Tag: Nature Conservancy science

Must-See Deep-Sea TV: The Okeanos Explorer

Watch cool creatures on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean floor right now! The Okeanos Explorer’s live camera is looking at deep-sea marine life — Conservancy scientist Jay Odell explains why and why it’s so cool.

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The Cooler: 5 Lessons for Live Animal Cams

What makes for a great animal live cam feature? Of course you need some compelling animals — but that’s just one key ingredient in the recipe. You need science, community and a willingness to let people project their imaginations onto the critters, too.

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Science Video: Why Do We Value Some Species More Than Others?

Why does one endangered species get lots of conservation attention, while a similar one doesn’t? In the case of two very similar threatened birds, says a new video from Australia, it’s about familiarity and values.

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Marine Restoration Week: The Future of Sea Grass & Shellfish Restoration Science

Eelgrass and shellfish restoration programs are among the most successful in The Nature Conservancy’s marine portfolio — but what’s left to understand or implement? Bo Lusk, marine steward with The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve program, discusses both the science we still need to accelerate the impact of sea grass and shellfish restoration, and what science we already have that should be applied more widely.

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Marine Restoration Week: The Future of Coral Restoration Science

What science do we need that could jump start wide-spread coral reef restoration? And what science do we already know that needs wider application? James Byrne, marine science program manager for The Nature Conservancy’s South Florida and Caribbean programs, says it’s about maximizing genetic diversity, learning how to grow a coral thicket, and mapping out the locations over and under the 10 percent live coral cover tipping point.

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Marine Restoration Week: Tales from the Cab — Risk & Restoration in SE Louisiana

Conservancy Lead Marine Scientist Mike Beck comes off a week of conversations in New Orleans about coastal hazards to have the best talk of all about them with a cab driver — who blows him away with his knowledge of flood insurance and federal policy, the protective role of wetlands in Louisiana, and why we need to restore them now.

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‘Let’s Get Back to Ecology’: A New Interview with Peter Kareiva

Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva recently gave an interview to Biodiverse Perspectives, a blog written by more than 100 graduate students in biodiversity science around the world. It’s an excellent Q&A, with one of the best distillations yet of Kareiva’s thinking on conservation’s focus on biodiversity versus the benefits of a broader focus on ecology.

Read the full interview here. But here’s a quote to whet your appetite:

“I have what some think is a heretical view of biodiversity.  Look – I do want to prevent extinctions.  But I think what should be a reasonable concern for biodiversity has turned into a numerological and narrow counting of species, and has led to an over-emphasis on research aimed at rationalizing why biodiversity should matter to the general public.  Ecology matters to the general public because ecology is about water, pests and pestilence, recreation, food, resilience and so forth. Perturbations to ecosystems in the form of massive pollution, land conversion, harvest, species loss can all distort ecology.  But focusing so narrowly on producing graphs that on the horizontal axis display number of species and on the vertical axis report some dependent ecological function (that is distantly related to human well-being) strikes me as not worth so much research.  Let’s get back to ecology – understanding how systems work, what controls dynamics, the role of particular species as opposed to the number of species, to what extent do ecosystems compensate for species losses, what factors contribute to resilience, whether there really are thresholds – all those are terrific research questions.  Counting species, and trying to produce what is, as far as I can tell, usually very weak evidence for the relationship between biodiversity per se and ecological function is off-track.

“Early on in my job at TNC I presented to business leaders some of the empirical data plots from classic biodiversity and ecological function studies. These are studies we all interpret as strong evidence for the importance of biodiversity. I can tell you unequivocally when they saw the actual data they were totally unimpressed and unconvinced. It caused me to look more objectively at the data.”

As always, let us know what you think in the comments.

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How Can We Get to Zero-Carbon Energy?

Last week, Earth hit a long-awaited (and much dreaded) climate milestone: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as recorded at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory) has exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in the 55 years atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been measured — and perhaps not since the Pliocene Epoch, which was between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago.

The reading was just for a single day — May 9 — and will fall in the summer if previous annual trends hold. But even with substantial improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to grow over the coming decades unless significant global steps are taking to stabilize them — among them, a large increase in zero-carbon energy production. What will it take to achieve that increase? (I’ll speak on that topic tonight at 7:30 PM as part of The Future of Energy,” a Nature Conservancy/WBUR panel discussion at Boston’s BSA Space that also includes Daniel Kammen of the University of California-Berkeley and Jigar Shah, clean-tech entrepreneur. Learn more about the panel and The Future of Nature discussion series.)

Obviously, political will would help get us to zero-carbon energy. But innovations in several key areas could have a big impact. And innovations that lower costs of zero-carbon solutions, making the switch relatively painless for families and businesses, should help bolster political will.

The future of zero-carbon energy production is a big, complicated topic, but there are three areas that seem particularly worthy of discussion: 1) the importance of energy storage for renewables, 2) the diversity of options for zero-carbon electricity, and 3) zero-carbon transportation.

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What’s the Future of Energy? Find Out May 13th in Boston

Oil, fracking, wind, solar, nuclear, wave — where does nature fit into the development of all these energy forms? Put another way: Can nature and humanity’s ever-increasing demands for energy possibly coexist?

That’s the big subject of the next panel discussion in the series “The Future of Nature,” co-sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and WBUR, Boston’s National Public Radio news station. The event — “The Future of Energy” — takes place in Boston next Monday starting at 7:30 PM at the Boston Society of Architects and features these speakers:

Dan Kammen, professor and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, UC Berkeley

Jigar Shah, partner, Inerjys clean-energy investment firm

* Joe Fargione, science director, North America Region, The Nature Conservancy

Anthony Brooks, co-host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, will moderate. We’ll cover the discussion next week here on Cool Green Science. But if you’re interested in attending, learn more (including how to register for the event) and read about The Future of Nature series, including June 10′s “The Future of Water” event.

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New Study: How Cities Can Finally Get Smart About Water

If the definition of insanity is making the same mistakes over and over, then many cities have taken a certifiable approach to securing their water supplies — and they need some radical therapy before taking the big economic, ecological and human hits that come with a permanent state of thirst.

That’s the conclusion from a new study in the journal Water Policy, whose authors compared the water supply histories of 4 cities — San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio and Adelaide, Australia. Among the lessons learned? Urban water conservation, recycling and desalination aren’t silver bullets. In fact, the best solution may lie upstream with farmers — saving just 5-10% of agricultural irrigation in upstream watersheds could satisfy a city’s entire water needs.

Brian Richter, a senior freshwater scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the study’s lead author, told me more about what cities need to do to say on the right side of dry.

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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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Margaret Wente on Kareiva and the ‘Enviro-Optimists’

Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay. As the water evaporates, micro-organisms of several kinds come to predominate and change the color of the water. First come green algae, then darkening as orange brine shrimp predominate. Finally red predominates as dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. Colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats. Image credit: dsearls/Flickr user through a Creative Commons license.

Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. (More on how the colors are formed below.) Image credit: dsearls/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Over the weekend, Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente sharply laid out what she and other journalists such as Keith Kloor have called the key philosophical battle of environmentalism today – between, as she puts it:

the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists – between the McKibbenists, who believe we’re on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are.

Exhibit A of these eco-optimists for Wente? Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy. Wente says that “Kareiva and his fellow enviro-optimists are the key to saving environmentalism from terminal irrelevance.”

As Wente puts it:

He argues that the purists have been terrible for environmentalism because they’ve alienated the public with their misanthropic, anti-growth, anti-technology, dogmatic, zealous, romantic, backward-looking message. (As a young scientist, he testified in favour of restricting logging to save the spotted owl. Then he saw the loggers sitting at the back of the room, with their children on their shoulders. After that, he became convinced that environmentalism wouldn’t work so long as it was framed in terms of either/or.)

Read Wente’s full column and let us know what you think.

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Eddie Game: Why Tanzania is Wrong to Pursue ‘Fortress Conservation’ with the Maasai

Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

The recent move by Tanzania’s government to seal off 30,000 Maasai people from access to 1,500 square kilometers adjacent to the Serengeti in the name of wildlife conservation has drawn intense protests from both the Maasai and non-governmental organizations working in the country. The government will prevent the Maasai from grazing their cattle on a choice grazing area in the Loliondo Highlands — which the Maasai consider ancestral lands — but will allow a “Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company” access to the land, reports The Guardian. The argument is that Maasai grazing practices are harming wildlife.

Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist at The Nature Conservancy, has written a blog post for the Australian site The Conversation arguing that the Tanzanian government’s tack is an example of “fortress” conservation that is “unnecessarily blunt and crude.” While Maasai grazing practices have reduced long-lived grass species prevalence in Tanzania in favor of seasonal species with deleterious effects for wildlife, Game says northern Kenya provides a shining example of “how pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation can be compatible.” Money quote:”

Through the agreement of community-run conservancies, sections of communal pastoral lands in northern Kenya are set aside as grass banks. These areas are reserved for wildlife to graze but can be used by traditional pastoralists as emergency grazing lands for cattle in times of drought.

The grass banks are complimented by establishing rotational grazing practices that encourage pastoralists to graze their animals together and in a systematic fashion, allowing land to rest ungrazed for a period each year. Regular treatment of cattle for disease (a concern also in the Maasai lands) is provided as an incentive for collective grazing. A guaranteed price and safe transport of livestock to markets gives pastoralists the security to reduce their herd sizes. And the rapid spread of mobile connectivity and mobile banking technology is providing an alternative avenue for savings in remote rural areas.

Tourism is also thriving in these community-run conservancies, notes Game — with tourists clamoring to see both wildlife and pastoralists at work. “It is sad indictment of the Tanzanian government that the international public are being presented with an overly simplistic and unnecessary choice between wildlife and the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai,” Game concludes.

Read his full post here.

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Why and How Conservation Needs to Tackle Human Well-Being: A Conservation with Heather Tallis

Bob Lalasz directs science communications for The Nature Conservancy.

Can conservation make a decisive and systematic contribution to solving social problems and improving the lives of people — especially the world’s poor?

Finding out is Heather Tallis’s job: As a new lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy in charge of the Conservancy’s new Human Dimensions Program, it’s her task to bring “people metrics” to assess the impact of the Conservancy’s work on the ground on people. She’s also charged with integrating innovative economics and social science into the organization’s field work in a way that builds conservation methods and tools that can benefit everyone.

The challenges are many — among them, getting those metrics right (something conservation has struggled to do); designing conservation from the ground up to impact people positively; and helping  policymakers and other decision-makers to recognize the value of conservation for answering many of the big questions facing the planet.

I sat down with Tallis to talk about where she and the Human Dimension Program will begin addressing those challenges:

Why does conservation need an initiative to attack human well-being head-on?

HT: Well, I like the way the folks from the Stockholm Resilience Center say it: “There are no natural systems without people, nor social systems without nature.” This is our reality, especially as the Conservancy moves to thinking about and managing whole ecological systems.

But this is obviously not the way most people see the world, so our personal decisions, our political ideas and our management process are out of synch with this reality. The next 20-30 years will see dramatic change in the face of the planet — and what lives on it or doesn’t — as society decides how to double food production, build hundreds of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and create more megacities.

Conservation needs to be in those decisions. And we won’t get past the door unless we know and can describe what nature has to do with major social problems, and how nature can contribute to human well-being solutions.

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

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Osprey Cam: Watch Our Wild Neighbors
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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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