Saturday, November 29, 2008

Science, technology and ethics

Science and medicine are amazing. Slightly off topic, but really interesting none the less, check out this article on science, intervention, medical wonders, and ethics. About what? Using a surrogate mother to have a baby.
While not exactly mainstream, the trend seems to be rising. Like I said, I'm not sure it really has to do with 'conservation ecology' per se (although in a blog earlier this week, "Wooly mammoths on the return?"
, I pointed out the use of domestic cats as "surrogate mothers" to birth cloned wild African kitties), but it's an interesting timely piece about science, technology and ethics.

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Cartoon fr.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Buy Nothing Day

Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of nature… fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low?

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

Check out Buy Nothing Day at the Adbusters website. It's not a new event, I remember first hearing of it a decade ago when several television stations refused to air their paid advertisements encouraging people to buy nothing. I guess they were frightened that their more regular customers would be offended.

Oh, and happy thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oceans Ten Times More Acidic Than Thought

In PNAS this week:
Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining
ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset

Increasing global concentrations of atmospheric CO2 are predicted to decrease ocean pH, with potentially severe impacts on marine food webs.....
....Our results indicate that pH decline is proceeding at a more rapid rate than previously predicted in some areas, and that this decline has ecological consequences for near shore benthic ecosystems.

Or read the National Geographic summary.

Woolly Mammoths on the return?

So...let's say a species is extinct, how valuable is it to bring it back? Is it worth academic time and money?

Today's New York Times woolly mammoth article discusses using cloning to bring the beasts back. Not a joke.

Author Olivia Judson sums it up: "In regular cloning, the genome is from the same species as the egg. In cross-species cloning, the genome and egg are from different species. So, for mammoths, you’d put mammoth DNA into a blank elephant egg, and transplant the egg into an elephant surrogate mother. For Neanderthals, you’d put Neanderthal DNA into a blank human egg, and have a human surrogate mother (or, one day, perhaps, an artificial womb). For a bird like a dodo, you’d put dodo DNA into a blank pigeon egg (dodos were essentially big flightless pigeons), and pop the egg into an incubator. Easy peasy."

Hmm... 10 different species of mammals have already been cloned. Judson points out the challenges. It took '1,552 African wildcat kitten embryos transferred to domestic cats to produce only two healthy kittens; three gray wolf clones have been born from 372 embryos transferred into surrogate domestic dogs.'

If mammoths returned, where would we put them? What would some consequences be on the existing ecosystem? Wouldn't they be hot with global warming? Maybe they could be cloned to have less fur?? Should this be a research priority?

Photo by S. C. Schuster fr.
See the NYT article for genetic references.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

People and Marine Wildlife

In class we're learning about species conservation, endangered animals, and fishing of whales. What do you think about animals that are supposedly saved from the "dinner table" by being placed in aquariums? Is conservation being attained or are marine animals being exploited?

Can aquariums can be used as conservation tools? For example, the Georgia Aquarium hosts the "World's largest and most engaging aquarium." It boasts a "Ritz-Carlton"-esque home to its resident whale sharks, which are the world's largest fish and can grow up to 66 feet in length. The aquarium states that it is encouraging marine conservation and supporting research. The whale shark is listed on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Animals as "indeterminate" status; little is known about the creatures, thus, any knowledge is beneficial, right? Furthermore, four whale sharks were proportedly saved from "Taiwan's kill quota, which means they would have ended up as food if they had not been brought to Atlanta".

Additionally, the aquarium advocates close contact with whale sharks in order for people to learn more about them (and have undeniably cool experiences they can tell friends about). Called the 'Swim with Gentle Giants' programme, six snorkelers and six divers can share the tank with the whales. Through the live webcam, you can also see the tank and fish from your home!

In spite of popularity among viewers, the aquarium's hosting of giant marine animals is controversial. For example, some past favorites entertainers, such as a Beluga whale, have been euthanized. The aquarium stated that the beluga "suffered from a string of chronic illness even before he came to the aquarium". However, overall, little is known about how wild marine animals do in captivity. For example, 4 aquarium whale sharks became sick from a tank chemical parasite treatment; they stopped treatment and the animals healed. During a later autopsy of one whale shark that died, scientists found that his death was due to a perforated stomach, most likely caused by the feeding tube. “Sometimes in science we learn as much through death as through life,” Mr. Swanagan, the aquarium’s president and executive director, wrote.

Some scientists refuse to attend a 2011 International Whale Shark Conference at the aquarium to protest the uncertainty and lack of science regarding keeping such animals captive.

Despite (or perhaps in response to) widespread controversial publicity, the aquarium is continuing to view large animals, such as the new guest/prisoner, Nandi: a young 9 foot winged female manta ray saved from entanglement in South African shark nets.

Shark photo fr.
Belgua photo fr. John Amis/European Pressphoto Agency at
Manta photo fr. David Banks/CNN at

Monday, November 24, 2008

Updated Office Hours this week

Hi Everyone,

My office hours this week will be Tuesday, November 25th right after class, instead of Wednesday.
MSRB 1304A
3:20 pm-5:00 pm

Feel free to still email me questions Wednesday; I'll be working from home.

FWS Boxscores

Possibly a little optimistic about the speed with which things move in conservation biology the Fish and Wildlife Service maintain a summary page on the endangered species listings that is updated daily. Although it might not change much on a day to day basis it is nice to have a place you can always go to for the most accurate and up to date information.

The Fish and Wildlife Service pages on the Endangered Species Program contain a LOT of information, particularly on the 'Species information' link. Marine species are covered at National Marine Fisheries Service webpage on the NOAA website here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's not all bad

"As bad as his environmental record has been, he could, as one individual, protect more of the Earth's surface than anyone else in history," says Lance Morgan of the US Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

One of the George W. Bush's final acts as US president could be to create the largest marine conservation area in the world. President Bush is considering a proposal to turn up to 2.3 million square kilometres of tropical waters, coral reefs and remote island atolls in the Pacific Ocean into US National Monuments. In 2006, President Bush designated a 365,000 square kilometre Marine National Monument incorporating the northernmost islands of Hawaii, creating the world's largest protected marine area.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Short man or tall door?

Inspired by a section in 'The Week' magazine I'm going to start a new tag called 'Boring but important.' First use will for the news today that Representative Henry Waxman has won the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee from holder Representative John Dingell.

Although both men are members of the Democratic party Mr. Dingell has been a strong ally of the auto industry and has blocked many safety and environmental standards that the auto companies argued they could not meet.

Mr. Waxman has long championed clean air legislation, increased federal support for disease research and is a strong advocate of legislation to combat climate change. It is suggested that the tacit approval of Nancy Pelosi, that allowed the 'coup' that replaced Dingell, was designed to help accelerate passage of energy, climate and health legislation backed by President-elect Barack Obama.

Others have pointed out that it was Representative Waxman who was responsible for the exposure of the dubious scientific practices of big tobacco firms in congressional hearings in the mid '90's.

'Waxman is now in a position to haul the energy executives onto to the floor and demand they release their strategy documents to confuse the science of global warming and expose this campaign just like he did with Big Tobacco. He now has the power to expose this campaign of confusion that has effectively delayed action on the most important issue we face today.'

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Talk on fish and biological invasions.

This Monday November 24th, 6pm at Harder South there is a talk on fish and biological invasions by Roland Knapp (Research Biologist, UCSB.)

Title: Thinking outside of the lake: fish impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada.

For more info, please contact Lisa Stratton at

Thought extinct, Pygmy tarsier found!

Ginny brought to my attention this cool discovery of rare and mouse sized pygmy tarsiers. Thought to be extinct, it was evidently a surprise for both the scientists and pygmies when they were recently discovered in central Sulawesi, Indonesia. For over 80 years they've been hiding! Here's another furry friend website for more info. Pygmy photo by Sharon Gursky-Doyen, Texas A and M. Map from

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Although there are some interesting Kakapo videos on YouTube there doesn't seem to be a good one of their mating call. The best one I can find is at the Arkive website here. You may need to turn up your volume to hear the low frequency call.

The Kakapo Recovery Program website is your one stop website for all things Kakapo.

ESA blawg

For all things legal and ESA check out the ESA blawg - a legal blog that discusses the Endangered Species Act. The latest post is a good indication of the sort of material covered but there are lots of great posts there that will give you a greater legal background to some of the material we have covered. 
While an essential goal of the Endangered Species Act is to increase attention to the endangered and threatened species, compliance with the law also leads to unintended consequences.  The problem stems from a simple fact: increased ESA demands do not equate with increased government agency resources.  Three news stories this week highlighted the tensions between the ESA demands, and the other competing needs, priorities and duties of state agencies. 
With number of ESA-listed species ever growing, and indeed, with global climate change threatening an explosion in threats to species, the absolute demands of the ESA could become increasingly difficult, or even impossible, to bear.  When that day comes (assuming it hasn't already), and in the absence of increased funding, a triage system becomes inevitable. 

Other recent posts you may find interesting - mainly because they are Californian stories:

Monday, November 17, 2008

To fish or farm?

Instead of another purely scientific shock story about how our fisheries and marine biodiversity are bound to collapse, this NYT week in review article gives a fresh fishery argument from a food critique's taste buds. In Discussion, we've debated this a bit. In short, author Mark Bittman proposes we pescavores eat cod only occasionally and sardines more frequently instead of encouraging the campaign for 'tasteless' farm-raised salmon.

The article weighs the ecological harm from farming fish (inefficient fishmeal, excessive waste (aka poo), genetic pollution, and long term unsustainability) against the convenience of year round salmon (probably not as tasty as the 85 pd Chinook photoed below). For specific fishery trends, note the NYT side graphs and how the Northwestern Atlantic Coast Herring looks like it's doing ok, after catch restrictions were imposed. Unfortunately, the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna trend looks more dismal.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Giant critters

I think it's an interesting commentary on human nature that despite the absolutely incredible diversity of life (see squid photos here and here) we still want to believe in a variety of fabulous creatures that do not exist (yeti's, bigfoot, sasquatch, etc). For a while there was a brief craze of picture postcards, featuring large creatures - usually out west (see chicken below and rabbit to left). I presume this also reflected a desire to con the rubes back east.

So I was a little hesitant when I heard tale of a giant fish (hmm, I think I saw that movie) and the link was to Cryptomundo - an entertaining website that specializes in 'crytptozoology' or the study of hidden animals(like the aforementioned bigfoot). Here's the photo of an allegedly 85 lb Chinook salmon. Yeah right. Except in this case the story appears to be true. I could pretend this is relevant to class because the Chinook salmon are listed under the state and federal endangered species acts but really I was reminded of this picture by Katherine's giant chicken picture.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Genetic Integrity

I hope you're all safe from the Santa Barbara fires! I was recently up in Big Sur and it was amazing to see how much fire damage there was... Part of the natural cycle?

Anyway, as a follow up to our question in discussion about the term "genetic integrity", I found this information online: one Genetic Integrity Project strives to "protect genetic resources, the integrity of genetic material and species biodiversity". For more information on why genetic integrity is important, see this quick summary by Jayne Belnap. When the option exists, Belnap says it's best to restore ecosystems using local plants instead of non-local genetic material or non-native species to preserve genetic integrity.
Photo from

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good news everybody

An important follow up Michael's post on George W. Bush's Last Environmental Stand. I came across this article on the Politico website and it turns out that President-elect Obama may have a much easier job than anticipated in overturning the numerous Bush administration regulations that have recently been implemented. Many of these regulations significantly weakened environmental protections - for example by allowing federal agencies to determine on their own whether their policies will threaten endangered species, rather than requiring them to go through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval.

It could take Obama years to undo ... rules finalized more than 60 days before he takes office — the advantage the White House sought by getting them done by Nov. 1. But that strategy doesn’t account for the Congressional Review Act of 1996. The law contains a clause determining that any regulation finalized within 60 legislative days of congressional adjournment is considered to have been legally finalized on the 15th legislative day of the new Congress, likely sometime in February. Congress then has 60 days to review it and reverse it with a joint resolution that can’t be filibustered in the Senate. In other words, any regulation finalized in the last half-year of the Bush administration could be wiped out with a simple party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

“If these rules are overturned, the benefits for the environment are potentially significant,” said Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch, a liberal regulatory watchdog group.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Supreme Court Says Navy Trumps Whales

Thanks to Jessica for pointing this one out.

In the first decision of the new term the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that military training trumps protecting whales in a dispute over the Navy's use of sonar in submarine-hunting exercises off the coast of southern California.

The use of MFA sonar under realistic conditions during training exercises is clearly of the utmost importance to the Navy and the Nation. The Court does not question the importance of plaintiffs’ ecological, scientific, and recreational interests, but it concludes that the balance of equities and consideration of the overall public interest tip strongly in favor of the Navy. The determination of where the public interest lies in this case does not strike the Court as a close question.

The case was seen as a test of whether the U.S. government could sidestep some environmental restrictions on national security grounds......

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Endangered giraffes beating the odds

Curious about giraffes? Read this Smithsonian magazine article about how the endangered Niger giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis peralta, is surviving despite stiff competition for resources, a limited population size and one neighboring country's poaching tendencies. (Below map shows Niger, home of these giraffes, and Nigeria, where two were poached)

Sex, birth, lots of leaves, and timber collection all come into play in this well written article. If not for the drama, note how economics and conservation biology are intertwined here: by protecting the local giraffes, villagers are investing in a growing tourism industry.

Photo from the Smithsonian Magazine by Jean-Patrick Suraud.

California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)

Coal Oil Point Reserve Monthly Lecture
Thursday November 20th 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Topic: California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)
Presenter: Michael Sheehy, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

On Thursday, November 20th, from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm Santa Barbara
Channelkeeper is providing an informational presentation on
California's initiative to establish a network of Marine Protected
Areas (MPAs) in Southern California. MPAs are underwater wilderness
areas that limit the extraction of marine species and aim to protect
and conserve marine life and habitats. Proposals for the designation
of these areas in Southern California will be developed over the next
year and will be greatly influenced by public input and participation.

Directions and Parking: The presentation will take place at the Cliff
House, located at Coal Oil Point Reserve in Goleta. You can find
directions to the Coal Oil Point Reserve at
Limited parking is only available in the inner parking lot (through
the gate) and anyone who parks in the outer parking lot may receive a
parking ticket. Carpooling, biking, or walking from Isla Vista with
friends is encouraged. If you plan on parking in the inner parking
lot, please arrive 30 minutes early so you will have time to check if
there is a spot available or drive to the end of Isla Vista and walk
with a friend.

Please join Michael Sheehy, Channelkeeper’s Marine Conservation
Coordinator, to learn more about California’s Marine Life Protection
Act (MLPA) and how you can get involved. For more information about
this event, please email or call 563-3377. For more
information on the MLPA Initiative and MPAs, please visit or

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is a non-profit organization dedicated to
the protection and restoration of the Santa Barbara Channel and its
watersheds. As Channelkeeper’s Marine Conservation Coordinator,
Michael Sheehy communicates with and educates the public on marine
conservation efforts and issues as they pertain to the Santa Barbara
Channel, including engaging the public in the Marine Life Protection
Act Initiative process in California’s south coast region. Michael
has extensive regional knowledge of the Santa Barbara Channel’s
near-shore marine communities and scientific expertise in marine
ecology- having worked for more than eight years as a research
ecologist with the Marine Science Institute and as a project manager
with the research consortium, Partnership for Interdisciplinary
Studies of Coastal Oceans, at UCSB. Michael has also consulted for
non-profit and businesses interests, including advising on such topics
as the state of global marine resource management.

Reservations are requested. Please send Leeza Charleboix an email to
reserve a spot at the lecture.

Leeza Charleboix
Coal Oil Point Reserve
Education and Tour Program Coordinator
Phone: (805) 893-5092

Monday, November 10, 2008

Habitat Restoration Workday at Coal Oil Point Reserve

Hello Restoration Volunteers!

Come join us Saturday,Nov 15th 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 and CA Least Tern. This
Saturday we will be improving critical habitat by planting native
species, removing non-natives, 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.
Tools, gloves, water, and snacks will be provided.

Hope to see you there!
Tara Longwell
COPR Reserve Steward

Glass squid

I missed this when the photo was published last year. I think it beats the piglet squid. Who knew there were so many anthropomorphic squid?

It was in a photo gallery at National Geographic. Here's the caption.

With its polka-dot mantle and cartoonish expression, this glass squid brings out a lighter side of the inky ocean deep.

Scientists found the squid and other species while mapping more than 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometers) of an undersea mountain range in the North Atlantic.

Until now the region had scarcely been explored because of its remoteness and depth. But the new survey shows that the ridge is teeming with life, said Monty Priede, expedition leader and director of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab research center.

"The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is roughly equivalent in size to the European Alps and is one of the largest areas of habitat available in the ocean," Priede said.

You can read more at the accompanying article.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wonders of ocean life counted in massive census

I'm not sure exactly why this is the lead story on the CNN website right now, slow news day?, but it's good to see some biology there.

A city of brittle stars off the coast of New Zealand, an Antarctic expressway where octopuses ride along in a flow of extra salty water and a carpet of tiny crustaceans on the Gulf of Mexico sea floor are among the wonders discovered by researchers compiling a massive census of marine life.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cloning extinct species

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japanese scientists have produced clones of mice that have been dead and frozen for 16 years -- a feat that could lead researchers to one day resurrect long-extinct species, such as the mammoth.

Most of the recent extinctions we know about have involved habitat loss to one degree or another. In the absence of habitat restoration is it ethical or sensible to clone them? Discuss.

Friday, November 7, 2008

George W. Bush's Last Environmental Stand

In the wake of the election the White House seems to be doing all it can to destroy current environmental protections. Here is the story according to TIME.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Future EPA head?

According to the Washington Post, President-elect Barack Obama has short listed environmental lawyer Robert F Kennedy, Jr as a potential head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Wired magazine don't seem that impressed because of Kennedy's involvement with the vaccines-causing-autism-hypothesis, which has virtually no scientific support. But, as New Scientist Blogger Phil McKenna points out, it's a lot better than the current situation and as a prosecuting attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council Kennedy has already been acting as the de facto EPA head as 'Bush appointees used the Cabinet seat to plunder public lands for oil and gas, gut the Endangered Species Act, and block CO2 emission regulations. '

Robert F. Kennedy is the nephew of former US President John F Kennedy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ecosystem services

Ashok Khosla
Chairman, Development Alternatives Group India President
International Union for Conservation of Nature
Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008
12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Bren Hall 1414

"The Importance of Including the Value of Ecosystem Services in Economic Calculations "

Greenhouse Job for Work Study Student

Opening at Greenhouse for special project

Requires some knowledge of carpentry
Requires lifting 50 lbs
Self motivated & Dependable
$9.50 per hour

Hours to be determined - could include a Saturday; Email Joan Calder at Please state hours available and experience.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Oct. 25th I blogged about 7 missing orcas in Washington waters. The scientists hypothesized that their disappearance may be due to decreased salmon populations. An article in today's NYT by Alexandra Morton, "Saving Wild Salmon, in Hopes of Saving the Orca" , goes more in depth about the salmon problems (such as farms) that may be causing killer whale deaths.

This article highlights a potential example of genetic pollution: where the farmed salmon are infecting wild salmon with sea lice, and leading to the wild populations decline. It also narrates the author's passion and success in pursuing whale conservation (through cooperation with universities and Trivia Pursuit philanthropists), despite her non traditional academic background. Ms. Morton points out that the whole trophic cascade, including bears, eagles and other animals, may be affected by the salmon farms.

Wind energy in Antarctica

Last week in class (and in his below blog "Biodiesel- friend or foe?") Professor Lotto discussed how conservation actions sometimes create conflicts. While energy savvy consumers are encouraged to use biodiesel instead of gasoline, there is an ecological cost when land is transformed to produce biodiesel fuel.

What is another alternative energy source (especially in the windiest place in the world)? Today's New York Times highlights the future use of small wind turbines at Belgium's new Antarctica station. If you're interested in alternative energy or Antarctica (because it is such a cool place!!) check out the NYT greening Antarctica blog.

Fyi- Google "McMurdo" or "Palmer" for more information on the United States' Antarctica stations. As I mentioned in discussion, UCSB offers amazing opportunities for students to do research in Antarctica with a diverse group of faculty from different disciplines. Feel free to ask me if you want to know more.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Snovy Plover Docent Training this Sat., Nov. 8th

Train to become a Snowy Plover Docent and help protect this threatened species at Sands Beach, Coal Oil Point.
Next training:
Sat., November 8th, 2008
The Cliff House, Coal Oil Point Reserve

During the training, we provide a 2 hr tour of Coal Oil Point, a DVD featuring the collaborative researcher projects at Coal Oil Point, a presentation about plover ecology and natural history and provide instruction about the docent roles: educator and protector.

If you have any questions, please call Jennifer Stroh, Snowy Plover Docent Program Coordinator, at (805) 880-1195 or email:

Here's a plover news article. Above photo by Morgan Ball, UCSB.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Roadless Wilderness Area Determines Forest Elephant Movements in the Congo Basin

Published in the Open Access PLoS One Journal this week:
Roadless Wilderness Area Determines Forest Elephant Movements in the Congo Basin

A dramatic expansion of road building is underway in the Congo Basin fuelled by private enterprise, international aid, and government aspirations. ..... We investigated the ranging behaviour of forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis)in relation to roads and roadless wilderness by fitting GPS telemetry collars onto a sample of 28 forest elephants living in six priority conservation areas... (W)e show that roads outside protected areas which are not protected from hunting are a formidable barrier to movement while roads inside protected areas are not. Only 1 elephant from our sample crossed an unprotected road....Forest elephants are increasingly confined and constrained by roads across the Congo Basin which is reducing effective habitat availability and isolating populations, significantly threatening long term conservation efforts. If the current road development trajectory continues, forest wildernesses and the forest elephants they contain will collapse.