Tag Archives: environment

Protecting common species more important than saving endangered ones, new research suggests

Atlantic Cod, the importance of the ordinary animal

The once common Atlantic cod

In wildlife conservation, people tend to pay closer attention to the disappearing creatures. There is a sense of urgency, and rightfully so, to save the few, but new research indicates that it is the common things that need protecting. For if they go, all the ways that they influence the nature of the world will be so disturbed that even the rare will have nowhere left to go. Let’s face it. If things get so bad that even common critters aren’t around anymore, we’re in deep doo-doo.

The research, led by Kerstin Johannesson with the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, looked specifically at marine systems. Johannesson found that a vast number of species in the oceans are so rare, it’s difficult to find even  a few individuals anymore. “Committing most resources to saving individual species is not just an expensive business – it would also risk destroying the foundation for ecosystems,” states a press release on the study.

Common species, found Johannesson, create habitat for other species, so by protecting them, it’s possible to protect the rare animals as well.  Johannesson uses the once common cod in the fjords of the Bohuslän coast as an example of this phenomenon. Their numbers have virtually disappeared.

“Without the big predatory fish, the sea-grass meadows become clogged, with the result that the shallow bays no longer act as larders and nurseries for inshore fish,” Johannesson stated in a press release.

I don’t know if Johannesson’s conservation strategy is the right way to go, moreso than concentrating on endangered species, but who’s to say that we shouldn’t really implement both tactics? Regardless, I have no doubt that we need to understand better the value of the common creatures. After all preventative conservation, sure does sound a heck of a lot smarter and potentially easier than waiting to clean up a mess.

What are your thoughts?

Lead Researcher:

Kerstin Johannesson of the University of Gothenburg

Contact:

Kerstin Johannesson, Kerstin.Johannesson@marecol.gu.se, 465-266-8611


Backcountry trek to study Rocky Mountain National Park fish introductions

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At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I work as the science writer for CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. My job doesn’t stop at writing about science. Being a photographer and multimedia producer play equal parts.

In this instance, I got to hit the trail with Jimmy McCutchan and Tommy Detmer, a couple of CIRES scientists studying the effects of fish introductions on formerly fishless lakes of Rocky Mountain National Park. Fish were introduced to support fly fishing from the 1800s until the 1960s. Now the National Park Service is working with CIRES to find out what’s happened to those lakes, knowledge that may help guide future management.

Their study also isn’t a bad way to work a little fly fishing into your science.

You can learn more about CIRES science at cires.colorado.edu, or check out the CIRESvideos channel on YouTube.com.

 


WILD9 World Wilderness Congress: Different toolbox, same mission

Young Professionals and some of histories greatest conservationists gather at the Piedradeagua Hotel in Merida, Mexico, to enjoy some fine dining and discussions of how to conserve our planet. (Photo/Morgan Heim)

WILD9, thrusts you into a different world. Standing among so many of your heroes, legendary conservationists like Jane Goodall, and many of the world’s most renown conservation photographers can be an overwhelming experience, especially for a young professional. Everyone comes from a different background, science, conservation, communication, policy and business. Throw into that mix the intermingling of culture all around us, and it’s hard to know where to focus. And as any photographer can tell you, not knowing where to focus makes us just a little bit nervous.

But as the days pass, a transformation happens, and you start relating to each other as fellow human-beings with a common purpose. We are holding different parts of the puzzle and bringing it all together. We are participants. And after a few days, the mayhem begins to settle until you flow between roles and people and conversations.

Sasha, a young professional from Kamchatka, Russia jumps into a doorway to avoid streets flooded from the rains that hit Merida most likely in connection with Hurricane Ida.

I’ve been lucky. Much of this congress has focused on the role of conservation’s next generation. Of which, I am a part. I’ve had the opportunity to participate on panels, giving talks about how to use new media to further conservation messages. And work with the other young professionals on their media training day. It’s quite clear that we are here for a reason.

Last Tuesday night, many of the young professionals attended a special dinner in the ivy-walled gardens of the Piedradeagua Hotel in Merida. Fellow iLCP emerging league photographer Joe Riis was there, along with young professionals with veterinary backgrounds, community planning, and nature conservation management. And we found ourselves dining with the likes of Dr. Kenneth Miller, former Director General of the IUCN. To me this symbolized the culmination of our partnerships and the importance of meetings like the WILD9 World Wilderness Congress – a community of conservationists, each using a different toolbox, and spanning generations, but working together for the future.


What is Conservation Photography?

You can tell when someone puts their heart into something. And young conservation photographer Hunter Nichols is one of those people. The camera is but a tool to help save a place that he loves, Alabama’s Cahaba River, an ecosystem falling apart under the stress of increasing urbanization.

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Conservation photography goes beyond iconic beauty shots of nature, connecting us with these places and their struggles for survival. Nichols not only takes us through a dream-scape river echoing with a cacophony of birds and wildlife, but shows us the active clear-cutting, new neighborhoods and environmental consequences of rapid urban sprawl. As Nichols says in his video, “we never miss something we never knew, but we suffer from what we’ve lost.”

Then again because of people like Nichols, we not only learn of the unknown places, but just might get to one-day experience them for ourselves. Watch this short video to see what Hunter is trying to protect, and learn a little something about conservation photography.


You can view more of Nichols’s work at hunternichols.tripod.com.


Photo Tour: Autumn at Sawhill Ponds

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For you naturephiles out there, there’s nothing like finding that local wildlife hotspot you can explore whenever the fancy takes you. For me, that place is Sawhill Ponds, a series of 18 reclaimed gravel pits that now support a wealth of interconnected habitats from meadow to woodlands and marshes. This busy microcosm offers more than a peaceful place to take a walk, no matter the season. There is an abundance of wildlife to enjoy, including owls, coyotes, waterfowl and frogs, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of downtown Boulder, Colo.

These images are part of a project documenting this wildlife refuge and its inhabitants through the year. Stay tuned in a couple of weeks for Sawhill Ponds: Winter.


Reclamation, restoration and mountaintop removal

My first taste of reclamation came as a grad student while on a fieldtrip along Colorado’s “Uranium Highway.” We stopped in the ghost town of Uravan, a former Uranium/Vanadium boomtown. And except for a couple buildings, everything had been torn down, the tailings ponds evaporated, land reclaimed or in the process of being so. It was then that I learned that reclamation and restoration were not the same thing. Above the once upon town sat tailings sites. Instead of a rust-colored desert environment,  meticulous patterns of white and black rock zig-zagged across the hilltop, laid out like some sort of interpretive landscape project.

Reclamation, I thought, was supposed to help clean up after we’d finished using the land. It was supposed to help return the land to itself. I’ve seen many reclaimed sites since that fieldtrip, and have yet to come across one that resembled nature’s design.

That’s not to say that reclamation is a lost cause or a sham, just that it can be better. Now scientists are trying to help make that happen with arguably one of the most destructive and controversial mining practices at work today, mountaintop removal. Sarah Hall, of Kentucky State University,  and her colleagues Christopher Barton and Carol Baskin, of the University of Kentucky, have discovered a new method of replanting mined Appalachian sites, one that gives native landscapes a leg up at renewal. (You can find their study in the online early edition of Restoration Ecology)

Mountaintop removal reclamation projects often involve planting blasted and terraced mountainsides with non-native grasses. (Early surface mine reclamation would sometimes simply abandoned the site.) Perhaps one of the more unexpected outcomes of reclamation comes from Mingo County, W. Va., where reclamation turned a blast site into what’s now known as the Twisted Gun Golf Course.

Rather than seeding mined areas with grasses, which tend to stunt recovery of native species, Hall sought to test the possibility of replanting mountaintop removal sites with the trees and forbs kin to the forests that had existed before the mines. Hall’s idea seems in hindsight to be quite obvious. Put back the original topsoil scraped away when creating the mine. This soil she found was rich with the seeds and microbial recipe that could help re-establish forest. Where Hall and her team tried the method, the plants started to grow, including arrow-leaved asters, Virginia pines and blueberry.

The method is not enough to completely recover the forest, but it’s a start, and a step up from the grassy slopes that have come to replace so many of Appalachia’s mined mountainsides. Hall’s research highlights a two-fold lesson  – we need to recognize that reclamation is not restoration, and there are practical ways to make reclamation better. Then maybe these environments that have given us so much of their riches at least have a chance to return to themselves, even if it’s just a little.


Prehistoric mega-snake reveals ancient climate

Godzilla has nothing on a newly discovered snake species that existed 60 million years ago. The nearly 50 foot-long, one and a half ton snake is the largest ever discovered and would dwarf even today’s biggest anacondas. But its size isn’t the only thing impressing scientists. The remains of this constrictor-like snake contain clues about climate and environment that existed during prehistoric times, a link that could also help researchers understand the effects of climate change on today’s ecosystems.

Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Florida, and Carlos Jaramillo, with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, led the expedition into the previously inaccessible Colombian forest. Based on the link between snake body-size and temperature, Jason Head, a University of Toronto Mississauga paleonotologist, and his team were able to deduce the ancient climate down to the degree Celsius. What they found was an equatorial forest environment that was about 6 degrees warmer than today’s annual temperatures.

“The key thing about this discovery is that we can use it as a launching point to develop very precise climatic reconstructions,” said Head in a press release. “It will help us to look at how ecosystems respond to climate change and specifically, what happens when temperatures increase or decrease.” 

You can read more about this colossal herpetology/paleontology/climate discovery in the Feb. 5, 2009 issue of Nature.


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