Same data – different results? ConSci 2017 introduces AQMCS!

A question that I have always had, is what happens when you give different scientists the same data and ask them to analyses those data. Do different scientists come up with different answers? Do they ask different questions? How much does our scientific interpretations depend on individual perspectives?

In the Conservation Science course we set out to test this question in our activity “Same data, different results?” We used data from the Niwot Ridge Long-term Ecological Research Site – a montane site whose flora and environment have been monitored for decades to understand ecological processes in high-elevation mountain ecosystems. Students and tutors worked in small groups to complete a speed data analysis and write-up activity – a quick and exciting journey though picking a research question, deciding on the methods that best address it, opening the data present, interpreting what it all means, AND writing a one page manuscript.

We love quantitative analysis, and we don’t shy away from statistics and coding – in the past we have counted Pokemon to calculate different biodiversity metrics, we have tested island biogeography theory, and we have gone through live coding exercises in class. Among all those blog posts, we often say we are “getting quantitative” – well, it is an exciting time of the year now, and not just because the holidays are approaching, but because now we can say that we are quantitative! So quantitative, in fact, that we couldn’t resists day-dreaming about a conservation journal highlighting different quantitative methods. And of course, Gergana couldn’t resist making a logo, so we are proud to present AQMCS (pronounced ack-mecs),  Advanced Quantitative Methods in Conservation Science, our course fictional journal!

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Our dream journal – Advanced Quantitative Methods in Conservation Science. Though an official impact factor hasn’t been calculated yet, we have observed many students honing their quantitative skills, which can be quite significant.

We all rushed to write up our reports and submit them to AQMCS’s editors – after all, the sooner you submit a manuscript, the sooner you will get your reviews back. We had to wait only a mere three weeks, so as far as journals go, we would like to commend AQMCS’s quick turnaround time. All of out five manuscripts got sent out to review (phew, no straight-away rejections!), and in the final Conservation Science session, we all got to experience the peer-review process firsthand! And though the journal might be fictional, let us assure you that our editorial boards scrutinised the manuscripts and explored them in detail, making for some intense peer-reviewing!

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AQMCS’s editors-in-chief, Myers-Smith and Keane, setting the scene for an intense round of peer-review.

Tasked with selecting just one manuscript for publication (publication in AQMCS is very competitive!), students worked away in small groups. Manuscript after manuscript, students thought critically of the studies’ key questions and findings, as well as the methods used to obtain them. Does the manuscript meet the journal guidelines (e.g. a one page format), is the science exciting and novel, does the take-home message contribute to our understanding of biodiversity change?

Some of the submitted manuscripts were over the one page limit – we would like to remind their authors that should they need to present extra information, they can do so in Supplementary Information, which would be published online alongside the manuscript, should it be accepted for publication. One manuscript did not include a methods section – given our journal’s strong methodological focus (it is after all, Advanced Quantitative Methods in Conservation Science), we recommend those authors to implement our suggested revisions (i.e. outline what methods were used and how they advance conservation science) and re-submit. Just like in the real world, co-authorship dynamics were interesting to ponder – who is first author, who is last? One group included an authorship contribution statement, which we appreciated.

Each editorial group presented the criteria they used in the selection process, and finally announced the manuscript selected for publication. It was a close race, and it was up to the last editorial group to break the tie between “Long-term study in Niwot Ridge, Colorado reveals greater increases in spatial and temporal homogeneity within, but not between sites” and “Unprecedented biodiversity changes in continental divide at Niwot Ridge, Co, US”. Though informative, the group felt that the title of the first manuscript was a bit too long, and in the end, they decided that in its next issue, AQMCS will publish “Unprecedented biodiversity changes in continental divide at Niwot Ridge, Co, US” – the first publication in this exciting new journal!

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Accepted for publication in AQMCS – “Unprecedented biodiversity changes in continental divide at Niwot Ridge, Co, US”!

The two activities, “Same data, different results” and the AQMCS peer-review session, stirred up many thoughts on biodiversity change, how we quantify it and how we can attribute it to different drivers. We also honed our speed writing skills, and finally, our critical thinking skills – a winning combination!

Isla has been collected the titles of the same data different results papers throughout the years and here they are below.

2017:

  • Unprecedented biodiversity changes at the continental divide at Niwot Ridge, CO, US
  • Long-term study in Niwot Ridge, Colorado reveals greater increases in spatial and temporal homogeneity within, but not between sites
  • Baby It’s Hot Outside – Change in alpha diversity over elevational gradients due to temperature increase?
  • Nowhere to go: Biodiversity change at Niwot Ridge, CO, US
  • Potential trends and effects of temperature on species richness on four sites

2016:

  • Evidence of adaptation of high elevation plant species to dramatic climate change
  • Increased variance in species richness over time in montane forest-tundra environments
  • Disturbance causes varying levels of species richness change across alpine latitudinal gradients
  • Human activities cause species declines and increases across elevational gradients
  • Higher temperatures decrease biodiversity in alpine habitats
  • Local mountain biodiversity increases by 7% over time

2015:

  • Evidence of high-elevation plant community shifts to dramatic climate change
  • Increased variance in species richness over time in montane forest-tundra environments
  • Disturbance causes varying levels of species richness change across alpine latitudinal gradients
  • Human activities cause species declines and increases across elevational gradients
  • Higher temperatures decrease biodiversity in alpine habitats
  • Local mountain biodiversity increases by 7% over three decades

You can also check out our 2015 blog post about the “Same data, different results” activity: Same data different interpretations?

I think this experiment is telling us that different scientists do make different interpretations when presented with the same data. You can check out this study that found the same result with analyses of football (soccer) data. We at AQMCS think that the way forward is to make sure our data, code and science are as open as possible, so that we can promote thorough investigations of data and transparent interpretations in the literature.

By Gergana, Isla and the Cons. Sci. 2017 class

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The Cons. Sci. 2017 field trip

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This year under a rainbow, we celebrated our third trip to the Cairngorms on the Conservation Science course. Thanks to David Heatherington, Glen Feshie Estate, CairnGorm Mountain, Peter Cosgrove and Rothiemurchus Estate and Badaguish Outdoor Centre and our bus driver Keith for supporting our trip! Our fearless leaders were lecturers Isla Myers-Smith and Aidan Keane.

We started of the field trip by meeting with David Heatheringon from Cairngorms National Park discussing the unique management of a natural area with people working and living within it.

On Saturday morning, we visited the Glen Feshie estate and discussed natural woodland regeneration and control of deer populations.

We flew our drone over the mother Scots pine tree to capture the natural beauty and conservation potential of the next generation Caledonia Forest.

On Saturday, we rode the funicular and climbed to the top of Cairn Gorm mountain spotting ptarmigan, snow buntings and alpine plants on the way. Here we are in our group photo on the summit!

We learned from Peter Cosgrove, local conservation expert, about the most important species in shaping British history – the freshwater pearl mussel and the conservation actions being taken today to preserve the species in Scotland.

On Sunday, we visited the Rothiemurchus Estate and met with Alph to discuss management activities including the farming of cattle and deer, fishing, forestry and tourism.

Finally, we ended the field trip with a tea party at the Potting Shed Tearoom eating some of the best cake in the UK and discussing what we learned over the weekend.

All and all it was a great trip!  Let’s hear from our PhD tutors all about the Conservation Science that they were teaching during the weekend.

Mariana – IUCN conservation status expert

I prepared an activity that ended up being named ‘Threatened or not?’. First, the students had to choose from a pool of Scottish species and identify them, with some even being able to say their Latin name! After that, we gathered all the information that we knew on the species, including whether it was endemic to Scotland, its distribution range, its population size and threats. On the basis of these, the students had to decide whether the species was threatened or not following the IUCN Red List – and there were a few surprises! The quiz highlighted how we can create misconceptions by assuming that certain species are threatened when they are actually not, and vice versa. Finally, we discussed the importance of taxonomy, hybridisation and the local context when assessing the extinction risk of a species. Overall, the trip was a fantastic opportunity for the students to engage in discussions with experts in their field and to hear first-hand about a wide range of conservation issues. And of course, to experience some beautiful landscapes and to show our music skills around the bonfire!

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Threatened or not? From the Scottish wildcat to the iconic Scots pine, we pondered how conservation status is determined and what its implications are for conservation decision-making and prioritisation.

Zac Conservation conflict expert

This year saw the return of highland laird, Lord A. V Moore, who once again chaired a town hall debate surrounding the future land management of the Cairngorms National Park. Encircling a roaring bonfire, the students formed small groups, each representing a different stakeholder interest concerning land –use and the ‘natural’ environment of the area. Many different voices were represented, including the local tourism body, a group of gamekeepers, a conservation NGO and a forestry organisation. Each group had time to prepare and deliver a short speech, during which time they could also respond to ‘points of information’ from the floor. The tourism body went first and put forward a strong economic case for a rapid increase in recreational access to the mountains (in the form of a bold new zip-line).  Next came the gamekeepers who elegantly argued for the strong cultural and economic value of grouse moors. Following on the forestry organisation pressed home the need for reforestation and the social and environmental benefits of increased woodland across the area. Finally, the conservation NGO representatives gave a compelling case for biodiversity protection, which combined both intrinsic, instrumental and bequest valuations of nature. Each group then had the chance to cast their vote, to decide which other cause (beyond their own) was worthy of winning the debate. Alas, it was the tourism board that emerged victorious, not least – it can be assumed – due to their bold idea to introduce sustainable, and conspicuously moor woody (excuse the pun), grouse hunting by zip-line.

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Role playing rewilding in front of the camp fire.

Sandra – Photographer and alpine treeline expert

There is surely no better time of year to visit the Cairngorms. There is just something special about the way the yellow birch and larch filter the light when the sun is low in the sky. And while this may be a very romantic view of the effect of trees on the landscape, we also discussed in much more pragmatic terms the issues around woodland management in Scotland. At Glenfeshie estate, we saw what happens when you lower deer densities: where one Scots pine was standing tall but lonely on the moor, countless seedlings and saplings are now emerging and may someday make up a forest that will blanket the hillside. And, as we realised when discussing the climatic controls of treelines, much of our Highlands are not quite arctic enough to prevent tree regeneration (if you don’t count the very arctic-like top of Cairngorm Mountain!). Therefore, the future of forests in this region seems to be much more in the hands of landowners and stakeholders than at the mercy of rain, wind and snow.

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The golden leaves of autumn in the Cairngorms.

Haydn – Scottish woodland expert and NERC intern

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams suggests that ancient economists, upon deciding to use leaves as currency, overcame the resulting problem of inflation by burning all the forests. Scanning the horizon in parts of the Scottish Highlands, you might be forgiven in thinking that some landowners past (and even present) have had rather the same idea. On the banks of the River Feshie, underneath a copse of regenerating pine, we discussed whether the woods should return to the hills. Should the fantasy of an ancient Caledonia should be brought to life amidst the foggy glens? Should the rank and file of Canadian conifers provide home-grown, sustainable timber? Should the roar of the stag and gaggle of the grouse find its home on the bare hills, iconically Scottish, all around the blooming heather.

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Pondering the mother Scots pine tree and woodland regeneration

Such questions are not simply of land use, nor simply of ecology. Who decides? What is it for? Who is it for? Land ownership and the distribution of benefits inevitably, but necessarily, pervaded our discussions. To some, ownership itself was the key – the vast proportion of land in Scotland that belongs to wealthy individuals or giant corporations was in itself unjust. To others, the outcome mattered more – a healthy ecology or free and open access for the public, regardless of ownership. One thing was certain as we continued to wander through Glen Feshie, golden confetti raining down from rejuvenated woodlands, all thanks to the second-largest landowner in Europe. The answers aren’t easy.

Gergana – Biodiversity expert and course alumna

I have been dreaming of going to the field trip for two years, and this year it finally happened! I took the Conservation Science course as a student two years ago, and I loved it! The opinion piece was definitely one of my favourite assignments ever, and earlier this year, it got published in the Biosphere magazine –  you can check it out here if you are keen to learn about conservation in the Australian Outback. I was also very excited about the course having a blog, so I couldn’t stop myself at writing just the blog post that was part of the course assignments, and wrote one more about how our obsession with rare species might be hampering conservation. Overall, I was very inspired and motivated by the course. I was also very bummed out, because I couldn’t go along to the field trip back then, so I only got to hear the amazing stories and look at the beautiful photos. When I came back to the University of Edinburgh this fall as a PhD student, I was thrilled that not only will I get to do my dream research, but I will also be able to do my dream tutoring on the Conservation Science and GeoScience Outreach courses. As we headed out to the Cairngorms, well, you probably couldn’t see my enthusiasm and excitement, because I get motion sickness very easily, but once we arrived, I was all ready for adventure!

The activity I led was a game called “Species on the move”. Here is the premise. Faced with climate change, habitat change, conflicts with human activities and naturally occurring environmental change, species have three options: adapt, move, or go extinct. We focused on moving, or changes in distribution ranges, as this strategy might be particularly relevant in Scotland, where climate change and land use change might force species to move. Each student drew a species card and joined one of two ecological communities. The students, each representing a species, lined up – their current habitats were no longer suitable, so they had to move. Species traits, human attitude and conservation support all influence the success of species on the move. I then called out various criteria for movement, like: “If you can fly, take one step forward”, “If fences can’t stop you, take one step forward”. Half way through we introduced lynx and beaver in our ecological communities, which then had effects on the success of some of the already present species.

The aim of the game was to find out which species first reach their new, more suitable habitat. As students were taking steps forwards and sometimes back (poor rare alpine plants!), we could already put together a picture of how intrinsic factors, like species’ traits, interact with extrinsic factors like land management and conservation interventions, to create dynamic ecosystems, where some species will be winners, and others losers, Afterwards, we heard from our winning and losing species, who all shared their strategies for success or what held them back. Haydn, our Scottish crossbill, shared why he was way behind Thomas, the Common crossbill. Or were those meant to be the same species? Afterwards all of us, winners and losers, had a warm cup of tea and ate delicious cake, a lovely finish to our adventures in the Highlands!

You can download the cards for “Species on the move” here.

Thanks to all who participated and supported another great field trip to the Cairngorms!

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ConSci goes to the RSE Spotlight on Scotland’s Biodiversity Conference

The Conservation Science course has a strong focus on the development of practical skills with real world application. The field trip to the Cairngorms provides undergraduates to see conservation in action and to talk to conservation practitioners in Scotland. This year, we got the chance to do that even before the field trip!

Earlier in October, we (students, tutors and Isla) attended the Spotlight on Scotland’s Biodiversity conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. For the students, it was their first ever conference, and it certainly was inspiring to see them chat to speakers and engage with wide-ranging conservation topics – from policy, natural capital, agri-environment management, peatland restoration all the way to the conservation action plan of the Scottish wildcat.

We are thankful to the organisers for bringing together young people with established scientists and people working at the science-policy interface! Many jolly discussions followed, inspired by the talks we saw and the conversations we had with the speakers.

Here we have collated our highlights from the conference.

Claudia, Undergraduate and student on the Conservation Science course
I was slightly nervous on attending my first conference ever but it turned out to be a wonderfully educative environment without the pressure of being assessed on any of the information given. The speakers presented innovative ideas and areas of research which helped stimulate and develop my interests in conservation. I particularly enjoyed talking with the speakers after the presentations who were all very approachable, effectively decreasing the “student-teacher generation gap”. The absolute highlight was talking to the lovely ladies representing Scottish Wildcat Action, who patiently answered all our burning questions and encouraged us to stay in touch.

Fiona, Undergraduate and student on the CS course 
I had never attended a conference before so was slightly apprehensive as to whether I would “fit in”. But after the first set lectures and getting to chat to the speakers I felt at ease and really enjoyed the enthusiastic and welcoming environment. I particularly appreciated how approachable the speakers were afterwards, which has encouraged me to be more proactive in contacting others outside of university settings. The highlight on the second day was definitely the presentations involving the ReRoute group, and the stimulating discussion which followed about the future of conservation. I left feeling optimistic and encouraged to engage more in events such as this.

Jack, Undergraduate and student on the CS course
Having never attended a scientific conference before it was really enlightening to have my first experience of the scientific community outside a typical university setting.  I was amazed to discover how much conservation work is going on right here in Scotland.  At first it was rather daunting to even think of asking a question for fear of seeming silly, or taking time away from someone more qualified, in front of so many academics.  Towards the end of the conference however, I had lost that, thanks to the encouragement of the staff and speakers at the event as they were all very approachable and enthusiastic.  A big thanks to Gergana for organising the booking for everyone and guiding us through our first (of hopefully many) conferences.

Gergana, PhD student and tutor on the Conservation Science course
Topics I found particularly interesting include whether conservation should be focused on species-specific measures or broader ecosystem functionality, as well as the effect of climate change on species richness-oriented conservation. For example, should one of conservation’s goals be to maintain and/or increase biodiversity (most often quantified through species richness)? Climate change might make Scotland more biodiverse, but we probably wouldn’t be calling that a conservation success story! Eladio Fernandez-Galiano from the Council of Europe brought up the issue of Scotland potentially losing the species that make Scottish nature Scottish. Invasive species also made an appearance among talks, and it was intriguing to ponder whether species, colonising a certain area due to climate change and range shifts, should be classified as native or invasive. A particularly strong point of the conference for me were the three presentations delivered by pupils, part of the Scottish Natural Heritage’s ReRoute programme, and researchers and academics. It was fantastic to hear about young people’s views on conservation directly from them, and what excellent speakers they were – their presentations were clear, well-organised, and they answered questions from the audience like pros!

Mariana, PhD student and tutor on the Conservation Science course
I thought that the conference was a great success overall since it managed to bring together different audiences including academics, practitioners and policy-makers. It’s initiatives like this that are able to bridge the science/policy interface effectively, which is often a difficult task. It was very interesting to hear about the wide range of initiatives that are currently in place in order to tackle biodiversity loss – from local green spaces to ex-situ conservation and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) targets. Finally, emphasis was placed on looking ahead and finding solutions in light of the current major threats to biodiversity, acknowledging the good progress made in Scotland but identifying the challenges and finding solutions – which is what it should all be about!

Isla Myers-Smith, Course organiser for the Conservation Science honours course
As course organiser for the Conservation Science course, I was really excited that our students got the opportunity to participate in the Spotlight on Scotland’s Biodiversity Conference.  It was really great to chat to the students about their first conference experience afterwards and to see how inspired those students now are about future careers in conservation.  It can be a really important moment, the first time you get to network with professionals in your field or ask a question of a renowned scientist.  Sometimes as a regular conference goer, I forget about how both intimidating and exciting conferences can be and how important it is to work up the confidence to ask a question of the speaker.  By bringing early career and senior scientists together – the Spotlight on Scotland’s Biodiversity Conference provided this first networking opportunity for some of the 2017 Conservation Science students – an experience that hopefully they will remember when it is them who are the senior scientists in the room.

 

Getting quantitative & testing Island Biogeography Theory

Ecological theories and breakfast cereal naturally go hand in hand, at least for us Conservation Science folks. We have a tradition of using cereal for scientific experiments (check out our results from 2015 and 2016), testing MacArthur and Wilson’s Island Biogeography Theory, and some of us among the teaching staff have been known to play “Guess the theory” during breakfast – a stimulating start of day putting your ecological knowledge to the test!

This Tuesday morning, though, there was no question as to which theory we were referring to – Island Biogeography. In particular, we tested the ideas that the bigger an island is, the more species it can support, and the more isolated an island is, the fewer species that will have the opportunity to colonise.

The premise of our experiment is simple. While in our usual day to day lives it may be true that no man (or woman) is an island, for the purpose of this experiment, everyone was indeed an island, or at least they were responsible for one. Each student grabbed a container of a particular size and placed it at a random distance from the “mainland”. We then temporally abandoned our islands, returned to the mainland, which happened to be supporting a great abundance of breakfast cereal species. With hands full of cereal and lined up along the mainland, we turned our backs to our islands, and threw the cereal in their direction.

We set out our hypotheses, measured, counted, and then went through a quick coding exercise to unwrap the data presents!

Fig. 1.  Species-area and species-isolation relationships presented using different analytical approaches.

Our data were quite zero-inflated as you can see from the first set of plots above. Overall, there was a trend for more species on bigger islands, and fewer species on more isolated islands. After seeing the plots, we discussed how we can improve our cereal experiment in the future. Perhaps we should have used more cereal and repeated our colonisation processes a few times to increase our sample size. It probably didn’t help that we were colonising our islands as hurricane Ophelia was passing through the UK – the winds could have carried away our cereal species in unpredictable directions. Most of the students chose small containers, so we had few data points for islands with large areas. On the third plot above, which we made by fitting a smooth curve,  you can spot an interesting hump-shaped species-isolation relationship. Well, we think we know why! Our islands may have been a bit too close to the mainland, so when we threw the cereal in the air, it would fly over the closest islands and be more likely to land in the islands at an intermediate distance.

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Fig. 2. Species-area (A) and species-isolation (B) relationships for brown and white species.

Our breakfast cereal species came in different colours – brown (chocolate) and white (honey), but colour didn’t seem to affect the species-area and species-isolation relationships.

We wrapped up our morning of island hopping with another visit to the mainland, with our metaphorical mainland being Kluane National Park this time. We then took the roles of conservation scientists, tasked with estimating the size of the local brown bear population. Our resources were limited – a box of cereal, a tupperware container, a marker and our minds. Working in small groups, we designed a mark-recapture experiment. Here are the results:

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Fig. 3. Population estimates of the brown bear population in Kluane National Park in Canada. Numbers derived using a mark-recapture technique and cereal as a proxy for bears. Black dots indicate actual population numbers. Error bars show standard deviations for Isla and Gergana’s groups, and standard errors for Mariana’s group.

We discussed experimental design, as well as its implications – for example Pedro and Zac’s groups didn’t calculate a measure of uncertainty around their estimates, and Gergana’s group ate their cereal, so they couldn’t count the actual population. Mariana’s group got the most accurate answer, and the first method Gergana’s group used led to the most precise estimate. The first method Gergana’s group used was to mark only 20 individuals, then for their second method, they marked 40, thinking that as more individuals are marked, the estimates become more precise, not the case this time though!

You can download the data we collected during this week’s ConSci session here – Island Biogeography dataset and Bear population dataset.

You can download our R Script here.

Keen to learn more about coding, models and data visualisation? Here are a few relevant Coding Club tutorials:

By Gergana

The Cons. Sci. 2016 field trip

We had a great year of Conservation Science in 2016.  Below you can revisit some of the highlights on our 2016 field trip to the Cairngorms.

Thanks to CairnGorm Mountain, the Glen Feshie and Rothiemurchus Estates, Badaguish Outdoor Centre and Cairngorm National Park for allowing us to visit and discuss conservation in Scotland’s mountain wilderness.

Our field trip to the highlands of Scotland has been immortalized as a video on the Teaching Matter’s website.

Here are some beautiful photos of the field trip taken by Sandra Angers-Blondin our official field trip photographer.

New Zealand and 1080: A toxic romance?

By Rebecca

New Zealand (NZ) provides a home to some of the most interesting birdlife in the world. This is because NZ is an island, which means it has allowed for unusual evolutionary processes. Humans only arrived on the island about 800 years ago. So, birds have been able to reproduce and evolve to their surroundings without human influence and without land animals trying to eat them! Since NZ is made up of island and not attached to large landmasses, the species that evolved there are only found in NZ. This makes them all the more special and important. Native birds still hold particular significance to the Māori people (first people to inhabit NZ) due to their significance in kōrero tuku iho (legends/mythology). In this present day, many of these native birds have become extinct or are now in danger of extinction due to human arrival on the islands.

Extinct bird species can be explored at http://terranature.org/extinctbirds.htm . Find out more about current living species in New Zealand at http://terranature.org/nativebirds_list.htm .

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The laughing owl, now extinct, photographed some time between 1889 and 1910. Photo: Henry Charles Clare Wright, via wikipedia.com.

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The Kea, a native bird of New Zealand, which is now classed as ‘vulnerable’. Photo: David Spiegel, adventurecloud.com

Humans introduced mammals on purpose and also by accident to NZ. This is one of the biggest threats to the native bird species of NZ (PCE, 2011). Ships coming from other countries brought rats by accident, the brushtail possum as well as stoats made it to the island and began to reproduce and spread. When the mammals came, the birds were unprepared, as they have been used to living their lives without these predatory mammals. It has been estimated that 60% of all kiwi chicks are eaten by stoats (PCE, 2011). The NZ government decided something must be done to stop the decline of native bird species.

The ‘Predator Free New Zealand 2050’ action plan has been put into effect, aiming to remove the three main predators (rats, possum and stoats) from NZ by 2050. The main method of doing this is to distribute a poison called sodium fluroacetate, also known as 1080, over target areas in the hope that the predators will eat the poison (PCE, 2011). Planes currently drop the poison over these areas with little or no aim. This poison is not a specific poison for these mammals; it affects almost all breathing organisms.

This is the cheapest way of controlling the pests but the numbers of native bird species are still in decline. 1080 has been able to decrease possum numbers by 99.5% in one area (Greene et.al, 2013). However, it is difficult to know how 1080 is affecting the wider ecosystem and if the deaths of non-target species outweigh the benefits of reducing the number of target species. It has been argued that the birds will be unable to recover from the significant declines in non-target species. A disturbance of this scale has the potential to decrease the endangered birds likelihood of thriving (Greene et.al. 2013).

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The reality of distributing 1080 poison. Cartoon: Al Nisbet, 2008. Alexander Turnbull Library. NZ Cartoon Archive. DCDL-0007273. Via stuff.co.nz

There are multiple questions that need to be addressed when making decisions to continue distributing 1080. It is still unknown how the poison is affecting soils, plants and nutrients. These would be classed as ‘sub-lethal’ harms, which have not yet been investigated (Weaver, 2006). Everything in the ecosystem is interconnected and so it is essential that the sub-lethal effects of 1080 be further investigated to understand how it will affect the ecosystem as a whole. In addition to this native people of New Zealand (Māori people) rely on the bush for many reasons, one being medicine from Te Rongoā plants. It is impossible to know the effects 1080 will have on these plants in the future.

The cost of distribution would almost double if 1080 was to be distributed by the land rather than by aerial drop (PCE, 2011). However, this method would allow for a reduction in non-target species death. Unfortunately, the reduced cost and the ease of distributing 1080 by aerial drop are currently outweighing the benefits of this option for the decision makers.

The points outlined in this blog aim to communicate the significant number of discrepancies found in the thinking behind distributing 1080 across NZ. It is essential to understand how 1080 is going to affect the ecosystem as a whole, which could directly affect the lives of Māori people that rely on the services such as medicine from the bush.  Until the effects are fully understood, all distribution of the poison should be halted. The release of such a toxic substance with such little knowledge of the true effects is reckless and could worsen the situation it is aiming to better.

For further reading please see the following:

Socolar, S. and Wilcove, D. (2016). “Threatened Birds” Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. Second Edition addresses the wider scope of threatened bird species and so gives an overview of other issues bird communities are facing as well as ways of preventing these declines.

The New Zealand Department for Conservation webpage on 1080 poison.

1080: the facts offers some different views on the issue.

References

  1. Greene, T.C., Dilks, P.J, Westbrooke, I.M, Pryde, M.A. (2013). Monitoring selected forest bird species through aerial application of 1080 baits, Waitutu, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, Vol.37, No.1
  2. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, PCE. (2011). Evaluating the use of 1080: Predators, poisons and silent forest. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (Dr. Jan Wright) Report. Accessed online: www.pce.parliament.nz
  3. Weaver, S. (2006). Chronic Toxicity of 1080 and its Implications for Conservation Management: A New Zealand Case Study. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 19(4), 367-389

Artificial Reefs: the last wave of hope for our ocean?

By Heather

2016: A tragic year for coral reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst ever coral bleaching event to date (1). Corals worldwide are declining along with the sea creature communities they support. Many will have heard of the phenomenon of coral bleaching. It occurs when corals become stressed and expel their algae (the organisms they live and interact with which give them their colour). It comes as no surprise that humans are the source of this issue; both directly, through harvesting and disturbing these areas, or indirectly, through climate change, which is warming the oceans to a temperature that the many corals can no longer handle (2).

Humans are also their own victims of this underwater catastrophe. Not only do we benefit economically from the biodiversity of reefs, they offer coastline protection, food, medicine and recreation (3). Vast areas which, not long ago, were vibrant, colourful undersea communities supporting around one third of marine species have transformed into desolate, grey dead zones. Further, 75% of remaining reefs are under threat (2).

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Bleaching process of a coral reef near American Samoa. Photo: XL Caitlin Seaview Survey, via the Huffington Post

There is no escaping this grim reality. But all hope for reefs has not yet vanished entirely.  Actions are being taken to repair the damage.

During the 2016 Conservation Science Conference, Amy Kerr introduced us to a conservation tool that has been used for several years: Artificial Reefs. However, their effectiveness is currently being questioned.

At first glance, ‘faking it’ is surely a plausible solution to this problem. If humans have caused the loss of these magnificent structures, surely they can utilise their resources to aid their recovery.

Several types of artificial reef are currently in place:

  1. Manmade reefs are specifically designed to attempt to accurately reflect real coral reefs. Below is a ‘reef ball’, widely considered to be a successful at recolonising marine communities. However these present dangers to humans and may be disruptive to the surrounding environment (4).

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Photo: TA Marine Science

2. Discarded structures such as ships or tires are a popular form of artificial reef, which are known to become home to a diverse community to organisms. Environmentalists, however, have concerns that these structures can leach toxic substances into the water, and therefore do more harm than good to marine life (5).

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Photo: Richard Whitcombe, Shutterstock

3.Underwater Art Museums are a recent concept. They are manufactured to attract corals thereby combining culture with conservation. If these are successful, it is a possibility that it could raise awareness and dissuade divers from disturbing natural reefs. Take a look at this stunning video displaying exhibition by English Artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, who uses the human form to try and strengthen the connection between humans and the environment (6).

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Photo: http://www.underwatersculpture.com/

But…Is there a limit to how well we can replicate the intricacy of nature? Should we focus precious marine conservation funding on this somewhat idealistic concept? Artificial reef opponents believe it is a waste of resources. There are concerns they will fail to develop new communities of marine organisms and instead attract and displace fish from other areas. These new structures may also attract fishing in areas which already suffer from depleted stocks (7).

Amy remains optimistic and convincingly concluded that research into creating the most effective designs of reefs is crucial and focus must be placed on enhancing their long term success. In order to succeed, she suggested that regulations must be put in place in terms of fishing, water use and materials used to construct these reefs.

Time is running out, and if this is not done carefully and efficiently, the days for our remaining coral reefs will be numbered.

It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance.”– Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist

References

  1. Authority GB. Interim report: 2016 coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef.
  2. Burke L, Reytar K, Spalding M, Perry A. Reefs at risk revisited. 2011.
  3. Brander LM, Van Beukering P, Cesar HS. The recreational value of coral reefs: a meta-analysis. Ecological Economics. 2007 Jun 15;63(1):209-18.
  4. Proposal for Reef Ball Submerged Breakwater [Internet]. Artificialreefs.org. 2016 [cited 17 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.artificialreefs.org/ScientificReports/bigplacesmallcaribbeanisland.htm
  5. Sherman RL, Spieler RE. Tires: unstable materials for artificial reef construction. WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment. 2006;88:215-23.
  6. Underwater Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor [Internet]. Underwater Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor. 2016 [cited 17 November 2016]. Available from: http://www.underwatersculpture.com/
  7. Abelson A. Artificial reefs vs coral transplantation as restoration tools for mitigating coral reef deterioration: benefits, concerns, and proposed guidelines. Bulletin of Marine Science. 2006 Jan 1;78(1):151-9.