Thursday, September 30, 2010

Discussion Question 1 (History and Biodiversity pattern and process) comments due October 5th

Given that millions of species are yet to be described and named, how should the limited human and financial resources available for taxonomic research be allocated? Should attention be concentrated on poorly known taxa? Should efforts be directed toward areas threatened with habitat destruction so that species can be collected before they are eliminated? Should major efforts be directed to obtain complete 'all taxa" surveys of selected areas? How and by whom should these decisions be made?

Discussion Question 2 (History and Biodiversity pattern and process) comments due Oct 5th

In the near future it may be possible to identify any species from a small, non-destructive, DNA sample. Given this fact, and the fact that acquiring taxonomic expertise can take a lot of time and work, is the ability to identify and classify species a skill that every conservation biologist should possess?

Discussion Question 3 (History and Biodiversity pattern and process) comments due Oct 5th

What are the factors promoting species richness? Why is biological diversity diminished in particular environments? Why aren't species able to overcome these limitations and undergo the process of speciation?

Automatic loss

From an article in the New York Times yesterday: Trying to Lace Together a Consensus on Biodiversity Across a Global Landscape

“Every degree centigrade the planet warms will lead automatically to a 10 percent loss in known species,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

That the most annoying thing I think I've read all week. What is especially irritating is that Ahmed Djoghlaf is a really big cheese at the United Nations. 'Executive secretary' is UN speak for the Director of a program so this guy effectively runs the Convention on Biological Diversity. He's certainly well educated with a PhD in political sciences, a Master of Arts, Government and Politics, a Master of Political Sciences and a Law degree. Okay, I think I see the problem there.

Let's see if we can restate that:

"The unknown future climate changes caused by man's alteration of the global atmosphere will most likely have a dramatic effect on many species distributions and abundances. An unknown number of our known and unknown species may go extinct. This may, or may not, matter to ecosystem function."

To be honest I find this far scarier than the 10% per degree scenario. On the bright side if we do screw up the planet astronomers today identified a planet 120 trillion miles away where "The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."  Sigh.

Best Environmental Photos of 2010

National Geographic just posted their best environmental photos of 2010.

Check them all out. They're all amazing but here are three that caught my eye.

Thousands of Munk's devil rays crowd the Sea of Cortez off Mexico's Baja California Sur state. The aerial image won top honors and the "Underwater World" category in the 2010 Environmental Photographer of the Year awards.

German photographer Florian Schulz said the scope of the ray congregations was unknown until he and a pilot happened upon the gathering while searching for migrating whales.

Perhaps just as rare is the composition Schulz captured. "I was able to show how these rays are jumping out of the water," he said, "and at the same time I'm able to show—almost like an underwater photograph—how there're layers and layers and layers of rays."

Like a soothsayer with a crystal ball, a fly rubs a bead of water in the backyard of Bulgarian photographer Radoslav Radoslavov Valkov, winner of the "Under 21" category of the 2010 Young Environmental Photographer of the Year award.

A green pit viper eyes a hummingbird in Hungarian photographer Bence Mate's winning picture. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lab opportunity

Tom Smith, a grad student in  in Cherie Brigg's lab is looking for a couple students to help him sort and ID insects and algae, etc. His project involves describing Sierra Nevada alpine lake communities and their response to extinction of endemic frogs.

Contact Tom directly if you are interested.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why there are no hyenas in Europe

Wherever possible I like to add links to papers that discuss topics we cover in class. The reason for this is that you can see just how people go about some of the studies I mention.

In the first class I mentioned the impact of early humans on Pleistocene faunas around the world. A paper in Quaternary Science Reviews by Sara Varela et al. last month looked whether changing climate alone could explain the disappearance of hyenas from Europe.

Were the Late Pleistocene climatic changes responsible for the disappearance of the European spotted hyena populations? Hindcasting a species geographic distribution across time 

Climatic conditions in Southern Europe during the Late Pleistocene remained within the spotted hyena climatic tolerance. Hence, climate changes could have directly affected the Northern distribution of the species during the last glaciations. However, climate change alone is not sufficient to have caused the disappearance of the spotted hyena populations in Southern Europe. That is, other factors, such as prey abundance or human ecological impacts, in addition to climatic change, are needed to completely account for extinction of the European spotted hyena.

Tiny Frog and Sea Slugs

The posts of the new species of frog and sea slug inspired me to share my own story. 

I love sea slugs, especially Nudibranchs. While I was in Hawaii over the summer, I trekked down to the Olivine Pools, where I found Haminoea cymbalum, a species of sea slug common to the coastline of Maui. 

I highly recommend visiting Maui. The Haleakalā volcano is spectacular at sunrise. There are many hikes and exciting places to explore on land and in the water. I was scuba certified on Maui, possibly the most amazing experience of my life! There are fairly descent places to go snorkeling and scuba diving on Maui, and the Hawaiian Islands in general. If you stick to the beach resorts and touristy places, Maui isn't that exciting, but once you get off the beaten path it is a lot more interesting. This summer I went with my family and my friend who is studying geology. I am interested in marine biology. It was an educational experience for my parents because my friend and I would not shut up about everything we knew about the geology and biology of Maui. 

Here is a photo of the Olivine Pools where I found Haminoea cymbalum. This picture was taken at the top of  cliff we climbed down to get to the Olivine Pools. At the top there is a rock with a rope tied around it that we had to slide out to and grab a hold of to swing down to a shaky ladder that went down to a landing of boulders. From there you have to navigate through the boulders to the pools. The drop from the top of the cliff to the pools is probably hundreds of feet. 

It is awesome that a UCSB Marine Scientist found a new species of sea slug. It would be a dream come true to discover something like that. 

Also while in Hawaii, on the road to Hana we stopped at the Hana Lava Tube. If you are interested in geology it is pretty spectacular, but not a whole lot of life in the cave. At least not in the "designated tour area." There is a spot along the tour where lava had erupted out of the tube to the surface and in that area light shines down into the tube. There is a small patch where ferns can grow in the lava rock. While I was looking at the ferns something tiny jumped past my line of sight. I spotted and caught it and to my surprise it was a tiny frog. It does not appear to be an adult and will probably grow more. So, it is not the smallest frog ever, but it was only 5mm long. The smallest adult frog on record is 9.8mm long. Here is a picture of the frog on my thumb. Cute isn't it?

Megan Walsh

Monday, September 27, 2010


I've posted this before on a different blog but in case any of you are new to the Santa Barbara coast here are some of my favorite tidepooling sites - from easy to adventurous and, at the end, the best local tidepooling website.
Campus point is a very convenient place to see some nice intertidal species and some good zonation. What it lacks is some good tidepools where you can spend a whole day hunting for those more elusive creatures - sea hares, nudibranchs (pictured is the Spanish Shawl nudibranch, Flabellina iodinea), octopus etc.

Any tide below 0 is sufficient to reveal interesting tidepools and critters and with lows in the negative range the viewing is probably good for an hour or two before and after low tide. You can pick up printed tide tables at bait shops, boat supply places etc or access them online (there are apps for your phone and gadgets/widgets for pc's and apples ) or use Saltwater Tides.

There are several good local spots for tidepooling. Some require a bit of planning but all are accessible by bike and you should check them all out.

Devereux Point (Coal Oil Point) and the area between there and IV is the most convenient spot for most of you. The point itself has some decent sized rocks and is easy to get to from campus. Straight down Del Playa and keep going on the path along the bluffs when DP runs out. Or just follow the surfers. The flat area of rock that is exposed at a low tide between Coal Oil Point and IV is good for tidepooling.

A better spot is the reef between Elwood Bluffs and Haskell's Beach (now better known as the beach by the Bacara resort). For a weekend outing you could cycle (or drive) west on Hollister until just before it crosses the railway and ends at the Freeway. Take the well signposted turn to Bacara resort. Go about half a mile down here to the public parking lot (free). You can leave your bike here and walk a hundred meters down to the beach. Turn left (East) and at a low tide you can walk for miles, largely in solitude heading back towards campus. The tidepools start getting really good just past the two stubby piers you can see and keep getting better and better. If you get a friend to drop you off you could walk all the way back to campus. I think it would be about 4 miles from Bacara back to campus, less to IV.

Or for a summer adventure check out the Naples coast. Follow the instructions above to Haskells beach at the Bacara resort but head West on the beach (ie turn right away from campus). You'll go past the prominent pier used to ferry workers to and from the oil platforms. Then past a pleasant beach with, as you will see, the appropriate name Driftwoods. There's a surf break here so you'll see the odd surfer. As you leave this beach you may not see anyone again for several hours because there is no further public access until you get to El Capitan State Beach. At a low tide there is then several miles of fabulous tidepooling. You'll also see lots of seals, cormorants and other critters. About 3 miles from Bacara you'll come to Dos Pueblos Canyon, with a somewhat incongruous trailer almost on the beach. (It's actually nicer than it sounds and I believe they hold weddings on this private beach). That's a good point to turn around if you don't want to get cut off by the tide! You need to time this one right, I usually hit the oil pier by Bacara about an hour and a half before low tide and turn around at low tide (assuming a -1 low, which is rare). It's 3 miles from Bacara to Dos Pueblos Canyon and more like 7 from Bacara to El Capitan

You can find some maps of this part of the coast at the SaveNaples website (scroll down this document for cool aerial photographs/maps). This beautiful part of the Gaviota coast is under imminent threat of development although it looks like the current financial situation has both affected the developer and reduced demand for the proposed luxury homes.

Let us know what you find, or better, post some pictures. There's a really nice tide pool website at Santa Barbara City College with a great many of the beautiful pictures taken right by UCSB campus so these are the plants and animals you will see. Check out the 'Treasures' page. These are some of the organisms you might catch sight of.


CCBER (The Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration) and Coastal Fund will be hosting a celebration of the new Lagoon  interpretive signs near the UCEN with a PARTY!

Friday October 1, 12-2pm  CCBER and Coastal Fund will be sharing information about coastal restoration intern opportunities adjacent to the 4 new signs by the lagoon shore!  Food and Drinks will be available!

New Nudibranch

Well to follow up on the post below, I guess if you find a species new to science on your trip to the beach that has to be worth 100 points.

PRESS RELEASE New Species of Sea Slug Discovered by UCSB Marine Scientist
September 22, 2010

For the scientific record, Goddard describes the new species as "characterized externally by its smooth rhinophores; long tail and cephalic tentacles; pointed foot corners; red and orange tipped cerata; and lack of pigmentation on the head, body and head tentacles."

Goddard discovered the sea slug in 2008. As with many taxonomic discoveries, the finding often takes a couple of years for documentation, comparison with known species, and publication. Meanwhile Goddard and his colleagues will continue searching for more specimens of the newly described species.

Nudibranchs are cool. The one you are most likely to find in a tide pool around here is the California Brown Sea Hare - Aplysia californica. They can be quite large and weigh several pounds but are very hard to spot in the kelp. Each sea hare is both male and female, but they cannot fertilize their own eggs. They mate in lines and circles: each is male to the one in front and female to the one behind, so each is both a mother and a father.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good news and bad news for frogs

Speckled with bright green spots, the Omaniundu reed frog, Hyperolius sankuruensis was last seen in 1979. Because it only emits short, infrequent calls late at night, it is extremely hard to find. It lives in the flooded forests on the banks of the Congo river.

Fairly widely reported in the press this week was this story, here from the Guardian:

A team of scientists have have discovered three species of amphibian previously thought to be extinct. Their finds include a cave-dwelling salamander last seen in 1941 – the same year that it was discovered – and two species of frog that dwell in west Africa. In total, the scientists hope to rediscover roughly 100 species of amphibian.
Conservation International, in conjunction with the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, has organised a string of international expeditions to search for "lost" amphibian species that are highly threatened by habitat loss, climate change and disease. More than one third of amphibian species are under threat of extinction.
But despite the finds of species thought to be extinct, there's no reason to rejoice yet, says Sewell. "Finding three species is brilliant, but what about the remaining 97 species that the expeditions set out to find? While we live in hope that these species will be rediscovered, most of them are probably extinct."

As is usual with conservation stories the comments provide an insight into the general public perception of conservation:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

When I was a child in the 1970's long car rides were occupied by either staring out of the window or fighting with siblings. (This was before video games, dvd's, iPods, satellite radio, and cellphones, heck it was even before cassette tapes). In an effort to encourage the more peaceful staring out of the window option many parents would resort to the cheap and ever popular 'I-Spy' books. Like the game of the same name these books would list items for you to spot and, as far as I remember, you would get a different number of points for different items. There were always items that were practically impossible to spot - 50 points for a 'Mobile Coal Office'. I don't even know what that is and forty-something years later I've still never seen a mobile coal office.

Although the majority of the books that I remember were road themed (for obvious reasons) they did make a number of natural history themed books. I'm sure many future bird spotters got their start with these books.

Anyhow, I was down on the beach today enjoying the low tide when I thought that they should have made an 'Ecological Interactions' I-Spy book. Not only would it have been more fun, I'd like to see what illustrations they'd have come up with. Here are some of the items I thought of. The best thing about these, compared to the mobile coal office, is that you just need to look hard to see most of them. Trust me, no matter how hard you look you won't see a mobile coal office.
  • Predation - 1 point ( too easy but there have to be some easy ones)
  • Predation where the predator is smaller than the prey - 3 points (think weasel, easy to spot but you need to sit very still for a while)
  • Cannibalism - 3 points (surprisingly common)
  • Herbivory - 1 point (way too easy)
  • Parasitism - 3 points (take Armand Kuris's Parasitology class if you need some hints for finding macroparasites)
  • Necrophilia - 10 points (need a hint? Watch some sea otters...)
  • Inter-species sex - 10 points (Yup, sea otters again.)
  • Inter-species necrophilia (is there a name for this?) - heck, take 50 points for this one but it's been observed in both sea otters and some water fowl.
  • Interference competition - 1 point (too easy)
  • Exploitation competition - 3 points (I guess you'd have to watch one spot long enough to see one organism eat another and then another organism come by looking for something to eat).
If you weren't in lecture on Thursday you are wondering what this has to do with the class. Just get out there and watch some nature. A decent low tide again tomorrow afternnon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Duck Stamps

As you'll discover there are numerous functions for this blog. A place to put links to research we discuss in class. A place to post internships and volunteer opportunities. A place to post links to recent news articles of relevance. A place to post examples I take out of lecture due to time. Furthermore I keep discovering further uses. Now I give you - the perfect example I thought of immediately after lecture.

When talking about the influence of hunting on Conservation in the US I should have used the duck stamp as an example. As some of you may know the duck stamp although produced by the U.S. Postal Service are not valid for postage but act as federal licenses required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for hunting migratory waterfowl.

To date the duck stamps, currently $15, have raised more than $750 million. I'll repeat that, $750 MILLION, that has been used to buy 5.2 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Whether you agree with hunting or not you cannot disagree with the fact that this is an important source of  funding for wetland conservation in the United States. In fact the Fish and Wildlife Service Website claims that 'Conservationists buy Federal Duck Stamps because they know that the stamps are, dollar for dollar, one of the best investments one can make in the future of America’s wetlands'. I'd be interested to see what data they have on that but they do claim that:
Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. 

Personally I don't have a huge problem with hunting. I don't hunt myself but I kind of get the whole deer hunt thing. Or at least I enjoyed the movie. But duck hunting? I find ducks very amusing. They seem like the most cartoonish of the birds. Hunting ducks just seems wrong. Maybe that's just me. But then again all that duck hunting has raised three quarters of a BILLION dollars for conservation (98% of which has gone to purchase wildlife refuges). Meaning lots more ducks. Yay.

I told you this class wouldn't be black and white. Unlike the Bufflehead Duck (Bucephala albeola). C'mon could you honestly shoot this guy? Oh wait, apparently some people can. Hopefully they bought a duck stamp or three..

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Godwin's Law and Pandas

Okay, I got blank looks when I mentioned this today but Godwin's Law is real and is quite well known. Honestly.
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
Mike Godwin
Well known enough for nerds to write comics about it anyway.

The story behind it's creation is rather interesting.

And in possibly the most unrelated link ever, I should add that in case anyone is making plans to visit China the Wolong Panda Center has been closed to the public since the 2008 earthquake. Most of the Wolong pandas have been relocated to the sister Center, Bifengxia, outside Ya'an City. You can still visit them there.


Welcome to the Fall 2010 Conservation Ecology class. Unlike a class website this blog is not reset back to zero each quarter. The old postings are still available below and you can access them by topic using the labels (on the right hand side if you scroll down a bit). There's lots of interesting stuff there.

Lectures slides will be posted after each lecture and they will appear under 'Links' on the right hand side. Papers for discussion section will also be posted here, right under the links section in the imaginatively named 'Discussion section' section.

You are all welcome, and encouraged, to comment on the posts. You can also write your own posts of anything that is relevant to class but to do this you will need to be added as a contributor. Just send me an e-mail and I'll send you an invitation to join. It's a simple process.Some more instructions on posting are available here and this document is always available via a link at the top right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sample Discussion Topic Question

In 1949 Aldo Leopold wrote:
"To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
(A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, Oxford University press 1949).

Is this a realistic goal for conservation biology? How does this statement reflect the practices of conservation biology today?

(Click on 'Comments' to view the discussion or click on the Title of the post to see the post and the comments. Even though this is only a sample question please feel free to add a comment.)