1 Tahrcountry Musings: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

For people interested in managing land with a focus on improving habitats and encouraging wildlife in a natural way

The John Muir Trust has launched its new Wild Land Management Standards website which illustrates the principles that guide its management of wild land.

The site is aimed at other land managers and anyone interested in managing land with a focus on improving habitats and encouraging wildlife in a natural way. It offers a range of resources including a Wild Land Management Standards Handbook, management plan template and links to useful online resources.
Even though aimed at UK’s wild land supporting natural habitats and species it would come in handy for others also.

The website details 28 wild management standards falling into six categories: management planning; soil, carbon, water; biodiversity & woodland; deer & livestock; facilities & heritage; communities, visitors & awareness.

Click HERE to go to the site

Monday, January 30, 2012

Crash in bee population - indirect effect of pesticides

A study, led by Dr Jeffrey Pettis, the head of the US Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory has come up with solid evidence that pesticides may be a major cause of collapsing bee populations. Read this against backdrop of more than 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90 per cent of the world's food getting pollinated by bees.

Researchers found that bees deliberately exposed to minute amounts of the pesticide were, on an average, three times more likely to become infected when exposed to a parasite called nosema. Environmentalist has been crying themselves hoarse for sometime that new group of insecticides called neonicotinoids are behind a worldwide decline in honey bees.  Links between widely used pesticides and pathogens have been scientifically proved now.

Imidacloprid is the bestselling neonicotinoid. Neonicotinoids are "systemic" pesticides. They effectively become part of the plant, including the pollen and nectar that bees and other pollinating insects carry away.

The new study has evinced interest worldwide

Details of the study appears in the journal Naturwissenschaften

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Top conservation award for Nik Lopoukhine, Chairman of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)

 Nik Lopoukhine, Chairman of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has been selected by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to receive the prestigious J.B. Harkin Award for 2012. The award is for his lifetime contribution to protecting Canada’s parks and wilderness. The award will be presented at a reception on February 1, 2012 at 7 PM at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa.

The award is named after Harkin, the founder of Canada’s national parks system.

Mr Lopoukhine’s contribution to Canadian Park service is nonpareil. He devised Parks Canada’s fire management program.  As Director General of National Parks for Parks Canada, he was responsible for developing and implementing important components within Canada’s New National Parks Act, the Species at Risk Act and the National Marine Conservation Act Areas.

As the elected Chair of the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Mr Lopoukhine is very active internationally

Tahrcountry salutes this magnificent officer and wish him Godspeed in his conservation ventures.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Recommendation

The book gives tools and methods using Microsoft Excel and the powerful Open Source R program to carry out data handling. How to plan for data collection, how to assemble data, how to analyse data and how to present the results are explained lucidly. Tests like t-tests, correlation, ANOVAs, regression and the non-parametric equivalents find a place in the book. Screen shots of relevant examples are a plus point. 

·         Hardcover: 334 pages
·         Publisher: Pelagic Publishing Ltd (January 2, 2012)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 1907807136
·         ISBN-13: 978-1907807138

Effectively monitoring, populations of conservation concern - New single-sample approaches

Monitoring the effective population size of a brown bear (Ursus arctos) population using new single-sample approaches

Molecular Ecology, Volume 21, Issue 4, pages 862–875, February 2012

The ideal parameter for monitoring populations of conservation concern is the effective population size (Ne). It effectively summarizes both the evolutionary potential of the population and its sensitivity to genetic stochasticity.

Tracing the effective population size through time is difficult in natural populations. Here the researchers applied four new methods for estimating Ne from a single sample of genotypes to trace temporal change in Ne for bears in the Northern Dinaric Mountains. They genotyped 510 bears using 20 microsatellite loci and determined their age. The samples were organized into cohorts with regard to the year when the animals were born and yearly samples with age categories for every year when they were alive.

The researchers used the Estimator by Parentage Assignment (EPA) to directly estimate both Ne and generation interval for each yearly sample. For cohorts, they estimated the effective number of breeders (Nb) using linkage disequilibrium, sibship assignment and approximate Bayesian computation methods and extrapolated these estimates to Ne using the generation interval.

The Ne estimate by EPA is 276 (183–350 95% CI), meeting the inbreeding-avoidance criterion of Ne > 50 but short of the long-term minimum viable population goal of Ne > 500. The results obtained by the other methods are highly consistent with this result, and all indicate a rapid increase in Ne probably in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The researchers contend that new single-sample approaches to the estimation of Neprovide efficient means for including Ne in monitoring frameworks and will be of great importance for future management and conservation.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Orchid’s fate hinges on two factors: a forest's age and its fungi

Scientists from Smithsonian led by Dr Melissa McCormick have established that a forest's age and its fungi are very important factors for the growth of orchids.

Around 10 percent of all plant species are orchids. This makes them the largest plant family on Earth. 
Orchids depend solely on microscopic fungi in the early stages of their lives.  Orchid seeds germinated only where the fungi they needed were abundant. Mere presence was not enough. The fungi in turn displayed a strong preference for older forests. 

The new discovery has great conservation significance. To save endangered orchids, planting new forests may not be enough. If the forests are not old enough or do not have enough of the right fungi our efforts at restoring orchids may not come to fruition.

Journal Reference:
Melissa K. Mccormick, D. Lee Taylor, Katarina Juhaszova, Robert K. Burnett, Dennis F. Whigham, John P. O’Neill.Limitations on orchid recruitment: not a simple pictureMolecular Ecology, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yeti crab farms its own food

Scientists have recently found a species of crab that cultivates bacteria on its claws, and then eats them. The discovery was made by DR Andrew Thurber, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Dr Thurber has named the crab Kiwa puravida, after a common Costa Rican saying that means 'pure life'.

Dr Thurber says K. puravida waves its claws to actively farm its bacterial gardens. They stir up the water around the bacteria, ensuring that fresh supplies of oxygen and sulphide wash over them and helping them to grow. The bacteria are the crab’s main food source. 

Have a look at the videos

Dr. Ullas Karanth conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri award

Dr. Ullas Karanth, who has conducted ground breaking research on the ecology of tigers and other large mammals, has been awarded India's fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, for the year 2012. Dr. Karanth has received this award for his outstanding contribution to Wildlife Conservation and Environment Protection.

Dr Ullas Karanth has published over 135 international peer-reviewed scientific papers and popular articles, and authored seven books in English and Kannada.

Tahrcountry congratulate Dr Karanth and wish him many fruitful years of wildlife research. He truly deserves this award.

Sumatran elephant on the critically endangered list

                                            Photo Credit:WWF Indonesia

The Sumatran elephant which has lost half of its population in a single generation has been placed on the list of critically endangered species by IUCN. It is now at risk of becoming extinct within decades. There is a loss of 69% of the animal's habitat over the past 25 years. Sumatra has experienced one of the worst deforestation rates in the world

The total wild population is around 2,800 only. WWF has called for an immediate moratorium on habitat destruction to stem the tide. Indonesia needs to keep a close watch on loggers and plantation owners. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Multi-scale models offer an important tool for identifying conservation requirements at the fine landscape level

Using multi-scale modelling to predict habitat suitability for species of conservation concern: The grey long-eared bat as a case study
Orly Razgour,Julia Hanmer,Gareth Jones
Biological Conservation, Volume 144, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 2922–2930

Habitat suitability modelling has been used traditionally to understand broad-scale patterns of species distribution. It also comes in handy to address conservation needs at finer scales.

Studies combining a range of scales for understanding ecological processes are rare. Here the researchers studied the ability of presence-only species distribution modelling to predict patterns of habitat selection at broad and fine spatial scales for one of most endangered animal in the UK, the grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus).

Models were constructed with Maxent using broad-scale distribution data from across the UK and fine-scale radio-tracking data from bats at one colony. Fine-scale model predictions were evaluated with radio-tracking locations from bats from a distant colony. This was compared with results of traditional radio-tracking data analysis methods.

Broad-scale models indicated that winter temperature, summer precipitation and land cover were the most important variables limiting the distribution of the grey long-eared bat in the UK. Fine-scale models predicted that proximity to unimproved grasslands and distance to suburban areas determines foraging habitat suitability around maternity colonies. Compositional analysis identified unimproved grasslands as the most preferred foraging habitat type.

The authors say this strong association with unimproved lowland grasslands highlights the potential importance of changes in agricultural practices in the past century for wildlife conservation. They reiterate that multi-scale models offer an important tool for identifying conservation requirements at the fine landscape level that can guide national-level conservation management practices.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The need to integrate phylogeny to improve models of community structure and dynamics

Phylogenetic signal in predator–prey body-size relationships
Russell E. Naisbit,Patrik Kehrli,Rudolf P. Rohr,and Louis-Félix Bersier
 Ecology,Volume 92, Issue 12 (December 2011)

Body mass affects metabolism, life history, and population abundance. It frequently sets bounds in food chain.  
Based on a collection of topological food webs, Ulrich Brose and colleagues presented a general relationship between the body mass of predators and their prey. Brose analysed how mean predator–prey body-mass ratios differed among habitats and predator metabolic categories.

Here the researchers show that the general body-mass relationship conceals significant variation associated with both predator and prey phylogeny. They say Major-axis regressions between the log body mass of predators and prey differed among taxonomic groups. The global pattern for Kingdom Animalia had slope >1, but phyla and classes varied, and several had slopes significantly <1. The researchers contend that predator–prey body-mass ratio can therefore decrease or increase with increasing body mass, depending on the taxon considered.

The researchers also found a significant phylogenetic signal in analyses of prey body-mass range for predators and predator body-mass range for prey, with stronger signal in the former.

The researchers sign off with the following words” Besides providing insights into how characteristics of trophic interactions evolve, our results emphasize the need to integrate phylogeny to improve models of community structure and dynamics or to achieve a metabolic theory of food-web ecology.”

Musicians against Illegal Logging

Here is a video featuring Razia Said, Malagasy singer and songwriter. The video highlights the plight of Madagascar's protected tropical forests which are being ravaged by unscrupulous foreign contractors.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wildlife conservation - A very sad incident that just recently occurred in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

IUCN WCPA News Release

Park rangers protect the natural areas that we all enjoy and benefit from – sometimes risking paying the highest price, as is demonstrated by the tragic incident that just recently occurred in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington:
Park ranger Margaret Anderson, 34, was shot on New Year’s Day while on duty. She set up a traffic block to stop a car that had passed an earlier checkpoint violating some winter driving regulations. The driver opened fire, killing her, and then fled into the woods. His body was found dead in the park the next day.

Margaret Anderson leaves behind a husband, who is also a ranger, and two young girls. Nearly 3,000 people attended the memorial service on 10 January. Even though she was only the 9th ranger killed on duty in the history of the US National Park Service, the numbers have increased over the last 20 years.

In other countries around the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, rangers have to face even greater danger on their job, arising not only from the risk associated to their work in the wild but often from humans; particularly in a pace of armed conflicts and difficult anti-poaching operations. The great risks that rangers such as Margaret Anderson and her colleagues worldwide take to protect our nature should not be underestimated. They are protecting places that contribute to the health of the planet and therefore benefit all of us. These “guardians” of an increasingly threatened nature deserves society’s respect and highest recognition.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New book on Carnivore Ecology and Conservation

Carnivore Ecology and Conservation
A Handbook of Techniques
Edited by Luigi Boitani and Roger A. Powell
Oxford University Press, UK

Techniques in Ecology & Conservation
528 pages | 60 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-955853-7 | Paperback | 12 January 2012
Also available as: Hardback

The book provides concise, yet authoritative descriptions of the most common techniques used to study wild carnivores and to conserve and manage their populations within increasingly human-dominated landscapes
Collates and synthesizes a widely dispersed literature, creating a single handbook for its application to field work
Descriptions of the latest techniques are supported by references to case studies, whilst dedicated boxes are used to illustrate how a technique is applied to a specific land cover type, species, or particular socio-economic context
Cheryl S. Asa, Saint Louis Zoo, USA 
Julie Betsch, University of Montana, USA 
Luigi Boitani, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy
Urs Breitenmoser, University of Berne, Switzerland 
Christine Breitenmoser-Würsten, KORA, Switzerland 
Marc R. L. Cattet, University of Saskatchewan, Canada Paolo Ciucci, Department of Biology and Biotechnologies, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy
Deana L. Clifford, California Department of Fish and Game, USA and Wildlife Health Center, University of California, Davis, USA 
Hilary S. Cooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USA 
David Christianson, Montana State University, USA 
Kerry R. Foresman, The University of Montana, USA 
Mark R. Fuller, US Geological Survey and Boise State University, USA
Todd K. Fuller, University of Massachusetts, USA 
Mourad W. Gabriel, Integral Ecology Research Center, USA and University of California, Davis, USA 
Jean-Michel Gaillard, Université Lyon 1, France
Eric M. Gese, Utah State University, USA 
Duncan Halley, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway
Mark Hebblewhite, University of Montana, USA
K. Ullas Karanth, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bangalore, India
Marcella J. Kelly, Virginia Tech, USA 
Frederick F. Knowlton, Utah State University, USA 
John D.C. Linnell, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway 
Annette Mertens, Institute of Applied Ecology, Rome, Italy
Bernardo Mesa, Virginia Tech, USA 
L. Scott Mills, University of Montana, USA 
Michael S. Mitchell, US Geological Survey and University of Montana, USA 
Alessio Mortelliti, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy
James D. Nichols, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USA 
Erlend B. Nilsen, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway 
John Odden, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway
Morten Odden, Hedmark University College, Norway
Manuela Panzacchi, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway
Kenneth H. Pollock, Murdoch University, Australia 
Roger A. Powell, North Carolina State University, USA 
Gilbert Proulx, Alpha Wildlife Research & Management Ltd., Canada 
Carlo Rondinini, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy
Michael K. Stoskopf, North Carolina State University, USA
Carole Toigo, ONCFS, Gières, France
Greta M. Wengert, Integral Ecology Research Center, USA and University of California, Davis, USA 
Claudia Wultsch, Virginia Tech, USA 
Barbara Zimmermann, Hedmark University College, Norway

Dr Ullas Karanth co-authored chapter titled "Estimating demographic parameters", with Ken Pollock and Jim Nichols.
Dr Ullas Karanth was kind enough to send me a copy of this excellent paper. I thank him for this wonderful gesture

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Whale Protected Areas Google Earth Tour from IUCN

The other day I was discussing with my friend Ramesh, the merits of a recent video from IUCN, titled  Whale Protected Areas Google Earth Tour. Ramesh was delighted with the video and wanted me to embed it here

Meet sperm whales, humpback whales and blue whales in the special places where they live. This animated Google Earth Tour is narrated by Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s World Commission on Protected Areas, and follows the migrations of whales above and below the surface, visiting some of the key marine protected areas and sanctuaries for whales around the world. This Google Earth Tour was first presented as part of a keynote lecture by Dan Laffoley at the opening of the 2nd International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA) on 7 November 2011 in Martinique. It was prepared with the help of Jenifer Austin Foulkes (Google), Charlotte Vick (Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue) and Erich Hoyt (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society/IUCN) and features a segment on the Arctic Ocean with Dr. Sylvia Earle, IUCN’s Ambassador for Nature. It was prepared with the help of Jenifer Austin Foulkes (Google), Charlotte Vick (Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue) and Erich Hoyt (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society/IUCN).

Typical variability in abundance, failure to detect initial declines and errors in classification of extinction risk

Population Abundance and the Classification of Extinction Risk
Conservation Biology, Volume 25, Issue 4, pages 747–757, August 2011

In conservation practice classifying species according to their risk of extinction is common. The authors of this paper say the reliability of such classifications rests on the accuracy of threat categorizations, but very little is known about the magnitude and types of errors that might be expected.
The process of risk classification depends on information gleaned from multiple sources. The quality of information from each source is critical to evaluating the overall status of the species.
Abundance is a direct indicator of effectiveness of measure of conservation. So counts of individuals are generally the preferred method of evaluating whether there  is a decline in abundance
Using the thresholds from criterion A of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (critically endangered, decline in abundance of >80% over 10 years or 3 generations; endangered, decline in abundance of 50–80%; vulnerable, decline in abundance of 30–50%; least concern or near threatened, decline in abundance of 0–30%), the researchers  assessed 3 methods used to detect declines solely from estimates of abundance: use of just 2 estimates of abundance; use of linear regression on a time series of abundance; and use of state-space models on a time series of abundance.
The researchers generated simulation data from empirical estimates of the typical variability in abundance and assessed the 3 methods for classification errors.
The researchers say the estimates of the proportion of falsely detected declines for linear regression and the state-space models were low (maximum 3–14%), but 33–75% of small declines (30–50% over 15 years) were not detected. Ignoring uncertainty in estimates of abundance (with just 2 estimates of abundance) allowed more power to detect small declines (95%), but there was a high percentage (50%) of false detections. For all 3 methods, the proportion of declines estimated to be >80% was higher than the true proportion.
The researchers contend that use of abundance data to detect species at risk of extinction may either fail to detect initial declines in abundance or have a high error rate.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bird-friendly lighting on oil and gas platforms urgently needed

The recent unexpected discovery of woodpeckers, tanagers, meadowlarks, catbirds, kingbirds, and swallows in the diet of Tiger sharks has prompted environmentalists to request authorities to fix bird friendly lighting on oil and gas platforms.  The scientists led by Dr Marcus Drymon, were studying the diets of the sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and the results were a surprise for the researchers.

Large numbers of night-migrating birds are fatally attracted to lighted oil and gas platforms. This happens more often on cloudy nights. Some birds circle in confusion before crashing into the platform or the open sea, exhausted. Even if the birds mange to fly off after some time they fall easy prey to predators.

Scientists say using green lighting at platforms would nearly eliminate the circling behaviour. Cycling lighting off and on is also proving to be real beneficial. Strobing white and red lights have far  less propensity,  than steady burning ones.

Netherlands has already instituted bird friendly lighting on oil and gas platforms off their coast. Conservationists want other countries to follow suit.

Human societies as driving forces of ecosystem change

Advancing the Integration of History and Ecology for Conservation
Conservation Biology, Volume 25Issue 4pages 680–687August 2011

Here is another very interesting paper that I managed to read this weekend. The authors of the paper discuss the importance of advancing the integration of history and ecology for Conservation.

Even though the important role of humans in the development of current ecosystems was recognized decades ago, the integration of history and ecology has been a difficult process. The researchers identified four issues that hinder historical ecological research and considered possible solutions

1)      The differences in concepts and methods between the fields of ecology and history are large. The researchers say most of the differences stem from miscommunication between ecologists and historians and are less substantial than is usually assumed. They add on that cooperation can be achieved by focusing on the features ecology and history has in common and through understanding and acceptance of differing points of view. 

2)      The researchers contend that historical ecological research is often hampered by differences in spatial and temporal scales between ecology and history. They argue that historical ecological research can only be conducted at extents for which sources in both disciplines have comparable resolutions. Researchers must begin by clearly defining the relevant scales for the given purpose. 

3)      Periods for which quantitative historical sources are not easily accessible (before AD 1800) have been neglected in historical ecological research. However data from periods before 1800 are as relevant to the current state of ecosystems as more recent data. The researchers suggest that historical ecologists actively seek out data from before 1800 and apply analytic methods commonly used in ecology to these data.

4)       Humans are not usually considered an intrinsic ecological factor in current ecological research. In the researchers view, human societies should be acknowledged as integral parts of ecosystems and societal processes should be recognized as driving forces of ecosystem change.