Conservation Science Blog

New research relevant to conservation in western North America

The Conservation Science Blog is intended to bring new and relevant research to the attention of conservation scientists, and facilitate discussion on how to apply this science to further conservation goals in western North America.

Costs to ecosystem services from human-caused changes in the nitrogen cycle

A new paper (full paper here) by Compton et al. in Ecology Letters evaluates the costs to ecosystem services due to the many ways in which humans add excess nitrogen into the environment through both non-point sources such as agricultural runoff and point-source pollution from electrical utilities. The authors conclude that “Damage costs outweigh the costs associated with reducing N loading. This provides a strong rationale for mitigation of N pollution and the associated effects on ecosystem services. The fact that these initial estimates (Table 2) are incomplete means that our analysis almost certainly underestimates the societal benefits to mitigating the negative effects of nitrogen pollution.”

Is there a “rule of thumb” for minimum viable populations?

A new review by Curtis Flather and colleagues in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution questions the claim that there is a ‘magic number’ applicable across diverse taxa for setting a “minimum viable population” threshold below which a species is at high risk of extinction. The review has received some coverage in the media as implying that ambitious goals for recovery of endangered species are not supported by science. As an example, the media article cited “a coalition of environmental groups” who claimed that “to survive and thrive…the [wolf] population needed at least 2,000 and preferably 5,000 wolves.” But this conclusion misses the primary focus of Flather et al.’s review. Read more

Communicating science: is lack of information the problem?

Much of what we do as scientists is based on the belief that our fellow citizens are ‘rational actors’, who just need access to good informatioon to make rational decisions. However, the recent debate over whether humans are altering the earth’s climate suggests to many that lack of information is not the problem. In a recent column in the magazine Mother Jones, Chris Mooney reports on studies which suggest that “people reject[…] the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views…that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.” Read more

Comprehensive analysis of wolf genome suggests new conservation priorities

Sorry I haven’t had time to post recently (did you know there’s an entire blog devoted to that topic?), but today I hope to get caught up on a few new papers that shed light on topical conservation issues such as wolf recovery.

Bridget vonHoldt and colleagues have performed the most comprehensive assessment to date on genetic diversity in the wolf. Genotyping arrays developed for dogs, that assay 48,000 areas on the genome, were applied to determine relatedness among the world’s wolves. In contrast, just a few years ago such genetic assessments could examine perhaps dozens of fragments of the genome.

The results suggested several conclusions that are relevant to wolf conservation: Read more

Posted in Endangered species management |

New research on threats to biodiversity from climate change

In a recent article, the New York Times drew attention to three new papers on the threat to biodiversity from climate change.

Multitude of Species Face Climate Threat

“Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.
For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia. Read more

Posted in Climate change, Endangered species management |

SCB Policy Fellowship

The Society for Conservation Biology is pleased to announce a new Policy Fellowship. Deadline for applying is May 31st. Description and applications procedure are available at: