25 May 2019

Sri Lanka gets its first data-based elephant distribution map

Abstract: "Researchers have produced the first ever data-based distribution map of Asian elephants for Sri Lanka. This is also the first evidence-based distribution map of Asian elephants for any of the 13 range countries, the researchers say. The study found that elephants currently occur in 60 percent of Sri Lanka, a figure that’s higher than previous estimates based on expert opinions, and also higher than that for any other range state. The majority of the elephants occur outside protected areas, sharing space with humans, the study found. So trying to confine the animals to the limits of protected areas is not a sound conservation strategy, the researchers say. Instead, they recommend a “human–elephant coexistence model,” one that aims to reduce conflict by protecting villages and cultivations with barriers."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/sri-lanka-gets-its-first-data-based-elephant-distribution-map/

The stability of multitrophic communities under habitat loss


Abstract: "Habitat loss (HL) affects species and their interactions, ultimately altering community dynamics. Yet, a challenge for community ecology is to understand how communities with multiple interaction types—hybrid communities—respond to HL prior to species extinctions. To this end, we develop a model to investigate the response of hybrid terrestrial communities to two types of HL: random and contiguous. Our model reveals changes in stability—temporal variability in population abundances—that are dependent on the spatial configuration of HL. Our findings highlight that habitat area determines the variability of populations via changes in the distribution of species interaction strengths. The divergent responses of communities to random and contiguous HL result from different constraints imposed on individuals’ mobility, impacting diversity and network structure in the random case, and destabilising communities by increasing interaction strength in the contiguous case. Analysis of intermediate HL suggests a gradual transition between the two extreme cases."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-10370-2

Distance to range edge determines sensitivity to deforestation

Abstract: "It is generally assumed that deforestation affects a species consistently across space, however populations near their geographic range edge may exist at their niche limits and therefore be more sensitive to disturbance. We found that both within and across Atlantic Forest bird species, populations are more sensitive to deforestation when near their range edge. In fact, the negative effects of deforestation on bird occurrences switched to positive in the range core (>829 km), in line with Ellenberg’s rule. We show that the proportion of populations at their range core and edge varies across Brazil, suggesting deforestation effects on communities, and hence the most appropriate conservation action, also vary geographically."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0889-z

Predator traits determine food-web architecture across ecosystems

Abstract: "Predator–prey interactions in natural ecosystems generate complex food webs that have a simple universal body-size architecture where predators are systematically larger than their prey. Food-web theory shows that the highest predator–prey body-mass ratios found in natural food webs may be especially important because they create weak interactions with slow dynamics that stabilize communities against perturbations and maintain ecosystem functioning. Identifying these vital interactions in real communities typically requires arduous identification of interactions in complex food webs. Here, we overcome this obstacle by developing predator-trait models to predict average body-mass ratios based on a database comprising 290 food webs from freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems across all continents. We analysed how species traits constrain body-size architecture by changing the slope of the predator–prey body-mass scaling. Across ecosystems, we found high body-mass ratios for predator groups with specific trait combinations including (1) small vertebrates and (2) large swimming or flying predators. Including the metabolic and movement types of predators increased the accuracy of predicting which species are engaged in high body-mass ratio interactions. We demonstrate that species traits explain striking patterns in the body-size architecture of natural food webs that underpin the stability and functioning of ecosystems, paving the way for community-level management of the most complex natural ecosystems."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0899-x

Projected losses of global mammal and bird ecological strategies


Abstract: "Species, and their ecological strategies, are disappearing. Here we use species traits to quantify the current and projected future ecological strategy diversity for 15,484 land mammals and birds. We reveal an ecological strategy surface, structured by life-history (fast–slow) and body mass (small–large) as one major axis, and diet (invertivore–herbivore) and habitat breadth (generalist–specialist) as the other. We also find that of all possible trait combinations, only 9% are currently realized. Based on species’ extinction probabilities, we predict this limited set of viable strategies will shrink further over the next 100 years, shifting the mammal and bird species pool towards small, fast-lived, highly fecund, insect-eating, generalists. In fact, our results show that this projected decline in ecological strategy diversity is much greater than if species were simply lost at random. Thus, halting the disproportionate loss of ecological strategies associated with highly threatened animals represents a key challenge for conservation."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-10284-z

15 May 2019

Loss of forest elephant may make Earth ‘less inhabitable for humans’

Elephants drink roughly 200 liters (50 gallons) of water each day. In Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, they come together at waterholes such as this one during the region's dry season (August through October).

Abstract: "A new review paper finds that the loss of Africa’s forest elephants has broad impacts on their ecosystems, including hitting several tall tree species, which play a key role in sequestering carbon dioxide. Forest elephants disperse large seeds, keep the forest canopy open, and spread rare nutrients across the forest, benefiting numerous species across the African tropics. While the IUCN currently defines African elephants as a single species, scientists believe it long past time to split them into two distinct species, savanna and forest, to bolster protection for both from the ivory trade."

Read more: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/10/loss-of-forest-elephant-may-make-earth-less-inhabitable-for-humans/

14 May 2019

’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds

Abstract: "The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6. The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction. The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/05/unprecedented-loss-of-biodiversity-threatens-humanity-report-finds/

Study finds elephants plant trees, play big role in forest structure

Abstract: "Many large animals – collectively called “megafauna” – eat the fruit of Platymitra macrocarpa trees, including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), bears and gibbons. When researchers examined the fruit consumption, seed dispersal, and seed germination trends of P macrocarpa, they discovered that elephants were responsible for the lion’s share of successful seedling germination – 37 percent – despite consuming only 3 percent of available fruit. They also noticed a decline in P macrocarpa, which they say may be due to extirpated rhinos or reductions in local elephant populations. They say their results highlight the important role large herbivores play in forest structure, and that losses of these animals might significantly change tree composition and even a forest’s ability to store carbon."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/07/study-finds-elephants-plant-trees-play-big-role-in-forest-structure/

New study suggests Borneo’s had elephants for thousands of years

Abstract: "The research, published in January in the journal Scientific Reports, used genetic information and changes to the topography of the region to surmise that Asian elephants arrived in Borneo between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago.The authors hypothesize that elephants moved from nearby islands or the Malaysian peninsula to Borneo via land bridges. It’s an indication that the elephants are ‘native’ to Borneo, the scientists argue, and points to the need to bolster conservation efforts."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/01/new-study-suggests-borneos-had-elephants-for-thousands-of-years-2/

Ecological traits of the world’s primates

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Abstract: "Ecosystems largely depend, for both their functioning and their ecological integrity, on the ecological traits of the species that inhabit them. Non-human primates have a wide geographic distribution and play vital roles in ecosystem structure, function, and resilience. However, there is no comprehensive and updated compilation of information on ecological traits of all the world’s primate species to accurately assess such roles at a global scale. Here we present a database on some important ecological traits of the world’s primates (504 species), including home range size, locomotion type, diel activity, trophic guild, body mass, habitat type, current conservation status, population trend, and geographic realm. We compiled this information through a careful review of 1,216 studies published between 1941 and 2018, resulting in a comprehensive, easily accessible and user-friendly database. This database has broad applicability in primatological studies, and can potentially be used to address many research questions at all spatial scales, from local to global."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41597-019-0059-9

Modelling Highly Biodiverse Areas in Brazil

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Abstract: "Traditional conservation techniques for mapping highly biodiverse areas assume there to be satisfactory knowledge about the geographic distribution of biodiversity. There are, however, large gaps in biological sampling and hence knowledge shortfalls. This problem is even more pronounced in the tropics. Indeed, the use of only a few taxonomic groups or environmental surrogates for modelling biodiversity is not viable in mega-diverse countries, such as Brazil. To overcome these limitations, we developed a comprehensive spatial model that includes phylogenetic information and other several biodiversity dimensions aimed at mapping areas with high relevance for biodiversity conservation. Our model applies a genetic algorithm tool for identifying the smallest possible region within a unique biota that contains the most number of species and phylogenetic diversity, as well as the highest endemicity and phylogenetic endemism. The model successfully pinpoints small highly biodiverse areas alongside regions with knowledge shortfalls where further sampling should be conducted. Our results suggest that conservation strategies should consider several taxonomic groups, the multiple dimensions of biodiversity, and associated sampling uncertainties."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42881-9

21 April 2019

Thermal-imaging system to estimate wildlife populations

Abstract: "A research team hailed a breakthrough in their imaging system’s ability to detect and identify orangutans in tropical rainforest. They now plan for computer algorithms to report back what a thermal camera has seen in real time. The researchers believe the system could also be used to spot poachers targeting rare species."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/04/lift-off-for-thermal-imaging-system-to-estimate-wildlife-populations/

A composite measure of habitat loss for entire assemblages of species

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Abstract: "Habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity, affecting common and threatened species alike. However, metrics for communicating its impacts typically overlook the non‐threatened component of assemblages. This risks the loss of habitat for species that comprise the majority of assemblages going unreported. Here, we adapt a widely‐used measure for summarizing researcher output (the h index) to provide the first metric describing natural habitat loss for entire assemblages, inclusive of threatened and non‐threatened species. For each of 447 Australian native terrestrial bird species, information on their association with broad vegetation groups was combined with distributional range maps to identify the difference between the estimated pre‐European and current extents of potential habitat. From this, we calculated the ‘Loss Index’ (LI), which reveals that 30% of native birds have each lost at least 30% of their potential natural habitat—an LI of 30. At the sub‐continental scale, the LI ranges from 15 in arid Australia to 61 in the highly transformed south‐east of the country. Further, different subcomponents of the assemblage have different LI values; for example, Australia's parrots ( n=52 species) have an LI of 38, while raptors ( n=32 species) have an LI of 25. The LI is simple to calculate, and can be determined using readily available spatial information on species distributions, habitat associations and human impacts on natural land cover. This metric, including the curves that are used to deduce it, could complement other biodiversity indices by being used for regional and global biodiversity assessments, comparing the status of natural habitat extent for assemblages within and among nations, monitoring changes through time, and forecasting future changes to guide strategic land use planning. The LI is an intuitive tool with which to summarise and communicate how human actions affect whole assemblages, and not just those that species identified as threatened."

Read More: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cobi.13331

Sixty years of tracking conservation progress using the World Database on Protected Areas

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Abstract: "The world’s protected area network is constantly changing, and the dynamics of this network are tracked using the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). This database evolved from a list of protected areas first mandated by the United Nations in 1959, and it now informs the key indicators that track progress toward area-based conservation targets. In this capacity, the WDPA illuminates the role of protected areas in advancing a range of international objectives and agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite ongoing challenges in maintaining such a complex global dataset, the WDPA is continuously improving and taking advantage of new technology, making it widely applicable to diverse users, including those in sectors far from its original intended audience. In the future, the WDPA will expand to include areas that contribute to conservation and sustainable use outside of formal protected areas, and will increasingly link to other key global datasets. These innovations in the way the WDPA is managed and used will deliver vital knowledge to support a sustainable future for biodiversity and people globally."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0869-3

17 March 2019

New MPA established in Philippines includes community-led monitoring program

Abstract: "A new marine protected area (MPA) has been founded in the Philippines within what are considered some of the most biologically diverse waters on Earth. The new MPA, which has been given the name Pirasan, encompasses more than 54 acres (about 22 hectares) of thriving coral reef habitat. The MPA was designed to protect this pristine reef system and, at the same time, boost an emerging local ecotourism industry. In addition to establishing the new protected area, the municipality of Tingloy has committed to a uniquely ambitious two-year program to monitor the reef’s health and empower local residents as stewards of the reef."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/03/new-mpa-established-in-philippines-includes-community-led-monitoring-program/

01 March 2019

19 February 2019

Ecosystem Tipping Points in an Evolving World

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Abstract: "There is growing concern over tipping points arising in ecosystems because of the crossing of environmental thresholds. Tipping points lead to abrupt and possibly irreversible shifts between alternative ecosystem states, potentially incurring high societal costs. Trait variation in populations is central to the biotic feedbacks that maintain alternative ecosystem states, as they govern the responses of populations to environmental change that could stabilize or destabilize ecosystem states. However, we know little about how evolutionary changes in trait distributions over time affect the occurrence of tipping points and even less about how big-scale ecological shifts reciprocally interact with trait dynamics. We argue that interactions between ecological and evolutionary processes should be taken into account in order to understand the balance of feedbacks governing tipping points in nature."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0797-2

10 February 2019

Effects of Roads on Giant Panda distribution: A mountain Range Scale Evaluation

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Abstract: "Few studies have focused on the mountain ranges scale effects of roads on wildlife. This lack of data could lead to an underestimation of the negative impact of roads on animal populations. We analyzed a dataset that included 74.4% of the giant panda population and covered 78.7% of the global giant panda habitat to estimate road-effect zones for major roads, and to investigate how these major roads influenced the distribution of giant pandas on a mountain range spatial scale. We found that the density of giant panda signs was significantly decreased by proximity to major roads. The effect zone reached 5,000 m from national roads and 1,500 m from provincial roads. Structural equation model analysis revealed that the strongest negative impact of major roads on giant pandas was via the reduction of nearby forest cover. The results should provide a better understanding of the impact of anthropogenic infrastructure and regional economic development on wildlife, thus providing a basis for conservation policy decisions. We suggest that the environmental impact assessment of proposed roadways or further researches on road ecological effects should expand to a larger scale and consider the possible habitat degradation caused by road access."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37447-0

Effects of Land Cover Change on Great Ape Distribution

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Abstract: "Understanding the effects of land cover change on wildlife distribution is very important for resource management and conservation planning. This paper aimed at detecting the effects of land cover change on great apes distribution at the Lobéké National Park and its bounded forest management units (FMUs). Data on great ape nests were collected in the field for the years 2001 and 2014 through distance sampling with line transects. Landsat TM images of South-East Cameroon for the years 2001 and 2014 were acquired from earth explorer and corrected atmospherically for proper visualization. An area of interest comprising the Lobéké National Park and its FMUs was extracted for classification and change detection. A comparison in great apes nest distribution and change per land cover change category was done for both years through point pattern analysis, whereas a time series analysis of the detected land cover change impacts on great apes nest distribution for a period of 13 years was modeled using logistic growth and regression equations in Vensim 7.2. The results could illustrate that, as land cover changes from one cover type in 2001 to another in 2014, increases or decreases in great apes nests were observed within each changed area."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36225-2

Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature

Scarce copper butterflies.

Abstract: "The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients."

Read More: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-numbers-threaten-collapse-of-nature? CMP=fb_gu&fbclid=IwAR0FEhFw6nUoAaKfirO7TEKlmz8XC8yNC6Ax8ep9TCr1FoNxlqeUYCkohS0

18 January 2019

A sociological approach to global biodiversity loss (commentary)

Abstract: "The connections between social processes and environmental processes that generate biodiversity loss are very unclear compared to climate change, or even other environmental problems like oil spills or the clear-cutting of forests. In our recent article published in the journal Social Currents, we show that, because of these difficulties, the global crisis of anthropogenic biodiversity loss should, first and foremost, be explained historically. This means paying attention to how large scale social processes, for instance the increasing commodification of global agriculture or changes in international banking, interact with large scale environmental processes, for example the entire size of a species’ habitat. Overall, we believe that sociology can become an important contributor to research on biodiversity loss. For this to happen, however, it should be based on analysis of how broad social and environmental structures contribute to biodiversity loss, as well as the ways in which actual species extinctions are dependent upon a specific historical context."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/01/a-sociological-approach-to-global-biodiversity-loss-commentary/

The case for forests’ prominent role in holding off climate change

Abstract: "The authors of a new report argue that investment in forests as a climate change mitigation strategy is just as important as addressing emissions from the energy sector. Despite the recognized potential contributions of forests to slowing the warming of the earth, they aren’t typically seen as a permanent solution to climate change. The authors of the report contend that provisions in the Paris rulebook, approved at the UN climate conference in Poland, are designed to hold countries responsible for changes to their forests so that such ‘reversals’ won’t go unaccounted for."

Read More: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/01/the-case-for-forests-prominent-role-in-holding-off-climate-change/

Species diversity as a surrogate for conservation of phylogenetic and functional diversity in terrestrial vertebrates across the Americas

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Abstract: "Preserving the evolutionary history and ecological functions that different species embody, in addition to species themselves, is a growing concern for conservation. Recent studies warn that conservation priority regions identified using species diversity differ from those based on phylogenetic or functional diversity. However, spatial mismatches in conservation priority regions need not indicate low surrogacy among these dimensions in conservation planning. Here, we use data for 10,213 terrestrial vertebrate species across the Americas to evaluate surrogacy; that is, the proportion of phylogenetic or functional diversity represented in conservation plans targeting species. We find that most conservation plans targeting species diversity also represent phylogenetic and functional diversity well, despite spatial mismatches in the priority regions identified by each plan. However, not all phylogenetic and functional diversity is represented within species-based plans, with the highest-surrogacy conservation strategy depending on the proportion of land area included in plans. Our results indicate that targeting species diversity could be sufficient to preserve much of the phylogenetic and functional dimensions of biodiversity in terrestrial vertebrates of the Americas. Incorporating phylogenetic and functional data in broad-scale conservation planning may not always be necessary, especially when the cost of doing so is high."

Read More: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0744-7