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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

Defining what is a “native” species and what is not is more controversial than many people think. An unusual New York Times op-doc called “Hi! I’m a Nutria” examines the question. A few choice lines: “When do we get to draw a line on who’s a native? 10 years? 100 years? 30,000 years?”  And  “I’m here now. You’re here now. Let’s just be friends!” The video cannot be imbedded, so follow the link above.

Hi! I'm a nutria

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Last summer, a post in this blog posed the question “how do you handle the constant stream of discouraging environmental information?” Shortly afterwards, I saw an article in Grist titled, “Do environmentalists need shrinks?  Apparently, I am not the only one thinking about this issue – although I suggested that designers are natural optimists (feel free to disagree) and less likely to be consumed by the pervasive environmental negativity. Now there is an article in New Scientist that boldly states “Ecologists Should Look on the Bright Side.” Is this even possible? (Colleagues at SUNY-ESF, what do you think?)

A key graph, also the introduction, states:

It’s hard to spend your working life charting the demise of the things you love. Ask an ecologist why they chose that career, and you will often hear a tale about being mad about animals as a kid. These days, they are more likely to spend their days modelling how quickly their favourite species will disappear. As Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC puts it: “My whole generation spent our lives writing obituaries of nature.”

As someone who once had a job writing obituaries for beautiful places (called environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impacts statements (EISs), I know how that feels!

Even so, conservationists are starting to worry that their message is counterproductive. In a 2010 editorial in BioScience (vol 60, p 626), Ronald Swaisgood and James Sheppard of the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research wrote: “We contend that there is a continuing culture of hopelessness among conservation biologists… that will influence our ability to mobilize conservation action among the general public.”

What do you do when you hear bad news all the time? Turn it off. Pessimism leaves little room for action.

What’s at stake is more than what makes the best message, it’s what makes the best conservation strategy. Chronicling demise offers little guidance. But if we tell stories about positive outcomes and share details of how they are achieved, the likelihood that they will be replicated will increase. Hope engenders conservation success, and success breeds more success.

Fuel creative responses to what is, yes, a bad situation by giving people a reason to think that there is hope. This is a message that is especially important for young people. My children are growing up in a world where they are told that the planet is dying (and that somehow they are charged with saving it). Even if they watch a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic, there is a little voice in their heads telling them that the oceans are dying. What an oppressive thought! We have to preserve the sense of awe, wonder, and love of the Earth if we are going to motivate people to act on its behalf. IMHO.

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Images of the starling murmuration do indeed suggest the massive flocks of passenger pigeons that once darkened the skies on this continent. It is estimated that one out of every four birds in the Eastern U.S. was a passenger pigeon before unregulated hunting decimated their numbers. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914. Aldo Leopold provides a poignant account of the demise of the species in the essay, “On a Monument to a Pigeon,” found in the classic book, A Sand County Almanac.

We have erected a monument to commemorate the funeral of a species. It symbolizes our sorrow. We grieve because no living man will see again the onrushing phalanx of victorious birds, sweeping a path for spring across the March skies, chasing the defeated winter from all the woods and prairies of Wisconsin.

Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.

There will always be pigeons in books and in museums, but these are effigies and images, dead to all hardships and to all delights. Book-pigeons cannot dive out of a cloud to make the deer run for cover, or clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods. Book-pigeons cannot breakfast on new-mown wheat in Minnesota, and dine on blueberries in Canada. They know no urge of seasons; they feel no kiss of sun, no lash of wind and weather. They live forever by not living at all.   (more…)

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Depending on the study. A new paper by Sodhi et al., featured in the Yale E360 blog, says that conservationists are doing some things right. Land and marine habitat conservation are in the plus column, with more than 100,000 protected areas, covering 7.3 million square miles globally.

Sodhi, N.S., R. Butler, W.F. Laurance, and L. Gibson. 2011. Conservation successes at micro-, meso-, and macroscales. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.002

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When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite landscape planning books was Design For Human Ecosystems by John T. Lyle, and it is still a favorite. It was originally published in 1985, with a paperback edition published in 1999. A major premise of the book, and, indeed, of all landscape planning, is that careful analysis of landscape resources leads to land use planning and design solutions that achieve a balance between different, and often, competing interests. If that could just be the case more often than not! A reminder of how intractable some issues can be comes from the world of renewable energy.

We have heard for some time that wind turbines kill birds, and we keep hoping that a solution may be found to this problem, like the development of slower moving turbines. A report today from Umair Irfan of ClimateWire (subscription service from E&E Publishing) tells us that the problem has not been solved. While house cats and windows kill many urban bird species, turbines pose a unique threat to many more species of birds, including whooping cranes and raptors. Less reported, though, is the significant threat to bats. With white nose syndrome devastating the hybernating bat species, it is especially distressing to hear that wind turbines are killing migratory bat species.

“Many more bats than birds are killed by wind turbines, and they are killed in two ways: simply by being hit by the blades, and some are killed by pressure changes due to the sweep of the blades without even being hit,” said John Whitaker Jr., a professor of biology and director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, in an email.

Because bats use sound to navigate and can detect moving objects, like insects, exceptionally well, many are better able than birds to avoid striking the blades. However, they can’t detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding.

This phenomenon, known as barotrauma, accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the journal Current Biology.

Simply mapping landscape resources and locating the best areas for wind energy generation and the most significant migration areas, ala Lyle, McHarg, and others, will not lead to a solution to this problem. From a land use planning perspective, it is an issue of conflicting values. As wind energy proliferates around the globe, we have to hope that a technological solution can be found soon. That would seem to be the shortest path to resolving the dilemma.

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Just too much depressing news (on many fronts) to keep up the optimism (see here and here for therapist reference). I try hard to not focus on the bad news too much, but I can’t ignore it either. The latest in a post by Richard Black of BBC News, discussing the woeful inadequacies of our network of conservation areas (i.e., protected lands and waters) for protecting biodiversity with this quote from Peter Sale of the Canadian Institute for Water, Health, and the Environment:

“We’re talking about losing 50% of species in the next half century – that’s faster than any previous mass extinction event – and anybody who thinks we can go through a mass extinction and be perfectly fine is just deluding themselves.”

The article, published this month, that prompted the post by Black is this one:

Mora, C. and P.F. Sale. 2011. Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas: A review of the technical and practical shortcomings of protected areas on land and sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 434: 251-266.

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So the tractor-trailer is parked out in the woodland (or other natural area), and you have to decide which species you will bring on board for a ride to their new habitat. A trip north or to a higher elevation perhaps? You cannot save them all, and you are not even sure that you are saving them because of all the uncertainties involved with the move. What a dilemma! But this is essentially the situation we are faced with as species are threatened by altered habitats due to climate change. The idea of a new Noah’s Ark is called assisted migration, assisted colonization, or managed relocation, (mentioned in an earlier post) and it is very controversial. A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change acknowledges the controversy, but says that managed relocation is happening anyway. Given the desire to relocate species in the hope of saving them, researchers at CSIRO, the University of Queensland, and the U.S. Geological Survey present a decision-making framework. Dr. Eve McDonald-Madden of CSIRO is quoted as saying:

The decision-making framework we have developed shows that the best timing for moving species depends on many factors such as: the size of the population, the expected losses in the population through relocation, and the expected numbers that the new location could be expected to support. It would also rely on good predictions about the impact of climate shifts on a particular species and the suitability of areas to which they can move –  an often difficult issue in the case of rare species because we just don’t have this sort of detailed information.

Another CSIRO researcher, Dr. Tara Martin, discusses which species are likely to make it into the ark:

Managed relocation is not a quick fix. It will be used in some specific circumstances for species that we really care about, but it will not be a saviour for all biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Western Larch (U.S. Forest Service image)

Yes, controversial or not, people are beginning to actively intervene in species relocation. The June issue of Discover magazine has an article titled The Transplanted Forest: A Bold Experiment in Preemptive Climate Adaptation about ongoing efforts in British Columbia to relocate the western larch (Larix occidentalis), an important timber species. A related effort (and a less controversial one) – linked by the idea of active adaptive management – involves altering the habitat itself if possible. A recent New York Times article, titled Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt, highlights efforts to aid chinook salmon, another economically important species, in the Nisqually River (Washington State) through stream and watershed enhancements.

The coalition is reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; it is promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and it is installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

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