Sunday, December 9, 2012

Conservation Reliant Species

I found an interesting article about another problem with the Endangered Species Act. As stated, the goal of the ESA is to help species at the risk of extinction “to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary” (ESA § 3(3)). However, some species are conservation reliant. This means that they cannot survive without direct conservation efforts because the problems they face continue to persist. For some species, removing a particular threat (like DDT or an invasive species) is enough to allow the species to recover. After the threat is removed the species can survive on its own and no longer requires human help. But, this is not true for all species. Many species are conservation reliant and thus would continue to need help even if they are brought back up to target population levels and are delisted.

There are two types of conservation reliance, population-management reliance and threat-management reliance. Species that are population-management reliant need human intervention to facilitate movement between isolated habitat patches. Species that are threat-management reliant require human intervention to correctly maintain a particular habitat. For example, some species require periodic fires in their environment in order to survive. Since the natural fire regime has changed, these species, even when brought back to a large population, will continue to require control burns of their habitat.

Helping these conservation reliant species can be very difficult and keeping them on the Endangered Species List may not be the best way to solve the problem. A system has to be put in place to continue helping these conservation reliant species after they are delisted. A possible way to do this is to pass on the protection of the species to another conservation group. After the ESA helps the species reach its recovery goals, there could be a transition period where another group agrees to continue monitoring the conservation reliant species. For example, the Appalachian Mountain Club agreed to monitor and manage the habitat of the Robbins’ cinquefoil after it was delisted.

To learn more about this problem, read this article:

Dale D., et al. (2012). Conservation-reliant Species. BioScience 62(10):869-873.

(or search for it in Web of Science)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

If Not Now, Then When?

was the first question Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace International asked at the 18th U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha after a typhoon struck the Southern Philippines killing more than 500 on Tuesday.

It is clear that climate change is long past the preparation and discussion stage so it unfortunately fitting that the conference takes place in the "shadow of a devastating typhoon".  Does it take the loss of human life for conservation and climate change management to have the necessary funding?  I would hope not.  Naidoo rallies

KUMI NAIDOO: ...they say they don’t have money.
KUMI NAIDOO: If you could have found trillions of dollars to bail out the banks...
KUMI NAIDOO: ...why can’t a country find $60 billion to bail out the poor and bail out the climate and bail out the planet?
These questions are beyond the scope of our class but as conservation ecology seeks to include humans, it may be more central than previously thought.  It would seem that a world effort is needed to confront climate change, and as Naidoo points out, big bucks. This argument is made in William Nordhous' paper The architecture of climate economics: Designing a global agreement on global warming see below.

It is unfortunate that we seem to care a heck of a lot more about something when it is directly affecting us.  Somehow in the process of saving our own lives, maybe we can save many other species as well.

The architecture of climate economics: Designing a global agreement on global warming. Nordhaus, William D. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Jan2011, Vol. 67 Issue 1, p9-18. 10p. 4 Graphs.

Post by Alex Jensen

Florida tackling python problem with hunting contest

By: Robert Habern

Section: Friday noon

Burmese Pythons have been wrecking havoc on the Florida ecosystem for years. It is believed that most of these pythons entered into the Everglades National park as escaped pets who were able to thrive in the ecosystem. Populations of rabbits, raccoons, foxes, opossums and bobcats have all dropped as a result of the invasive Burmese Python.

To solve this problem, the state is turning to its citizens for help. The idea is that a hunting contest will solve the problem. Starting in January of 2013, a grand prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the person who kills the most pythons, and $1,000 will go to the person who bags the longest one. All people have to do to enter the contest is pay $25 and take an online safety course in hunting. The Everglades National Park services is hoping that by creating an incentive system like this it can get the public more involved and more supportive of the project. The contest organizers believe that by holding this contest they will be teaching the public about the impact invasive species have on the environment and will be solving a serious problem at the same time. Contestants are encouraged to shoot the snakes in the head or chop their heads off with a machete to kill them in the most humane way.

I think this is a great way to solve a serious biodiversity-threatening problem. It has several benefits. For one, the Park services, an already insufficiently funded organization, will be saving a lot of money by having the public essentially doing the hunting for them. It will also educate the population about the problem, other similar problems, and the importance of balance in the ecosystem. Also, a contest such as this will probably be fun for many people.

Several issues may come up because of this contest. I'm sure some people will not be out there hunting the python for environmental reasons. Because of this, the well-being of other animals may be at stake. Also, having hundreds of people roaming the countryside with firearms may pose as a security issue.

Overall, this project is an interesting idea to solving a serious problem. There may be some problems with it, but overall I think it will be a success and help restore biodiversity in the area and improve the imbalance in the ecosystem.

Status of Unassessed Fisheries

          Only 20% of the world's fisheries are formally assessed. In order to better manage the marine systems, the status of global fisheries must be evaluated.  By being more informed of the fisheries worldwide, sustainable fishing could be driven toward its potential to achieve ecosystem recovery.

          The model and data used for formal assessments include structural population model and local knowledge. In this study, Costello et al. developed a method that uses the marine species' life history, catch, and fishery development analysis. It was found that the large unassessed stocks are performing at a level that is close to those of developed countries. However, small unassessed fisheries were found to be poorly managed and are impacted by a comprised local ecosystem.

          The authors encourage solutions that emphasize more on territorial user right fisheries (TURFs) and co-management instead of individual transferable quotas. This is because it is often difficult to monitor local activities and implement quotas. TURFs also provide the additional benefit of preserving physical integrity of fishing areas.

Costello, C., Ovando, D., Hilborn, R. , Gaines, S. D., Deschenes, O., & Lester, S. E. (2012). Status and   solutions for the world's unassessed fisheries. Science, 338, 517-520.

Mussels Make Their Way Into Your Mouth

We all have had our fair share of visits to the dentist and have sat there in that cold and weird smelling office not knowing how are teeth will hold up to the scrutiny of the dentist.  One thing most patients share in common, other than a unified hatred towards the doctor, is that they have absolutely no idea what is going on inside their mouth.

Dentists employ a variety of tools and procedures but essentially it all boils down to anesthetizing the patient, drilling and removing decay, and finally bonding the restoration to the tooth.  The only part we will be focusing on is the bonding.  Currently dentists use inorganic adhesives to bond to the dentin or enamel of the tooth.  These adhesives are very difficult to work with and are for the most part very light and time sensitive.  The main drawback for adhesives of the status quo is that their performance is very limited in moist environments, this poses a problem in the moist damp cave we know as our mouth.  Try as you might, properly desiccating a tooth for the final restoration is very difficult and sometimes impossible.  This is why most restorations have a limited life expectancy.

Dr. Herbert Waite, and his team of Phd. students at UCSB are conducting research on the adhesive abilities of Mytilus, commonly known as mussels.  The mussels have an organ that protrudes through their tough outer shell that adheres to almost any surface underwater.  This organ is known as the foot, and its adhesive abilities are remarkable.  The foot combined with byssal fibers are what is responsible for the adhesion and Dr. Waite's lab has found a protein denoted as Mfp-2 that makes up roughly 50% of the organ.  This protein in the presence of ions such as Ca and Fe, commonly found in the ocean, display greater than normal adhesive properties to metallic surfaces.  The plan is to study how these proteins achieve such properties and synthesize them in the lab for use is biomedical adhesives.  This would not only pertain to the dental field but plastic surgery and even reconstructive surgeries, eliminating the need for extended periods of stints held together by screws.  You can read more about their research here or visit the Waite Lab here on campus.

Invasive Grass Linked to Increase in Wildfires

            Scientists are alarmed by the global increase in the amounts of large, devastating wildfires. Few areas on the planet have suffered as much from wildfires as the western United States and it has not been spared by the current trend. The results of a recent study now indicates that an invasive species is likely responsible for the increased size, ferocity, and frequency of wildfires that have consumed this region.
            The invasive grass species, known as cheatgrass, was introduced to North America by soils inadvertently transported across the ocean by trading ships and then was spread west in the 1800s by pioneers and ranchers. It now covers much of a 600,000 sq km region of western America known as the Great Basin. Cheatgrass is named for its ability to "cheat" by grow incredibly fast in the very early part of the season, staking claim to the soil's nutrients before other grass species have a chance. Early growth results in quick maturation to seed dispersal and then death. Once the grass dies, it becomes extremely dry and vulnerable to igniting. This results in large wildfires that can ignite on cheatgrass and spread rapidly while native species are still green and wet, greatly expanding the length of the fire season. Additionally, by destroying native species before they have completed their maturation, the fires actually help the cheatgrass spread and outcompete other grasses.

            These facts have made cheatgrass a long suspected culprit in the increased frequency of wildfires. Scientists tested the connection by using, "satellite imagery from NASA to compare burnt areas with regions where cheatgrass dominates.". The study further solidified the link by determining that since 2000 nearly 80% of large fires, ones over 100 sq km,in the Great Basin have been fueled mostly by cheatgrass.

            Their suspicions confirmed, scientists are now focusing on how to remove or eradicate cheatgrass from the region. There are several current proposals, one simply calls for physically removing the invasive species while another proposes that a fungus be introduced that will attack and kill cheatgrass seeds. No matter which direction experts decide to go in, it is important that they stop the spread of cheatgrass and facilitate its demise. Otherwise, we very well could continue to see a rise in the range and frequency of destructive wildfires in the western United States.

Link to article:

McGrath, Matt. "Wildfires Fanned by Invasive Grass Species." BBC News. BBC, 12 June 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2012.

Friday, December 7, 2012

War on Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is a global problem and continues to worsen as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. Since the year 1750, the average world’s ocean acidity of the water has increased by 30%. Many species are vulnerable to acidification; species like sea urchins, oysters, clams and mussels are several species that are vulnerable. They are vulnerable due to wind-driven upwelling events that occur which bring low-PH waters from the deep parts of the ocean towards the shore. Also land-based nutrient runoff from farming fuels algal growth that also lowers the PH of the ocean. The rising acidity of the ocean waters is corrosive to many larval shellfishes, the acidic water reduces the amount of available carbonate, many marine organisms need carbonate present to form their calcium carbonate shells or skeletons.
Washington State has launched a 3.3 million dollar science based plan that has forty-two steps to reduce ocean acidification. The panel that is composed of scientists, policy-makers and shellfish industry representatives recommends creating an “acidity” budget. This accounts for natural and human-influenced sources of acidity, a way to improve methods of predicting corrosive conditions and a way to use sea grasses to soak up carbon dioxide in shellfish hatcheries.
The panels advises how crucial it is to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions but the state of Washington cannot do this alone it is a global effort and the oceans will not change so overnight. This is a problem that the whole world faces and that only reduction in carbon dioxide will reduce ocean acidification. If not many species that are known today are in jeopardy of going extinct.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on November 27, 2012.

Brazil’s rainforests continue to be logged and destroyed. Sustainable practices are not in place. Conservation efforts are falling short because there aren’t enough human incentives to keep people from economically profiting from the deforestation. Although the National Cancer Institute can estimate that seventy percent of anti-cancer plants are found in the rainforests, it isn’t enough incentive for the loggers who have nothing to lose.

Brazil is home to largest rainforest. It spans throughout the other South American countries. When speaking of sustainability, the rainforest is completely self-sustainable. It keeps moisture levels high and even without rainfall it is able to hold a water presence. What isn’t sustainable is the human activity. As we further degrade the habitat, we are making it more plausible that the trees in the rainforest wont be able to hold in the moisture that once surrounded them. The balance of the ecosystem will skew and the extinction debt will grow larger. Species that once thrived in this environment will not be able to adjust to the rapid changes being brought on by humans.

Rainforests are one of the few unique ranges left on earth that humans continue to try to cultivate without extensive thought. To protect them, it is necessary that locals and private contractors become aware of the laws in place and educated on how destruction of one environment affects the global community.
-Crystal Chavez

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lion encounters

Huh. I'd never heard of the 'lion encounter industry' before I saw this paper from July this year:

Walking with lions: Why there is no role for captive-origin lions (Panthera leo) in species restoration

Despite formidable challenges and few successes in reintroducing large cats from captivity to the wild, the release of captives has widespread support from the general public and local governments, and continues to occur ad hoc. Commercial so-called lion Panthera leo encounter operations in Africa exemplify the issue, in which the captive breeding of the lion is linked to claims of reintroduction and broader conservation outcomes. In this article we assess the capacity of such programmes to contribute to in situ lion conservation. By highlighting the availability of wild founders, the unsuitability of captive lions for release and the evidence-based success of wild–wild lion translocations, we show that captive-origin lions have no role in species restoration. We also argue that approaches to reintroduction exempli´Čüed by the lion encounter industry do not address the reasons for the decline of lions in situ, nor do they represent a model that can be widely applied to restoration of threatened felids elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fox Invasion Threatens Wave of Extinction in Tasmania

Clint Meek

An article posted on "" that was pulled from materials provided by the British Ecological Society, discusses the impact of an invasive species and the actions needed to combat them. The affected area is the island of Tasmania, where a surging fox population is threatening the local species. Now it is important to realize they are predicting the effects being mentioned, by using models and DNA analysis, so there is no guarantee of it coming to a reality. However, actions are being taken to control the population via the method of baiting with poison, and not specifically where they are at, but where they could be. This is important to realize on a conservation whole, that species move and relocate, thus destroying an area (or putting poison in), even if the species isnt there can prove to have negative effects on the species in the long run. (Think habitat destruction) In this case, "habitat destruction", if you will, is being used as the method to control this invasive species and protect Tasmania's native species.


British Ecological Society (BES). "Fox invasion threatens wave of extinction in Tasmania." ScienceDaily, 4 Dec. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

Clint Meek