Why do conservation scientists get out of bed?

1 10 2012

1*Zd2mpLgOIbJuLg3CqH8BQwI have, on many occasions, been faced with a difficult question after giving a public lecture. The question is philosophical in nature (and I was never very good at philosophy – just ask my IB philosophy teacher), hence its unusually complicated implications. The question goes something like this:

Given what you know about the state of the world – the decline in biodiversity, ecosystem services and our own health and welfare – how do you manage to get out of bed in the morning and go to work?

Yes, I can be a little, shall we say, ‘gloomy’ when I give a public lecture; I don’t tend to hold back much when it comes to just how much we’ve f%$ked over our only home, or why we continue to shit in our own (or in many cases, someone else’s) kitchen. It’s not that I get some sick-and-twisted pleasure out of seeing people in the front row shake their heads and ‘tsk-tsk’ their way through my presentation, but I do feel that as an ‘expert’ (ascribe whatever meaning to that descriptor you choose), I have a certain duty to inform non-experts about what the data say.

And if you’ve read even a handful of the posts on this site, you’ll understand that picture I paint isn’t full of roses and children’s smiling faces. A quick list of recent posts might remind you:

And so on. I agree – pretty depressing. Read the rest of this entry »





Biodiversity begins at home

20 01 2011

A few months ago I was involved in a panel discussion entitled ‘Biodiversity begins at home’ held at the Royal Institution of Australia in Adelaide and sponsored by the Don Dunstan Foundation.

The main thrust of the evening was to have both academic (me & Andy Lowe) and on-the-ground, local conservationists (Sarah Lance, Craig Gillespie and Matt Turner) talk about what people can do to stem the tide of biodiversity loss. The video is now available, so I thought I’d reproduce it here. We talked about a lot of issues (from global to local scale), so if you have a spare hour, you might get something out of this. I did, but it certainly wasn’t long enough to discuss such big issues.

Warning – this was supposed to be more of a discussion and less of a talkfest; unfortunately, many of the panel members seemed to forget this and instead dominated the session. We really needed 4 hours to do this properly (but then, who would have watched the video?).

Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





The Joke’s On Us

30 11 2010

 

© decostudio.pl

Here’s an idea to garner some appreciation for the dire straits in which humanity finds itself mounting from the global biodiversity crisis. More importantly, I hope that ‘appreciation’ would translate into ‘action’ as a result.

The idea came, as good ideas often tend to, around a table with some mates1,2 and several bottles of wine. The idea got more outlandish as the bottles were emptied, and I have to say I can’t remember many of the finer details (probably a good thing).

But the nugget of that idea is, I think, a very good one. I’d like to hear your opinions about it, and some suggestions about how to make it happen.

(get to the point, Bradshaw)

Right.

The idea would be to create an international (televised) comedy festival called ‘The Joke’s On Us‘ where very high-profile comedians would be individually matched to high-profile scientists of various areas of expertise. Let’s say we had a climate change scientist like James Hansen sit down with, oh, maybe Eddie Izzard, the famous and highly regarded Gaia creator, James Lovelock, locked in a room for a few days with Michael McIntyre, tropical deforestation specialist, Bill Laurance, matched with Chris Rock, and that population bomb, Paul Ehrlich, with Robin Williams or Jerry Seinfeld. The possible combinations are endless. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Conservation research rarely equals conservation

21 07 2010

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

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).




To market, to market, to buy a fat… fish

4 05 2009

An interesting new paper just appeared online (uncorrected proof stage) in Biological Conservation. Brewer and colleagues’ paper entitled Thresholds and multiple scale interaction of environment, resource use, and market proximity on reef fishery resources in the Solomon Islands describes how the proximity of fish markets explains some of the variation in fisheries takes on South Pacific coral reefs. Well, that may seem intuitive, you say – if you can’t access even a local market, chances are your fish will only feed you and your immediate family. Make an economic link to a larger pool of demanding consumers, and you have all the incentive you need to over-exploit your little patch of finned money.

Of course, the advent of better, more efficient transport (including refrigerated transport) and the development of local markets (i.e., tapping into larger ones in more populated areas) has inevitably caused fish depletions across the globe. Brewer and colleagues’ work provides a quantitative link between human demand and biodiversity decline (including ‘fishing down the web‘), and suggests that our best way to manage fisheries is to target the source of this demand – the markets and patterns of consumption. Ultimately, it’s the consumer that will dictate what does and what does not go extinct (see also previous post on consumer preferences for rare species). After all, if there’s a demand, someone will step in to provide the resource (provided it’s still there). Better education, smarter consumption and regulation along the entire chain will be far more effective in the long run than just attempting to control the fishers’ behaviour.

CJA Bradshaw

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