What makes all that biodiversity possible?

23 09 2015


You can either stop reading now because that’s the answer to the question, or you can continue and find out a little more detail.

I’ve just had an extremely pleasant experience reading John Terborgh‘s latest Perspective in PNAS. You know the kind of paper you read that (a) makes you feel smart, (b) confirms what you already think, yet informs you nonetheless, and (c) doesn’t take three days to digest? That’s one of those.

Toward a trophic theory of species diversity is not only all of those things, it’s also bloody well-written and comes at the question of ‘Why are there so many species on the planet when ecological theory can’t seem to explain how?’ with elegance, style and a lifetime of experience. I just might have to update my essential-ecology-papers list. If I had to introduce someone to 60 years of ecological theory on biodiversity, there’s no better place to start.

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Essential papers you’ve probably never read

14 09 2015

Hmmm. What to read next?

“What would you consider to be the most important papers to read in your discipline?”.

That was the question a colleague with whom I’m working closely at the moment (you can probably figure out who that is) asked me last year. “Jesus H. Bloody Christ”, I thought, “What a question!”. How long is a piece of string?

In some ways, there is no way to answer that question well. Every research project requires reading a specific set of papers, and very few traverse the divide between projects. I seem to have to read a new set of papers every time I write one myself, although I admit I tend to stray from a single ‘discipline’ far too often than is probably considered healthy. Let’s also not forget those essential methods papers; you know, the ones that actually show you how to do the thing you’re trying to do? You can’t get much more essential than those.

But if I really sit down and think about it (and I have), it sort of comes down to what I’d expect my postgraduate students to know by the time they finish their degrees. In other words, they should read and retain the information in the papers that transcend research projects and all sub-disciplines of conservation ecology.

So I’ve picked a dozen of my ‘favourite’ papers that I think have something really important to tell us. They tend to be a little generic in terms of the broadness of their implications, but they are also, in my view, brilliant demonstrations of fundamental processes that all conservation ecologists should know.

While many of them are in the ‘big’ journals, not all of them are, nor are they necessarily the most cited papers in this field. I’ve also tended to avoid papers that document the things we know pretty well by now (e.g., effects of fragmentation, extinction patterns, etc.), and I haven’t really included any ‘methods’ papers for the simple reason I explained above that there are so many and they are very project-specific. I’ve even been a little cheeky and included one of my own, so take that for what it’s worth.

I present the list below in broad categories, and I include a little blurb about why I chose each one. There are, of course, 100s if not 1000s of others out there that others would choose, and I suppose that an inventory of such papers across many ecologists would be a good idea to put together. If you know this blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve also published my list of conservation ‘classics’, so I’m not going to repeat those here. Neither am I presenting those older papers that we should all have read, yet despite citing them for decades, few of us have (which has all sorts of implications for bullshit perpetuating over time, but that’s a topic for another blog post). For now, this is my tuppence. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss XXXII

8 09 2015

Six more biodiversity cartoons — this time, from France. They’re in French to pay hommage to my hosts (and acknowledge their fanaticism for les bandes dessinées), but don’t worry, I’ve provided full translation (see full stock of previous ‘Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss’ compendia here).

“Biodiversity: More and more species threatened. The good news for you is that you’re not endangered. The bad news is that neither are we.” © Roulies

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Australia’s motto: “Screw the environment!”

2 09 2015
Mmmmm! I love coal!

Mmmmm! I love coal!

An article originally posted on ALERT by April Reside (with permission to reproduce).

The Conservative Tony Abbott government in Australia is proposing alarming changes to Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 — a remarkable move that would prevent environment groups from challenging many damaging development projects.

This has all come to a head over the Carmichael Coal Mine — a plan to build a massive mine in central Queensland in order to export 60 million of tonnes of coal to India each year.

Coal, of course, is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and India’s plan to burn it by the shipload for electricity is bad news for the planet.

The Abbott government is in a tizzy after after a community organization, the Mackay Conservation Group, challenged the approval of the Carmichael Mine in Australia’s Federal Court.

The community group says Environment Minister Greg Hunt didn’t properly consider the impact the mine would have on two threatened species, the yakka skink and ornamental snake.

The mine site also sustains the largest population of the southern subspecies of the black-throated Finch, which is endangered.

The implications of the mega-mine go well beyond a few imperilled species. If the mine goes ahead, it will be one of the biggest in the world — and the emissions from burning its mountains of coal would cancel out all gains made from Australia’s current emissions-reduction strategy.

On top of the frightening precedent it would set, the Abbott government appears to be double-dealing. Read the rest of this entry »

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