1 Tahrcountry Musings: January 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Population decline assessment, historical baselines, and conservation

Population decline assessment, historical baselines, and conservation
Timothy C. Bonebrake, Jon Christensen, Carol L. Boggs, Paul R. Ehrlich
 Conservation Letters published online: 14 SEP 2010

Here us a good paper that discuses aspects of population decline assessment, historical baselines, and conservation

Scientific and historical knowledge of worldwide animal-population declines is not well documented. The data is very sparse. This knowledge however is absolute perquisite for the best efforts to preserve species.
In this paper the researchers reviewed the literature of long-term studies of population declines across a set of animal taxa and found that only 15% of the studies used data older than 100 years, and 58% of the studies lacked continuous data. The authors describe five general approaches to studying population declines: counting, correlative, evolutionary, geochemical, and historical. The most common method of population assessment was a census/counting approach (75% of studies). This was followed by a range mapping/correlative approach (17% of studies).
Evolutionary, geochemical, and historical approaches are used less often. The authors assert that in combination with traditional counting and correlative methods, they hold great potential as tools for conservation.
The authors signoff saying “The multidisciplinary approaches we identify and advocate here will be useful for understanding and potentially reversing population declines and ultimately stemming the tide of extinctions currently underway.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Excellent Conservation Biology textbook available for free download

Conservation Biology for All, a 358 page book, edited by Navjot S. Sodhi of the National University of Singapore and Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University is now available as a free download from Mongabay.com
Tahrcountry expresses appreciation for this wonderful gesture by the authors, the publisher Oxford University Press, and Mongnay.com

Friday, January 21, 2011

Indirect evidence of the existence of botanical diversity provided by new species of leaping beetles of Caledonia

A three-year research by Spanish scientists in Caledonia has led to the discovery of two new herbivorous beetles – Arsipoda geographica and Arsipoda rostrata. The interesting point is that the beetles feed on plants that the scientists have still not found on the archipelago.

The researchers used previously-developed molecular tools in order to classify the DNA sequences of the animals' diet obtained from the digestive tract of the insects at the time they were killed in order to extract their DNA.

The new species, Arsipoda geographica,  feeds on a tropical plant in the mountains (Myrsinaceae), while Arsipoda isola, feeds on another plant (Ericaceae) in the southern jungles of the island. These botanical species have still not been found on the archipelago. This provides indirect evidence of botanical diversity of Caledonia,
Details appear in the latest edition of Journal of Natural History

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Genetic principles as practical management tools of large-mammal conservation

The other day I was discussing with my friend Ramesh the isolated populations of Nilgiri tahr. Naturally the subject turned to inbreeding depression.  Ramesh wanted to know whether anything could be done to overcome this problem. I drew his attention to a paper on big horn sheep that I had read sometime back.(2006) Here the researchers tried restoring gene flow to isolates.

Immigration was restored experimentally, beginning in 1985. The researchers detected marked improvements in reproduction, survival and five fitness-related traits among descendants of the 15 recent migrants. Trait values were increased by 23–257%
The researcher sign off saying that restoring gene flow deserve broader recognition as practical management tools with near-term consequences for large-mammal conservation.

As the paper referred to is an open access article I am pasting here the abstract which I had saved in my computer.

Natural populations worldwide are increasingly fragmented by habitat loss. Isolation at small population size is thought to reduce individual and population fitness via inbreeding depression. However, little is known about the time-scale over which adverse genetic effects may develop in natural populations or the number and types of traits likely to be affected. The benefits of restoring gene flow to isolates are therefore also largely unknown. In contrast, the potential costs of migration (e.g. disease spread) are readily apparent. Management for ecological connectivity has therefore been controversial and sometimes avoided. Using pedigree and life-history data collected during 25 years of study, we evaluated genetic decline and rescue in a population of bighorn sheep founded by 12 individuals in 1922 and isolated at an average size of 42 animals for 10–12 generations. Immigration was restored experimentally, beginning in 1985. We detected marked improvements in reproduction, survival and five fitness-related traits among descendants of the 15 recent migrants. Trait values were increased by 23–257% in maximally outbred individuals. This is the first demonstration, to our knowledge, of increased male and female fitness attributable to outbreeding realized in a fully competitive natural setting. Our findings suggest that genetic principles deserve broader recognition as practical management tools with near-term consequences for large-mammal conservation.
Genetic rescue of an insular population of large mammals
Proceedings of the Royal Society B
June 2006 vol. 273 no. 15931491-1499

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reintroduced beavers construct ideal habitats for bats, new research reveals

Beavers are fascinating animals. Even though this species lives in habitats thousands of kilometers away from where I live, they have always fascinated me. Their dam building prowess needs no introduction. Latest research on reintroduced Beavers in Poland has indicated that they construct ideal habitats for bats.

River-damming by beavers create large waterlogged areas which in turn leads to an abundance of insect prey. This promotes new foraging sites for insectivorous bats. The study was conducted on small streams in forest areas of northern Poland, which were colonized by the European beaver (Castor fiber). 

Bat activity was recorded with a Pettersson D-980 ultrasound detector on line transects. The number of bat passes was significantly higher in the stream sections modified by beavers than in the unmodified sections.
Beavers thin out the canopy. This paves way for fewer obstacles in the way of aerial-hunting bats as they go after insects.
The researchers say this study provides further evidence of beavers' essential role in maintaining woodlands and complements conservationist's arguments that beavers are an essential or "keystone" species in woodland habit

Reintroduction of beavers Castor fiber may improve habitat quality for vespertilionid bats foraging in small river valleys

Sudan – The Plight of wildlife

Sudan is passing through difficult times. Amidst all the talk of political cauldron people tend to forget about Sudan’s magnificent wildlife. The denizens of the wild have no votes. So nobody seems to care for their needs.

Before civil war broke out in 1983, southern Sudan had the distinction of being home to some spectacular wildlife populations in Africa. It also had the world's second-largest wildlife migration. All that is going to be history now unless something concerted is done ommediately. Mind boggling numbers of buffalo, antelope, elephants, and chimpanzees have been consigned to oblivion by the civil war.

Surprisingly vast tracts of savannas, wetlands, and woodlands still remain intact. If proper management strategies are undertaken wildlife can easily bounce back.  Concerted action by the international community is the need of the hour. Sudan desperately needs help from international community. Under the present scenario only dedicated NGOs can deliver the goods

Monday, January 17, 2011

Climate change and change of rutting behavior in Red deer

A new study of Red deer  by scientists at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh in the Isle of Rum has shown that  the rutting and calving seasons are now up to two weeks earlier on average compared with 30 years ago. Scientists believe that this is because of warming spring and summer temperatures. The research was based on a 38-year study of the ecology of red deer on the Isle of Rum.

The researchers present key evidence of significant temporal trends in six phenological traits: oestrus date and parturition date in females, and antler cast date, antler clean date, rut start date and rut end date in males.  These traits advanced by between 5 and 12 days across a 28-year study period.

According to the researchers their study  provide rare evidence linking phenological advances to climate warming in a wild mammal and highlight the potential complexity of relationships between climate warming, phenology and demography in wild vertebrates.

The Isle of Rum National Nature Reserve has been a key centre for wildlife research for many years, particularly in relation to deer.

Details of the research appears in the journal Global Change Biology
Advancing breeding phenology in response to environmental change in a wild red deer population

Global Change Biology

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Eating blueberries can guard against high blood pressure

I am a fruit buff. So any news regarding health benefits of fruits cheer me.  Here is something from scientists of UEA and Harvard. They have discovered that eating blueberries can guard against high blood pressure. It is the bioactive compounds in blueberries called anthocyanins that offer protection against hypertension.

Around a quarter of the adult population of the world suffers from high blood pressure. The treatment costs more than $300 billion each year.

Compared to people who ate no blueberries, those eating at least one serving of blueberries per week were 10 per cent less likely to develop hypertension.

Other rich sources of anthocyanins include blackcurrants, blood oranges, aubergines and raspberries.They are found in many fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs. Blackberries came up trumps.

The research underlines the fact that dietary intake of anthocyanins may contribute to the prevention of hypertension.

Full details will appear in February 2011 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Solution to a fundamental distributed computing problem from biologically derived insights

Here is yet another example of benefits derived from nature. Scientists  from Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Sackler School of Mathematics, Tel Aviv University , Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA, Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science,  Israel and School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon UniversityUSA have successfully developed     a solution to fundamental distributed computing problem from biologically derived insights in to fruit flies. It also emphasizes the need for biodiversity conservation. We have only scratched the surface. The vast cornucopia is yet to be fully explored for its multifaceted benefits.

Computational and biological systems are often distributed so that processors (cells) jointly solve a task. None of the cells receive all inputs or observe all outputs. Maximal independent set (MIS) selection is a fundamental distributed computing procedure where a set of local leaders are elected in a network. A variant of this problem is solved during the development of the fly’s nervous system, when sensory organ precursor (SOP) cells are chosen. 

Scientist studied SOP selection in fruit flies and derived a fast algorithm for MIS selection that combines two attractive features. First, processors do not need to know their degree; second, it has an optimal message complexity while only using one-bit messages.

The research amply demonstrated that simple and efficient algorithms can be developed on the basis of biologically derived insights.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pandas and Old Forest

I have always been fascinated by Pandas and lay my hands on whatever I can get on them. The latest issue of Biology Letters, has an excellent paper on Pandas. I liked one sentence at the beginning very much. The authors say the giant panda is at a high risk of extinction and will require informed management for recovery but if assumptions about ecological needs are wrong, maps with misidentified suitable habitat will misguide conservation action. Although the giant panda genome has now been sequenced scientists are still struggling to fully understand the panda's ecological requirements. The researchers use an information-theoretic approach to analyze the largest, landscape-level data set on panda habitat use to date, and challenge the prevailing wisdom about panda habitat needs. They show that pandas are associated with old-growth forest more than with any ecological variable other than bamboo.
The researchers make a fervent plea that as the Chinese government is considering the renewal of its logging ban, it should take heed of the panda's dependency on old growth.
Old-growth forest is what giant pandas really need

 Biology Letters - Published online before print January 12, 2011, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1081

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Conservation and Social Psychology

Conservation is passing through a flux. Inexorable effects of globalisation and burgeoning population have added new dimensions to the threats facing the species. Species continues to decline at alarming rate and even extinction is staring in the face of many species. Resources are being depleted at never before rate and this is the germane factor of decline amidst many imponderables affecting the survival of species. Gone are the days when wildlife conservation can be viewed in isolation. It has biological social and political connotations that are inextricably enmeshed in its practice.

It is against backdrop of things enumerated above that a recent paper titled Conservation and human behaviour: lessons from social psychology by Freya A. V. St John, Gareth Edwards-Jones and Julia P. G. Jones from School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, UK, published in the journal Wildlife Research assumes great significance. The authors say resource use by a growing human population is a significant driver of biodiversity loss, so conservation scientists and managers need to look in to the factors that motivate human behaviour. These characteristics t are considered and avidly followed by social psychologists interested in human decision making. Even though we have inducted the services of social scientists in the eco-development programmes of our wildlife reserves this new suggestion is indeed breaking new ground. It is worth serious consideration by our policy makers.

In this must read paper for wildlife biologists and managers the authors have reviewed social-psychology theories of behaviour and how they have been used in the context of conservation and natural-resource management. There are several studies that focus on general attitudes of community and individuals towards conservation. What they lack is a thrust on the attitudes towards specific behaviours that are of relevance to conservation. They thus fail to help us in giving a tool in designing interventions to change specific behaviors. It is these specifics that are needed to formulate strategies for changing specific behaviors

The authors contend that what is needed is more specific and exacting defining of the behaviour of interest ,which in turn should lead to investigating the attitude in the context of other social-psychological predictors of behavior like subjective norms, the presence of facilitating factors and moral obligation. Thus we can zoom in on the behaviours that have an impact on conservation goals allowing us to devise improved design of interventions to influence the behaviour.

Conservation and human behaviour: lessons from social psychology

Freya A. V. St John , Gareth Edwards-Jones  and Julia P. G. Jones 
journal Wildlife Research 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why we have discontinued Species of the Day

Species of the Day was an initiative created by IUCN for the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, aiming to raise awareness of the incredible variety of life on Earth.

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the importance of conservation action in ensuring a future for these wonderful species. If you missed any of the daily profiles last year, you can visit the Species of the Day archives here.

IUCN will be soon featuring a new series Amazing Species.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Translocation of stock-raiding leopards into a protected area with resident conspecifics

Is translocation of stock-raiding leopards into a protected area with resident conspecifics an effective management tool?
Maja Weilenmann  , Markus Gusset , David R. Mills , Tefo Gabanapelo and Monika Schiess-Meier 

Journal Wildlife Research

Last month we had discussed here a paper on human leopard conflict titled Translocation as a Tool for Mitigating Conflict with Leopards in Human-Dominated Landscapes of India”   authored by VIDYA ATHREYA, MORTEN ODDEN, JOHN D. C. LINNELL K. ULLAS KARANTH. The study emphasized the potential ineffectiveness of translocation to reduce human–carnivore conflict. The authors suggested that making improvements to the administration of compensation programme for wildlife attacks and linking this to some form of insurance scheme that can be administered by local communities might help increase tolerance for low intensity, chronic predation on livestock by leopards. They have contended that this is likely to decrease the demand for management action to remove leopards.

Now here comes another paper from Botswana authored by Maja Weilenmann, Markus Gusset, David R. Mills, Tefo Gabanapelo and Monika Schiess-Meier titled “Is translocation of stock-raiding leopards into a protected area with resident conspecifics an effective management tool?” Here also the conclusions mirror what had been expressed in paper by VIDYA ATHREYA, MORTEN ODDEN, JOHN D. C. LINNELL K and ULLAS KARANTH.

In this new paper the researchers sought to evaluate whether translocating stock-raiding leopards (Panthera pardus) into a protected area with resident conspecifics in Botswana is effective in dealing with ‘problem’ carnivores.

In the investigation none of the translocated leopards showed release-site fidelity; they either returned to the trap site or showed extensive roaming behaviour after release. Three of the four translocated leopards reportedly resumed stock-raiding and were shot when ranging outside of protected areas, which apparently was a consequence of being released into an area already occupied by territorial conspecifics. On the basis of satellite telemetry, the linear movement distance of one translocated leopard (1249 km) and the range size of three resident female leopards (513 ± 124 km2) are the largest on record.

The researchers’ compared the survival and ranging behaviour of translocated leopards with that of resident conspecifics, and conclude that translocation is not an effective management tool for dealing with stock-raiding leopards. They conclude that rather than translocating ‘problem’ carnivores, efforts should focus on reducing the potential for problems to develop, most importantly on improving livestock-husbandry practices.

I thank Maja Weilenmann for graciously sending me a copy of the paper.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Selecting focal species in ecological network planning following an expert-based approach: Italian reptiles as a case study

Selecting focal species in ecological network planning following an expert-based approach: Italian reptiles as a case study

Corrado Battist1  and Luca Luisell2
1 Nature Conservation Office, Environmental Service, Province of Rome, via Tiburtina, 691, 00159 Rome, Italy
2 F.I.Z.V. (Ecology) and Centro di Studi Ambientali Demetra s.r.l., via Olona 7, 00198 Roma, Italy
Journal for Nature Conservation
Here is a paper which I read the other day and found interesting.
The selection of focal fragmentation-sensitive species plays a very important role in connectivity conservation and ecological network planning. Despite the very important role the selection of focal species has traditionally been carried out using charismatic and/or non objective approaches.

In this new study, the researchers, using as a case study Italian reptiles, apply an expert-based approach for the selection of focal species on the basis of sensitivity to components of habitat fragmentation and the intrinsic ecological traits of the species ( trophic level, dispersal ability, body size, niche breadth, and rarity).

This week's Wildlife Images from Guardian

Have a look at this week's beautiful wildlife images from Guardian. Click HERE

Friday, January 07, 2011

New firefly species discovered in southern Taiwan

I have always been fascinated by fireflies. So it was with great delight that I heard about the discovery of two new fireflies in Taiwan’s Kenting National Park.
Currently over 2,000 species of fireflies have been recorded around the world. 54 of these can be found in Taiwan.
The new discoveries include one nocturnal species of the genus Luciola and three diurnal species of the genus Drilaster.
Kenting is Taiwan’s oldest national park.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Post-normal science and the art of nature conservation

Post-normal science and the art of nature conservation

Robert A. Francis and Michael K. Goodman
 Department of Geography, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK

Here is a paper that reflects uncertainties associated with present day conservation.  The authors say nature conservation may be considered a post-normal science in that the loss of biodiversity and increasing environmental degradation require urgent action but are characterized by uncertainty at every level. An ‘extended peer community’ with varying skills, perceptions and values are involved in decision-making and implementation of conservation, and the uncertainty involved limits the effectiveness of practice.

The authors examine threadbare the key ecological, philosophical and methodological uncertainties associated with conservation. They then highlight the uncertainties and gaps present within the structure and interactions of the conservation community and the communication gap between researchers and practitioners. The researchers say a policy that strives to minimize uncertainties would be a useful progression for nature conservation. They come up with recommendations in which knowledge transfer between researchers and practitioners can be improved to support robust decision making and conservation enactment.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Secrets Lives of Beavers Filmed

Professor Mott and colleagues, Craig Bloomquist and Clayton Nielsen of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, US have filmed the secret lives of American beavers (Castor canadensis) denning on the Mississippi flood plain in south-western Illinois. This is a piece of research that delves deeper in to the mysteries  of the lives of Beavers. According to the scientists till now what we know about beavers and their use of dens is limited to questions like what times of day do they go in and out of the den.

The researchers put tiny, waterproof cameras into 17 lodges and six bank dens. The scientists found that the beavers exhibit regular patterns of behaviour, leaving to feed at roughly the same time every day. Male and female beavers appear to take equal responsibility for raising their babies. One of the most interesting finding was there was no aggression within beaver colonies. Most social animals that live in close-knit groups tend to use aggression to establish a "pecking order"

Details  appear in the latest issue of journal Mammalian Biology

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

We wish you the very best in your conservation mission for 2011.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.

The UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS) have joined together to celebrate the Year of the Bat