Friday, November 30, 2012

Guest Speakers #2

Sorry I couldn't be there today. Here is some contact information for our two speakers.

Lisa Stratton is the Director of Ecosystem Management at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration. You can find contact details and information about internships and other opportunities.

Cristina Sandoval is the Reserve director at Coal Oil Point Natural reserve. Her contact details and volunteer opportunities are available on the website.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Galapagos and Rats

As we have been discussing in great detail the role that invasive species play in their non-native ecosystems, I thought this particular story rather apropos. The Galapagos Islands hold a special significance to all of us interested in biodiversity, and they are being overtaken. “With what?” you ask? With rats. Apparently there are 10 rats per square meter totally around 180 million rodents. All of which are eating the eggs of reptiles and birds, they have almost decimated the endemic populations. According to Linda Cayot of the Galápagos Conservancy, "they have decimated 100% of tortoise hatchlings for the past 100 years."

So what is being done to save this delicate ecosystem? They are dropping 22 tones of rat poison by the end of the month. When I first read this I was appalled, and while I’m still not convinced I’m at least more on board than in the beginning. A company called Bell Laboratories in the United States created the poison to be contained in small, blue cubes, which disintegrate after about a week. I wonder what happens to the poison inside the cubes? Does it merely evaporate? (I couldn’t find any scientific data on the poison itself.) They also claim than the cubes are attractive to rats but somehow repel other animals. Bell has also taken into consideration the sensibilities of the other animal residents and asserts that the poison contains a strong anti-coagulant to help desiccate the rats faster and avoid the smell. (Eeew.) In preparation for the drop authorities have removed hawks and iguanas.

The introduction of the poison will be in steps, in order to increase the likelihood of killing all the rats; if even one pregnant female is left the whole operation is moot. This is all following a 30-year project to remove the rats, with authorities going from island to island. If this particular intervention is successful they will move on to bigger islands.

Galapagos Flightless Cormorant.....endemic and awesome.
The Galapagos Islands are extremely important in the realm of conservation, with endemic and endangered species counting on human intervention to fix some of our past wrongs. As we discussed in class we live in a world where humans come in contact with nature, so conservation efforts must include us. While dropping poison onto a pristine habitat is extreme and rather harsh, if it gets rid of the rats it seems worth it.

For more information.....

The Guardian
The Associated Press

The practical conservationist

The practical conservationist : An environmental organization decides to work with big business, not against it.

From a Q&A in the Journal Nature last year with Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy (and textbook author). Looks like some new strategies for The Nature Conservancy again:

Last January, TNC began a US$10 million, 5-year partnership with the Dow chemical company, headquartered in Midland, Michigan. In courting big business, the organization is following in the footsteps of the other leading conservation groups, including the WWF, which has had a $20-million relationship with the Coca-Cola Company since 2007.

Would everyone please hand in their snares...

I found this story in the WCN's newsletter and thought it really interesting and encouraging. It is putting into practice some of what we have been discussing as far as conservationists working with people to help the wildlife, and this one is a success! It was written by Dr. Colleen Begg who works with the Niassa Lion Project.

"In the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique, lions fall prey to snares set for bushmeat. This year we decided to develop a community anti- poaching team and have the community choose scouts. At the scouts’ passing out (graduation) parade, we invited all the Chiefs who nominated scouts to be present. One of the Chiefs said he hoped the team caught lots of poachers, and that he was fully behind conservation.
The scouts went on their first patrol, found some freshly set wire snares, set up an ambush and caught three people - one of whom was this same Chief! He cursed them, and said their families would die if they arrested him. If the community turned against the scouts, it could destroy all our efforts. We needed to show we were serious and support the scouts, but not let the Chief lose face and support in the village.
Francine constantly told us to 'own the process, not the solution.' For my husband Keith and me this is very difficult as we like to 
control situations, find
 solutions and
 move on, but
 this time we needed to do 
things differently. We needed the community to be firmly behind any decision made, and for that to happen they needed to come up with the solution.
The community was very emotional and angry, but no one knew what to do. We called a meeting of all the leaders and hunters. We explained what had happened and asked them what we should do. There was an uncomfortable silence that went on for ages. Sitting there on the sand outside a hut in the village, all I could hear in my head was Francine’s voice saying, 'Don’t provide the solution; be patient and let them come up with it.'
Eventually, one of the other Chiefs said, 'I think we should have some time when people hand in snares while the community gets used to the idea of the scouts.'
Perfect, an amnesty! He didn’t call it that, but it was a great solution. A few days later, the Chief handed in four snares, and others handed in ten more. Fourteen snares handed in voluntarily, which has never happened before in Niassa."
This, and other fascinating stories, can be read in the newsletter at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The Land Trust for Santa Barbara purchased the Coronado Butterfly Preserve in 1998 for $600,000 using public and private grants and over $50,000 in community donations.
This place is truly wonderful - in the sense that it can fill you with wonder. If you haven't been then you should make the time - a perfect study break. The butterflies are arriving right now and there are already a decent number there. Directions here if you want to visit - it's about 4 miles from campus.

You can also volunteer with the land trust:

Volunteers are needed to remove non-native plants, plant native plants, clear trails and fire hazards. The Advisory Committee organizes several volunteer work days each year, and we’d love to have your help.

If you are interested in volunteering at the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, please contact the Land Trust at (805) 966-4520 or email us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shagged by a rare parrot

In case you missed this (or want to see it again....)

For more Kakapo fun, including more inappropriate mating attempts, check out this video of a video at the Te Papa museum in Wellington, NZ.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seminar on native grasslands

Jan Timbrook from the S.B. Natural History Museum will be presenting a talk this evening (Monday) on:

Native American Use and Management of Native California Grasslands.

Seminars are 6-7pm, Monday evenings, CCBER Classroom - Rm 1013 Harder Stadium.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gray Whale Count

Coming to the Channel near you ...
whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and the occasional sea otter.

This is your opportunity to be something special ... to Count!

Gray Whales Count conducts an annual survey of the northbound migration of gray whales through the nearshore of the Santa Barbara Channel. 

From February through mid-May, the fifteen-week survey is conducted from land at Counter Point (above Devereux and Sands) in the Coal Oil Point Reserve by community volunteers, including students from UCSB. 

Since 2006, UCSB's Coastal Fund has supported the project with funding for student internships and special equipment needs.

There are three choices for UCSB students. Most participate as volunteer observers with a scheduled two-hour shift, ideally each week through the Count.  

Interns make a much bigger commitment, training to be shift supervisors. Interns will learn to identify and distinguish marine mammals in the Santa Barbara Channel with one of the most abundant and diverse populations of marine mammals in the world. Interns commit to a four-hour shift per week through the Count, fifteen weeks. 

Most first-year interns are volunteers, but there are a few stipends available for need and exceptional qualifications. Experienced interns returning to the Count are eligible for a stipend.

All stipends are funded by the Coastal Fund. We are very grateful for their dedication and support.

To learn more about these opportunities please visit our web site:

Information meetings will be scheduled in January, after break, when we enlist Counters and select the team of Interns. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The Thanksgiving orgy of consumerism is bringing out the Grinch in me. I bring you one story and two quotes it brings to mind.

(Reuters) -Gold Christmas tree for a mere $4.2 million in Tokyo  For those seeking a glow to their Christmas this year, a jewelry store in downtown Tokyo has just the answer: a pure gold revolving "tree" covered in Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell and Cinderella.

The tree-like ornament is made of 40 kg (88 pounds) of pure gold, standing about 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) high and 1.2 meters in diameter. It is decorated with pure gold plate silhouette cutouts of 50 popular Disney characters and draped with ribbons made of gold leaf. The price tag? A mere 350 million yen ($4.2 million).
Noam Chomsky 2003:
The goal for corporations is to maximize profit and market share. And they also have a goal for their target, namely the population. They have to be turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do not want. You have to develop what are called created wants. So you have to create wants. You have to impose on people what's called a philosophy of futility. You have to focus them on the insignificant things of life, like fashionable consumption. I'm just basically quoting business literature. And it makes perfect sense. The ideal is to have individuals who are totally disassociated from one another. Whose conception of themselves, the sense of value, is just: "How many created wants can I satisfy?
President Jimmy Carter 1979:
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Economic Growth vs Conservational Efforts

According to a Fox new article, Vietnam is in the process of a conservational effort to stop privatization of land that has been allocated for conservational purposes.  The land has been used as a bear sanctuary due to massive amount of killing for bile for medicinal purposes used primarily in China.  The Vietnamese government has attempeted to annex the previously allocated conservational area for military purposes.  The government has claimed that the area is a of "strategic importance to national defense." The government has also had purposals for ecotourism, hydroelectric power and logging potential. 

Conservationists have argued that this small amount of land is vital to ensuring the bears don't go extinct and allow the biodiversity of Vietnam's ecosystem to be sustained.  The U.S. and other countries have pressured Vietnam's government to maintain and expand their land conservation.  While Vietnam is a small country with only 1% of the world's land, it inhabits 10% of the world's species.  For this reason, it is important for the biodiversity available in this area to be conserved.  Conservation efforts in this region are being threatened by a growing private sector that is more focused on gaining profits than keeping the ecosystems intact. 

Other areas that are conserved as national parks are also suffering from the desire to use the land for economic gain.  Another aspect that is affecting the conservation efforts in Vietnam is the lack of enforcing the laws pertaining to ecological conservation.  While conservationists and industrialists continue to try to expand their goals, there will always be benefits and drawbacks, they still have to find a common ground.  Vietnam is growing at a rapid rate and while land cannot be expanded, Vietname will have to find a way to bothe conserve their land and find new economical ways to grow effeciently.

Is cloning the next step in conservation?

Brazil is the latest country to publicise its plans for the cloning and hybridization of endangered species. For the past two years, researchers have been gathering somatic cells and spermatozoa from eight threatened species. The final step in this ‘conservation effort’ is to gain permission from the government in order to conduct their experiments.
The research agency does have cloning experience, as it has been conducting experiments on livestock such as cows and horses since 2001.  Therefore, a change in focus towards cloning endangered animals seems the next most logical and practical use for this research.
However, conservationists criticise this technique of cloning endangered species, stating that it generates a market demand for rarer species and distracts people from the underlying cause of the biodiversity crisis – habitat destruction.  Furthermore, cloned, hybridized and captive-bred animals have little or no genetic value and could potentially weaken wild populations if they are mixed.
However, the goal of the Brazilian research agency is to increase the number of rare captive species rather than replenish wild populations.
"The cloning is specifically for zoos. We don't want it to become a conservation technique," Carlos Frederico Martins, a researcher with Embrapa, told the Guardian. "The idea is to test cloning technology so the zoo has its own repository of animals, which will avoid the need to take species from their natural habitat."

I find the use of cloning for conservation difficult to understand. It seems to be of very little advantage, if the cloning of an animal weakens its genome and potentially threatens the wild population if ever allowed to breed freely, is there any use for it in conservation? Finally, using cloning as a method for increasing a captive population seems extremely unethical, as it would be for purely human benefit.

Climate change creates the “pizzly bears” – A threat to the biodiversity

The polar bear and the grizzly bear are both endangered species. The world's 20,000 to 25,000 remaining polar bears are classified as vulnerable, with decreasing Arctic sea ice reducing their chances of hunting and breeding. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for the deterioration of the polar bear's habitat, and the genetic diversity of the population has also suffered as numbers have decreased. The Grizzly bear populations has decreased from 100 000 to less than 1000 between 1800 and 1975. This decline is due to livestock depredation control, habitat deterioration, commercial trapping, unregulated hunting and the perception that grizzly bears threats human life.

Both of the two bears have important ecological roles. The polar bears are the top predator within its range. And the Grizzly bears have several ecological roles such as regulating prey populations, by foraging for tree roots or plant bulbs they stir up the soil, and thus increases species richness and causes nitrogen to be dug up from lower soil layers that makes the nitrogen more readily available in the environment.

Hybrids are often inferior to their parents because they are not as well adapted to their environments. The melting Arctic ice and warmer temperatures has brought polar bears and grizzly bears together by forcing polar bears on land and grizzly bears further north. Their hybrid offspring known as pizzlies have been detected on Canadian islands. The pizzly bear have patches of brown in their white fur, move like polar bears when they catch seals, they have shortened necks that make them less good swimmers and have long claws that are poorly suited to ice. This hybrid offspring is threatening the survival of rare polar animals, because in the, end it is conceivable that only the hybrid will survive. Even though the offspring is fertile it will not have the same ecological role as its parents. This is a threat to biodiversity. The same is currently happening to coyotes and wolves in North America as well.

 Related articles:

Posted by Åshild Saastad

Thursday, November 22, 2012


If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes October 2012:
"The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature."
If you were born in or after April 1985, if you are right now 27 years old or younger, you have never lived through a month that was colder than average. That’s beyond astonishing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving competition!

Following on from the post below, I was looking up some details on the 2012 Convention on Biodiversity held in Hyderabad last month. I wanted to see what the media said about the outcomes and so I did a Google News search on the rather specific 'convention on biodiversity 2012 hyderabad'. I was a little surprised to see the first link was to Then I noticed it was, of course, an ad.  You get the same result if you just do a Google web search on 'Biodiversity'.

The ad is there because Chevron pay money for it to come up every time someone Google's Biodiversity. Try it. It might not work every time, because of the way adwords works, but I had 100% success. It links to corporate fluff of course. Strangely it doesn't mention Chevron's recent adventures in Ecuadorean Law so I thought I would
In 2011, a court in Ecuador fined Chevron $8.6 billion over pollution to the country's Amazon region. The action was brought against Chevron by 30,000 Ecuadorean people, and is the first time that indigenous people have successfully sued a multinational corporation in the country where the pollution took place. Chevron described the lawsuit as an "extortion scheme" and refused to pay the fine. Chevron has no international obligation to pay, and no assets in Ecuador for the government to seize.
Google Adwords brought in $28 BILLION in 2010. Wow. Hey Google, how about paying Chevron's fine since they won't?

So, my Thanksgiving challenge to you, is can you find a more inappropriate and just plain annoying adwords placement than this for a conservation or environmentally relevant Google search?

I remember the good old days when virtually any search would provoke an ebay ad offering a used version of whatever you were searching for. It used to amuse me no end when searching for images and information when I was putting together my disease class:
'Buy used corpses on ebay'
'Buy used mad cows on ebay'

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Downfall of the Slow Loris?

You’ve all seen the videos. John talked about them in lecture today. Slow lorises might just be the cutest little primates out there. The 10 species are found in indo-China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Unfortunately, their cuteness may be their downfall.
ABC News ran a segment on slow lorises just recently, on November 16. While studying slow lorises, a primatologist at Oxford Brookes University, Dr. Anna Nekaris, discovered something interesting. Nekaris was originally studying the little creatures because of their unique quality of having a venomous bite. The slow loris is actually the only mammal with this bite so similar to that of a snake. ABC reports:
When the animal goes into a ‘defensive posture’, it will raise its arms above its head and squeeze them tightly. This pulls oil from its armpits into its mouth...mixing it with saliva, to deliver its venomous bite. Its growl even mimics a cobra.
Although Nekaris was studying the venom, what she ended up discovering is that the populations of slow lorises are actually rapidly decreasing. All 10 species are suffering, and Nekaris attributes this issue to the Youtube phenomenon. Think of the Anthropogenic Alee Effect. Illegal pet trade has greatly reduced the populations.
The adorable lorises have become coveted pets, especially in Japan, Russia, and the Persian Gulf. On the illegal animal Asia market, Nekaris said their venomous teeth are removed with nail clippers and are sold for $25. When smuggled out of the country, they can be worth thousands.
Nakaris was surprised to say the least. She’s worried for the future of these bizarre beasts. “People don’t understand that these are illegal pets,” she said. “They think they can have one. They see it as being cute.”

For your viewing pleasure, in case you haven’t seen the videos (note: this is not encouragement to illegally purchase your own slow loris):