Life, death and Linneaus

9 07 2011

Barry Brook (left) and Lian Pin Koh (right) attacking Fangliang He (centre). © CJA Bradshaw

I’m sitting in the Brisbane airport contemplating how best to describe the last week. If you’ve been following my tweets, you’ll know that I’ve been sequestered in a room with 8 other academics trying to figure out the best ways to estimate the severity of the Anthropocene extinction crisis. Seems like a pretty straight forward task. We know biodiversity in general isn’t doing so well thanks to the 7 billion Homo sapiens on the planet (hence, the Anthropo prefix) – the question though is: how bad?

I blogged back in March that a group of us were awarded a fully funded series of workshops to address that question by the Australian Centre for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis (a Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network facility based at the University of Queensland), and so I am essentially updating you on the progress of the first workshop.

Before I summarise our achievements (and achieve, we did), I just want to describe the venue. Instead of our standard, boring, windowless room in some non-descript building on campus, ACEAS Director, Associate Professor Alison Specht, had the brilliant idea of putting us out away from it all on a beautiful nature-conservation estate on the north coast of New South Wales.

What a beautiful place – Linneaus Estate is a 111-ha property just a few kilometres north of Lennox Head (about 30 minutes by car south of Byron Bay) whose mission is to provide a sustainable living area (for a very lucky few) while protecting and restoring some pretty amazing coastal habitat along an otherwise well-developed bit of Australian coastline. And yes, it’s named after Carl Linnaeus. Read the rest of this entry »

生态学 = ‘Ecology’ in China

13 05 2011

I’m just heading home after a very inspiring workshop organised by Fangliang He at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China (I’m writing this from the Qantas Club in the Hong Kong airport).

Before I proceed to regale you with the salient details of the ‘International Symposium for Biodiversity and Theoretical Ecology‘, I am compelled to state publicly that I offer my sincerest condolences to Fangliang and his family; unfortunately Fangliang’s brother passed away while we were at the workshop and so Fangliang wasn’t able to spend much time reaping the fruits of his organisational labour. If you know Fangliang, please send him a supporting email.

That sad note aside, I am delighted to say that the workshop was compelling, challenging and also rather fortuitous. I was one of many overseas invitees, and I must say that I was at times overwhelmed by the size of the brains they managed to pack into the auditorium. Many colleagues I didn’t know attended, and I hope that many will become collaborators. The international invitees were: Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tropical biology and conservation overview

28 07 2010

Last week I attended the 2010 International Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Sanur, Bali (Indonesia). I only managed one post on the real-world relevance of conservation research (that attracted quite a lot of comment) while there, but I did promise to give a conference overview as I did for the International Congress for Conservation Biology earlier this month. So here goes.

This was my first ATBC meeting despite having co-written ‘the book’ on tropical conservation biology (well, one of very, very many). I no longer live in the tropics but am still managing to keep my hand in many different aspects of tropical research. After all, tropical regions represent ground zero for conservation biology – they have the highest biodiversity (no matter which way you measure it), some of the greatest threats (e.g., most people, most rapid development, most corruption) and some of the most pressing human problems (disease, hunger, socio-political instability). Ironically, most of the world’s conservation ecologists work in temperate realms – it should really be the other way around. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation research rarely equals conservation

21 07 2010

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

I am currently attending the 2010 International Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Sanur, Bali (Indonesia). As I did a few weeks ago at the ICCB in Canada, I’m tweeting and blogging my way through.

Yesterday I attended a talk by my good friend Trish Shanley (formerly of CIFOR) where she highlighted the disconnect between conservation research and actual conservation. I’ve posted about this before (see Out of touch, impractical and irrelevantMake your conservation PhD relevant), but this was a sobering reminder of how conservation research can be a self-perpetuating phenomenon and often not touch the people who need it most.

Presenting the highlights of her paper published earlier this year in Biotropica entitled Out of the loop: why research rarely reaches policy makers and the public and what can be done, one comment she made during the talk that really caught my attention was the following (I’m paraphrasing, of course).

Most of the world’s poor living off the land are unconcerned about biodiversity per se. As conservationists we should not therefore adopt the typical preamble that biodiversity (e.g., forests) represent the “lungs of our planet” – what people (and especially women) need to know is how biodiversity loss affects “food for my children”.

The paper itself was an interview 268 researchers from 29 countries (of which I was one) about their views on the relevance of their work. Not surprisingly (but amazingly that we were so honest), most respondents stated that their principal target was other scientists, with policy makers and other marginalised groups/local people holding a distant second place. Corporate targets were also pretty rare – I guess we feel as a group that that’s generallly a lost cause.
Neither a surprise was that we generally view peer-reviewed scientific publications as the main vehicle for the dissemination of our results. What was a bit of a surprise though is that we fully admit papers aren’t the best way to trickle down the information (again, more of that brutal honesty); apparently we mainly believe ‘stakeholder meetings’
are more effective (I have my doubts).

International Congress for Conservation Biology 2010 overview

18 07 2010

A few posts ago I promised a brief overview of the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) that I attended last week in Edmonton, Canada. Here it is.

While acknowledging that it is impossible for any single individual to attend all talks at a congress of this size given that there were usually around 6-8 concurrent sessions on most days, I can provide only a synopsis of what I saw and what I heard from others.

I’ve been lukewarm about the two SCB conferences I have attended in previous years (Brasilia and Chattanooga), and I expected about this same this time around. However, overall the presentations were generally of a higher quality, the audio-visual was professional and the schedule was humane (I really, really, really like 09.00 starts; I really, really, really hate 08.00 starts).

For me, highlights certainly include Tyrone Hayes‘ plenary on the evils of atrazine, Fangliang He‘s description of the perils of overestimating extinction rates from species-area relationships, Mark Burgman‘s account of the crap performance of ‘experts’ in returning truth, Stuart Pimm‘s advocacy of scientific advocacy, Bastian Bomhard‘s sobering account of our failure to meet the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity targets, Rob EwersBioFrag software, Tom Brook‘s account of vertebrate threat patterns, Rob Dietz‘ presentation on the Centre for Advancement of the Steady State Economy, Guy Pe’er‘s review of population viability analyses, and of course, the Conservation Leadership Programme salsa party! Read the rest of this entry »

Killing us slowly

6 07 2010

I’m currently attending the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Canada. I thought it would be good to tweet and blog my way through on topics that catch my attention. This is my second post from the conference.

I silently scoffed inside when the plenary speaker was being introduced. It was boldly claimed that we were about to hear one of the best presentations any of us had ever seen at a scientific conference before.

I cannot say for certain whether it was indeed ‘the best’, but bloody hell, it was excellent.

Our speaker is certainly well-known in the endocrinology world (very well published), is a bane to certain chemical industries and is revered as a scientist who puts his money where is mouth is.

Professor Tyrone Hayes of the University of California Berkeley is an ‘eco-endocrinologist’ who blew the lid on the devastating health effects of the most available and ubiquitous agricultural herbicide in use today – evil atrazine. As my readers know, I am certainly pushing the empirical basis for the link between environmental degradation and deterioration of human health (my talk here at the ICCB on Wednesday will be on this very topic), so this topic interests me greatly.

It’s no secret that atrazine has devastating feminising effects on amphibians (and many other taxa), and has been linked convincingly to increasing the risk of cancer in humans. It’s banned in Europe, but still widely used pretty much everywhere else. Read the rest of this entry »

Failure of the CBD 2010 targets

5 07 2010

I’m currently attending the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Canada. I thought it would be good to tweet and blog my way through on topics that catch my attention.

Yesterday I attended one memorable presentation by Bastian Bomhard of the United Nations Environment Programme‘s (UNEP) World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC). He provided some sobering statistics.

The opening statement in the background section of the Convention on Biological Diversity‘s (CBD) 2010 Biodiversity Target reads:

“In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention committed themselves to achieve by 2010 a significant [my emphasis] reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”

Suffice it to say that we have failed to meet the target.

I won’t dwell too long on the fact that ‘…a significant reduction…’ is utterly meaningless, subjective and a useless policy tool (in my opinion) because it cannot be quantified as stated, Bastian did tell us that we failed even to obtain a ‘reduction’.

More specifically, parties to the CBD 2010 target agreed in 2010 to protect at least 10 % of the world’s ecological regions (ecoregions) by 2010 — almost half of the world’s terrestrial ecoregions do not meet even this modest proportional protection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Society for Conservation Biology’s 24th International Congress

15 01 2010

I’m off for a long weekend at the beach, so I decided to keep this short. My post concerns the upcoming (well, July 2010) 24th International Congress for Conservation Biology (Society for Conservation Biology – SCB) to be held in Edmonton, Canada from 3-7 July 2010. I hadn’t originally planned on attending, but I’ve changed my mind and will most certainly be giving a few talks there.

There’s not much to report yet, apart from the abstract submission deadline looming next week (20 January). If you plan on submitting an abstract, get it in now (I’m rushing too). Actual registration opens online on 15 February.

The conference’s theme is “Conservation for a Changing Planet” – well, you can’t get much more topical (and general) than that! The conference website states:

Humans are causing large changes to the ecology of the earth. Industrial development and agriculture are changing landscapes. Carbon emissions to the atmosphere are changing climates. Nowhere on earth are changes to climate having more drastic effects on ecosystems and human cultures than in the north. Circumpolar caribou and reindeer populations are declining with huge consequences for indigenous peoples of the north, motivating our use of caribou in the conference logo. Developing conservation strategies to cope with our changing planet is arguably the greatest challenge facing today’s world and its biodiversity.

Sort of hits home in a personal way for me – I did my MSc on caribou populations in northern Canada a long time before getting into conservation biology proper (see example papers: Woodland caribou relative to landscape patterns in northeastern Alberta, Effects of petroleum exploration on woodland caribou in Northeastern Alberta & Winter peatland habitat selection by woodland caribou in northeastern Alberta), and we’ve recently published a major review on the boreal ecosystem.

Only 3 plenary speakers listed so far: David Schindler, Shane Mahoney and Georgina Mace (the latter being a featured Conservation Scholar here on I’m particularly looking forward to Georgina’s presentation. I’ll hopefully be able to blog some of the presentations while there. If you plan on attending, please come up and say hello!

CJA Bradshaw

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