Leaving Conservation Letters

21 12 2010

It is with both sighs of relief and some sentimentality that I announce my departure from the Senior Editor’s position at Conservation Letters.

After 3 volumes and 17 issues, and a very good prospect for an ISI Impact Factor > 3.0 coming out in June 2011, I feel that I’ve contributed sufficiently for the journal to persist in the conservation publication space for the coming decades.

Now I need a beer. ;-)

The road to Senior Editor certainly involved a steep learning curve for me, and I sincerely thank the four Editors-in-Chief (Hugh Possingham, Bill Sutherland, Richard Cowling & Mike Mascia) for their faith in my abilities and the flexibility to allow me to make important decisions. But most importantly, I thank our highly professional and rigorous editorial board who really did all the hard work (voluntarily, I might add). The full list of editors can be found here, but I want to pass on some extra gratitude to a few specific people here:

In a word, you lot were brilliant. Thank you for going well beyond expectations and handling some very difficult manuscripts. Your expertise, professionalism and generosity will not go unnoticed, I can guarantee that.

I also thank Jennifer Mahar for keeping me (mostly) on the ball and for making the whole thing come together. Marjorie Spencer, whose brainchild this journal was, was a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm. Thanks for stepping up for me (oh, and thanks too for the many drinks courtesy of Uncle Wiley).

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Biowealth – a lexical leap forward for biodiversity appreciation

17 12 2010

Here’s a little idea I’ve been kicking around in my head that I’d like to invite you to debate. Call it an ‘Open Thread’ in the spirit of BraveNewClimate.com’s successful series.

© The Economist

Let’s face it, ‘biodiversity’ is a slippery and abstract concept for most people. Hell, even most ecologists have a hard time describing what biodiversity means. To the uninitiated, it seems simple enough. It’s just the number of species, isn’t it?

Well, no. It isn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s far, far more complicated. First, the somewhat arbitrary pigeon-holing of organisms into Linnaean taxonomic boxes doesn’t really do justice to the genetic gradients within species, among populations and even between individuals. We use the pigeon-hole taxonomy because it’s convenient, that’s all. Sure, molecular genetics has revolutionised the concept, but to most people, a kangaroo is a kangaroo, a robin is a robin and an earthworm is an earthworm. Hierarchical Linnaean taxonomy prevails.

Then there’s the more prickly issue of α, β and γ diversity. α diversity essentially quantifies species richness within a particular area, whereas β diversity is the difference in α diversity between ecosystems. γ diversity is used to measure overall diversity for the different constituent ecosystems of a region. Scale is very, very important (see our recent book chapter for more on this). Read the rest of this entry »

Want a cool conservation job in beautiful southern Australia?

14 12 2010

I was asked to post this cool-sounding job on ConservationBytes.com – relevant punters welcome to respond.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is a non‐profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of Australia’s threatened wildlife and their habitats. AWC now owns and manages more land than any other private conservation organisation in Australia ‐  21 properties, covering more than 2.6 million hectares ‐ protecting more than 1,200 fauna species through active land management informed by strategic scientific research.

AWC is seeking an experienced and committed ecologist who will be pivotal in the development and implementation of the conservation and science program throughout south‐eastern Australia. The position will be based at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary (where on‐site accommodation will be provided), but will include work at other AWC sanctuaries, especially Kalamurina (Lake Eyre), Buckaringa (Flinders Ranges), Yookamurra (Riverlands), Dakalanta (Eyre Peninsula), Bowra (Mulga Lands) and North Head (Sydney) sanctuaries.

Scotia is a large property (65,000 ha) that lies on the NSW‐SA border between Wentworth and Broken Hill, and includes Australia’s largest area free of foxes, cats and rabbits (8,000 ha) and where seven regionally extinct species have been reintroduced (bilby, boodie, woylie, bridled nailtail wallaby, numbat, greater stick‐nest rat, mala and black‐eared miner). In addition, the property has outstanding conservation values because it protects habitats, in good condition, that have been extensively cleared in western NSW.

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History and future (of Australian ecology and society)

11 12 2010

I’ve just returned from a week-long conference in Canberra where the Ecological Society of Australia (of which I am a relatively new member) has just completed its impressive 50th anniversary conference. It was a long, but good week.

It’s almost a bit embarrassing that I’ve never attended an ESA1 conference before, but I think I waited for the right one. However, the main reason I attended was that I was fortunate to have received the ESA’s 3rd Australian Ecology Research Award (AERA), and the kick-back was a fully funded trip. My only reciprocation was to give a 40-minute plenary lecture – a small price to pay.

I entitled my talk ‘Heads in the desert sand: why Australians should wake up to the biodiversity crisis’, and I received a lot of good feedback. I talked about the global and Australian trends of biodiversity loss and associated ecosystem services, focussing the middle section on some of our work on feral animal ecology (see example). I then gave my views on the seriousness of our current situation and why some of the fastest losses of sensitive ecosystem services are happening right here, right now. I finished off with a section on how I think Australian ecologists could get more relevant and active in terms of research uptake by policy makers. I hope that the talk will be podcastable soon, so stay tuned.

But that was just ‘my’ bit. This post is more about a quick summary of the highlights and my overall impressions.

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Conservation is all about prioritisation

4 12 2010

Another great guest post from a previous contributor, Piero Visconti.

Biodiversity conservation is about prioritisation – making difficult choices.

With limited money and so many habitats and species in need of protection, deciding where not to expend resources is as important as deciding where to act. Saying ‘no’ will be crucial for ensuring the persistence of biodiversity and ecosystem services, simply because as individuals who value conservation, we will always be tempted to try and save everything.

In the words of Frederick the Great: “He who defends everything, defends nothing.”

As a result, much recent conservation planning research has focused on offering managers general and flexible tools for deciding which conservation features should be the highest priority. Intuitively, we should direct our resources towards areas that have high biodiversity values, and that are likely to be lost if the forces of conservation do not intervene (the most ‘vulnerable’ land parcels). This approach is known as the ‘minimize loss’ approach. Imagine we are worried about the loss of rare native vegetation in the face of ongoing urban expansion (e.g., Melbourne’s western grasslands). To minimize loss, managers would pre-emptively protect sites that are most likely to be developed. But is this decision to race the bulldozers always the best idea? How much does this choice depend on our assumptions about how land is protected, how land developers behave, and the accuracy of our future predictions? Read the rest of this entry »