Sunday, December 9, 2012

Conservation Reliant Species

I found an interesting article about another problem with the Endangered Species Act. As stated, the goal of the ESA is to help species at the risk of extinction “to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary” (ESA § 3(3)). However, some species are conservation reliant. This means that they cannot survive without direct conservation efforts because the problems they face continue to persist. For some species, removing a particular threat (like DDT or an invasive species) is enough to allow the species to recover. After the threat is removed the species can survive on its own and no longer requires human help. But, this is not true for all species. Many species are conservation reliant and thus would continue to need help even if they are brought back up to target population levels and are delisted.

There are two types of conservation reliance, population-management reliance and threat-management reliance. Species that are population-management reliant need human intervention to facilitate movement between isolated habitat patches. Species that are threat-management reliant require human intervention to correctly maintain a particular habitat. For example, some species require periodic fires in their environment in order to survive. Since the natural fire regime has changed, these species, even when brought back to a large population, will continue to require control burns of their habitat.

Helping these conservation reliant species can be very difficult and keeping them on the Endangered Species List may not be the best way to solve the problem. A system has to be put in place to continue helping these conservation reliant species after they are delisted. A possible way to do this is to pass on the protection of the species to another conservation group. After the ESA helps the species reach its recovery goals, there could be a transition period where another group agrees to continue monitoring the conservation reliant species. For example, the Appalachian Mountain Club agreed to monitor and manage the habitat of the Robbins’ cinquefoil after it was delisted.

To learn more about this problem, read this article:

Dale D., et al. (2012). Conservation-reliant Species. BioScience 62(10):869-873.

(or search for it in Web of Science)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

If Not Now, Then When?

was the first question Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace International asked at the 18th U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha after a typhoon struck the Southern Philippines killing more than 500 on Tuesday.

It is clear that climate change is long past the preparation and discussion stage so it unfortunately fitting that the conference takes place in the "shadow of a devastating typhoon".  Does it take the loss of human life for conservation and climate change management to have the necessary funding?  I would hope not.  Naidoo rallies

KUMI NAIDOO: ...they say they don’t have money.
KUMI NAIDOO: If you could have found trillions of dollars to bail out the banks...
KUMI NAIDOO: ...why can’t a country find $60 billion to bail out the poor and bail out the climate and bail out the planet?
These questions are beyond the scope of our class but as conservation ecology seeks to include humans, it may be more central than previously thought.  It would seem that a world effort is needed to confront climate change, and as Naidoo points out, big bucks. This argument is made in William Nordhous' paper The architecture of climate economics: Designing a global agreement on global warming see below.

It is unfortunate that we seem to care a heck of a lot more about something when it is directly affecting us.  Somehow in the process of saving our own lives, maybe we can save many other species as well.

The architecture of climate economics: Designing a global agreement on global warming. Nordhaus, William D. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Jan2011, Vol. 67 Issue 1, p9-18. 10p. 4 Graphs.

Post by Alex Jensen

Florida tackling python problem with hunting contest

By: Robert Habern

Section: Friday noon

Burmese Pythons have been wrecking havoc on the Florida ecosystem for years. It is believed that most of these pythons entered into the Everglades National park as escaped pets who were able to thrive in the ecosystem. Populations of rabbits, raccoons, foxes, opossums and bobcats have all dropped as a result of the invasive Burmese Python.

To solve this problem, the state is turning to its citizens for help. The idea is that a hunting contest will solve the problem. Starting in January of 2013, a grand prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the person who kills the most pythons, and $1,000 will go to the person who bags the longest one. All people have to do to enter the contest is pay $25 and take an online safety course in hunting. The Everglades National Park services is hoping that by creating an incentive system like this it can get the public more involved and more supportive of the project. The contest organizers believe that by holding this contest they will be teaching the public about the impact invasive species have on the environment and will be solving a serious problem at the same time. Contestants are encouraged to shoot the snakes in the head or chop their heads off with a machete to kill them in the most humane way.

I think this is a great way to solve a serious biodiversity-threatening problem. It has several benefits. For one, the Park services, an already insufficiently funded organization, will be saving a lot of money by having the public essentially doing the hunting for them. It will also educate the population about the problem, other similar problems, and the importance of balance in the ecosystem. Also, a contest such as this will probably be fun for many people.

Several issues may come up because of this contest. I'm sure some people will not be out there hunting the python for environmental reasons. Because of this, the well-being of other animals may be at stake. Also, having hundreds of people roaming the countryside with firearms may pose as a security issue.

Overall, this project is an interesting idea to solving a serious problem. There may be some problems with it, but overall I think it will be a success and help restore biodiversity in the area and improve the imbalance in the ecosystem.

Status of Unassessed Fisheries

          Only 20% of the world's fisheries are formally assessed. In order to better manage the marine systems, the status of global fisheries must be evaluated.  By being more informed of the fisheries worldwide, sustainable fishing could be driven toward its potential to achieve ecosystem recovery.

          The model and data used for formal assessments include structural population model and local knowledge. In this study, Costello et al. developed a method that uses the marine species' life history, catch, and fishery development analysis. It was found that the large unassessed stocks are performing at a level that is close to those of developed countries. However, small unassessed fisheries were found to be poorly managed and are impacted by a comprised local ecosystem.

          The authors encourage solutions that emphasize more on territorial user right fisheries (TURFs) and co-management instead of individual transferable quotas. This is because it is often difficult to monitor local activities and implement quotas. TURFs also provide the additional benefit of preserving physical integrity of fishing areas.

Costello, C., Ovando, D., Hilborn, R. , Gaines, S. D., Deschenes, O., & Lester, S. E. (2012). Status and   solutions for the world's unassessed fisheries. Science, 338, 517-520.

Mussels Make Their Way Into Your Mouth

We all have had our fair share of visits to the dentist and have sat there in that cold and weird smelling office not knowing how are teeth will hold up to the scrutiny of the dentist.  One thing most patients share in common, other than a unified hatred towards the doctor, is that they have absolutely no idea what is going on inside their mouth.

Dentists employ a variety of tools and procedures but essentially it all boils down to anesthetizing the patient, drilling and removing decay, and finally bonding the restoration to the tooth.  The only part we will be focusing on is the bonding.  Currently dentists use inorganic adhesives to bond to the dentin or enamel of the tooth.  These adhesives are very difficult to work with and are for the most part very light and time sensitive.  The main drawback for adhesives of the status quo is that their performance is very limited in moist environments, this poses a problem in the moist damp cave we know as our mouth.  Try as you might, properly desiccating a tooth for the final restoration is very difficult and sometimes impossible.  This is why most restorations have a limited life expectancy.

Dr. Herbert Waite, and his team of Phd. students at UCSB are conducting research on the adhesive abilities of Mytilus, commonly known as mussels.  The mussels have an organ that protrudes through their tough outer shell that adheres to almost any surface underwater.  This organ is known as the foot, and its adhesive abilities are remarkable.  The foot combined with byssal fibers are what is responsible for the adhesion and Dr. Waite's lab has found a protein denoted as Mfp-2 that makes up roughly 50% of the organ.  This protein in the presence of ions such as Ca and Fe, commonly found in the ocean, display greater than normal adhesive properties to metallic surfaces.  The plan is to study how these proteins achieve such properties and synthesize them in the lab for use is biomedical adhesives.  This would not only pertain to the dental field but plastic surgery and even reconstructive surgeries, eliminating the need for extended periods of stints held together by screws.  You can read more about their research here or visit the Waite Lab here on campus.

Invasive Grass Linked to Increase in Wildfires

            Scientists are alarmed by the global increase in the amounts of large, devastating wildfires. Few areas on the planet have suffered as much from wildfires as the western United States and it has not been spared by the current trend. The results of a recent study now indicates that an invasive species is likely responsible for the increased size, ferocity, and frequency of wildfires that have consumed this region.
            The invasive grass species, known as cheatgrass, was introduced to North America by soils inadvertently transported across the ocean by trading ships and then was spread west in the 1800s by pioneers and ranchers. It now covers much of a 600,000 sq km region of western America known as the Great Basin. Cheatgrass is named for its ability to "cheat" by grow incredibly fast in the very early part of the season, staking claim to the soil's nutrients before other grass species have a chance. Early growth results in quick maturation to seed dispersal and then death. Once the grass dies, it becomes extremely dry and vulnerable to igniting. This results in large wildfires that can ignite on cheatgrass and spread rapidly while native species are still green and wet, greatly expanding the length of the fire season. Additionally, by destroying native species before they have completed their maturation, the fires actually help the cheatgrass spread and outcompete other grasses.

            These facts have made cheatgrass a long suspected culprit in the increased frequency of wildfires. Scientists tested the connection by using, "satellite imagery from NASA to compare burnt areas with regions where cheatgrass dominates.". The study further solidified the link by determining that since 2000 nearly 80% of large fires, ones over 100 sq km,in the Great Basin have been fueled mostly by cheatgrass.

            Their suspicions confirmed, scientists are now focusing on how to remove or eradicate cheatgrass from the region. There are several current proposals, one simply calls for physically removing the invasive species while another proposes that a fungus be introduced that will attack and kill cheatgrass seeds. No matter which direction experts decide to go in, it is important that they stop the spread of cheatgrass and facilitate its demise. Otherwise, we very well could continue to see a rise in the range and frequency of destructive wildfires in the western United States.

Link to article:

McGrath, Matt. "Wildfires Fanned by Invasive Grass Species." BBC News. BBC, 12 June 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2012.

Friday, December 7, 2012

War on Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is a global problem and continues to worsen as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. Since the year 1750, the average world’s ocean acidity of the water has increased by 30%. Many species are vulnerable to acidification; species like sea urchins, oysters, clams and mussels are several species that are vulnerable. They are vulnerable due to wind-driven upwelling events that occur which bring low-PH waters from the deep parts of the ocean towards the shore. Also land-based nutrient runoff from farming fuels algal growth that also lowers the PH of the ocean. The rising acidity of the ocean waters is corrosive to many larval shellfishes, the acidic water reduces the amount of available carbonate, many marine organisms need carbonate present to form their calcium carbonate shells or skeletons.
Washington State has launched a 3.3 million dollar science based plan that has forty-two steps to reduce ocean acidification. The panel that is composed of scientists, policy-makers and shellfish industry representatives recommends creating an “acidity” budget. This accounts for natural and human-influenced sources of acidity, a way to improve methods of predicting corrosive conditions and a way to use sea grasses to soak up carbon dioxide in shellfish hatcheries.
The panels advises how crucial it is to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions but the state of Washington cannot do this alone it is a global effort and the oceans will not change so overnight. This is a problem that the whole world faces and that only reduction in carbon dioxide will reduce ocean acidification. If not many species that are known today are in jeopardy of going extinct.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on November 27, 2012.

Brazil’s rainforests continue to be logged and destroyed. Sustainable practices are not in place. Conservation efforts are falling short because there aren’t enough human incentives to keep people from economically profiting from the deforestation. Although the National Cancer Institute can estimate that seventy percent of anti-cancer plants are found in the rainforests, it isn’t enough incentive for the loggers who have nothing to lose.

Brazil is home to largest rainforest. It spans throughout the other South American countries. When speaking of sustainability, the rainforest is completely self-sustainable. It keeps moisture levels high and even without rainfall it is able to hold a water presence. What isn’t sustainable is the human activity. As we further degrade the habitat, we are making it more plausible that the trees in the rainforest wont be able to hold in the moisture that once surrounded them. The balance of the ecosystem will skew and the extinction debt will grow larger. Species that once thrived in this environment will not be able to adjust to the rapid changes being brought on by humans.

Rainforests are one of the few unique ranges left on earth that humans continue to try to cultivate without extensive thought. To protect them, it is necessary that locals and private contractors become aware of the laws in place and educated on how destruction of one environment affects the global community.
-Crystal Chavez

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lion encounters

Huh. I'd never heard of the 'lion encounter industry' before I saw this paper from July this year:

Walking with lions: Why there is no role for captive-origin lions (Panthera leo) in species restoration

Despite formidable challenges and few successes in reintroducing large cats from captivity to the wild, the release of captives has widespread support from the general public and local governments, and continues to occur ad hoc. Commercial so-called lion Panthera leo encounter operations in Africa exemplify the issue, in which the captive breeding of the lion is linked to claims of reintroduction and broader conservation outcomes. In this article we assess the capacity of such programmes to contribute to in situ lion conservation. By highlighting the availability of wild founders, the unsuitability of captive lions for release and the evidence-based success of wild–wild lion translocations, we show that captive-origin lions have no role in species restoration. We also argue that approaches to reintroduction exempli´Čüed by the lion encounter industry do not address the reasons for the decline of lions in situ, nor do they represent a model that can be widely applied to restoration of threatened felids elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fox Invasion Threatens Wave of Extinction in Tasmania

Clint Meek

An article posted on "" that was pulled from materials provided by the British Ecological Society, discusses the impact of an invasive species and the actions needed to combat them. The affected area is the island of Tasmania, where a surging fox population is threatening the local species. Now it is important to realize they are predicting the effects being mentioned, by using models and DNA analysis, so there is no guarantee of it coming to a reality. However, actions are being taken to control the population via the method of baiting with poison, and not specifically where they are at, but where they could be. This is important to realize on a conservation whole, that species move and relocate, thus destroying an area (or putting poison in), even if the species isnt there can prove to have negative effects on the species in the long run. (Think habitat destruction) In this case, "habitat destruction", if you will, is being used as the method to control this invasive species and protect Tasmania's native species.


British Ecological Society (BES). "Fox invasion threatens wave of extinction in Tasmania." ScienceDaily, 4 Dec. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2012.

Clint Meek

Nature Conservancy and easements

As you might expect the Nature Conservancy has quite a lot of interesting information about Conservation easements on their webpage.

Read their primer, see some examples or view the fast facts:

The Conservancy received its first conservation easement in 1961, on six acres at Gallup Salt Marsh in Connecticut. The conservation easement was a gift, valued at $300 at the time. The Conservancy still holds the conservation easement.

Google Funds Technological Advancements in Conservation

An interesting paradox has been observed recently that efforts to protect a species by changing its status on endangered lists significantly increases its illegal market price, which actually boosts its desirability to poachers. Some people have even suggested that we refrain from listing species in scenarios where this may happen until we have appropriate protections in place. However in many cases there is simply not enough money, technology and manpower available to provide decent protection. This may be soon to change though as technology becomes forever cheaper and public awareness of conservation slowly improves.

Today Google gave the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) a grant of $5 million to put towards fighting poaching using state-of-the-art technologies such as remote aerial surveying, specialized sensors and new tagging methods. Coupled with new patrol systems it is hoped that these technologies can provide more effective protection against global poaching networks, which are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. The trafficking of wildlife is estimated to be worth $7-10 billion per year so this is clearly not going to solve the entire problem, but hopefully it can provide a solid base from which further anti-poaching efforts can build.

Monday, December 3, 2012

        I found an article about how local perceptions and awareness of conservation impacts conservation efforts of coral reefs in Belize.  This paper starts by explaining how ecotourism can be beneficial to the coral reef ecosystems as well as the local people.  Tourism provides income for people (for example tour guides can charge tourists to take them out on snorkeling and boat tours).  Before Belize became a popular tourist hotspot, local communities relied primarily on fishing as their income but now that tourism is now a main source of income for many local households, economic pressures to overfish have decreased.  The money made by ecotourism also has been put towards creating more marine protected areas (MPA’s) as well as educating tourists and locals about the importance of conservation of marine ecosystems in Belize.  Conversely, tourism can also have negative impacts on coral reef conservation such as “pollution, direct contact of tourists, anchor damage, and sedimentation from coastal erosion and over-development” (985).  Interviews and surveys of locals’ perceptions of conservation were conducted in this paper and indicated that people living in coastal communities that had less tourism believed coral reefs should be protected for intrinsic reasons such as beauty, however people living in communities with heavy tourism said they should be conserved because it provides a source of income.  This study also found that fishermen’ support for protection of marine ecosystems is positively correlated to tourism development.  Fisherman in the study did not feel that tourism was having a negative impact on their lives.  This paper concludes that as long as government policies continue to direct benefits to local communities, conservation efforts will continue to protect coral reefs in Belize.  He warns that pollution mitigation must improve and impacts of tourism must be limited so that negative impacts on the ecosystems do not degrade the coral reefs.

Reference: Diedrich, A. (2007). The impacts of tourism on coral reef conservation awareness and support in coastal communities in belize. Coral Reefs, 26(4), 985-996. doi:

Conference of the Parties XI

The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 11) was held in Hyderabad, India, from 8 to 19 October 2012.

From the press release on the final day:
The world’s governments have agreed to increase funding in support 
of actions to halt the rate of loss of biodiversity at the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which ended today.  
Developed countries agreed to double funding to support efforts in developing states towards meeting the internationally-agreed Biodiversity Targets, and the main goals of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

This doesn't include the United States of course...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Poverty and Biodiversity Conservation Issues

One of the major concerns in preserving biodiversity is the effect that impoverished nations have upon their environments. In many instances, areas with a large amount of biodiversity tend to have some of the poorest human populations, but with the highest population growth. As we are all aware, the greater the population of a nation, particularly without certain restrictions to the use of natural resources, the more damaged the environment becomes, resulting in a drastic decline in the number of species present. One of the struggles for impoverished nations is justifying the protection of species when the people themselves are either unable to support themselves, or must compete with those species to obtain/ maintain resources. An example can be seen in the article titled "Human-wildlife conflicts over 
food and water in Tanzania." It describes some of the conflicts between the peoples of several rural communities located near wildlife reserves, where several species of large mammals tend to have a negative impact upon the amount of crop harvested. Species such as elephants, hippos, and warthogs frequently leave reserve grounds and will consume part of a field, leading to a loss of productivity for the farmers. Because of the economic loss, many of the locals find it difficult to sympathize with those species that may be harming them. As a result, some of the species will not receive the protections  necessary for their survival.
As stated in section, one of the primary ways that both issues of poverty and biodiversity conservation can be attacked is through greater education, which will most likely need to come from outside sources because of the general lack of available instruction from  members of local communities. By having a more informed population, it is more likely that the people of those communities will recognize the importance of biodiversity for the environment as well as their own economic interests. Another offered solution is the investment of an impoverished countries to develop their eco-tourism industries to bring in more foreign tourists, who in turn will support the local economy through purchases of guide services and of course souvenirs. While this appears to be a simple solution, it takes years of hard effort and resources to sufficiently alter a nation's perspective on environmental issues, and as the world becomes more stretched for natural resources, we will likely only see the continuation of this struggle long into the future.
For more interesting examples of efforts taken by some nations to mediate poverty with wildlife conservation, the same page the article mentioned above has a few more articles discussing the matter See the page here...

Predicted Effects of Increased CO2 Concentrations in Our Atmosphere


 Predicted Effects of Increased CO2 Concentrations in Our Atmosphere

At the start of the industrial Revolution, around the year 1800, the amount of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere was about 280 parts per million by volume (PPMV). In the year 2000, carbon dioxide levels reached 370 PPMV and each year the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere rises and with increases of CO2, the temperature on our earth rises as well. The increase of CO2 levels is due to things such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and cement production. There are many negative effects that the increase of CO2 will have on our Earth. 
Several predictions have been made about the effects that CO2 will have on our earth. The first being that the average sea surface temperature will raise about 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Currently the average sea surface temperature is 2 degrees Celsius, but 2100 it will be 6 degrees Celsius.
The next prediction is that there will be an increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes due to the rising temperature of our atmosphere.
Next, there will be a rapid increase in sea level. Recordings from 1880-2000 have shown gradual increases in sea level each year. The sea level rose about 20 centimeters from year 1880 to year 2000.
Increased concentrations of CO2 in the ocean cause the ocean to be much more acidic than it normally should be. The dissolved CO2 combines with water to form carbonic acid, which reduces bicarbonate ions and increases the amount of hydrogen ions. Bicarbonate ions are needed for calcification in coral reefs and on the external bodies of many oceanic organisms. When the ocean becomes too acidic for calcification to occur, there will no longer be any coral reef communities and a large fraction of organisms that have calcium carbonate structures will be wiped out because they will dissolve. Increases in water temperature will also cause coral reefs to die, as they can only tolerate minor fluctuations in temperature.

                                                         Works Cited

 Schmitt, Russell. "Climate Change." EEMB 142A Lecture and Notes. Letters and Science Building 1001, Santa Barbara. Lecture.

Soon, W., Sl Baliunas, Ab Robinson, and Zw Robinson. "Environmental Effects of Increased   Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." Climate Research 13 (1999): 149-64. Print.

Link to this article:


I mentioned shipbreaking a while ago when we talked about economics and the export of pollution. I have posted this before but I think it's worthy of a repeat because the investigative reporting series is an excellent read.

Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 there has been increased pressure to phase out the vulnerable single-hulled ships and replace them with safer double-hulled tankers. This might seem like a good idea but the problem comes about when the old ships are broken up. A single oil tanker can contain literally tons of toxic material (eg 7000 kg of asbestos) and when these ships are broken up in developing countries, the workers have virtually no protection from toxic, and other, hazards, and the waste itself often ends up on the beach or in the ocean.

A series of articles on the international shipbreaking industry by Gary Cohn and Will Englund of The Baltimore Sun won a Pulitzer prize in 1998 and you can read the series here. The article on Alang in India is perhaps the most relevant.

The photographer Edward Burtynsky brought this industry to many people's attention with a stunning series of Shipbreaking photographs. The one reproduced above looks like a scene from the Trojan war but these are in fact some of the world's largest ships being disassembled, largely by hand, in Chittagong.

I think the sad moral of this story is that one apparently simple change (a move to safer ships) can create a toxic nightmare in a number of poor countries.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Poachers Turned Stewards of the Land

Namibia’s wildlife was on the brink of extinction when land ownership and fauna were turned over to non-native owners in the 1960’s. Indigenous Namibians were forced out of their land onto previously protected reserves and began poaching gazelles and zebras to keep their families fed though it was illegal.
There was a turn of events when poachers were asked to protect wildlife instead of hunting them. These people were skilled at tracking fauna and now they were receiving income for it. The numbers for it today shows favorable outcome in this “game guard” system.
The country currently hosts the world's largest population of free roaming cheetahs and black rhinos (where once they teetered on the edge of extinction). In the last decade, the elephant population has risen from around 13,000 to 20,000. In the northwest of the country, where lions were down to under two dozen, they now total roughly 130.
People on the land realized that wildlife was more beneficial alive than dead. Economically, the benefits came from venture tourism and trophy hunting. Inevitably, controversy arose around the legality of trophy hunting form animal rights activists, but the conservancy saw benefits.
Chris Weaver, head of the WWF-Na, said, “From my perspective, we're trying to conserve the species, not the individual animal, and this creates a benefit when it's done in a well-regulated fashion, and the benefits go to the local community."
Thoughts? For the full article please click here!
How Namibia turned poachers into gamekeepers and saved rare wildlife
By Daisy Carrington, for CNN. Tue October 23, 2012