Saturday, May 31, 2008

Putting a value on it

A report released this week at the 9th UN Conference on Biological Diversity (COP9) in Bonn, Germany, calculated that environmental damage and species loss costs $2.1 to $4.8 trillion every year. The study, commissioned by the European Union (EU) and the German government, is the biggest assessment ever made of the economic impact of ecological damage. But establishing the global value of biodiversity was not the main focus of the study. As is the case with global warming, it is the poor, particularly those in developing and emerging economies, who stand to suffer the most from the loss of ecosystem services.

Friday, May 30, 2008

When Rhinos Attack

Monitoring wildlife with trail cameras is a great idea. Until the wildlife decides it doesn't like the look of the camera.
The video, released yesterday and picked up on by a lot of news outlets, shows an extremely rare female Javan rhino from Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, attacking a trail camera. The cameras use infrared lights as the source of illumination in order to not scare animals away.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nest Cam

Just click the image for the nest cam. More resources (stories and videos) here including the story of the dramatic chick rescue.

Video of the attack and rescue is on Youtube here.

Terror struck the Pelican Harbor bald eagle nest on Santa Cruz Island as a sub-adult bald eagle attacked the two 7-week-old chicks. Whether it was trying to carry them off or just knock them off, we're not sure, but both chicks were drug off the nest by this juvenile eagle. The youngest chick (Spirit) was grabbed by it's beak and dragged off. The IWS team on Santa Cruz Island was immediately notified by faithful nest-watchers. They hiked the treacherous hike out to the nest in record time to see what could be done. Before they got there, the older eaglet, Skye, was grabbed by the wing and dragged off. Both eaglets were found - one with a slightly broken bill and the other with a broken wing - otherwise healthy. They have been taken to a vet in Orange County. Spirit's beak is expected to heal quickly. The wound is deep and the main concern is infection. Skye is having surgery for it's broken wing May 22nd. The vet is optimistic about it's recovery. Both eaglets should be placed in a hacking tower on Santa Cruz Island within a couple months.

Luangwa River Valley

Here's the National Geographic article on the Luangwa River Valley. Don't miss the photo gallery for some great pictures.

You can read more about the Santa Cruz Island fox story at the Park Service website or the Nature Conservancy site. There was also a story in The Independent last year about the release of the last ten captive bred foxes on Santa Cruz island.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Climate change

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) yesterday released "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." The CCSP integrates the federal research efforts of 13 agencies on climate and global change. This report is one of the most extensive examinations of climate impacts on U.S. ecosystems.

The report finds that climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I'm a part of it

The TREE paper I mentioned is online here: The value of the IUCN Red List for conservation.

The website for the ninth Conference of the parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, going on now in Bonn, Germany, is here. It's interesting to see what they are up to.

If you are not used to the sheer awfulness of European pop music you should steel yourself before clicking on this link for their theme song.

Monday, May 26, 2008

AP press has a story today that was carried in several local papers about a large potential development that would take place in condor habitat. Tejon Ranch Co. is a publicly traded company whose primary asset is Tejon Ranch, a 426-square-mile area about 60 miles north of Los Angeles that is the largest unbroken expanse of land under single ownership in California. The project to build 3,450 housing units on land used as a feeding ground by condors is just one piece of far larger Tejon Ranch Co. plan to build what amounts to a mid-size city that could eventually bring more than 70,000 people to the area. Two years ago, the company began negotiating a compromise with the environmental groups, ultimately agreeing to set aside a huge tract atop the Tehachapi Mountains that is home to elk, wild turkeys, coyotes, bears, eagles and the California condor.

Take a look and see what you think. Good plan or bad plan? On the one hand:

David Clendenen, a condor expert:

"For us, the ultimate line in the sand is you don't allow development in designated critical habitat, and it's that simple."

On the other hand:

Many environmentalists are delighted by the deal, under which Tejon will set aside an extraordinary 375 square miles for the bird and other wildlife. It would be the biggest parcel in California history to be designated for conservation. Five of the nation's most influential environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Audubon California, helped negotiate the plan and gave it their blessing when it was announced earlier this month.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sharks in decline

The first study to determine the global status of 21 species of wide-ranging oceanic pelagic sharks and rays reveals serious overfishing. 16 out of the 21 oceanic shark and ray species that are caught in high seas fisheries are at heightened risk of extinction, due primarily to targeted fishing for valuable fins and meat as well as indirect take in other fisheries. Sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to their tendency to take many years to become sexually mature and have relatively few offspring. These findings and recommendations for action are published in the latest edition of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dr. Latto mentioned some of Palumbi's work in lecture today on using DNA to identify whale species sold in markets. He has also done some work on "Red Snapper" which usually turns out to be a number of other species including some threatened rockfish species.

Here is a little video showing a bit about how the research works. And here is a website with a few other interesting videos from his work

Did you know that when you buy "Pacific Red Snapper" it often isn't Red
Snapper at all? Pacific Red Snapper actually isn't a species at all, it describes a number of different species, usually of Rockfish which are sold under that name. Steve shows Lynne Rosetto Kaspar (of NPR's "The Splendid Table") how to extract and sequence DNA from supermarket fillets to tell what kind of fish they really are.


Are there species that we should deliberately drive to extinction? Before you say no, try reading Olivia Judson's controversial article in the New York Times entitled 'A bug's Death: Should we send the malaria mosquito the way of the dodo?' . In this article she advocates the extinction, or "specicide", of thirty mosquito species through the introduction of recessive knockout genes".

Would this be the first step on a very slippery slope (a lot of people hate snakes, many people dislike spiders etc. etc.) or would the ends justify the means - eliminating the mosquitoes that vector malaria would save at least one million human lives every year?

Also, check out this earlier Kakapo post about one more part of the mystery that is the Kakapo.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Habitat Restoration Internships

Habitat Restoration Internships--Coal Oil Point Reserve:

Coal Oil Point Reserve has several paid habitat restoration internships
available for Summer Quarter 2008. Interns will work with a habitat
restoration ecologist, the Reserve steward, other interns, and volunteers
assisting with restoring native wetland and coastal sage scrub habitats. Job
duties will include: plant propagation, seed collection, invasive weed control,
ecological monitoring and general site maintenance. The internship requires 30
hour commitment; generally 3 hours/week on Friday mornings, and occasional
Saturday workdays. Interns receive a $250 stipend upon successful completion of

Applicant must be available on Friday mornings from 9am-12noon, beginning the
first week of Summer Session (week of June 23rd). Previous restoration
experience and knowledge of native plants and restoration ecology is a plus,
but not necessary. Positions are funded by Wildlife Conservation Board, CA
Audubon and Wetlands Recovery Project.

To apply send resume and class schedule/time availability for Summer Quarter to:
Darlene Chirman at 692-2008 and Tara Longwell at 893-5092.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Procedure and policy

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post a month or so ago about how, without actually changing the law, the administration can influence how it is used.

With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the administration cannot avoid the public initiation of the listing process it is fairly amazing that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne had not declared a single native species as threatened or endangered when this article was written. He has since broken his unblemished record with the Polar Bear.

Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said, in a ruling in late January:

"If the [Fish and wildlife] Service were allowed to continue at its current rate, it is hard to imagine anytime in the near or distant future when these species will be entitled to listing. Such delay hardly qualifies as 'expeditious progress' and conflicts with the purpose of the ESA to provide 'prompt action' [if there is] substantial scientific evidence that the species is endangered or threatened."

Take a read of the article, it's interesting stuff. If you have a strong stomach and want to read the views of red-blooded and blue-blooded America on the endangered species act and the Bush administration then take a look at some of the comments.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brittlestar city

Amazing pictures and a video from the Census of Marine Life showing millions of brittlestars catching passing food in a fast current of the southern coast of New Zealand. Dubbed "Brittlestar City", its cramped inhabitants, tens of millions living arm tip to arm tip, owe their success to the seamount's shape and to the swirling circumpolar current flowing over and around it at roughly four kilometers per hour. The current allows the mass of brittlestars to capture passing food simply by raising their arms, and it sweeps away fish and other hovering would-be predators. Don't watch the video if you are prone to motion sickness, or have been drinking. If you are prone to motion sickness and have been drinking you REALLY shouldn't watch the video. Otherwise enjoy. There is so much we don't know still to be discovered, it would be a shame to lose it before we even got to see it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Freshwater ecoregions

I mentioned 'ecoregions' in class when we talked about prioritization. I introduced the 825 terrestrial ecoregions and mentioned the Global200 and the Crisis ecoregions. This concept was then expanded to include 229 coast and shelf marine ecoregions.

Finally, this week saw the publication of the Freshwater ecoregions of the world. 426 units, whose boundaries generally - though not always - correspond with those of watersheds.

Freshwater Ecoregions of the World is a collaborative project providing the first global biogeographic regionalization of the Earth's freshwater biodiversity, and synthesizing biodiversity and threat data for the resulting ecoregions.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stinky whales

Gray Whales have been granted protection from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission since 1949, and are no longer hunted on a large scale. Limited hunting of Gray Whales has continued since that time, however, primarily in the Chukotka region of north-eastern Russia, where large numbers of Gray Whales spend the summer months. This hunt has been allowed under an "aboriginal/subsistence whaling" exception to the commercial-hunting ban and the annual quota for the Gray Whale catch in the region is 140 whales per year. After increasing from the brink of extinction to a population of about 20,000 the grey whales now seem to be struggling. Numbers are estimated to have fallen to between 15,000 and 18,000, and some researchers are concerned that the trend of the past few decades may have reversed.

In the past few years, the aboriginal whalers of the eastern coastline who hunt gray whales for meat have reported that an increasing number of them smell so foul that even dogs won't eat them. The few people who have tried the meat suffered numb mouths, stomach ache and skin rashes.

Possible culprits are either pollutants in the ocean or a change in the whales diet. A preliminary analysis has not revealed any unexpected pollutants and attention has switched to diet. One possibility is that the smell is a side effect of following a cetacean version of the Atkins diet as their diet shifts. There is some evidence to support this idea: the whales normally stick to a diet of shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods, but hunters have reported finding stinky whales' stomachs full of seaweed and cod. As with the Atkins diet in humans, this could be causing the whales to enter the state known as ketosis, in which they burn fat for energy. In people, this causes bad breath. Perhaps the whales are undergoing something similar.

Happy Endangered Species Day!

Not so sure about the "Happy" part, but here is a message from the director of COP Reserve, Cristina Sandoval:

Did you know that UCSB and the Coal Oil Point Reserve protect 6 endangered or threatened species? Do you know who they are?

Three years ago, the U.S. Senate set aside the third Friday of May to promote the conservation of wildlife, fish, and plants threatened with extinction. That day is today. So drop your friends a line to remind them that species everywhere, from the great white polar bear to the tiny Smith's blue butterfly, are in trouble - and that if we all pull together, we can save them.

Encourage others to write a letter to their congressmen, attend a public meeting, submit an editorial to their local newspaper - or just spread the word about how important it is to safeguard our nonhuman peers and the last natural areas they call home.

Here is the website for the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization dedicated to preserving biodiversity.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Contingent Valuation and the Exxon Valdez

If you'd like to read a little more about contingent valuation in action this is the paper that was used in the Exxon Valdez case: A Contingent Valuation Study of Lost Passive Use Values Resulting From the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. It's a bit long but all the survey instruments are included so if you are curious how people actually do this the information is all there. The loss of non-use values resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was estimated at $2.8 billion.

This paper, Contingent Valuation: Is Some Number better than No Number? is interesting and mentions the case plus lots of the problems associated with contingent valuation. You'll notice I'm not the only one who thinks the technique is essentially worthless:

'We believe that contingent valuation is a deeply flawed methodology for measuring nonuse values, one that does not measure what its proponents claim to be estimating.'

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Polar bear addition

Many of you might have seen the news today that Polar Bears have been listed as threatened on the endangered species list. This is a very important move because it is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been invoked to protect an animal principally threatened by global warming.

However the Interior Secretary, Dick Kempthorne, made it clear that the decision would not justify regulating emissions from power plants, vehicles or other human activities. It will be interesting to see how they come up with a recovery plan if regulating emissions is not on the table.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Microwave heating

A student in another class mentioned this paper, Design and Implementation of a Continuous Microwave Heating System for Ballast Water Treatment, which apparently is getting some press coverage as a possible solution to the ballast water spread of invasive species.

Press reports are a little contradictory on the cost although the paper itself says 'implementation of this system by itself would be prohibitively expensive' so it looks like the 'low operating costs' are only when compared to conventional heating methods which are even more expensive.

'Boldor noted that the high heating rates, low operating costs, and effectiveness in hazy water distinguish it from conventional heating methods.' From Science Daily


'Given the amount of energy it takes to heat the water, the system’s operating costs are currently impractically high. But it may someday be useful in conjunction with other, cheaper methods, Dr. Boldor said, killing organisms that those technologies cannot.' From the NY Times

Monday, May 12, 2008

But wait, there's more

Hot off the press from PNAS (proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) in their April 29 2008 edition we have 'Cost-effective global conservation spending is robust to taxonomic group'
which reveals that:

Priorities for conservation investment at a global scale that are based on a single taxon have been criticized because geographic richness patterns vary taxonomically. However, these concerns focused only on biodiversity patterns and did not consider the importance of socioeconomic factors, which must also be included if conservation funding is to be allocated efficiently. In this article, we create efficient global funding schedules that use information about conservation costs, predicted habitat loss rates, and the endemicity of seven different taxonomic groups. We discover that these funding allocation schedules are less sensitive to variation in taxon assessed than to variation in cost and threat. Two-thirds of funding is allocated to the same regions regardless of the taxon, compared with only one-fifth if threat and cost are not included in allocation decisions. Hence, if socioeconomic factors are considered, we can be more confident about global-scale decisions guided by single taxonomic groups.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Monarch Butterfly Declines and Eucalyptus Trees

Recently populations of monarch butterflies have been in decline, and their overwintering sites in California are considered vulnerable areas by CA Dept of Fish and Game. Eucalyptus trees were first introduced to CA in the 1850's, and since native trees have declined over the years due to poor land management and disease, these non-native trees serve as ideal habitat for the butterflies. Below is a good little summary from the Ventana Wildlife Society of how conservation of this butterfly might entail protecting some of these non-native tree groves.

Historically, butterflies likely utilized native conifer stands of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), Monterey cypress (Cupressus maculatum) and Coast redwood (Sequoia sempevirens), but in the last century monarchs have been observed roosting in introduced eucalyptus. Eucalyptus have strong vertical layering, grow quickly and densely, and are not susceptible to disease while Monterey pine is susceptible to pitch canker and is not densely constructed. Further, extensive land development, logging, and poor land management have reduced the number of native tree stands that support over-wintering monarchs. Use of isolated stands of non-native eucalyptus trees makes monarchs vulnerable to land management plans that mandate the removal of non-native tree species. Today, protection and management of monarch overwintering sites usually entails balancing planting eucalyptus coupled with its eradication and removal of diseased pine.

If you missed seeing the butterflies this past winter, check them out this December in Ellwood.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Global warming

Good and bad news in the journal Science this week with regard to the effect of global warming on species.

First the good news:

Individual birds can adjust their behaviour to take climate change in their stride, according to a study by scientists from the University of Oxford. A study of the great tit (Parus major) population in Wytham Woods, near Oxford, has shown that the birds are now laying their eggs, on average, two weeks earlier than half a century ago. The change in their behaviour enables them to make the most of seasonal food: a bonanza of caterpillars that now also occurs around two weeks earlier due to warmer spring temperatures.

Adaptive phenotype plasticity in response to climate change in a wild bird population. Science. 9 May 2008.

and the bad news, reporting on a paper in PNAS:

Because tropical warming will be less extreme, scientists sometimes suppose that tropical species will suffer less from climate change. That's a bad assumption, says Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of California, Los Angeles. He notes that temperatures in the tropics are more stable year round than they are at higher latitudes, so tropical organisms--particularly ectothermic, or "cold-blooded," ones like insects--are adapted to cope with a narrow range of temperatures. Their greater sensitivity to temperature variation might put them at risk, even with less warming. Deutsch and his colleagues searched for scientific papers about how insect population growth varies with temperature. They found laboratory data for 38 insect species--including butterflies, beetles, and true bugs--with native ranges that spanned latitudes from 50° north to 40° south. For the locations where each species had been collected, Deutsch and his colleagues looked up the predicted temperature in the year 2100 based on climate change models. They plotted those future temperatures onto the population growth curves and found that, 100 years from now, the reproductive rates of tropical insects could be as much as 20% slower than they are today. Most high-latitude insects, on the other hand, could breed faster, the team reports online today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Diminished reproduction could spell extinction for many tropical insect species, unless they adapt or migrate.

Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude Curtis A. Deutsch, Joshua J. Tewksbury, Raymond B. Huey, Kimberly S. Sheldon, Cameron K. Ghalambor, David C. Haak, and Paul R. Martin PNAS | May 6, 2008 | vol. 105 | no. 18 | 6668-6672

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Keeping common species common

The website of the Gap Analysis program (GAP) provides some nice resources about gap analysis. GAP is a cooperative effort among regional, state, and federal agencies, and private groups coordinated by the USGS Biological Resources Division. There are all sorts of tie-ins to todays lecture - not just the gap analysis bit - consider their motto for example 'keeping common species common.' Their FAQ provides a nice introduction to what they do and what gap analysis is and you can access their data by state - California for example. Take a look at some of the data sets and maps. You can turn on and off various layers on the maps and they give you a sense of how useful GIS is.

Side note: Photo Credit

The photo on the previous (below) blog and the one to the left were taken by Callie Bowdish--for more of her fabulous photos see her website... there are a lot of local nature and surf shots! Especially some great ones of Coal Oil Point Reserve.

May 17th Habitat Restoration at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Hello Restoration Volunteers!

Come join us this Saturday, May 17th from 9am-12 noon for a Habitat Restoration
Workday at Coal Oil Point Reserve. Coal Oil Point Reserve is a 170-acre nature
reserve owned by UC Natural Reserve system, and located just west of Isla Vista.
The Reserve is an ecologically important area that is home to a number of
endangered and threatened species, including the Western Snowy Plover. This
Saturday we will be improving habitat by removing non-native plants, and
maintaining previously planted areas. This is a great opportunity for all
community members who want to improve water quality and the local habitat for
all the critters that live here!

If you plan to join us please RSVP to Tara Longwell at
to receive directions to our meeting spot. We strongly suggest carpooling to
cut down on the number of cars on site! Tools, gloves, water, and snacks will
be provided.

Hope to see you there!
Tara Longwell
Tara Longwell
Reserve Steward
Coal Oil Point Reserve
UC Santa Barbara
Natural Reserve System

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Snowy Plover Docent Program

UCSB Student Funded Positions
We are advertising for 2 student assistants to help with the docent program from
mid-May through August. We would prefer students who are eligible for
work-study, if possible.

The UCSB Coal Oil Point Reserve is seeking 2 students to help with various tasks
of the Snowy Plover Docent Program. The primary responsibility of the student
will be to watch the plover nesting area during times that volunteer docents
are not available. The student will also help the docent coordinator with
recruitment of new docents, special outreach events, docent trainings, and
office maintenance.

Must attend Docent Training, Sat., May 10th, 9AM-1:30PM
- Salary is $10.00 per hour.
- Average work, 10 hours per week.
- Flexible hours, particularly early mornings, and weekends are needed.
- The position is available from May 15th until August 30th.

If you are interested, please respond to Program Coordinator, Jennifer Stroh, to
set up an interview:

For more info on snowy plovers, see Apr 1st post on this blog....

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mutant Swan in UCSB Lagoon!!!!!

This weekend I decided to show my mother who was visiting from Colorado the pristine scenery of UCSB. We were walking around the lagoon and I was describing the one swan who normally occupies the lagoon in all his majesty when we spotted this monstrosity. Is it the same swan? Is it a mutant swan? Is that a third leg? Or perhaps just the second bent at an obscure and uncomfortable angle? Should I worry about walking so close to Lagoon water? Please help me solve this mystery.

Good fences make good neighbors (?)

This photo, taken by Warner Glenn in 1996, is believed to be the first of a live jaguar in the United States.

On the CNN homepage today:

Jaguars, an endangered species, have a breeding population in northern Mexico. Scientists believe there are no more than 120 left in the wild there. It's believed that since 1910, the cats are only visitors north of the border. They have been virtually unstudied here until recently but any possible return of breeding jaguars to the United States could be stopped by the new border fence. Last month the Department of Homeland Security waived 30 environmental laws to finish 470 miles of the fence by the end of the year.

Other articles about the wildlife impacts of the border fence can be found here, here and here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dead Zone

The world's hypoxic zones—swaths of ocean too oxygen-deprived to support fish and other marine organisms—are rapidly expanding as sea temperatures rise, a new study suggests.

Read the report in the latest issue of Science.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Fewer caribou calves are being born and more of them are dying in West Greenland as a result of a warming climate. "Spring temperatures at our study site in West Greenland have risen by more than 4 degrees Celsius over the past few years," said author Eric Post. "As a result, the timing of plant growth has advanced, but calving has not." The phenomenon, called trophic mismatch, is a predicted consequence of climate change, in which the availability of food shifts in response to warming, whereas the timing of demand for those resources does not keep pace.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Work experience

We are looking to hire a student employee for an ongoing restoration project.
Please forward the following job description to any students you feel would be


Job opportunity:

We at CCBER are looking for someone to work approximately one day per week on a
restoration project in Toro Canyon near Carpinteria. Duties may include
assisting in Cape Ivy removal, vegetation and arthropod monitoring, and soils
analysis. This is a great opportunity to gain experience and learn some
valuable skills. Pay is $10 per hour.

Ideally, applicants should have one full day per week that they can work in
order to facilitate carpooling.

Please contact Casey Peters at

Coal Oil Point Tours

Enjoy a tour of Coal Oil Point Reserve, a nature reserve owned by UCSB in Goleta.
Call for tour dates at (805) 893-5092 or

Trained tour leaders will take you on a walk through a few of the Reserve’s ecosystems: from sandy beach to the Devereux Slough to a restored coastal dune system. Learn about the Reserve's current restoration projects and its cultural and geologic history while identifying flora and fauna-such as American Kestrel, Coast Golden Bush, and the Globuse Dune Beetle-that make their home at Coal Oil Point. $5 donation suggested, except for students and Reserve volunteers.

Tours are a program of Shorelines & Watersheds-a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization-and Coal Oil Point Reserve. Funding for the Tour Program is provided by Venoco Inc.

Nicole Cerra
Education Coordinator
Coal Oil Point Reserve
(805) 893-5092