Vulnerability of sharks as collateral damage in commercial fishing shown by study

A new study that examined the survival rates of 12 different shark species when captured as unintentional bycatch in commercial longline fishing operations found large differences in survival rates across the 12 species, with bigeye thresher, dusky, and scalloped hammerhead being the most vulnerable. The study, led by researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and UM Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, provides new information to consider for future conservation measures for sharks in the Northwest Atlantic. The unintentional capture of a fish species when targeting another species, known as bycatch, is one of the largest threats facing many marine fish populations.Researchers from UM and the National Marine Fisheries Service analyzed over 10 years of shark bycatch data from the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico tuna and swordfish longline fisheries to examine how survival rates of sharks were affected by fishing duration, hook depth, sea temperature, animal size and the target fish. Some species, such as the tiger shark, exhibited over 95% survival, whereas other species survival was significantly lower, in the 20-40% range, such as night shark and scalloped hammerheads.”Our study found that the differences in how longline fishing is actually conducted, such as the depth, duration, and time-of-day that the longlines are fished can be a major driver of shark survival, depending on the species,” said UM Rosenstiel School Ph.D student and lead author Austin Gallagher. “At-vessel mortality is a crucial piece of the puzzle in terms of assessing the vulnerability of these open-ocean populations, some of which are highly threatened.”The researchers also generated overall vulnerability rankings of species taking into account not only their survival, but also reproductive potential. They found that species most at risk were those with both very slow reproductive potential and unusual body features, such as hammerheads and thresher sharks. The paper’s authors suggest that bycatch likely played an important role in the decline of scalloped hammerhead species in the Northwest Atlantic, which has been considered for increased international and national protections, such as the U.S. Endangered Species List.The researchers suggest that high at-vessel mortality, slow maturity, and specialized body structures combine for the perfect mixture to become extinction-prone.”Our results suggest that some shark species are being fished beyond their ability to replace themselves,” said UM Research Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag. “Certain sharks, such as big eye threshers and scalloped hammerheads, are prone to rapidly dying on the line once caught and techniques that reduce their interactions with fishing gear in the first place may be the best strategy for conserving these species.”The study, titled “Vulnerability of oceanic sharks as pelagic longline bycatch” was published online in the open-access journal Global Ecology and Conservation.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Deforestation of sandy soils a greater climate threat

Deforestation may have far greater consequences for climate change in some soils than in others, according to new research led by Yale University scientists — a finding that could provide critical insights into which ecosystems must be managed with extra care because they are vulnerable to biodiversity loss and which ecosystems are more resilient to widespread tree removal.In a comprehensive analysis of soil collected from 11 distinct U.S. regions, from Hawaii to northern Alaska, researchers found that the extent to which deforestation disturbs underground microbial communities that regulate the loss of carbon into the atmosphere depends almost exclusively on the texture of the soil. The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology.”We were astonished that biodiversity changes were so strongly affected by soil texture and that it was such an overriding factor,” said Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study. “Texture overrode the effects of all the other variables that we thought might be important, including temperature, moisture, nutrient concentrations, and soil pH.”The study is a collaboration among Yale researchers and colleagues at the University of Boulder, Colorado and the University of Kentucky.A serious consequence of deforestation is extensive loss of carbon from the soil, a process regulated by subterranean microbial diversity. Drastic changes to the microbial community are expected to allow more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, with the potential to exaggerate global warming.Specifically, the researchers found that deforestation dramatically alters microbial communities in sandy soils, but has minimal effects in muddy, clay-like soils, even after extensive tree removal.According to the researchers, particles in fine, clay-like soil seem to have a larger surface area to bind nutrients and water. This capacity might buffer soil microbes against the disturbance of forest removal, they said. In contrast, sandy soils have larger particles with less surface area, retaining fewer nutrients and less organic matter.”If you disrupt the community in a sandy soil, all of the nutrients the microbes rely on for food are leached away: they’re lost into the atmosphere, lost into rivers, lost through rain,” Crowther said. “But in clay-like soil, you can cut down the forest and the nutrients remain trapped tightly in the muddy clay.”The researchers also examined how the effects of deforestation on microbial biodiversity change over time. Contrary to their expectations, they found no correlation, even over the course of 200 years.”The effects are consistent, no matter how long ago deforestation happened,” Crowther said. “In a clay soil, you cut down the forest and the nutrients are retained for long periods of time and the community doesn’t change. …

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Increasing longevity of seeds with genetic engineering

A study developed by researchers of the Institute for Plant Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMCP), a joint center of the Universitat Politcnica de Valncia and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in collaboration with the Unit for Plant Genomics Research of Evry, France (URGV, in French) has discovered a new way of improving the longevity of plant seeds using genetic engineering. Plant Physiology magazine has published the research results.The key is the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene. This gene encodes a protein that regulates gene expression, producing a new mutant that gives the seed new properties. Researchers have proven that this mutant has more gibberellin -the hormone that promotes plant growth-, which means the seed coat is reinforced as well. “The seed coat is responsible for preventing oxygen from entering the seed; the increase in gibberellin strengthens it and this leads to a more durable and longer lasting seed,” explains Eduardo Bueso, researcher at the IBMCP (UPV-CSIC).This mechanism is new, as tolerance to stresses such as aging has always been associated with another hormone, abscisic acid, which regulates defenses based on proteins and small protective molecules, instead of producing the growth of structures like gibberellin does.The study has been made on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a species that presents great advantages for molecular biology research. Researchers of the IBMCP traced half a million seeds, related to one hundred thousand lines of Arabidopsis mutated by T-DNA insertion, using the natural system of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. “Finally, we analyzed four mutants in the study and we proved the impact on the seed longevity when the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene is introduced,” states Ramn Serrano, researcher at the IBMCP.Researchers compared the longevity of genetically modified Arabidopsis seeds and seeds which were not modified. In order to do this, they preserved them for thirty months under specific conditions of room temperature and humidity. After thirty months, only 20% of the control plants germinated again, whereas almost the all of the modified plants (90%) began the germination process again.Researchers of the IBMCP are now trying to improve the longevity of different species that are of agronomical interest, such as tomatoes or wheat.Biodiversity and benefits for farmersThis discovery is particularly significant for the conservation of biodiversity, preserving seed species and, especially, for farmers.”In the past, a lot of different plant species were cultivated, but many of them are dissapearing because high performance crops have now become a priority. Seed banks were created in order to guarantee the conservation of species, but they require a periodical regeneration of the seeds. …

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Preserving large carnivores in ecosystem requires multifaceted approach

Carnivore management is not just a numbers game, Virginia Tech wildlife scientists assert in response to an article in the Jan. 10 issue of the journal Science that urged “minimum population densities be maintained for persistence of large carnivores, biodiversity, and ecosystem structure.””This type of approach may fail in social carnivore species,” said Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “Predator management is incredibly complex and we need to be extremely cautious in applying blanket approaches which rely on securing some target number or density of individuals in an ecosystem.”The research-based argument appears in a letter in the March 14 issue of Science and an article abstract in the October 2013 issue of the journal Population Ecology.”Life history strategy, including number of offspring, lifespan, diet, and behavior that evolves from ecological pressures of the species in question should also guide management approaches,” wrote Alexander and Claire E. Sanderson, a postdoctoral associate in fisheries and wildlife conservation, in the Science letter.The research published in Population Ecology evaluated 45 solitary and social medium and large carnivore species and their key life history attributes, population trends, and identified the presence of factors that increase the potential for extinction.Disturbingly, 73 percent of carnivore species — both social and solitary — were declining, observed Sanderson, Sarah Jobbins, also a postdoctoral associate, and Alexander.”Social carnivores appeared to be particularly vulnerable with 45 percent threatened by infectious disease but only 3 percent of solitary carnivores similarly impacted,” they report. “In this, increased contact between individuals, disease-related mortality, and loss of individuals below some critical threshold seems to be the issue, pushing social carnivores closer to the brink of extinction.”Reporting on their research on social carnivores, Sanderson, Jobbins, and Alexander said in the article, “Highly cohesive social species, like African wild dog, require strict participation from all group members … in all areas of life, including predator avoidance, reproductive success, hunting, and survivorship. This life-history strategy can result in enhanced fitness benefits for the group, but also a higher critical threshold for extinction.””The number of individuals in the group then becomes the critical factor influencing population persistence,” said Sanderson.For example, rabies and distemper have caused local extinction of African wild dog in regions of Africa. Even in a large population, transmission of an infectious disease from only a few infected individuals can result in sufficient mortality to push groups below a critical threshold, ultimately threatening population persistence, the researchers report.It has been found in certain ecosystems that when wild dog packs are reduced to less than four individuals, they may be unable to rear pups because of trade-offs between specialized roles, such as pup guarding and hunting.”While aggregation of conspecifics may be beneficial for reproduction, hunting, and vigilance, social living is a disadvantage when it comes to transmission of disease,” according to Alexander’s research.Also a wildlife veterinarian, she cofounded the Centre for Conservation of African Resources: Animals, Communities and Land Use, in Kasane, Botswana and has been conducting research in Africa since the late 1980s.”Failure to consider the impacts of group dynamics may result in underestimation of critical threshold population sizes or densities required for population persistence,” Sanderson, Jobbins, and Alexander write.Alexander and Sanderson conclude in their letter in Science, “We urge consideration of life-history strategy and social behavior in the development of carnivore management strategy.”

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Ecotourism reduces poverty near protected parks, research shows

Protected natural areas in Costa Rica reduced poverty by 16 percent in neighboring communities, mainly by encouraging ecotourism, according to new research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Although earlier studies indicated that establishing protected areas in poor regions can lead to reductions in poverty, there was no clear understanding why or how it happens.”Our goal was to show exactly how environmental protection can reduce poverty in poorer nations rather than exacerbate it, as many people fear,” says co-author Paul Ferraro, a professor of economics and environmental policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.In their article, “Quantifying causal mechanisms to determine how protected areas affect poverty through changes in ecosystem services and infrastructure,” Ferraro and Georgia State alumnus Merlin Hanauer, now on the Economics faculty at Sonoma State University, examine three potential causes of poverty reduction linked to the establishment of protected areas:changes in tourism and recreational services, changes in infrastructure including roads, health clinics and schools, and changes in ecosystem services such as the pollination and hydrological services a protected area may offer. They find that increased tourism accounts for two-thirds of the reduction in poverty caused by protected areas. Changes in infrastructure and land use had little effect on the poverty in surrounding communities.”Our results suggest that by using existing data sets such as poverty estimates from census data, the impacts of conservation programs and policies on human populations can be better defined,” says Ferraro. “Our findings may result in improved conservation programs and policies, and better impacts on the communities adjacent to these sites, locally and around the globe.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Georgia State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Livestock found ganging up on pandas at the bamboo buffet

Pandas, it turns out, aren’t celebrating the Year of the Horse.Livestock, particularly horses, have been identified as a significant threat to panda survival. The reason: They’re beating the pandas to the bamboo buffet. A paper by Michigan State University panda habitat experts published in this week’s Journal for Nature Conservation explores an oft-hidden yet significant conflict in conservation.”Across the world, people are struggling to survive in the same areas as endangered animals, and often trouble surfaces in areas we aren’t anticipating,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State University (MSU). “Creating and maintaining successful conservation policy means constantly looking for breakdowns in the system. In this case, something as innocuous as a horse can be a big problem.”China invests billions to protect giant panda habitat and preserve the 1,600 remaining endangered wildlife icons living there. For years, timber harvesting has been the panda’s biggest threat. Pandas have specific habitat needs — they eat only bamboo and stay in areas with gentle slopes that are far from humans. Conservation programs that limit timber harvesting have chalked up wins in preserving such habitat.Vanessa Hull, a doctoral student in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS), has been living off and on for seven years in the Wolong Nature Reserve, most recently tracking pandas she’s equipped with GPS collars. She has been working to better understand how these elusive and isolated animals move about and use natural resources.Over the years, she started noticing it wasn’t just pandas chowing on bamboo.”It didn’t take particular panda expertise to know that something was amiss when we’d come upon horse-affected bamboo patches. They were in the middle of nowhere and it looked like someone had been in there with a lawn mower,” Hull said.Alarmed by the growing devastation, she learned that some of Wolong’s farmers, who traditionally hadn’t kept horses, had been talking to friends outside of the reserve who had been cashing in by raising them. …

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Agricultural productivity loss a result of soil, crop damage from flooding

The Cache River Basin, which once drained more than 614,100 acres across six southern Illinois counties, has changed substantively since the ancient Ohio River receded. The basin contains a slow-moving, meandering river; fertile soils and productive farmlands; deep sand and gravel deposits; sloughs and uplands; and one of the most unique and diverse natural habitats in Illinois and the nation.According to a recent University of Illinois study, the region’s agricultural lands dodged a bullet due to the timing of the great flood of April 2011 when the Ohio River approached the record high of 332.2 feet above sea level.“The floodwaters eventually drained back into the Ohio River and upper Mississippi River ultimately leaving approximately 1,000 acres of agricultural land flooded from a backup in the middle and lower Cache River Valley, which flooded the adjacent forest-covered alluvial soils and the slightly higher cultivated soils,” said U of I researcher Ken Olson.According to Olson, who has studied the effects of that particular flood extensively, these cultivated soils drained by the middle of June 2011 and were planted to soybeans. The floodwaters left a thin silt and clay deposition on the agricultural lands and crop residue when they receded. These coatings included significant amounts of soil organic carbon, microbes, and pathogens. After the coatings dried, they were incorporated into the topsoil layer of the alluvial soils using tillage equipment.“Because the flooding occurred during the non-growing season for corn and soybeans, the mixing in of sediment into the topsoil prior to planting resulted in little significant loss of soil productivity, little soybean damage, or yield reduction on lands outside the levees along the Mississippi, Cache, and Ohio rivers,” Olson said.As a result of the record Ohio River flood level, floodwaters passed north through the Post Creek cut-off, then west through the 2002 Karnak breach and into the middle Cache River valley to the Diversion to Mississippi River, which was already above flood stage so the floodwaters continued west. In late April, the Ohio River floodwaters then started to flood the towns of Olive Branch and Miller City, the Horseshoe Lake area, and surrounding agricultural lands. On May 2, 2011, the Len Small levee on the Mississippi River failed and resulted in the flooding of an additional 30,000 acres of Illinois public and private lands.Illinois agricultural statistics recorded the harvest of 4,500 fewer acres of corn and 6,500 fewer acres of soybeans in Alexander County in 2011. Soybean production was 1,200,000 bushels in 2010 but dropped to 865,000 bushels in 2011 due to flooding from both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and crop and soil damage. The floodwaters also scoured lands in some places and deposited sand in other locations.Olson cautioned that, had winter wheat been planted outside the levees in the fall of 2010, the wheat crop would have drowned. “Illinois farmers are aware of the flooding potential, especially in the winter and early spring, so they don’t plant winter wheat on unprotected bottomlands,” he said. …

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Why did the orangutan come down from the trees?

Orangutans come down from the trees and spend more time on the ground than previously realised — but this behaviour may be partly influenced by humans, a new study has found.Dr Mark Harrison, based in the Department of Geography at the University of Leicester and Managing Director of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) has, along with international colleagues, published results of a seven year study of Orangutans in Borneo in the journal Scientific Reports.The research, conducted between June 2006 and March 2013, is based on a large-scale analysis of Orangutan terrestriality using comprehensive camera-trapping data from 16 sites across Borneo. In total there were 641 independent Orangutan records taken at 1,409 camera trap stations over 159,152 trap days.The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is the world’s largest arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammal. Records of terrestrial behaviour are rare and tend to be associated with habitat disturbance.Marc Ancrenaz, from the HUTAN / Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme in Malaysia, and colleagues conducted the study. Dr Harrison, said: “We’ve known for some time that Orangutans use the ground to travel and search for food, but the influence of anthropogenic disturbances in driving this behaviour has been unclear. This is crucial to understand in this age of rampant forest loss and fragmentation, which is slicing up the Orangutan’s jungle home.”We found that although the degree of forest disturbance and canopy gap size influenced terrestriality, Orangutans were recorded on the ground as often in heavily degraded habitats as in primary forests.”All age-sex classes were recorded on the ground, but flanged males — those with distinctive cheek pads and throat pouches — travel on the ground more. This suggests that terrestrial locomotion is a greater part of the Bornean Orangutan’s natural behavioural repertoire than previously understood and is only modified by habitat disturbance.”Dr Harrison added: “The capacity of Orangutans to come down from the trees may increase their ability to cope with at least smaller-scale forest fragmentation, and to cross moderately open spaces in mosaic landscapes, although the extent of this versatility remains to be investigated.”The authors report that more than 70% of Orangutans occur in fragmented multiple-use and human-modified forests that have lost many of their original ecological characteristics. Modified Orangutan behaviour which sees them increasingly spending time on the ground therefore has its pros and cons:Dr Harrison explains that, “Increased terrestriality is expected to increase predation risk, interactions with and persecution by humans, and exposure to novel diseases. Unlike in Sumatra, where tigers are present, predation is less of a concern in Borneo, although infants might be at risk from bearded pigs and clouded leopards. In recent history, their biggest predator has been man, who is actually more likely to pick Orangutans off in the trees: Orangutans make a lot of noise and so are very obvious in the trees, whereas they can move with almost no noise and so more easily get away on the ground.”The scientists report that terrestrial behaviour therefore could also facilitate movement and dispersal, especially in degraded or fragmented landscapes as a result of natural or human-made processes. This could also create new opportunities to access different food sources.”Dr Harrison concludes: “Ultimately, a better understanding of what drives Orangutan terrestriality, how this influences their dispersal, movement and survival in a human-modified landscapes is important for designing effective management strategies for conservation of this endangered species in Borneo.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leicester. …

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Researchers discover rare new species of deep-diving whale

Researchers have identified a new species of mysterious beaked whale based on the study of seven animals stranded on remote tropical islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans over the past 50 years.Beaked whales, a widespread but little-known family of toothed whales distantly related to sperm whales, are found in deep ocean waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf throughout the world’s oceans.”They are rarely seen at sea due to their elusive habits, long dive capacity and apparent low abundance for some species. Understandably, most people have never heard of them,” says international team leader, Dr Merel Dalebout, a visiting research fellow at UNSW.The study of the new species, Mesoplodon hotaula, is published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.The first specimen was a female found on a Sri Lankan beach more than 50 years ago.On 26 January 1963, a 4.5 metre-long, blue-grey beaked whale washed up at Ratmalana near Colombo. The then director of the National Museums of Ceylon, P.E.P (Paulus) Deraniyagala, described it as a new species, and named it Mesoplodon hotaula, after the local Singhala words for ‘pointed beak’.However, two years later, other researchers reclassified this specimen as an existing species, Mesoplodon ginkgodens, named for the tusk-like teeth of the adult males that are shaped like the leaves of a ginkgo tree.”Now it turns out that Deraniyagala was right regarding the uniqueness of the whale he identified. While it is closely related to the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, it is definitely not the same species,” says Dr Dalebout.The researchers used a combination of DNA analysis and physical characteristics to identify the new species from seven specimens found stranded in Sri Lanka, the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Line Islands near Hawai’i, the Maldives, and the Seychelles.The new specimens are held by various institutions and groups, including the US Smithsonian National Museum in Washington DC, the Island Conservation Society in the Seychelles, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The genetic analyses were conducted as part of an international collaboration with the US NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University.The researchers were able to get good quality DNA from tissue samples from only one specimen. For the others, they drilled the bones of the whales in order to analyse short fragments of ‘ancient DNA’ relying on techniques commonly used with old sub-fossil material from extinct species.The researchers also studied all other known beaked whale species to confirm the distinctiveness of Deraniyagala’s whale, including six specimens of the closely related, gingko-toothed beaked whale.”A number of species in this group are known from only a handful of animals, and we are still finding new ones, so the situation with Deraniyagala’s whale is not that unusual,” Dr Dalebout says.”For example, the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, first described in 1963, is only known from about 30 strandings and has never been seen alive at sea with any certainty. It’s always incredible to me to realise how little we really do know about life in the oceans. There’s so much out there to discover. “Over the last 10 years or so, two other new beaked whales have come to light; both through research in which Dr Dalebout was involved. In 2002, Mesoplodon perrini or Perrin’s beaked whale, was described from the eastern North Pacific, and in 2003, Mesoplodon traversii, the spade-toothed whale, was described from the Southern Ocean. …

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Communities prepared to be resettled for sake of conserving tigers

Research from the University of Kent has revealed that people in the western Terai Arc Landscape, India, are prepared to relocate their homes and families to help conserve tigers.Undertaken by researchers from the University’s Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE), the research evaluates the ecological and habitat needs of wildlife in the region and the socio-economic needs and priorities of the local forest-dependent community, known as the Gujjars.The research aims to provide an objective framework for conservationists and policymakers to prioritize efforts in order to reach their goal of doubling tiger numbers by 2022.Described in two published papers, the research provides evidence that recovery of wild tiger populations can be achieved hand-in-hand with meeting the livelihood aspirations of the Gujjars.In the first part of the research, the team found that by reintroducing tigers into a section of the landscape that suffers from a lack of connectivity to high density tiger populations, as well as carrying out targeted actions to recover important tiger prey at specific sites across the landscape, there was the potential to increase tiger populations by around 68%.Results from the second part showed an overwhelming preference among Gujjars households interviewed for resettlement outside the forests. This signalled an unexpected opportunity to expand inviolate habitat for tigers in a specific human-dominated landscape by meeting larger livelihood issues for local people, such as better access to education and health services.Principal researcher, Abishek Harihar of DICE, said: ‘With targets to double tiger numbers by 2022, our research could mark a significant change in tiger conservation in India and across tiger range countries. Likewise, it can provide an objective framework for conservationists and policy makers to focus their conservation priorities on ways to delineate “inviolate core” and “areas of coexistence.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Kent. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Habitat research methods give a new peek at tiger life

Oct. 18, 2013 — From a tiger’s point of view, yesterday’s thoughtful conservation plans might be today’s reason to branch out. An international team of researchers has found a useful way to better understand the tiger’s take on policy.Twelve years ago, a team led by Jianguo “Jack” Liu at Michigan State University (MSU) showed that China needed to revisit how it was protecting its pandas. Now research on tiger habitat in Nepal, published this week’s Ecosphere journal of the Ecological Society of America, again shows that conservation demands not only good policy, but monitoring even years down the road.”Understanding long-term outcomes of conservation programs is crucial and requires innovative methods,” Liu said. “Now we’re learning that Nepal’s outstanding efforts to protect tigers are best supported with close monitoring because conservation situations are so dynamic. In both cases, the key is to understand how the people who live near the valued wildlife are faring as well.”Neil Carter, who recently received a doctoral degree from MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, follows up on trailblazing research of Liu, his adviser.Carter has spent years studying endangered tigers in Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s Himalayan lowlands. The park, established in 1973 to protect both the tigers and the area’s biodiversity, was not without cost to the people who live around the area. Those residents depend on the same forests for wood for fuel and building and grasses to thatch roofs and feed their livestock, and the policies that govern it are top-down, with little input from residents.In 1996, Nepal added a buffer zone next to the park to both improve the area’s ecosystem and help improve the livelihoods of the people who live there. In the buffer zone, people are allowed both more access to the forest’s resources and more say in its management.In Ecosphere, Carter reports a unique approach to monitoring the condition of the tiger’s habitat by combining satellite images and camera trap data on where the tigers were hanging out.Tigers like grasslands, which support high prey numbers and likely give tigers cover to hunt their prey. Because tigers require large areas, they prefer their cover not be too broken up.Turns out that growing human populations around Nepal are growing, and with that increasing unauthorized human use of local natural resources, is reducing the quality of tiger habitat inside Chitwan National Park. …

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Longer life for humans linked to further loss of endangered species

Oct. 9, 2013 — As human life expectancy increases, so does the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals, according to a new study by the University of California, Davis.The study, published in the September issue of Ecology and Society, examined a combination of 15 social and ecological variables — from tourism and per capita gross domestic product to water stress and political stability. Then researchers analyzed their correlations with invasive and endangered birds and mammals, which are two indicators of what conservationist Aldo Leopold termed “land sickness,” the study said.Human life expectancy, which is rarely included among indexes that examine human impacts on the environment, surfaced as the key predictor of global invasions and extinctions.”It’s not a random pattern,” said lead author Aaron Lotz, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology when the study was conducted. “Out of all this data, that one factor — human life expectancy — was the determining factor for endangered and invasive birds and mammals.”The study analyzed data from 100 countries, which included roughly 87 percent of the world’s population, 43 percent of global GDP per capita, and covered 74 percent of Earth’s total land area. Additional factors considered were agricultural intensity, rainfall, pesticide regulation, energy efficiency, wilderness protection, latitude, export-import ratio, undernourishment, adult literacy, female participation in government, and total population.The findings include:New Zealand, the United States and the Philippines had among the highest percentages of endangered and invasive birds. New Zealand had the highest percentage of all endangered and invasive species combined, largely due to its lack of native terrestrial mammals. The study said that in the past 700 to 800 years since the country was colonized, it has experienced massive invasion by nonindigenous species, resulting in catastrophic biodiversity loss. African countries had the lowest percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals. These countries have had very little international trade, which limits opportunities for biological invasion. As GDP per capita — a standard measure of affluence — increased in a country, so did the percentage of invasive birds and mammals. …

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Novel method to identify suitable new homes for animals under threat from climate change

Sep. 5, 2013 — Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have devised a novel method to identify suitable new homes for animals under threat from climate change.Conservation scientists used their knowledge on species ecology to create habitat suitability maps and correctly identify sites that will remain viable in the future regardless of changing climate. However, the key for success is to understand, and account for, the link between variation in species population size, climate and how the climate may change.Almost half of all bird and amphibian species are believed to be highly vulnerable to extinction from climate change. Species in extreme or rare habitats such as the emperor penguin in the Antarctic and American pika in the USA have already experienced drastic declines in populations due to the impact of climate change on their home.As climate changes, many species will need to move to a different location in order to survive. For species that aren’t able to do this naturally, the only chance of survival is a helping hand through the use of translocations.The research is published today (6 September) in the Journal of Applied Ecology.Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, ZSL’s climate change coordinator and senior author on the paper, says: “Climate change poses a worrying threat to many animals, and relocating vulnerable species to new and more suitable habitats may be the only way to protect them. However, this is an extreme conservation action, which needs to be thoroughly justified, and requires clear guidance on where threatened populations should be moved. Our research shows how these key requirements can be met.”The team used the hihi bird as an example because of the conservation success which came after efforts put into its relocation since the 1980s. Yet, despite large investments into its protection, climate change is now posing a significant threat to its future survival.Dr Alienor Chauvenet, lead author of the study, says: “All current hihi populations are surrounded by either a large stretch of water or unsuitable habitat such as farmland or cities with plenty of non-native predators. This isolation makes it very perilous for them to move and individuals attempting to relocate naturally are unlikely to survive.”Our work shows that assisted colonisation may be the only way to guarantee the survival of this unique species under climate change,” Dr Chauvenet added.Translocations will continue to be an important part of conservation as climate changes. ZSL’s novel method shows how these interventions can be planned to be successful even under the influence of a changing environment. …

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Huge owls need huge trees

Aug. 15, 2013 — A study spearheaded by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Minnesota has shown that the world’s largest owl — and one of the rarest — is also a key indicator of the health of some of the last great primary forests of Russia’s Far East.The study found that Blakiston’s fish owl relies on old-growth forests along streams for both breeding and to support healthy populations of their favorite prey: salmon. The large trees provide breeding cavities for the enormous bird, which has a two-meter (six-foot) wingspan. And when these dead, massive trees topple into adjacent streams, they disrupt water flow, forcing the gushing river around, over, and under these new obstacles. The result is stream channel complexity: a combination of deep, slow-moving backwaters and shallow, fast-moving channels that provide important microhabitats critical to salmon in different developmental stages.The study appears in the August issue of the journal Oryx. Authors include Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society, R. J. Gutiérrez of the University of Minnesota, and Sergei Surmach of the Institute of Biology and Soils (Russian Academy of Sciences).The authors studied the foraging and nesting characteristics of Blakiston’s fish owl in Primorye, Russia, where they looked at nesting habitat over 20,213 square kilometers (7,804 square miles). They found that large old trees and riparian old-growth forest were the primary distinguishing characteristics of both nest and foraging sites.The authors say that management and conservation of old-growth forests is essential for sustaining this species because they are central to the owls’ nesting and foraging behavior. Moreover, conservation of Primorye’s forests and rivers sustains habitat for many other species: including eight salmon and trout species that spawn there; some of the 12 other owl species found in Primorye; and mammals like the endangered Amur (or Siberian) tiger, Asiatic black bear, and wild boar. …

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Hope for tigers lives in Sumatra

July 29, 2013 — In time for the third annual International Tiger Day, recent findings from a camera trap survey in Sumatra, Indonesia have uncovered a burgeoning tiger stronghold on an island that typically makes headlines for its rampant loss of forests and wildlife.Mr. Tomy Winata, an Indonesian businessman, conservationist and founder of Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation (TWNC, which is a 450km2 privately managed concession), has carried out critical tiger conservation initiatives in the region since 1996, and recently partnered with Panthera, a global big cat conservation organization, to implement this successful survey.The study’s preliminary camera trap data recently indicated an unexpected density of six tigers per 100km2 in the southern region of TWNC. This estimate is nearly double the highest recorded for the island to date. These findings, including camera trap images of tiger cubs like that above, have identified Tambling, which is part of the globally significant Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP), as a beacon of hope for the last remaining 400-500 wild Sumatran tigers.Panthera’s CEO and tiger scientist, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, stated, “The extraordinary tiger densities that have been discovered in Tambling are the tangible result of Mr. Tomy Winata’s program not just to provide tigers sanctuary, but to protect them. Simply put, the main threat to tigers across their range is from poaching. Poaching is not a disease we can’t see or a threat we can’t identify. It can be beaten if the will is there to do so. Armed with a zero tolerance policy towards poaching, Mr. …

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Borneo’s orangutans are coming down from the trees

July 29, 2013 — Orangutans might be the king of the swingers, but primatologists in Borneo have found that the great apes spend a surprising amount of time walking on the ground. The research, published in the American Journal of Primatology found that it is common for orangutans to come down from the trees to forage or to travel, a discovery which may have implications for conservation efforts.An expedition led by Brent Loken from Simon Fraser University and Dr. Stephanie Spehar from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, travelled to the East Kalimantan region of Borneo. The region’s Wehea Forest is a known biodiversity hotspot for primates, including the Bornean orangutan subspecies, Pongo pygmaeus morio, the least studied of orangutan subspecies.”Orangutans are elusive and one reason why recorded evidence of orangutans on the ground is so rare is that the presence of observers inhibits this behaviour,” said Loken. “However, with camera traps we are offered a behind the scenes glimpse at orangutan behaviour.”The team positioned ground-based cameras across a 38-square-kilometre region of the forest and succeeded in capturing the first evidence of orangutans regularly coming down from the trees. The amount of time orangutans spent on the forest floor was found to be comparable to the ground-dwelling pig-tailed macaque, Macaca nemestrina, which is equally abundant in Wehea Forest. Over 8-months orangutans were photographed 110 times, while the macaques were photographed 113 times.The reason orangutans come down from the trees remains a mystery. However, while the absence of large predators may make it safer to walk on the forest floor, a more pressing influence is the rapid and unprecedented loss of Borneo’s orangutan habitat.”Borneo is a network of timber plantations, agro-forestry areas and mines, with patches of natural forest,” said Loken. “The transformation of the landscape could be forcing orangutans to change their habitat and their behaviour.”This research helps to reveal how orangutans can adapt to their changing landscape; however, this does not suggest they can just walk to new territory if their habitat is destroyed. The orangutan subspecies P. …

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Scientists identify key fungal species that help explain mysteries of white nose syndrome

July 25, 2013 — U.S. Forest Service researchers have identified what may be a key to unraveling some of the mysteries of White Nose Syndrome: the closest known non-disease causing relatives of the fungus that causes WNS. These fungi, many of them still without formal Latin names, live in bat hibernation sites and even directly on bats, but they do not cause the devastating disease that has killed millions of bats in the eastern United States. Researchers hope to use these fungi to understand why one fungus can be deadly to bats while its close relatives are benign.The study by Andrew Minnis and Daniel Lindner, both with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Madison, Wis., outlines research on the evolution of species related to the fungus causing WNS. The study is available online from the journal Fungal Biology.”Identification of the closest known relatives of this fungus makes it possible to move forward with genetic work to examine the molecular toolbox this fungus uses to kill bats,” according to Lindner, a research plant pathologist. “Ultimately, we hope to use this information to be able to interrupt the ability of this fungus to cause disease.”The study is an important step toward treating WNS, according to Mylea Bayless, Bat Conservation International’s director of conservation programs in the U.S. and Canada. “This research increases our confidence that this disease-causing fungus is, in fact, an invasive species,” Bayless said, “Its presence among bats in Europe, where it does not cause mass mortality, could suggest hope for bats suffering from this devastating wildlife disease. Time will tell.”White Nose Syndrome was first observed in 2006 in a cave in Upstate New York. …

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Dangers to biological diversity from proliferation of global cashmere garment industry

July 24, 2013 — A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Snow Leopard Trust reveals a disturbing link between the cashmere trade and the decay of ecosystems that support some of the planet’s most spectacular yet little-known large mammals.The study finds that as pastoralists expand goat herds to increase profits for the cashmere trade in Western markets, wildlife icons from the Tibetan Plateau to Mongolia suffer — including endangered snow leopard, wild yak, chiru, saiga, Bactrian camel, gazelles, and other remarkable but already endangered species of remote Central Asia. Ecological effects of the growth in goat herds include increasing conflicts with pastoralists, predation by dogs on wildlife, retaliatory killing of snow leopards, and displacement of wildlife away from critical food habitats.The study appears in the August issue of the journal Conservation Biology. Authors include: Joel Berger of WCS and University of Montana, Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar of WCS Mongolia, and Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust.Goats from this region produce high-quality fibers that, when processed into cashmere, are highly sought by western consumers. With 90 percent of the world’s cashmere emanating from China and Mongolia, the vast highlands and open spaces that once were populated by wild camel and wild yak, Przewalski’s horse, chiru, saiga antelope, Tibetan gazelle, kiang, khulan, and snow leopard are increasingly dominated by domestic goats and other livestock.The study results from fieldwork in India, western China, and Mongolia and builds upon economic data including herder profits, changes in livestock numbers, and the relative abundance of wildlife.”The consequences are dramatic and negative for iconic species that governments have signed legislation to protect, yet the wildlife is continually being squeezed into a no-win situation,” says lead author, Joel Berger, a biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and professor at University of Montana. “Herders are doing what we would do — just trying to improve their livelihoods, and who can blame them?”The purpose of the study is to raise awareness among western consumers about the origins of cashmere and its growing impact on wildlife. The authors suggest that the study should serve as the beginning of a dialog among the garment industry, cashmere herders, and conservationists to address and mitigate these impacts.WCS has already begun to help tackle the problem by engaging with the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP), a public-private partnership initiative aimed at addressing sustainability issues from the beginning to the end of select supply chains across the fashion, cosmetics and jewelry industries, including cashmere.”In the absence of commitment across global and local scales, the iconic wildlife of the world’s highest mountains and great steppes will cease to persist as they have for millennia. Rather than serving as symbols of success, these species will become victims of fashion,” said Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director for Asia Programs.This study was supported by the Snow Leopard Trust, Trust for Mutual Understanding, National Geographic Society, Whitley Fund for Nature, and the British Broadcasting Company Wildlife Fund

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Current efforts will not save the world’s most endangered cat

July 21, 2013 — Almost 100 million euros has been spent so far on conservation efforts for the last 250 remaining Iberian lynxes in the wild. But the charismatic species is likely to go extinct within 50 years because the current management plans do not account for the effects of climate change. If they did, the population might increase instead concludes a new international study with participation from the Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. The study highlights the importance of integrating climate models in management plans for biodiversity.”Our models show that the anticipated climate change will lead to a rapid and dramatic decline of the Iberian lynx and probably eradicate the species within 50 years, in spite of the present-day conservation efforts. The only two populations currently present, will not be able to spread out or adapt to the changes in time,” explains Miguel Araújo from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.”Fortunately, it is not too late to improve the outlook for the endangered lynx, if the management plans begin to take account of climate change.”The Iberian lynx is threatened by poaching, road kills, habitat loss and lack of prey following a series of disease outbreaks in the rabbit populations. Therefore, significant investments are currently made to relocate rabbits, prevent diseases, reduce threats and improve the lynx’s natural habitat. Unfortunately it is not enough, show new models that investigate how climate change will influence the availability of prey and quality of natural areas in the future.Carefully planned reintroductions can increase populationThe scientists also modeled two other scenarios for the Iberian lynx, both based on a future prospect for releasing individuals from breeding programs into wild areas. They paint a more optimistic picture for the lynx’s survival, but the models clearly show that release programs also need to account for future climate change in order to achieve the best possible result.While Spanish policymakers are considering releasing lynxes evenly across the country’s autonomous regions, the scientists’ models predict the most suitable areas to be in the northern half of the Iberian Peninsula. These areas could ultimately deliver both prey abundance and habitatconnectivity in spite of climate change. According to the models it may increase the population up to nearly 900 individuals by 2090. …

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Monkey nation: Mainland Africa’s most important nation for primates

July 17, 2013 — A five-year study by the Wildlife Conservation Society gives new hope to some of the world’s most endangered primates by establishing a roadmap to protect all 27 species in Tanzania — the most primate-diverse country in mainland Africa.The study combines Tanzania’s first-ever inventory of all primate species and their habitats with IUCN Red List criteria and other factors such as threats and rarity, ranking all 27 species from most vulnerable to least vulnerable. The authors then identify a network of “Priority Primate Areas” for conservation.The paper appears in the July 17 issue of the journal Oryx. Authors are Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Katarzyna Nowak of the Udzungwa Elephant Project, and Andrew Perkin of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.A third of Tanzania’s primate species are found nowhere else on earth. The study found that the most vulnerable was the kipunji, first discovered by WCS in 2003 on Mt Rungwe and described by WCS as an entirely new genus in 2006. Another extremely vulnerable species is the Zanzibar red colobus, a species whose population is currently being counted by WCS. More common species include the baboons, black and white colobus monkeys and vervets.The study assigned a score to pinpoint the most important areas for protection. The analysis revealed more than 60 important primate areas including national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, conservation areas, and currently unprotected landscapes. However, the adequate protection of just nine sites, including six national parks (Kilimanjaro, Kitulo, Mahale, Saadani, Udzungwa and Jozani-Chwaka Bay), one nature reserve (Kilombero) and two forest reserves (Minziro and Mgambo), totaling 8,679 square kilometers (3,350 square miles), would protect all 27 of Tanzania’s primate species.The authors say that the Priority Primate Areas could be applied in other nations rich in wildlife but facing burgeoning pressures from population growth. This could be similar to “Important Bird Areas” a global effort to identify and conserve places that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. In fact, Tanzania’s Priority Primate Areas were also often rich in bird life underscoring their value to conservation in general.”We believe Priority Primate Areas can be a valuable conservation tool worldwide, similar to the successful Important Bird Area concept,” said the study’s lead author, Tim Davenport of WCS. …

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