1 Tahrcountry Musings: April 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scientific monitoring of Tigers gets a boost in India

WCS/CWS India under the leadership of Dr Ullas Karanth has been developing new monitoring methodologies for tigers and prey species for over two decades working in tandem with Karnataka Forest Department. Now National Tiger Conservation Authority has decided to incorporate some of their key suggestions as a part of the official protocols.

The key suggestions are

Annual monitoring of tiger source populations will be done using capture-recapture. Individual identification of tigers will be done using camera trap data or faecal DNA analysis. These protocols will work in close association with a national tiger photographic data base repository to be developed and maintained at NTCA.

Minimum sampling area will be 400 sq km at a time. Sampling intensity aimed at will be 1,000 trap nights per 100 sq km.

The annual camera trap survey will be completed in 45-60 days.

If deployment of camera traps in an entire reserve – or parts of it – is not feasible for any reason, faecal DNA samples will be collected within 45-60 day survey period and analysed to arrive at tiger numbers.

Protocols have been also laid down for estimating prey densities using line transect surveys and the use of DISTANCE software.

The icing on the cake is that Dr. Rajesh Gopal (Member Secretary — NTCA) and Sri PR Sinha (Director - WII) is working hand in hand with Dr Ullas Karanth in introducing these refinements. Tahrcountry joins other conservationists in applauding this path breaking team work. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Comprehensive landscape assessments of protected area networks

Dynamic performance assessment of protected areas
Christopher P. Barbera, Mark A. Cochranea, b, , Carlos Souza Jr.b, , Adalberto Veríssimob
Biological conservation, Volume 149, Issue 1, May 2012, Pages 6–14

For preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services protected area networks have been established worldwide, but are they effective in delivering what has been intended? The authors of this paper say empirical coarse-scale assessments of this question across large regions, or even globally, tend to answer “yes”, while fine-scale studies of individual protected areas often and repeatedly answer “no”.

The researchers conducted a first fine-scale analysis of Brazil’s extensive Amazonian protected area network (1.8 million km2) and quantitatively estimated conservation effectiveness against the backdrop of changing human development pressures in the surrounding landscape. The overall network maintained intact forest cover for 98.6% of protected forest lands. This is in tune with previous coarse-scale studies. A detailed examination of 474 individual protected areas gave a different picture.

The researchers say many protected areas (544,800 km2) experience default protection due to their remoteness only. Some others (396,100 km2) provided highly effective protection in the face of substantial human development pressure.  12% (38) of protected areas failed to protect the 27,300 km2 that they encompass. Another 7% (23) provided only marginal protection for 37,500 km2.

Based on their assessment the authors contend that Comprehensive landscape assessments of protected area networks, with frequent monitoring at scales matching the patterns of human-caused disturbances, are necessary to ensure the conservation effectiveness and long term survival of protected areas in rapidly changing landscapes. The reiterate that the methods presented here are globally adaptable to all forested protected areas.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Estimating the population of Emperor penguins using a single synoptic survey

In this piece of path breaking research, the researchers attempted to estimate the population of emperor penguins (Aptenodytes fosteri) using a single synoptic survey. They examined the whole continental coastline of Antarctica using a combination of medium resolution and Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery to identify emperor penguin colony locations. Where colonies were identified, VHR imagery was obtained in the 2009 breeding season. The remotely-sensed images were then analysed using a supervised classification method to separate penguins from snow, shadow and guano. Actual counts of penguins from eleven ground truthing sites were used to convert these classified areas into numbers of penguins using a robust regression algorithm

Four new colonies were discovered. The location of three previously suspected sites was confirmed. Total number of emperor penguin breeding colonies was put at 46. The researchers estimated the breeding population of emperor penguins at each colony during 2009 and provide a population estimate of ~238,000 breeding pairs. This is against the last previously published count of 135,000–175,000 pairs). The researchers say based on published values of the relationship between breeders and non-breeders, this translates to a total population of ~595,000 adult birds.

The researchers contend that their work now provides a comprehensive estimate of the total breeding population that can be used in future population models and will provide a baseline for long-term research.

Citation: Fretwell PT, LaRue MA, Morin P, Kooyman GL, Wienecke B, et al. (2012) An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space. PLoS ONE 7(4): e33751. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033751

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Opportunity to work in Periyar Tiger Reserve

Young wildlife biologists, here is an opportunity for you to hone your skills in Periyar Tiger Reserve, India’s finest Tiger reserve. Periyar Foundation a Government owned public trust with the legality of the Government organization and flexibility of a good non-governmental organization is looking for field biologists to work under their “Biodiversity conservation and Rural livelihood improvement project” (Kerala forest department– Periyar foundation)

Qualification:  Masters Degree in Environmental / Wildlife Sciences or Forestry (Preference will be given to Ph. D. holders).
Experience:  Minimum 3 years of field experience in the field of ecology preferably in the landscape where Participatory Forest Management is implemented.
Remuneration: Rs 30,000/- per month.
Project period: 5 years.
Tasks to be carried out:
• To undertake analysis, assessment and research on ecology and wildlife biology.
• To distil, document and support to disseminate the best practices in the Project Area.
• To assist in conducting trainings in habitat management practices, monitoring of habitats and wildlife, eco-friendly tourism, to NGOs, local community groups, other stakeholders, policy makers, senior and mid-level forest officers and field staff and other development sector agencies.
• To develop field guides /identification keys on important groups of flora and fauna.
• To conduct impact assessment of habitat interventions, ecotourism etc.
• To contribute as a team in curriculum development and preparation of course material.

Candidates who possess the above qualification may apply with their curriculum vitae to the Executive Secretary, Periyar Foundation, Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady P.O., Kumily, Idukki District, Kerala. Pin – 685536.  The name of the post should be written on the envelope containing application.

Last date for receipt of application is 15th April, 2012
Vacancies exist also for Sociologist / Socio-Ecologist, Regional Planner, Training Officer, Training Assistant, Field Assistant and Accountant

For more details log on to http://www.periyarfoundation.org/

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rare image of a lynx using a highway wildlife-overpass in Banff National Park, Canada

                                                           Photo courtesy: Highwaywilding.org

Here is a very rare image of a Canada lynx using an overpass. The location is the Redearth Creek wildlife overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. The exact timing recorded by the camera trap is 8:34 a.m. on March 28, 2012. The overpass is one of the six overpasses in Banff National Park.

Assessing age from colour of coats – A case study involving Thornicroft's giraffes

Here is an interesting piece of research done on giraffes. Prof Fred Bercovitch from the Primate Research Institute and Wildlife Research Centre, Kyoto University working in tandem with  local  naturalist Phil Berry have discovered that Male giraffes' age can be estimated by looking at the colour of their coats. The research was done on Thornicroft's giraffes found in eastern Zambia's South Luangwa Valley. It is one of the nine recognised sub-species of giraffe.

The researchers were able to attach specific ages to coat colour changes. Change in male pelage colouration takes on an average 1.8 years. The males are completely covered with coal-black blotches at an average age of 9.4 years.

Journal Reference 
Darkening coat colour reveals life history and life expectancy of male Thornicroft's giraffes
P. S. M. Berry and F. B. Bercovitch,

Journal of Zoology, Article first published online: 8 MAR 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2012.00904.x

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vehicular traffic and the use of highway edges by large mammals – Urgent need for holistic EIA

Impact of vehicular traffic on the use of highway edges by large mammals in a South Indian wildlife reserve
Sanjay Gubbi, H. C. Poornesha andM. D. Madhusudan

Here is a paper that is of great relevance to wildlife managers.

Expansion and improvement of transport and other infrastructure networks is a natural accompaniment to the economic boom that India is experiencing. The authors of this paper say that even though there are legally mandated assessments of the potential ecological impacts of such infrastructure projects prior to implementation, rarely are there any post-implementation assessments of their real ecological impacts.

The researchers present results of a preliminary study examining the impact of vehicular traffic on the usage of road edges by large mammals along a highway passing through Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. Using triggered camera traps they estimated large mammal encounter rates on two consecutive sections of the same highway – one closed to vehicular traffic and the other open to vehicles only during daytime.

The researchers observed lower encounter rates of chital, gaur and elephants at camera traps in the highway segment with higher vehicular traffic density. They add that this is an indication of the fact that these species avoided busy highways. A more sustained monitoring over time is required for a better understanding of how these species respond to vehicular traffic along highways.

State Forest Departments do not take road kills seriously unless the animal killed is large. Hence systematic record-keeping of all mortalities due to road kills would provide the necessary data to assess and mitigate impacts of vehicular traffic on wildlife. There is an urgent need for scientifically designed wildlife crossing structures while planning highways through wildlife reserves.

 Based on their findings, the researchers emphasize the importance of continued ecological impact assessments of development projects to identify and mitigate unforeseen impacts. They make a fervent plea for an approach that integrates development planning with conservation concerns, especially where development projects coincide with ecologically critical areas.

The prevailing system of rapid EIAs by untrained people, often hired by project proponents themselves should be dispensed with. What is needed is rigorous and peer-scrutinized assessments carried out by trained wildlife biologists.  The country needs to invest in a more holistic process of development planning that includes – rather than ignores – the conservation of its priceless natural heritage.

I thank Annapoorna Daithota of ncf-india for sending me a copy of the paper

Monday, April 09, 2012

Book Recommendation

The other day Girish from Karnataka, one of the regular readers of this blog, wanted a recommendation of a book on Population Genetics suited to the needs of graduate students and wildlife managers. Here is my recommendation “Population Genetics for Animal Conservation”. The book was published in 2009.   This book integrates 'the analytical methods approach' with the 'real problems approach' in conservation genetics. If you have better recommendation please pass it on. Girish would be delighted to get your recommendations.

Population Genetics for Animal Conservation
Giorgio Bertorelle, Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Michael W. Bruford, Heidi C. Hauffe, Edmund Mach Foundation, Annapaolo Rizzoli and Cristiano Vernesi
Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9780521685375

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe – IUCN WCPA news release

‘The Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe’, provides a unique insight into Europe’s often forgotten sacred natural sites. It looks into their history, importance and the threats they currently face. The book is a must-read for managers of European protected areas and landscapes and those interested in the religious and cultural aspects of European natural sites. Published by IUCN and Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services of Finland, the book is part of a series issued by The Delos Initiative of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas.

Authors of the book place special attention to the sacred places of the Sámi indigenous people living in northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and North-West Russia. They also describe sacred natural sites in Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, North-West Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

“Sacred natural sites hold traditional and spiritual values that are often hidden from the modern world and that are deeply linked to ecosystem and landscape management”, says Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN's senior adviser for social policy. “These values are extremely important for Europe’s cultural, spiritual and natural heritage. They include some unique knowledge of traditional medicine, livestock breeding, wildlife and agricultural cycles. Greater recognition of this knowledge and better management of these areas can help us sustainably conserve our natural heritage, especially in the time of increasing climate change.”

“The importance of sacred natural sites is rarely recognized these days and their values are often ignored in the face of expanding urbanisation and insensitive development initiatives”, says Josep Maria Mallarach, one of the editors of the book and coordinator of The Delos Initiative. “Tourism also puts pressure on these unique places, causing physical and spiritual degradation.”

“Integrated management of the sites and improved public awareness can help address these challenges”, says Thymio Papayannis, co-editor of the book and joint coordinator of The Delos Initiative. “Closer collaboration between the custodians of sacred natural sites and conservationists is crucial if we want to safeguard Europe’s unique natural, cultural and spiritual values of such sites.”

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Taking into account uncertainties should be a mandatory aspect to include in the viability analysis of populations

Disentangling effects of uncertainties on population projections: climate change impact on an epixylic bryophyte
Alejandro Ruete,Wei Yang,Lars Bärring,Nils Chr. Stenseth andTord Snäll
 March 28, 201210.1098/rspb.2012.0428Proc. R. Soc. B

Assessment of future ecosystem risks assumes great significance against the backdrop of climate change. This assessment should take in to account relevant uncertainty sources. Studying joint effects of climate variables and using modelling techniques that allow proper treatment of uncertainties becomes imperative.

Here the researchers investigated the influence of three of the IPCC's scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions (special report on emission scenarios (SRES)) on projections of the future abundance of a bryophyte model species. They also compared the relative importance of uncertainty sources on the population projections.

According to the researchers the whole chain global climate model (GCM)—regional climate model—population dynamics model is addressed. The researchers say uncertainty depends on both natural- and model-related sources, in particular on GCM uncertainty. Ignoring the uncertainties gives an unwarranted impression of confidence in the results. The researchers affirm that most likely population development of the bryophyte Buxbaumia viridis towards the end of this century is negative. Even with a low-emission scenario, there is more than a 65 per cent risk for the population to be halved.

The conclusion of a population decline is valid for all SRES scenarios investigated. The researchers say uncertainties are no longer an obstacle, but a mandatory aspect to include in the viability analysis of populations.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Herbicide may Induce Morphological Changes in Vertebrate Animals

Dr Rick Relyea, University of Pittsburgh professor of biological sciences in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and director of Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology has come up with the startling finding that weed killer, Roundup, can cause amphibians to change shape.  This is the first study to show that herbicide can induce unintended morphological changes in a vertebrate animal.

Predators usually induce tadpoles to change shape by altering the stress hormones. Similar shape changes were noted when tadpoles were exposed to Roundup. In wood frog and leopard frog tadpoles, Roundup induced relatively deeper tails in the same direction and of the same magnitude as the adaptive changes induced by dragonfly cues. 

The data suggest that the herbicide might be activating the tadpoles' developmental pathways used for antipredator responses.

Dr Relyea says collectively, these discoveries suggest that the world's most widely applied herbicide may have much further-reaching effects on nontarget species than previously  considered.

 Journal Reference:
Rick A. Relyea. New effects of Roundup on amphibians: Predators reduce herbicide mortality; herbicides induce antipredator morphology. Ecological Applications, 2012; 22 (2): 634 DOI: 10.1890/11-0189.1

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Wild Life of Our Bodies

Here is an interesting book that I finished reading yesterday, Rob Dunn’s book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Dunn is a biology professor at North Carolina State University. He writes about the microbes, pathogens, and various other microorganisms that have shaped human evolution.

Here is an interesting snippet from Dun. Dunn says the prevalence of Crohn's disease since the 1950s is due to the developed world's concern to avoid most kind of intestinal worms. This is not hearsay. The observation is backed by solid research.

Dun says in our bellybutton there are1400 species of bacteria, 600 of which are new to science. He adds it's like a rainforest out there.

According to Dunn appendix is an amazing organ.  All of us thought it’s a useless organ. The main role of the appendix is to act as a nature reserve for our good bacteria.  It’s also filled with a common antibody in our gut, the IgA. When we get some severe infection in the gut and it wipes out our native bacteria, the appendix is the reserve from which recolonization of the gut is effected. It is akin to seeding from natural forest says Dunn.

On the whole reading this book is great fun. Dunn is a fine raconteur. If you have time go for it.