1 Tahrcountry Musings: August 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Incorporating imperfect detection methods for estimating abundance of mountain ungulates

Estimating abundance of mountain ungulates is a laborious task. It is very rarely conducted in a statistically valid manner. Rough terrain they inhabit, the group-living habits, relatively low density, and the difficulty of marking individuals contribute to making rigorous estimates of abundance logistically difficult task.

The usual way out is raw (uncalibrated). Although their drawbacks are very evident, biases are rarely quantified.

In September 2009, the authors of this paper took advantage of the presence of a radio-marked sample of argali Ovis ammon in the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in south-central Mongolia, and the area’s comparatively forgiving topography to estimate abundance simultaneously using two independent methods: distance sampling and mark-resight sampling.

Distance sampling produced an abundance estimate of 539 (95% CI: 196-1,081) argali in a 330km2 study area on the same day the researchers visually counted189 animals. Mark-resight sampling using the Poisson log-normal model yielded an estimate of 747 (95% CI: 484-1,009) argali against a maximum223 animals observed in any given day.

The researchers say although both the techniques were imprecise, their similarity increases their confidence that neither estimator was highly biased. Because of budget or logistical restrictions, uncalibrated counts of mountain ungulates are often the only alternative. The researchers emphasize that such results should be viewed cautiously, and when possible, more rigorous approaches to estimating abundance should be taken.

Journal reference
Estimating abundance of mountain ungulates incorporating imperfect detection: argali Ovis ammon in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Ganchimeg J. Wingard, Richard B. Harris, Sukh Amgalanbaatar & Richard P. Reading

Volumes / 2011 - Volume 17 / 1 / Wildlife Biology

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Research-Prioritization Exercises and Conservation Policies

How Research-Prioritization Exercises Affect Conservation Policy


Article first published online: 25 JUL 2011   © Society for Conservation Biology

It is an undeniable fact that there is often a wide chasm between research and its impact on policies pertaining to conservation. The way forward should be better aligning of research with policy needs. With his idea in mind, some conservation scientists have embarked on a whole gamut of exercises to identify research questions that, if answered, would provide the evidence base with which to develop and implement effective conservation policies.
Here the researcher synthesized two existing approaches to conceptualizing research impacts. One widely used approach classifies the impacts of research as conceptual, instrumental, and symbolic.
Conceptual impacts occur when policy makers are sensitized to new issues and this in turn brings about changes in their beliefs and thinking process. Instrumental impacts occur when scientific research has a direct effect on policy decisions. The use of scientific research results to support established policy positions are a sign of symbolic impacts.
The second approach classifies research issues according to whether scientific knowledge is developed fully and whether the policy issue has been articulated clearly.
The researcher say exercises to identify important research questions have objectives of increasing the clarity of policy issues while strengthening science–policy interactions. This may act as a vehicle of transmission of scientific knowledge to policy makers. This also has the potential to accelerate the development and implementation of effective conservation policy.
 The researcher say identification of visionary science questions independent of current policy needs, prioritization of best practices for transferring scientific knowledge to policy makers, and identification of questions about human values and their role in political processes could all help advance real-world conservation science. He signs off with these words “It is crucial for conservation scientists to understand the wide variety of ways in which their research can affect policy and be improved systematically”.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Genes not responsible for the decline of Iberian Lynx

It was with great fascination that I read this paper on Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). It is perhaps the most endangered cat in the world. The population of the Iberian lynx has plummeted below 300 individuals in two isolated areas in Spain. Habitat destruction and the decline of its main prey, the European rabbit are the main causes of the decline.

Some people believe the lack of genetic diversity may spell doom for the species. Surprisingly a new study of DNA found in fossil bones,  have shown that the Iberian lynx has had very low genetic diversity, for at least 50,000 years.  How the lynx managed to pull on despite this low genetic diversity has flummoxed the scientists.

The scientists say they don't blame the genes for the decline in population. They blame it squarely on the lack of political will to save it.

Journal Reference:
Ricardo Rodríguez, Oscar Ramírez, Cristina E. Valdiosera, Nuria García, Fernando Alda, Joan Madurell-Malapeira, Josep Marmi, Ignacio Doadrio, Eske Willerslev, Anders Götherström, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Mark G. Thomas, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Love Dalén. 50,000 years of genetic uniformity in the critically endangered Iberian lynx.Molecular Ecology,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Zealand - Flushing down the rainforests

An eight-month long investigation by Greenpeace, the Green Party and WWF-New Zealand into exactly where the toilet paper sold in New Zealand originates has come up with the shocking finding that Auckland based company Cottonsoft is sourcing its toilet paper from rainforests in Indonesia, home of the critically-endangered Sumatran tiger. Only 400 Sumatran Tigers are estimated to remain in the wild
Cottonsoft New Zealand is a subsidiary of the infamous conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). APP has been blacklisted as a supplier by major companies around the world like  Kraft, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Carrefour. These companies do not countenance the unethical rain forest destruction of APP.
Greenpeace, the Green Party and WWF-New Zealand have appealed to retailers to stop stocking Cottonsoft and other APP Products until the company agrees to end rainforest destruction. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Studies should be wary when pooling male and female data

Understanding sex differences in the cost of terrestrial locomotion
 August 17, 201110.1098/rspb.2011.1334Proc. R. Soc. B

Here is an interesting piece of research done on birds that could be of great relevance for future research.
We know very little about the physiological consequences of the behavioural and morphological differences that result from sexual selection in birds. 
Here the research was done on Svalbard rock ptarmigans (Lagopus muta hyperborea). Svalbard rock ptarmigans exhibit distinctive behavioural differences during the breeding season. Males continuously compete for and defend territories in order to breed successfully. This in turn places large demands on their locomotor system. 
In this piece of research the researchers show that male birds have improved locomotor performance compared with females, showing both a lower cost of locomotion (CoL) and a higher top speed. They suggest that sex differences in locomotor capability may be due to sexual selection for improved male performance.
The researchers sign off with these words” While the mechanisms underlying these energetic differences are unclear, future studies should be wary when pooling male and female data”.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sports and nature conservation

Here is a good article on sports and nature conservation written by Sue Mainka, IUCN’s Head of Science and Knowledge Management. I found it very interesting

Sports and species – like oil and water or a good mix?
By Sue Mainka, IUCN’s Head of Science and Knowledge Management.

Sports are a universal part of human society with, apparently, more than three billion people following or playing football (that’s soccer to North Americans) and, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 75 million tennis players worldwide. How does this huge facet of society affect biodiversity conservation and can we harness all that enthusiasm in the name of nature? We looked at a few recent reports on both individual sports and mega-sporting events to try answer these questions.
Catherine Pickering and colleagues looked at the environmental impact of three different outdoor sports – hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding – in Australia and the USA. The types of impacts across all three sports were quite similar and included loss of vegetation, soil erosion, trail degradation and introduction of invasive alien species. There was a difference in intensity with horseback riding often having greater impact likely due to the weight of your average horse vs. your average human +/- bike. However, the authors note that there is still little research on relative impacts across outdoor sports, especially in protected areas, and more work should be done to help managers develop and implement programmes that can minimize such impacts.
Meanwhile Veronika Braunisch and her colleagues report on a new technique to evaluate the impact of free-ranging winter sports activities on mountain biodiversity. With the Black Grouse as their indicator species and using aerial photographs, they compared locations of these grouse with locations for off-piste skiers and people who were snowshoeing. They determined that only 23% of winter habitat for the grouse was free of human disturbance showing that winter sport infrastructure is not the only issue when looking at biodiversity impacts. Braunisch also points out that another factor to consider is the increased stress caused by proximity to people and the consequent increase in energy costs for species during winter, an already stressful time.
Lincoln Larsen and his colleagues looked at the potential influence of participation in outdoor recreation in promoting what they termed ‘pro-environmental behaviors’. The pro-environmental behaviors that they chose to assess, namely taking personal action such as recycling, reading environmental literature and contributing to/ being a member of an environmental group, were linked with participation in outdoor recreation although the strength of that association did differ across demographic groups surveyed.
Two reports provide feedback on some of the best known mega events today. Justine Paquette and her colleagues report on how environmental sustainability has been integrated into the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) developed an environmental policy in 1992 and the first Games that explicitly included sustainability were the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. Paquette reports that the IOC policies to support integration of sustainability into Olympic planning and operations are in place and that most bids today do include environment as an explicit element of their proposal. However, as a local organizing committee moves from bid to development and implementation, environmental sustainability often suffers due to resource and capacity limitations.
According to Harald Dolles and Sten Söderman, the FIFA World Cup first explicitly addressed environmental sustainability much later than the Olympics – namely for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The German World Cup set targets for five key environmental issues - water, waste, energy, transport and climate - however some targets, such as those for energy, were not fully met. The authors raise thought-provoking questions relating to such sporting events and the environment. Firstly, is it really the mandate of a sporting organization to integrate environmental issues and secondly, how can we mainstream global scale environmental visions into local organizational and development needs.
Sports fans and athletes of all types would seem to be a ripe audience for environmental conservation communication and action. At individual levels, they are having an impact on the very environment they use while participating in sports. They should be enthusiastic participants in conservation given guidance on ‘good environmental conduct’. At team and mega-event levels, the global attention to sustainability is starting to trickle down but it seems that local constraints and priorities still determine how well sustainability actions are implemented. Surely such events, and associations that support them, could more actively and consistently pursue environmental sustainability agendas along with integrating monitoring and lessons learned from one event to the next? Many of us are both conservationists and sports enthusiasts, and, in the end, it will be up to us to promote better environmental stewardship at all levels of sports.
References Cited
1)Pickering CM, Hill W, Newsome D, et al (2010). Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America. J. Env Management 91: 551–562.
2)Braunisch V, Patthey P, And Arlettaz RL (2011). Spatially explicit modeling of conflict zones between wildlife and snow sports: prioritizing areas for winter refuges. Ecological Applications 21: 955–967.
3)Larson L, Whiting J, and Green G. (2011). Exploring the influence of outdoor recreation participation on pro-environmental behaviour in a demographically diverse population. Local Environment 16(1): 67-86.
4)Paquette J, Stevens J, and Mallen, C (2011) The interpretation of environmental sustainability by the International Olympic Committee and Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games from 1994 to 2008, Sport in Society, 14: 3, 355 – 369.
5)Dolles, H, and S. Söderman (2010). Addressing ecology and sustainability in mega-sporting events: The 2006 football World Cup in Germany. Journal of Management & Organization 16: 587–600.

Friday, August 19, 2011

New discovery may bring in small revision of biology textbooks

Biologists at UC San Diego have discovered a never-before-noticed component of our basic genetic material. The new discovery, made possible by high powered microscope, is a chromatin particle halfway between DNA and a nucleosome. Eventhough it looks like a nucleosome it is in fact a distinct particle of its own. This novel particle is a precursor to a nucleosome.
Till now we believed that chromatin, the natural state of DNA in the cell, is made up of nucleosomes and nucleosomes are the basic repeating unit of chromatin.
The new findings make it necessary to reconsider what chromatin is. The discovery of pre-nucleosomes suggests that much of chromatin, which has been generally presumed to consist only of nucleosomes, may in fact be a mixture of nucleosomes and pre-nucleosomes
The researchers say this discovery may be the beginning of a revolution in our understanding of what chromatin is.

Reindeer has unusual ability to see UV light

Dr Glen Jeffrey and his colleagues at University College London and the University of Tromsø in Norway have discovered that Reindeer has the unusual ability to perceive UV light. The Reindeer put it to very effective use to spot predators against snowy background. The researchers show that the cornea and lens in Arctic reindeer do not block all UV and that the retina responds electrophysiologically to these wavelengths. UV is normally highly damaging to the retina, resulting in photoreceptor degeneration. 
The primary winter food source of Reindeer, lichens, and the fur of its main predator, the wolf, absorbs UV light. This makes them stand out against the UV-reflecting snowy landscape.

Details of the research appear in the latest issue of Journal of Experimental Biology.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Invertebrate conservation - impediments and imponderables

The seven impediments in invertebrate conservation and how to overcome them
Pedro Cardoso, Terry L. Erwin,Paulo A.V. Borges and Tim R. New
Biological Conservation
Article in Press, Corrected Proof

This is only a sneak preview of the upcoming paper. The article is in press with corrected proof.

When it comes to conservation invertebrates often get step motherly treatment. In this paper the researchers identify seven impediments to their effective protection:
 (1) Invertebrates and their ecological services are mostly unknown to the general public which the researchers refer to as the public dilemma.
(2) Policymakers and stakeholders are mostly unaware of invertebrate conservation problems which the researchers refer to as the political dilemma.
(3) Basic science on invertebrates is scarce and underfunded which the researchers refer to as the scientific dilemma.
 (4) Most species are undescribed which the researchers say is the Linnean shortfall.
 (5) The distribution of described species is mostly unknown referred to by the researchers as the Wallacean shortfall.
 (6) The abundance of species and their changes in space and time are unknown referred to as the Prestonian shortfall
(7) Species ways of life and sensitivities to habitat change are largely unknown referred to as the Hutchinsonian shortfall.
The authors say recent developments in taxonomy, inventorying, monitoring, data compilation, statistical analysis and science communication makes it easy to overcome these impediments in both policy and practice.
Their suggestions run like this
For the public dilemma: better public information and marketing.
For the political dilemma: red-listing, legal priority listing and inclusion in environmental impact assessment studies.
 For the scientific dilemma: parataxonomy, citizen science programs and biodiversity informatics.
For the Linnean shortfall: biodiversity surrogacy, increased support for taxonomy and advances in taxonomic publications.
 For the Wallacean shortfall: funding of inventories, compilation of data in public repositories and species distribution modeling.
 For the Prestonian shortfall: standardized protocols for inventorying and monitoring, widespread use of analogous protocols and increased support for natural history collections.
 For the Hutchinsonian shortfall: identifying good indicator taxa and studying extinction rates by indirect evidence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Restoration ecology – New direction needed

The restoration of biodiversity: Where has research been and where does it need to go?
Lars A. Brudvig
Am J Bot. 2011 Mar;98(3):549-58.
In this paper Dr Lars A. Brudvig says we need a new direction and impetus for restoration ecology.
Restoration iecology aims at increasing levels of biodiversity by modifying human-altered ecosystems. It provides conceptual guidance and tests of restoration strategies, with the ultimate goal of predictive landscape restoration.
Dr Brudvig construct a conceptual model for restoration of biodiversity, based on site-level (e.g., biotic and abiotic) conditions, landscape (e.g, interpatch connectivity and patch geometry), and historical factors (e.g., species arrival order and land-use legacies). He then asks how well restoration ecology has addressed the various components of this model.
During the past decade, restoration research has focused mainly on how the restoration of site-level factors promotes species diversity. Primary thrust has always been plants. Dr Brudvig says relatively little attention has been paid to how landscape or historical factors interplay with restoration, how restoration influences functional and genetic components of biodiversity, or how a suite of less-studied taxa might be restored.
The researcher present a number of avenues for future research to address often ignored linkages in the biodiversity restoration model. (Interplay of landscape and historical factors). These experiments may require multiple sites and many years of field work.
Dr Brudvig says we might move restoration ecology in a direction of stronger prediction, conducted across landscapes, thus providing feasible restoration strategies that work at scales over which biodiversity conservation occurs.
On the whole this paper is very thought provoking and provides ample fodder for thought

Monday, August 15, 2011

Four months left to save Yasuní national park, Ecuador

It was distressing to read in “Guardian” the plight of the Yasuní national park. Five years ago the state oil company Petroecuador discovered a massive new oil field estimated to yield nearly a billion barrels of oil in Block 31 of the Yasuní national park. It is worth worth a minimum $7-10bn
Extracting the oil would spell doom to one of the last great wildernesses. The park is also home to the the Tagaeri and the Taromenane, two of the world's last uncontacted tribes. The park has more species of plants, animals and insects per hectare than anywhere else on earth.

Ecuador prepared two plans. Plan A contemplated to leave the oil in the ground in perpetuity in return for half of its value from the rich countries of the world. Plan B was for extracting the oil. For the first time in history, a nation was ready to accept a binding agreement not to extract fossil fuels. If countries and individuals rustle up just half the "value" of the 960m barrels of oil – around $3.6bn – then Ecuador would guarantee to leave it there. The money raised would go to Yasuní and Ecuador's other national parks and towards education and hospitals.

If a downpayment of $100m is made by December, the forest and the indigenous groups will be left alone. If the money is not found, then a Chinese oil company will move in and that will be the end of Yasuní.
Around $40m has been raised so far but it is not enough. The environmentalists of Ecuador are making desperate appeals to individuals and Governments of the developed world.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Recommendation

Here is a book that has been brought out by IUCN, a book on land restoration,with case studies from the dry lands of Latin America. It explicitly examines application of the forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach to dryland forest ecosystems in Latin America.
The research focused on seven dryland areas where native forests have been subjected to intense human pressure in recent decades, resulting in severe deforestation and degradation. Each of these areas is characterized by high biodiversity of international conservation importance, with many endemic, threatened species. Click here to read it

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Invasive plant species can negatively alter soil communities.

Multiple mechanisms enable invasive species to suppress native species
Alison E. Bennett, Meredith Thomsen, and, Sharon Y. Strauss
 17 June 201110.3732/ajb.1000177Am. J. Bot. July 2011 vol. 98no. 7 

The latest research by Dr. Alison Bennett and Dr. Sharon Strauss at the University of California, Davis and Dr. Meredith Thomsen at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse has shed light on some previously unknown effects of invasive species. Invasive plants are a significant threat to ecosystem biodiversity throughout the world.
Previous studies have focused on the effect of individual factors, such as release from native enemies, disturbance, or allelopathy, but the interactions among these factors have not been studied. Here the researchers studied the effects of four primary mechanisms that potentially contribute to the success of invasive velvetgrass, Holcus lanatus. Direct competition, changes to the soil community, indirect competition due to changes in herbivore feeding, and interference competition due to allelopathy were put under the scanner.
The researchers found that H. lanatus clearly hindered the germination, growth, and establishment of E. glaucus. The presence of H. lanatus altered soil communities. The researchers say the negative impact persists even after H. lanatus is removed. The researchers contend that the removal of competitors without attention to soil legacies may result in failure of native species to re-establish.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Trouble in Lemur Land

Here is an excellent video presented by Primatologist, Erik Patel. He presents the present status of Critically Endangered silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus). This species is considered to be one of the top 25 most endangered primates in the world. 

Trouble in Lemur Land from Erik R Patel on Vimeo.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Ramesh and his request for a suggestion on a good book on "Remote Sensing for Biodiversity and Wildlife Management".

The other day I got a request from Ramesh, my friend, to suggest a good book on "Remote Sensing for Biodiversity and Wildlife Management". The book that came to my mind is "Remote Sensing for Biodiversity and Wildlife Management: Synthesis and Applications" authored by Steven Franklin, president and vice chancellor at Trent University.
The book gives a good account of the Latest Advances in Remote Sensing for Biodiversity and wildlife conservation.


· Management information requirements
· Geospatial data collection and processing
· Thermal, passive and active microwave, and passive and active optical sensing
· Integrated remote sensing, GIS, GPS, and spatial models
· Remote sensing of ecosystem process and structure
· Proven methods for acquiring, interpreting, and analyzing remotely sensed data
· Habitat suitability and quality analysis
· Mapping anthropogenic disturbances and modeling species distribution
· Biodiversity indicators, including species richness mapping and productivity modeling
· Habitat quality and dynamics
· Indicators and processes
· Invasive alien species
· Species prediction models
· Food and resources
· Biodiversity monitoring
· Fragmentation and spatial heterogeneity

·         Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional
·         ISBN-10: 0071622470
·         ISBN-13: 978-0071622479

If you have better ideas about other books on the subject please share it here for the benefit of Ramesh