Tag: Conservation Biology

Review: Cristina Eisenberg’s The Carnivore Way

Can we really expect a growing population to live alongside large predators? Don’t we have a hard enough time with less dangerous critters? Cristina Eisenberg looks at the science, and lays out a blueprint for coexistence between people and predators in her new book, The Carnivore Way.

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Cool Green Review: Spine of the Continent, Imperial Dreams

Welcome to Cool Green Review, our monthly look at notable conservation science books. This month: Mary Ellen Hannibal’s The Spine of the Continent and Tim Gallagher’s Imperial Dreams.

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2014 NatureNet Fellowships: A Call for Conservation Scientists

The world faces unprecedented demands for food, water and energy — how can we meet these demands without exacerbating climate change and degrading natural systems? The Conservancy’s new fellowship program aims to tackle those challenges by training the conservation scientists of tomorrow.

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Quick Study: Do Elephants Get Stressed Out When Living Alongside People?

The Study: Ahlering, M.A., J.E. Maldonado, L.S. Eggert, R.C. Fleischer, D. Western and J. Brown. 2013. Conservation outside protected areas and the effect of human-dominated landscapes on stress hormones in savannah elephants. Conservation Biology, 27: 569–575. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12061

The Big Question: In East Africa, savannah elephants are increasingly expanding outside of protected parks and into surrounding areas where people and agriculture dominate. Do elephants experience stress when living alongside human populations — even in situations where they are not being actively poached? The answer, according to this new paper from lead author Marissa Ahlering of The Nature Conservancy and colleagues, can be found… in their poop.

Study Nuts and Bolts: The ability to measure stress hormones in wild animals has improved dramatically in the past decade with the development of fecal metabolite analysis techniques. In this study, scientists compared the levels of glucocorticoid (GC) hormone (which increases in response to stress) of elephants in a community conservation area (CCA) established by Maasai pastoralists with elephants at two nearby protected areas, Kenya’s Amboseli and Maasai Mara National Parks. The elephants in the CCA are exposed to “dense human settlements, agricultural areas, and intense livestock grazing on a daily basis,” while the elephants in the national parks are only exposed to humans through limited ecotourism and research.

To measure the stress hormone, scientists collected fresh dung samples and extracted DNA and hormone samples. The hormone samples were frozen immediately in liquid nitrogen, transferred to Nairobi for storage and then shipped overnight on dry ice to the United States where they were run through a series of metabolic analyses.

The Findings: The researchers found no evidence of chronic stress in the elephants living within the CCA. The stress levels of the CCA elephants were the same as elephants in the nearby protected area of Maasai Mara, although elephants at Amboseli exhibited lower stress than the other two groups.

What it All Means: The results surprised the researchers — they expected the elephants in the CCA to exhibit higher levels of stress due to a higher degree of contact with humans. These findings indicate that elephants can successfully live in human-dominated areas — and suggest that CCAs should be part of the solution in efforts to restore elephants to areas where illegal ivory poaching has decimated their populations.

Editor’s Note: Check back later this week for a more in-depth report on this research. 

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Quick Study: Six Common Mistakes in Conservation Planning

Quick Study is just what it says — a rapid-fire look at a new conservation science study that might turn some heads.    

Study: Game, E.T., P. Kareiva, and H.P. Possingham. 2013. Six common mistakes in conservation priority setting. Conservation Biology 44(4):1-6.

The Big Question: Environmental problems are big, but resources for conservation are tiny — so conservation groups are constantly prioritizing what they do and recommend so as to allocate those resources better. So why isn’t conservation making more of a dent?

Study Nuts and Bolts: In this think piece, Game and co-authors argue that, while conservation presents its priority setting as science-based, conservation planners too often ignore or misapply decision science — the combination of mathematics, economics, philosophy, and psychology that is used by engineers, health, the military and business to help them make better decisions. And that systemic lack of decision science, the authors say, leads to six big mistakes that blunt conservation’s impact.

The Findings: Here are the six big mistakes (which you might also group under the broad headers “Timidity in Language” and “Fuzzy Math”):

1) not acknowledging conservation plans are in fact prioritizations (and thus recommendations);
2) not being precise about the problem they’re trying to solve;
3) prioritizing not actions, but species, habitats or locations (thus leading to inaction);
4) using arbitrary numerical values to arrive at prioritization arithmetic;
5) allowing look-up tables to hide priority-setting value judgments; and
6) failing to acknowledge the risk of failure for some conservation actions, which leads to skewed cost/benefit analyses.

What’s It All Mean? While Game et al. do say that conservation is generally moving in the right direction in how it sets priorities, most individual planning makes at least one of the above mistakes — leading to misspending and declining public confidence in conservation when the public finds out that those priorities weren’t chosen all that scientifically.  So, time to bone up on those decision science skills, says Game.

“We conservation scientists prioritize a lot — but we’re not typically trained in the formal skills of prioritization that many other fields depend on,” he told me. “That’s a recipe for wasting our precious resources.”

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Connect: Helping Animals Move in a Changing Climate

Imagine you’re on a long hike, and you are trying to get to a valley on the other side of a mountain. Do you take a gentle trail that leads you easily around it? Or do you hike straight up the mountain, braving waist-deep snow, frigid wind, slick rocks and risk of death?

It really isn’t much of a decision, is it?

Animals take similar routes when they migrate and roam. A mule deer or a lynx won’t waste calories or risk its life by taking a precarious route. To survive and thrive, they need relatively easy paths to move to feeding, breeding and resting areas.

Now animals face a new reason to move: climate change. As vegetation and climactic conditions change, many species will need to move to new ranges.

But how do they get to these new habitats? Will they find an easy route, or will they have to risk roads, inhospitable terrain, housing developments and other dangerous paths?

Questions like these are at the heart of what ecologists call connectivity: the degree to which a landscape allows wildlife to move from one place to the next. A well-connected landscape is one where animals can move easily. In a disconnected landscape, populations and habitats become isolated from each other.

A new paper published in Conservation Biology by Tristan Nuñez and colleagues from the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group provides a simple and straightforward method for land managers to account for species shifting their ranges in response to climate change, and to protect and restore land accordingly.

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Salmon Cam Returns

We’re pleased to return Salmon Cam, a live view of spawning Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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