Happy Earth Day! Here’s how conservation can work

Can conservation efforts help save creatures and places under threat? For whales, raptors, fish, clams, sharks, and tarsiers, the answer seems to be yes. For polar bears, tigers, pandas, and many more animals, the answers is less clear. Here’s how scientists are working to meet major conservation challenges.

How to turn an office park into a raptor habitat

Businesses can play a role in raptor conservation—and possibly boost employee morale—by adding more native grasslands and woodlots, as opposed to lawns. Raptors, or birds of prey, some of which are endangered species, typically live in environments that provide natural land cover, such as forests and grasslands.

“Greater amounts of cleared and developed space, such as lawn and pavement, around these businesses have negative effects on raptor presence,” says Charles Nilon, professor of fisheries and wildlife at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “In areas with more natural land cover of tall grass, woodlands, and tree cover, we saw a higher number of raptors. Simply adding certain trees and leaving tall grass can attract this wildlife.” READ MORE…

Can local fishing communities save the oceans?

A man stands in his fishing boat
(Credit: Garth Cripps/Blue Ventures)

The first assessment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) in the Western Indian Ocean shows a revolution in the management of more than 4,200 square miles of marine protected areas.

“LMMAs have proven to be a cost-effective, scaleable, resilient, and more socially acceptable alternative to more traditional ‘top-down’ methods of marine resource management. They have also shown promise as a means to safeguard food security, address coastal poverty, and help coastal communities to adapt to climate change,” says Julie Hawkins of the University of York. SEE THE SLIDESHOW…

Pacific’s great white sharks are doing ‘better than okay’

An alarming study three years ago reported that great white sharks in the northern Pacific were under threat, but new research refutes that claim. In fact, scientists say their numbers likely are growing.

The findings are good news for shark conservation, says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, and they indicate that measures to protect the ocean’s apex predator are working.

“White sharks are the largest and most charismatic of the predator sharks, and the poster child for sharks and the oceans in general,” says Burgess, whose research program is based at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. “If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it’s a relief to find they’re in good shape.” READ MORE…

Tourism and mining threaten tiny primate

(Credit: Klaus Stiefel/Flickr)

Genetic research could help save a tiny, carnivorous primate from the Philippines called the tarsier.

“It’s really not like any animals that Americans are familiar with,” says Rafe Brown, curator-in-charge at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute. “A tarsier has giant eyes and ears; an extremely cute, furry body; a long tail with a furry tuft at the end; and interesting expanded fingers and toe tips that look a bit like the disks on the digits of tree frogs.” READ MORE…

Scallops rebound in Scotland’s protected bay

Surveys of Lamlash Bay, the site of Scotland’s first fully protected marine reserve, suggest the effort is paying off—both for fisheries and conservationists.

“We found strong evidence that protecting Lamlash Bay from fishing has allowed seaweeds, hydroids, and other organisms on the seafloor to recover,” says Leigh Howarth, the study’s lead author who conducted the research as part of his PhD work at the University of York. “These animals act as a magnet for settling juvenile scallops, which seek out these habitats for shelter, and to mature to adulthood.” READ MORE…

California’s blue whales recover in a big way

two blue whales swimming
Two California blue whales swim near the California Channel Islands. The cow is 76 feet long and the calf is 47 feet. (Credit: J Gilpatrick/M Lynn/NOAA)

The number of California blue whales has returned to near historical levels. The species had been hunted nearly to extinction, researchers say.

“The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures,” says Cole Monnahan, a doctoral student in quantitative ecology and resource management at University of Washington. READ MORE…

How to preserve the middle of nowhere

Some wild places are so isolated that preserving them hasn’t been an issue—until now. Scientists have evaluated a range of ways to protect these remote areas.

Isolated wildernesses such as the Palmyra Atoll, which is now a National Wildlife Refuge, provide precious natural laboratories and hold a powerful allure in the popular consciousness. Palmyra, a flyspeck on the map about 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, is one of the “model remote sites” described in depth in a recent study.

“Preserving the last remaining undisturbed ecosystems is the only way to avoid losing intact biodiversity reservoirs,” says study coauthor Fiorenza Micheli, a biology professor affiliated with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Hopkins Marine Station. Like preventive medicine, Micheli says, “It is a relatively small investment we can make to prepare for the highly uncertain future ahead of us.” READ MORE…

5 ways to help polar bears cope with climate change

A new report that examines the state of Arctic marine mammals warns that polar bears and seals are most at risk from a profound loss of sea ice. The study offers recommendations for the conservation of these Arctic animals over the 21st century.

“These species are not only icons of climate change, but they are indicators of ecosystem health and key resources for humans,” says lead author Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist with the Applied Physics Laboratory at University of Washington. READ MORE…

Tigers need diverse gene pool to survive

"Since genetic variability is the raw material for future evolution, our results suggest that without interbreeding subpopulations of tigers, the genetic future for tigers is not viable," says Uma Ramakrishnan. (Credit: Shane Gorski/Flickr)
“Since genetic variability is the raw material for future evolution, our results suggest that without interbreeding subpopulations of tigers, the genetic future for tigers is not viable,” says Uma Ramakrishnan. (Credit: Shane Gorski/Flickr)

Iconic symbols of power and beauty, wild tigers may roam only in stories someday soon. Their historical range has been reduced by more than 90 percent.

But conservation plans that focus only on increasing numbers and preserving distinct subspecies ignore genetic diversity, according to a recent study. In fact, following that approach, the tiger could vanish entirely.

“Numbers don’t tell the entire story,” says Elizabeth Hadly, professor in environmental biology at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. READ MORE…

With humans on the scene, extinctions skyrocket

butterfly in hands
(Credit: Diego da Silva/Flickr)

Extinctions are about 1,000 times more frequent now than in the 60 million years before people came along. That’s 10 times higher than what scientists previously thought.

“This reinforces the urgency to conserve what is left and to try to reduce our impacts,” says Jurriaan de Vos, a Brown University researcher. “It was very, very different before humans entered the scene.”

In absolute—albeit rough—terms, researchers calculated a “normal background rate” of extinction, which is how fast species would go extinct without humans, of 0.1 extinctions per million species per year. That revises the figure of 1 extinction per million species per year that Stuart Pimm, a Duke University professor, estimated in prior work in the 1990s. By contrast, the current extinction rate is more on the order of 100 extinctions per million species per year. READ MORE…