depending on the area) has been determined mainly through the analysis of long-term records. This, one of the world’s most important (yet sadly, not yet even remotely acted upon) issues today, derives from relatively simple long-term datasets. Another good example is the waning of the world’s forests (see posts herehere and here for examples) and our increasing political attention on what this means for human society. These trends can only be determined from long-term datasets.

For a long time the dirty word ‘monitoring’ was considered the bastion of the uncreative and amateur – ‘real’ scientists performed complicated experiments, whereas ‘monitoring’ was viewed mainly as a form of low-intellect showcasing to please someone somewhere that at least something was being done. I’ll admit, there are many monitoring programmes producing data that aren’t worth the paper their printed on (see a good discussion of this issue in ‘Monitoring does not always count‘), but I think the value of good monitoring data has been mostly vindicated. You see, many ecological systems are far too complex to manipulate easily, or are too broad and interactive to determine much with only a few years of data; only by examining over the ‘long’ term do patterns (and the effect of extremes) sometimes become clear.

But as you’ll see, it’s not just the ‘long’ that is required to determine which land- and sea-use decisions will be the best to minimise biodiversity loss – we also need the ‘deep’ and the ‘broad’. But first, the ‘long’. Read the rest of this entry »





100 actions to slow biodiversity loss

19 08 2010

I received an email a few days ago from Guillaume Chapron of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet) asking me to promote his ‘Biodiversity 100‘ campaign on ConservationBytes.com. I think it’s an interesting initiative, and so I’ll gladly spread the word.

Teaming up with George Monbiot of The Guardian, the Biodiversity 100 campaign seeks to encourage scientists and others to compile a list of 100 tasks that G20 governments should undertake to prove their commitment to tackling the biodiversity crisis.

Dr. Chapron writes: Read the rest of this entry »





Unbounded economic growth destroying biodiversity

16 08 2010

…we can’t have more of everything instantaneously

…increasing takeover of the ecosystem is the necessary consequence of the physical growth of the macroeconomy

…consider telling the economist to go to hell

Herman Daly

© M. Leunig

Last month I had the privilege of listening to Rob Dietz of the Centre for Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) when attending the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology. He introduced the CASSE and their mandate – to promote stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials. This is the steady-state economy.

I’ve hinted before that our essentially linear economy (natural resource exploitation -> transport -> manufacturer -> redistribution -> sale -> consumption/use -> disposal (discussed in a very easy-to-understand way in the Story of Stuff) is not sustainable in the long term because of the finite resource base of the planet (think trees, coal, oil, arable land). My colleagues and I have even shown analyses based on hard data demonstrating that total wealth is the ultimate driver of environmental degradation at the country scale.

So, it is my opinion (and a growing number of others‘) that we need a new way of measuring economic prosperity, or the world will enter a state of permanent financial crisis. The mantra of constant economic growth is simply unrealistic as our human populations continue to expand. This is a very simplistic statement and on the surface an apparently impossible goal; however, people who put together the CASSE believe it is achievable.

It is for this reason that I have been communicating with Rob Dietz and others at CASSE about reposting some of their excellent essays on ConservationBytes.com. Please feel free to comment here on the subject matter because the CASSE people will be monitoring. I hope we can expand the readership and support base, and eventually start to convince politicians that growth will eventually kill us and a good slice of the planet’s biodiversity.

So with that, here’s the first repost by Professor Herman Daly entitled “Opportunity Cost of Growth“: Read the rest of this entry »





Marine protected areas: do they work?

13 08 2010

One measure that often meets great resistance from fishermen, but is beloved by conservationists, is the establishment of marine protected or ‘no take’ areas.” Stephen J. Hall (1998)

I’m going to qualify this particular post with a few disclaimers; first, I am not involved in the planning of any marine protected areas (henceforth referred to as ‘marine parks’) in Australia or elsewhere; and second, despite blogging on the issue, I have never published in the discipline of protected area design (i.e, ‘conservation planning’ is not my area of expertise).

That said, it seems to becoming more imperative that I enter the fray and assess not only how marine parks should be designed, but how effective they really are (or can be). I’ve been asked by several conservation NGOs to provide some insight into this, so I thought I should ‘think aloud’ and blog a little mini-review about marine park effectiveness.

Clearly there is a trend to establish more marine parks around the world, and this is mainly because marine conservation lags so far behind terrestrial conservation. Indeed, Spalding et al. (2008) showed that only 4.1 % of continental shelf areas are incorporated within marine parks, and ~ 50 % of all marine ecoregions have less than 1 % marine park coverage across the shelf. Furthermore, marine protection is greatest in the tropical realms, while temperate realms are still poorly represented.

The question of whether marine parks ‘work’ is, however, more complicated than it might first appear. When one asks this question, it is essential to define how the criteria for success are to be measured. Whether it’s biodiversity protection, fisheries production, recreational revenue, community acceptance/involvement or some combination of the above, your conclusion is likely to vary from place to place.

Other complications are, of course, that if you cannot ensure a marine park is adequately enforced (i.e., people don’t respect the rules) or if you don’t actually place the park anywhere near things that need protecting, there will be no real net benefit (for any of the above-mentioned interest groups). Furthermore, most marine parks these days have many different types of uses allowed in different zones (e.g., no fishing, some fishing, recreational diving only, no boat transport, some shipping, etc., etc., etc.), so it gets difficult to test for specific effects (it’s a bit like a cap-and-trade legislation for carbon – too many rules and often no real net reduction in carbon emissions – but that’s another story).

All these conditions aside, I think it’s a good idea to present what the real experts have been telling us about marine park effectiveness from a biodiversity and fishing perspective over the last decade or so. I’ll summarise some of the major papers here and give an overall assessment at the end. I do not contend that this list is even remotely comprehensive, but it does give a good cross-section of the available evidence. Read the rest of this entry »





General call for ConservationBytes.com contributions

10 08 2010

After just over two years running this blog, I’ve now built up a pretty good audience of conservation-interested people. The blog now has a monthly view rate of over 12,000 and >80 e-mail subscribers, so the material is being viewed far and wide. I want to thank all of you for your interest and comments.

It seems appropriate then to put out a general call for ConservationBytes.com contributions. I’ve had several guest posts now from students (Fishing for conservationMake your conservation PhD relevant), postdocs (Coming to grips with the buffalo problem) and colleagues (Interview with a social [conservation] scientist, Put the bite back into biodiversity conservation), but these have come to me fairly haphazardly. I’d therefore like to invite short articles from the CB readership to expand the topics covered and provide a more interactive conservation discussion. Read the rest of this entry »





Conservation quotes: Attenborough to Irwin

6 08 2010

© smh.com.au

Over the years I’ve collected various conservation biology-related quotes that have caught my attention, for whatever reason. I thought that it would make an interesting blog post (although I agree that quotes are a very weak form of wit). Regardless of their import, I hope you enjoy them and perhaps at least find them interesting, if not wise.

It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for – the whole thing – rather than just one or two stars.

David Attenborough, BBC Interview

It’s a moral question about whether we have the right to exterminate species.

David Attenborough, BBC Interview

The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants.

David Attenborough, BBC Interview

The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

The more you know about a species, the more you understand about how better to help protect them.

Alan Clark

As we race toward the future, we must never forget the fundamental reality of our situation: we are flying blind.

Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski & John Peterson Myers, Our Stolen Future

Just imagine the banner headlines if a marine biologist were to discover a species of dolphin that wove large, intricately meshed fishing nets, twenty dolphin-lengths in diameter! Yet we take a spider web for granted, as a nuisance in the house rather than as one of the wonders of the world. And think of the furore if Jane Goodall returned from Gombe stream with photographs of wild chimpanzees building their own houses, well roofed and insulated, of painstakingly selected stones neatly bonded and mortared! Yet caddis larvae, who do precisely that, command only passing interest.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Read the rest of this entry »





August issue of Conservation Letters and more citation statistics

3 08 2010

Trash fish © A. Lobo

The latest issue (Volume 3, Issue 4 – August 2010) of Conservation Letters is now available free-of-charge online. This issue’s papers include 1 Mini-Review, 2 Policy Perspectives, 6 Letters, 1 Correspondence and 1 Response:





Linking disease, demography and climate

1 08 2010

Last week I mentioned that a group of us from Australia were travelling to Chicago to work with Bob Lacy, Phil Miller, JP Pollak and Resit Akcakaya to make some pretty exciting developments in next-generation conservation ecology and management software. Also attending were Barry Brook, our postdocs: Damien Fordham, Thomas Prowse and Mike Watts, our colleague (and former postdoc) Clive McMahon, and a student of Phil’s, Michelle Verant. At the closing of the week-long workshop, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how it all went.

In a word, it was ‘productive’. It’s not often that you can spend 1 week locked in a tiny room with 10 other geeks and produce so many good and state-of-the-art models, but we certainly achieved more than we had anticipated.

Let me explain in brief why it’s so exciting. First, I must say that even the semi-quantitative among you should be ready for the appearance of ‘Meta-Model Manager (MMM)’ in the coming months. This clever piece of software was devised by JP, Bob and Phil to make disparate models ‘talk’ to each other during a population projection run. We had dabbled with MMM a little last year, but its value really came to light this week.

We used MMM to combine several different models that individually fail to capture the full behaviour of a population. Most of you will be familiar with the individual-based population viability (PVA) software Vortex that allows relatively easy PVA model building and is particular useful for predicting extinction risk of small populations. What you most likely don’t know exists is what Phil, Bob and JP call Outbreak – an epidemiological modelling software based on the classic susceptible-exposed-infectious-recovered framework. Outbreak is also an individual-based model that can talk directly to Vortex, but only through MMM. Read the rest of this entry »








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