A major challenge for conservation assessments is to identify priority areas that incorporate biological patterns and processes. Because large-scale processes are mostly oriented along environmental gradients, we propose to accommodate them by designing regional-scale corridors to capture these gradients. Based on systematic conservation planning principles such as representation and persistence, we identified large tracts of untransformed land (i.e., conservation corridors) for conservation that would achieve biodiversity targets for pattern and process in the Subtropical Thicket Biome of South Africa. We combined least-cost path analysis with a target-driven algorithm to identify the best option for capturing key environmental gradients while considering biodiversity targets and conservation opportunities and constraints. We identified seven conservation corridors on the basis of subtropical thicket representation, habitat transformation and degradation, wildlife suitability, irreplaceability of vegetation types, protected area networks, and future land-use pressures. These conservation corridors covered 21.1% of the planning region (ranging from 600 to ) and successfully achieved targets for biological processes and to a lesser extent for vegetation types. The corridors we identified are intended to promote the persistence of ecological processes (gradients and fixed processes) and fulfill half of the biodiversity pattern target. We compared the conservation corridors with a simplified corridor design consisting of a fixed-width buffer along major rivers. Conservation corridors outperformed river buffers in seven out of eight criteria. Our corridor design can provide a tool for quantifying trade-offs between various criteria (biodiversity pattern and process, implementation constraints and opportunities). A land-use management model was developed to facilitate implementation of conservation actions within these corridors.
Despite the continuing loss of wetland habitats and associated declines in amphibian populations, attempts to translate wetland losses into measurable losses to ecosystems have been lacking. We estimated the potential productivity from the amphibian community that would be compromised by the loss of a single isolated wetland that has been protected from most industrial, agricultural, and urban impacts for the past 54 years. We used a continuous drift fence at Ellenton Bay, a 10-ha freshwater wetland on the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, South Carolina (U.S.A.), to sample all amphibians for 1 year following a prolonged drought. Despite intensive agricultural use of the land surrounding Ellenton Bay prior to 1951, we documented 24 species and remarkably high numbers and biomass of juvenile amphibians (>360,000 individuals; > 1,400 kg) produced during one breeding season. Anurans (17 species) were more abundant than salamanders (7 species), comprising 96.4% of individual captures. Most (95.9%) of the amphibian biomass came from 232095 individuals of a single species of anuran (southern leopard frog [Rana sphenocephala]). Our results revealed the resilience of an amphibian community to natural stressors and historical habitat alteration and the potential magnitude of biomass and energy transfer from isolated wetlands to surrounding terrestrial habitat. We attributed the postdrought success of amphibians to a combination of adult longevity (often >5 years), a reduction in predator abundance, and an abundance of larval food resources. Likewise, the increase of forest cover around Ellenton Bay from 60% in 2001 probably contributed to the long-term persistence of amphibians at this site. Our findings provide an optimistic counterpoint to the issue of the global decline of biological diversity by demonstrating that conservation efforts can mitigate historical habitat degradation.
Habitat loss, fragmentation, and declining habitat quality have created an extinction debt in boreal forests, which could be partly reversed by deliberately improving the habitat quality in managed areas outside reserves. We studied the effects of green-tree retention and controlled burning on red-listed and rare, deadwood-dependent (saproxylic) beetles in a large-scale field experiment in eastern Finland. Our factorial study design included 24 sites dominated by Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and with three levels of green-tree retention (0, 10, and ) and uncut controls. Twelve of the 24 sites were burned in 2001. We sampled beetles with 10 flight-intercept traps on each site during the years 2000-2002 (i.e., 1 pretreatment and 2 post-treatment years). A total sample of 153,449 individuals representing 1,160 beetle species yielded 2,107 specimens of 84 red-listed or rare saproxylic species. The richness of these species was higher on the burned than on the unburned sites, and higher levels of green-tree retention promoted species richness, but there were clear differences between the years. The richness of red-listed and rare saproxylic species increased in the first post-treatment year, evidently due to the treatments, continued to increase on the burned sites in the second post-treatment year, but decreased on the unburned sites. Our results showed that the living conditions of many red-listed and rare saproxylic species could be improved significantly with rather simple alterations to forest management methods. Controlled burning with high levels of green-tree retention creates resources for many saproxylic species, but increasing the levels of green-tree retention in unburned areas can also be beneficial.
Despite the importance of carnivores in terrestrial ecosystems, many nations have implemented well-coordinated, state-funded initiatives to remove predators, largely because of conflicts with humans over livestock. Although these control efforts have been successful in terms of the number of carnivores removed, their effects on the viability of the industries they seek to protect are less understood. I assessed the efficacy of long-term efforts by the U.S. government to improve the viability of the sheep industry by reducing predation losses. I used regression analysis and hierarchical partitioning of a 60-year data set to explore associations among changes in sheep numbers and factors such as predator control effort, market prices, and production costs. In addition, I compared trends in the sheep industry in the western United States, where predator control is subsidized and coyotes (Canis latrans) are abundant, with trends in eastern states that lack federally subsidized predator control and that were (1) colonized by coyotes before 1950 or (2) colonized by coyotes between 1950 and 1990. Although control efforts were positively correlated with fluctuations in sheep numbers, production costs and market prices explained most of the model variation, with a combined independent contribution of 77%. Trends in sheep numbers in eastern and western states were highly correlated (r ≥ 0.942) independent of the period during which they were colonized by coyotes, indicating either that control has been ineffective at reducing predation losses or that factors other than predation account for the declines in both regions. These results suggest that government-subsidized predator control has failed to prevent the decline in the sheep industry and alternative support mechanisms need to be developed if the goal is to increase sheep production and not simply to kill carnivores.
The exploitation and sale of wildlife species that are endangered in only part of their range present regulators with the critical challenge of separating legal from illegal takes. Wildlife DNA registers created from tissue samples of legally obtained individual wildlife specimens can address this problem by allowing managers to identify unregistered (presumably illegally obtained) specimens. We tested the effectiveness of the only current, fully operational wildlife DNA register of individual genetic profiles collected from legally caught minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Twenty minke whale tissue samples collected at markets in Norway and 2 additional samples collected from beached minke whales in Denmark were genotyped at 12 loci used by the Norwegian minke whale DNA register. Genetic profiles of these samples then were compared against the 2676 individual profiles deposited in the Norwegian register. The high number of genetic markers used to identify individuals in our study allowed consistent matching of sample and reference profiles despite an overall error rate (due to experimental and interlaboratory data standardization) estimated at 0.015 per locus. Of the 22 test samples only the 2 Danish samples failed to match an existing profile in the Norwegian minke whale DNA register. Our results show that the basic principle of wildlife DNA registers can work in a real-life situation. The strength of wildlife DNA registers lies in their ability to unambiguously identify unregistered specimens with the aid of sensitive genetic methods that enable analysis of highly processed or degraded tissue samples. Our study also highlights a number of methodological problems such as laboratory errors and interlaboratory data standardization, which need be addressed to ensure a successful implementation of wildlife DNA registers.
Studies of the effects of logging on Lepidoptera rarely address landscape-level effects or effects on larval, leaf-feeding stages. We examined the impacts of uneven-aged and even-aged logging on the abundance, richness, and community structure of leaf-chewing insects of white (Quercus alba L.) and black (Q. velutina L.) oak trees remaining in unharvested areas by sampling 3 years before and 7 years after harvest. After harvest, white oaks in uneven-aged sites had 32% fewer species of leaf-chewing insects than control sites. This reduction in species richness may have resulted from changes in microclimate (reducing plant quality and/or changing leaf phenology) that affected a much larger total area of each site than did even-aged cuts. For black oak after harvest, species richness in uneven- and even-aged sites increased relative to levels before harvest. Harvesting did not alter total insect density or community structure in the unlogged habitat for either oak species with one exception: insect density on black oak increased in the oldest forest block. Community structure of herbivores of black and white oaks in clearcut gaps differed from that of oaks in intact areas of even-aged sites. Furthermore, both richness and total insect density of black oaks were reduced in clearcut gaps. We suggest that low-level harvests alter herbivore species richness at the landscape level. Treatment effects were subtle because we sampled untreated areas of logged landscapes, only one harvest had occurred, and large temporal and spatial variation in abundance and richness existed. Although the effects of logging were greater in uneven-aged sites, the effects of even-aged management are likely to increase as harvesting continues.
An increasing number of applied disciplines are utilizing evidence-based frameworks to review and disseminate the effectiveness of management and policy interventions. The rationale is that increased accessibility of the best available evidence will provide a more efficient and less biased platform for decision making. We argue that there are significant benefits for conservation in using such a framework, but the scientific community needs to undertake and disseminate more systematic reviews before the full benefit can be realized. We devised a set of guidelines for undertaking formalized systematic review, based on a health services model. The guideline stages include planning and conducting a review, including protocol formation, search strategy, data inclusion, data extraction, and analysis. Review dissemination is addressed in terms of current developments and future plans for a Web-based open-access library. By the use of case studies we highlight critical modifications to guidelines for protocol formulation, data-quality assessment, data extraction, and data synthesis for conservation and environmental management. Ecological data presented significant but soluble challenges for the systematic review process, particularly in terms of the quantity, accessibility, and diverse quality of available data. In the field of conservation and environmental management there needs to be further engagement of scientists and practitioners to develop and take ownership of an evidence-based framework.
Global warming is a key threat to biodiversity, but few researchers have assessed the magnitude of this threat at the global scale. We used major vegetation types (biomes) as proxies for natural habitats and, based on projected future biome distributions under doubled-CO climates, calculated changes in habitat areas and associated extinctions of endemic plant and vertebrate species in biodiversity hotspots. Because of numerous uncertainties in this approach, we undertook a sensitivity analysis of multiple factors that included (1) two global vegetation models, (2) different numbers of biome classes in our biome classification schemes, (3) different assumptions about whether species distributions were biome specific or not, and (4) different migration capabilities. Extinctions were calculated using both species-area and endemic-area relationships. In addition, average required migration rates were calculated for each hotspot assuming a doubled-CO climate in 100 years. Projected percent extinctions ranged from <1 to 43% of the endemic biota (average 11.6%), with biome specificity having the greatest influence on the estimates, followed by the global vegetation model and then by migration and biome classification assumptions. Bootstrap comparisons indicated that effects on hotpots as a group were not significantly different from effects on random same-biome collections of grid cells with respect to biome change or migration rates; in some scenarios, however, hotspots exhibited relatively high biome change and low migration rates. Especially vulnerable hotspots were the Cape Floristic Region, Caribbean, Indo-Burma, Mediterranean Basin, Southwest Australia, and Tropical Andes, where plant extinctions per hotspot sometimes exceeded 2000 species. Under the assumption that projected habitat changes were attained in 100 years, estimated global-warming-induced rates of species extinctions in tropical hotspots in some cases exceeded those due to deforestation, supporting suggestions that global warming is one of the most serious threats to the planet's biodiversity.
Conservation scientists generally agree that many types of protected areas will be needed to protect tropical forests. But little is known of the comparative performance of inhabited and uninhabited reserves in slowing the most extreme form of forest disturbance: conversion to agriculture. We used satellite-based maps of land cover and fire occurrence in the Brazilian Amazon to compare the performance of large (>10,000 ha) uninhabited (parks) and inhabited (indigenous lands, extractive reserves, and national forests) reserves. Reserves significantly reduced both deforestation and fire. Deforestation was 1.7 (extractive reserves) to 20 (parks) times higher along the outside versus the inside of the reserve perimeters and fire occurrence was 4 (indigenous lands) to 9 (national forests) times higher. No strong difference in the inhibition of deforestation (p = 0.11) or fire (p = 0.34) was found between parks and indigenous lands. However, uninhabited reserves tended to be located away from areas of high deforestation and burning rates. In contrast, indigenous lands were often created in response to frontier expansion, and many prevented deforestation completely despite high rates of deforestation along their boundaries. The inhibitory effect of indigenous lands on deforestation was strong after centuries of contact with the national society and was not correlated with indigenous population density. Indigenous lands occupy one-fifth of the Brazilian Amazon-five times the area under protection in parks-and are currently the most important barrier to Amazon deforestation. As the protected-area network expands from 36% to 41% of the Brazilian Amazon over the coming years, the greatest challenge will be successful reserve implementation in high-risk areas of frontier expansion as indigenous lands are strengthened. This success will depend on a broad base of political support.
Studies evaluating effects of human activity on wildlife typically emphasize short-term behavioral responses from which it is difficult to infer biological significance or formulate plans to mitigate harmful impacts. Based on decades of detailed behavioral records, we evaluated long-term impacts of vessel activity on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Shark Bay, Australia. We compared dolphin abundance within adjacent tourism and control sites, over three consecutive 4.5-year periods wherein research activity was relatively constant but tourism levels increased from zero, to one, to two dolphin-watching operators. A nonlinear logistic model demonstrated that there was no difference in dolphin abundance between periods with no tourism and periods in which one operator offered tours. As the number of tour operators increased to two, there was a significant average decline in dolphin abundance (14.9%; 95% CI = -20.8 to -8.23), approximating a decline of one per seven individuals. Concurrently, within the control site, the average increase in dolphin abundance was not significant (8.5%; 95% CI= -4.0 to +16.7). Given the substantially greater presence and proximity of tour vessels to dolphins relative to research vessels, tour-vessel activity contributed more to declining dolphin numbers within the tourism site than research vessels. Although this trend may not jeopardize the large, genetically diverse dolphin population of Shark Bay, the decline is unlikely to be sustainable for local dolphin tourism. A similar decline would be devastating for small, closed, resident, or endangered cetacean populations. The substantial effect of tour vessels on dolphin abundance in a region of low-level tourism calls into question the presumption that dolphin-watching tourism is benign.
Amazon beef and soybean industries, the primary drivers of Amazon deforestation, are increasingly responsive to economic signals emanating from around the world, such as those associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, "mad cow disease") outbreaks and China's economic growth. The expanding role of these economic "teleconnections" (coupled phenomena that take place in distant places on the planet) led to a 3-year period (2002-2004) of historically high deforestation rates. But it also increases the potential for large-scale conservation in the region as markets and finance institutions demand better environmental and social performance of beef and soy producers. Cattle ranchers and soy farmers who have generally opposed ambitious government regulations that require forest reserves on private property are realizing that good land stewardship-including compliance with legislation-may increase their access to expanding domestic and international markets and to credit and lower the risk of "losing" their land to agrarian reform. The realization of this potential depends on the successful negotiation of social and environmental performance criteria and an associated system of certification that are acceptable to both the industries and civil society. The foot-and-mouth eradication system, in which geographic zones win permission to export beef, may provide an important model for the design of a low-cost, peer-enforced, socioenvironmental certification system that becomes the mechanism by which beef and soy industries gain access to markets outside the Amazon.
Fisheries bycatch poses a significant threat to many populations of marine mammals, but there are few published estimates of the magnitude of these catches. We estimated marine mammal bycatch in U.S. fisheries front 1990 to 1999 with data taken from the stock assessment reports required by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. The mean annual bycatch of marine mammals during this period was 6215 ± 448 (SE). Bycatch of cetaceans and pinnipeds occurred in similar numbers. Most cetacean (84%) and pinniped (98%) bycatch occurred in gill-net fisheries. Marine mammal bycatch declined significantly over the decade, primarily because of a reduction in the bycatch of cetaceans. Total marine mammal bycatch was significantly lower after the implementation of take reduction measures in the latter half of the decade. We derived a crude first estimate of marine mammal bycatch in the world's fisheries by expanding U.S. bycatch with data on fleet composition from the Food and Agriculture Organization. The global bycatch of marine mammals is in the hundreds of thousands. Bycatch is likely to have significant demographic effects on many populations of marine mammals. Better data are urgently needed to fully understand the impact of these interactions.
Because data on rare species usually are sparse, it is important to have efficient ways to sample additional data. Traditional sampling approaches are of limited value for rare species because a very large proportion of randomly chosen sampling sites are unlikely to shelter the species. For these species, spatial predictions from niche-based distribution models can be used to stratify the sampling and increase sampling efficiency. New data sampled are then used to improve the initial model. Applying this approach repeatedly is an adaptive process that may allow increasing the number of new occurrences found. We illustrate the approach with a case study of a rare and endangered plant species in Switzerland and a simulation experiment. Our field survey confirmed that the method helps in the discovery of new populations of the target species in remote areas where the predicted habitat suitability is high. In our simulations the model-based approach provided a significant improvement (by a factor of 1.8 to 4 times, depending on the measure) over simple random sampling. In terms of cost this approach may save up to 70% of the time spent in the field.