Friday, September 30, 2011

How Biodiversity Loss May Be Elevating the Impact of a Fatal Fungal Infection in Amphibians

        The early 1990s heralded a growing concern over the declining amphibian populations worldwide.  There was much uncertainty about whether population declines were due to environmental fluctuations causing high mortality locally in some amphibian populations, or an ulterior cause (Wake 1991).  After a history of over 100 million years on the planet, conservation biologists were concerned yet intrigued by the sudden decline in these populations.  A later study found a fungus had induced epidermal changes in dead amphibians found during mass mortality events in Australia and Panama (Berger et al. 1988). Perhaps some of you have heard of the deadly chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis? Amphibian mortalities from this fungus have continued over the past decades, leading scientists to investigate any and every means to conserve amphibian species, many of which are essential top predators in food chains across a range of habitats.  Not only are these organisms at risk from a deadly fungus, but habitat destruction, climate change, and chemical contamination are also threats.

         Unfortunately, things aren’t going well for the amphibians. However, a recent study unveiled one piece of information critical to the preservation of amphibian species. Researchers from Oregon State University have found that loss of biodiversity may be elevating the impact of the fungal infection B. dendrobatidis decimating amphibian populations worldwide (Searle et al. 2011). Why? Having greater diversity reduces disease transmission via “dilution”—some species are not ideal hosts for the fungus, or are not susceptible at all. Therefore, it is key that conservation ecologists work not only to reduce mortality of species vulnerable to infection, but to also focus on maintaining high biodiversity. Though studies have shown that ecosystem function can be retained with relatively few species, this study highlights just how important biodiversity can be.  If high biodiversity is maintained, organisms will be less susceptible to epidemics that could endanger many species and deteriorate ecosystem function.

Berger, L. R. Speare, P. Daszak, D. E. Green. A. A. Cunningham, C. L. Goggin. R. Slocombe. M. A. Ragan. A. D. Hyatt, K. R. McDonald, H. B. Hines, K. R. Lips, G. Marantelli, and H. Parkes. (1998) “Chytridiomycosis causes, amphibian mortality associated with population declines in the rain forests of Australia and Central America”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95:9031-9036

Wake, D.B. (1991) “Declining amphibian populations”. Science 253, 860

Oregon State University. "Biodiversity loss may be contributing to amphibian-killing fungal infection." ScienceDaily, 20 Sep. 2011. Web. 30 Sep. 2011.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sea Center opportunities

This was sent out to the Biology undergraduate list but you may not all be on that list. One of the opportunities is for 'shark interpreter'. Who wouldn't want that on their resume?

We are currently recruiting for our October & November Training Sessions. 

Our next training sessions will take place the first three weeks in October and November.  New Volunteers are required to participate in the three part training course.  The Sea Center Volunteer Trainings are held from 4:45pm – 7:45pm at the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. 

                                                                        October 2011 Training                                             November 2011 Training

TR1: Orientation:                               Wed, October 5th                                                         Wed, November 2nd    
TR2: Marine Environment:                 Wed, October 12th                                                       Wed, November 9th    
TR3: Education & Interpretation:       Wed, October 19th                                                       Wed, November 16th    
Please have any interested students email me directly for more information or to sign up for the next training session!

Thanks so much!

Emily Carlson Merkey and Sara Iza
Volunteer Managers
Ty Warner Sea Center 

**PLEASE NOTE new email address:

For Scheduling changes please contact Floor Supervisors
Tel: 962-2526 x109

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Ty Warner Sea Center
211 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 962-2526 ext. 104

Undergraduate Board Member Positions(2)! APPLY TODAY!!

Consider joining the all-student Coastal Fund Board of Directors, responsible for allocating over $350,000 in funds each year to enhance the shoreline associated with UCSB through preservation, education, open access, research, and restoration. Open to all majors. This is a rare and unique opportunity to make a huge difference at UCSB and get involved with the local community. The primary duties of the Board Member include reviewing submitted grant proposals each quarter and evaluating them based on relevance to the Coastal Fund Mission Statement. Qualified students are responsible for distributing funding each year and will learn a great deal about local campus and community programs which benefit our coastline. Please visit to review types of programs and projects Coastal Fund supports each quarter.

Board member Requirements
  • Enthusiasm for coastal protection.
  • Current Freshman or Sophomore standing enrollment at UCSB who will continue studying at UCSB for at least two years.
  • Experience with environmental issues.
  • Eagerness to participate in discussion of proposals and express strong opinion.
  • Willingness to advance the CF Mission Statements and represent the organization within the campus community.
  • Availability to serve at least a two-year term.
  • Commitment to attend all Monday evening meetings (6-9 PM) which are held each academic quarter from week 2-7.
  • Commitment to read submitted proposals on own time (2 hours/ week).
  • Commitment to participate in the development of Coastal Fund and engage in Coastal Fund outreach activities.
  • Background knowledge in natural sciences/ Environmental studies a plus.
How to Apply

Please send a resume and a short cover letter to:

  • Why you would like to be involved in the Coastal Fund.
  • How your experiences make you an exceptional candidate.
  • What attributes you bring to make the COASTAL FUND Board of Directors stronger and more effective in evaluating proposals.

Expansion of the Petrified Forest National Park

A new acquisition of private ranchland will add 26,500 acres to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The acquisition will increase the parks boundaries by a quarter and provide new areas for archeological research. The petrified forest was first protected by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and became a national park in 1962. The National Park is a part of the Painted Desert which stretches from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified National Park. The Painted Desert gets its amazing colors from the iron and magnesium in the rocks.

Purchasing the land has been a goal since 1999, but the owner wanted a significant amount of money for the property, $500.00 per acre, so a deal was never agreed upon. The owner had plans to build a private museum and park, but the old guy finally died and the land was sold for $300.00 per acre. This was a relief for scientists that were worried a private park would entice people to poach for fossils and petrified wood. "The value of the land in terms of research, scientists say, is impossible to measure." The petrified forest dates to the Triassic Period when giant dinosaurs roamed what is now the Arizona landscape. In 1985, a small T. rex ancestor nicknamed "Gertie" was discovered at the park. The new land also contains archeological sites from Native American villages and petroglyph sites that could be very interesting.

Sep. 8, 2011 - NY Times

Nauru, “The Country That Ate Itself” and How Phosphate Mining Has Led to Irreversible Environmental Damage.

The once tropical island paradise of Nauru, and the jagged desolate interior that has resulted due to the mining of phosphate.

The Island of Nauru is located in the Pacific Ocean, and its history has led it from once having the greatest per capita income in the world, to becoming a desolate wasteland, with high unemployment and with many of its inhabitants living in poverty. The reason for the limited economical success was due to the unusually high levels of phosphate found on the island, but the excavation of this mineral came at a great cost, both the economic collapse of the country, and the destruction of immense amounts of the whole island.

The Island of Nauru was initially covered in guano that had accumulated over centuries. Guano, the droppings by seabirds which when mixed with decaying microorganisms from the ocean floor, and with the natural coral and limestone that formed the island, made for the richest and purest source of phosphate in the world, which was primarily used in fertilizer. Once the country had achieved its relative independence, it began to voraciously mine any amount of the resource that was available.

This large amount of phosphate mining savaged the paradisiacal island of Nauru and now 80% of the island is now a barren wasteland, with the island’s residents living on a small strip along the coast. The inhabitants have to import most of their food as agriculture is not possible on the land stripped of top-soil. The phosphate began to run out in the early 1990’s and any money that had accumulated had mostly all gone, and the interior of the island (where the phosphate was located) had turned into an ecological nightmare, a desolate wasteland of jagged coral sticking up as high as 75 feet. It was the effective destruction of the country’s single natural resource, mass areas of environment and vegetation and the country itself.

As a testament to the outcome of the island, when a group of refugees sought for permission to land in Australia, the hard line anti-immigration government of the time refused to allow them. After weeks of the refugees living on the ship they had travelled on, it was decided that they should be moved to nearby Nauru, which was to be used as a refugee camp. Upon seeing their desolate new island “home” the refugees demanded “to stay on board rather then be offloaded into the desolate wasteland” that had become of the once beautiful tropical island of Nauru.

Weir, Stephen. Historys worst decisions and the people who made them. Millers Point, N.S.W: Pier 9, 2005.

The Physical Destruction of Nauru: An Example of Weak SustainabilityJohn M. Gowdy, Carl N. McDaniel Land Economics Vol. 75, No. 2 (May, 1999), pp. 333-338

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL:

Zoo restoration of nearly extinct populations

-Ahna Miller-
Section: F 12 PM
On Wednesday (September 28, 2011) 26 black-footed ferrets were sent to “boot camp” to prepare them for being released into the wild. Being the only ferret species native to North America, the species nearly disappeared in the 1970s, and now scientist seek to bring them back. Through processes such as artificial insemination, scientists have been able to successfully reintroduce the ferret back into the wild, not without controversy however. Protecting the ferrets means protecting their food source, prairie dogs, which are seen as a nuisance to local farmers.
After being bred in captivity, despite reintegration processes, do reintroduction processes to the wild compromise the wildness that conservation attempts to preserve? Can conservation efforts be truly effective if there is not support from the community it concerns?

Being that much controversy is sparked around the community with the release of these animals, it seems that the efforts to conserve the population could be countered by community action. Unless protection is put in place, the community members may take action to protect their means of living that becomes compromised by the presence of these animals. As for the reintroduction process, it seems that the scientific process that goes into bringing back this population was well thought out in terms of genetic diversity and the rest of the ecological community. If the proper protocol is followed to ensure these animals are well prepared for wilderness, I think that this method of reintroduction still supports the wildness that efforts work to conserve.
Photo: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Zoos help restore nearly extinct ferret in US West
By: Brett Zongker
US Forbes 29 September 2011.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Satanic geckos

The Leaf Tailed Gecko I showed a picture of in class is one of the most amazing animals I know of. I particularly like this picture that shows the impressive degree to which this animal is camouflaged in its natural environment..

The one I showed in class is actually the Satanic leaf tailed Gecko. If you'd like to read a bit about this amazing, endemic and endangered animals then this article at the Tetrapod Biology blog is a good start. It contains the intriguing information that some leaf tailed geckos have as many as 300 teeth.

If you're wondering why these geckos have such ridiculously high tooth counts (among the highest within Tetrapoda), the answer is.... well, nobody really knows, as virtually nothing is known of the ecology, diet or feeding behaviour of the species concerned (Bauer & Russell 1989)

The World Wide Fund lists all of the Leaf Tailed Geckos on their "Top ten most wanted species list" of animals threatened by illegal wildlife trade, because of the demand for it in the pet trade.

Personally I really, really, like the look of these animals. I have no interest in owning one as a pet, nor do I particularly want to go and see one in a zoo. I do, however, like the idea that there is a bizarre island somewhere where such creatures exist in the wild. Even if I never go there the fact that Madagascar exists will somehow have enriched my life. This is a strangely nonscientific concept for a scientist to grapple with.

We will discuss the strange concept of 'existence values' in a future lecture.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is that a hummingbird in your pants?

Or are you just not that into me?


The guy with his shorts full of hummingbirds was reported to be a repeat offender; he was allegedly intercepted at the same airport with an accomplice and a cargo of 53 hummingbirds two years prior to this photographed encounter. I was unable to find record of the convict’s previous offence, but in the 2010 incident, he was fined €6000. The value of his catch was estimated to be between €10,400 and €13,200...

So, unless I'm missing something, the guy was fined less than the value of the goods smuggled in 2008, and then was caught doing the same thing in 2010. What a surprise. Although I hate to think what the mortality rate of the birds is under these conditions...

Muir and Roosevelt

Although the PBS show The National Parks: Americas best idea by Ken Burns does not seem to be currently available online (well not legally anyway) they do have a nice website with some clips and outtakes.

Here's a very pertinent segment describing John Muir's camping trip to Yosemite with President Roosevelt.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scuba club redux

For those of you who like your conservation aquatic, your air compressed and your skin wrinkly I am reliably informed that the UCSB scuba club has risen from the grave (it restarted last year) and would like to hear from you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Restoration seminar

Here's a link to the CCBER Restoration seminar schedule this quarter: Restoring Upper Devereux Slough: Opportunities and Constraints.

The possible purchase of this land has been rumored for a while but it seems like it is moving closer to reality:

State Grant Approved For Upper Devereux Slough Acquisition

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) today received approval for $3 million from the California Coastal Conservancy to help buy 63 acres at the eastern gateway to the Gaviota Coast near the University of California at Santa Barbara.
The total includes a $2.5 million grant from the Coastal Conservancy itself, along with another $500,000 which the Coastal Conservancy received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Coastal Wetlands program. The grants mean $4.5 million of the $7 million needed to acquire the property has now been assembled.

This is a fantastic opportunity to follow a project as it develops and the CCBER seminar series this quarter will be a great introduction.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Welcome to the Fall 2011 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.