Influential conservation papers of 2013

31 12 2013

big-splash1This is a little bit of a bandwagon – the ‘retrospective’ post at the end of the year – but this one is not merely a rehash I’ve stuff I’ve already covered.

I decided that it would be worthwhile to cover some of the ‘big’ conservation papers of 2013 as ranked by F1000 Prime. For copyright reasons, I can’t divulge the entire synopsis of each paper, but I can give you a brief run-down of the papers that caught the eye of fellow F1000 faculty members and me. If you don’t subscribe to F1000, then you’ll have to settle with my briefest of abstracts.

In no particular order then, here are some of the conservation papers that made a splash (positively, negatively or controversially) in 2013:

Read the rest of this entry »

Oceans need their giants

2 11 2011

Another great post from Salvador Herrando Pérez.


Commercial and sport fishing establish minimum body sizes for catches of many species to preserve fish stocks. Recent work reveals that sustainable fisheries also depend on the regulation of the harvest of the biggest fish, at least in long-lived species.

Growing up in Spain in the 1980s, I was taken by a Spanish television spot featuring a shoal of little fish sucking colourful dummies, and at the same time (how they managed, I never questioned) singing the motto Little fish? No, thanks. The then Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food created this media campaign to create awareness among consumers not to buy immature fish at local markets – “…a 60-gram hake will only weigh 2 kg after two years” the add stated.

Indeed, the regulation of fish harvest by age classes is substantial to any fishery. In particular, the protection of younger fish has been a beacon of fishery policy and management that dates back to the 19th century when, among others, the British ichthyologist Ernst Holt concluded that: “…it is desirable that fish should have a chance of reproducing their species at least once before they are destroyed” 1. Very much in line with such principles, conventional fish stock management has in practice neglected the mature age classes2, other than for the fact that they are the end point of extraction and what we consumers eat on the table. Read the rest of this entry »

Does the pope wear a funny hat?

5 04 2011

Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? Does an ursid defecate in a collection of rather tall vascular plants? Does fishing kill fish?

Silly questions, I know, but it’s the kind of question posed every time someone doubts the benefits (i.e., for biodiversity, fishing, local economies, etc.) of marine reserves.

I’ve blogged several times on the subject (see Marine protected areas: do they work?The spillover effectInterview with a social (conservation) scientist, and Failing on ocean protection), but considering Hugh Possingham is town today and presenting the case to the South Australian Parliament on why this state NEEDS marine parks, I thought I’d rehash an old post of his published earlier this year in Australasian Science:

Science has long demonstrated that marine reserves protect marine biodiversity. Rather than answer the same question again, isn’t it about time we started funding research that answers some useful scientific questions?

As marine reserves spread inexorably across the planet, the cry from skeptics and some fishermen is: “Do marine reserves work?” The science is pretty clear but acknowledgement of this by the public is another story. Let me begin with a story of my experience answering this question while communicating to stakeholders the subtleties of marine conservation planning during the rezoning of Moreton Bay.

I was asked by the then-Queensland Environmental Protection Agency to explain to stakeholders the process of marine reserve system design as it applied to the Moreton Bay rezoning. I told the gathering that the rezoning was about conserving a fraction of each mappable biodiversity attribute (species and habitats) for the minimum impact on the livelihood of others. Read the rest of this entry »

International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas

2 11 2008

tuna-660x433Otherwise known as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) based in Madrid, ICCAT is charged with “the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas”. However, according to a paper entitled Impending collapse of bluefin tuna in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean to forthcoming in Conservation Letters (read post about the journal here) by Brian MacKenzie of the Technical University of Denmark, they don’t seem to be doing their job very well.

In perhaps the best example of the plundering of the seas for overt profit instead of food provision per se, the north-east Atlantic and Mediterranean population of bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) has been overfished and will continue to decline to near extinction if the harvest isn’t stopped immediately and for several years to come.

Chronically obese probability.

The demand (and money) associated with tuna harvest appears to negate all scientific evidence that the population is in serious trouble – because of us. The Economist recently featured the paper’s results and therein quoted the opinion of independent ICCAT reviewers who described the situation as “an international disgrace” (read full article here).

I want to list MacKenzie et al.’s paper forthcoming in Conservation Letters as a ‘Potential‘ here at, but I doubt it will change the tuna’s situation that much, and it may only ruffle a few European (and Japanese) feathers (scales?). Who knows? Perhaps the paper will result in a massive down-scaling of the harvest and some serious commitment to REAL tuna conservation.

CJA Bradshaw

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Classics: Fishing down the web

17 09 2008

A Classic

Fishing_down_the_food_webDaniel Pauly and colleagues’ classic paper in Science, Fishing down marine food webs, is one that merits citation in Classics section. The trend identified by Pauly and colleagues is fairly simple – data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations revealed that the average trophic level (i.e., the position in the food web relative to autotrophs – primary producers such as phytoplankton) has declined by an overall average of 0.2 units. In this case, a trophic unit varied from 1 (phytoplankton) to 4.6 (e.g., snappers, family Lutjanidae). The trends varied by region and whether or not one takes certain overrepresented species into account, but the average decline was more or less consistent across the dataset.

What does all this reveal? Put simply, it means that fishing on a massive and global commercial scale has essentially removed many of the larger species to the point where it has become no longer economically viable to sustain a targeted fishery. This does not necessarily mean that these species have disappeared, but it does indicate a large drop in relative abundance (and thus, ease of capture) necessary to support an industry, with the corollary that highly reduced populations are now much more extinction-prone if they fall below their minimum viable population size. The corollary is that marine species we wouldn’t consider palatable for a dog 50 years ago are now considered top-quality market delicacies.

The paper did not go without critique – Caddy and colleagues argued that Pauly and colleagues oversimplified the case for marine fishes and misinterpreted some data; however, a subsequent paper by Pauly’s team published in 2005, Fishing down marine food web: it is far more pervasive than we thought, argued that the original paper didn’t go far enough, and that fisheries over-exploitation worldwide is much worse than originally reported. Indeed, there are certainly some high-profile examples to support the case (e.g., the Atlantic cod and Peruvian anchoveta fisheries collapses, to name a few).

What did this do for biodiversity conservation? I think it can be argued that this is one of the first big papers to identify that the over-fishing problem was global in extent and massive in magnitude, and that high-seas over-exploitation was stripping our seas of its bigger (generally slower-growing and more extinction-prone) species. I believe things have changed for the better, but we’re still a long way off. Fishing in international waters still operates without an international body to enforce regulation and document catch precisely, and the classic tragedy of the commons applies so well to fisheries that it should be one of the principal examples used to illustrate the concept. People tend to jump up and down about elephants, pandas and whales, but the reduction in fish worldwide is a biodiversity crisis in progress that has not attracted nearly enough attention. We need more papers like Pauly’s on this issue, as well as demonstrations of the loss of marine ecosystem function and services with the loss of species brought about by excessive fishing harvests. Only then can we expect the careless greed driving quick-profit high-seas fisheries to ease up enough to prevent extinctions on a massive scale.

CJA Bradshaw

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