Guns, snares and bulldozers: new map reveals hotspots for harm to wildlife


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Human activity threatens many species across Africa’s savannahs.
Paul Mulondo/WCS, Author provided

James Allan, The University of Queensland; Christopher O’Bryan, The University of Queensland, and James Watson, The University of Queensland

The biggest killers of wildlife globally are unsustainable hunting and harvesting, and the conversion of huge swathes of natural habitat into farms, housing estates, roads and other industrial activities. There is little doubt that these threats are driving the current mass extinction crisis.

Yet our understanding of where these threats overlap with the locations of sensitive species has been poor. This limits our ability to target conservation efforts to the most important places.




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In our new study, published today in Plos Biology, we mapped 15 of the most harmful human threats – including hunting and land clearing – within the locations of 5,457 threatened mammals, birds and amphibians globally.

We found that 1,237 species – a quarter of those assessed – are impacted by threats that cover more than 90% of their distributions. These species include many large, charismatic mammals such as lions and elephants. Most concerningly of all, we identified 395 species that are impacted by threats across 100% of their range.

Mapping the risks

We only mapped threats within a species location if those threats are known to specifically endanger that species. For example, the African lion is threatened by urbanisation, hunting and trapping, so we only quantified the overlap of those specific hazards for this species.

This allowed us to determine the parts of a species’ home range that are impacted by threats and, conversely, the parts that are free of threats and therefore serve as refuges.

We could then identify global hotspots of human impacts on threatened species, as well as “coolspots” where species are largely threat-free.

The fact that so many species face threats across almost all of their range has grave consequences. These species are likely to continue to decline and possibly die out in the impacted parts of their ranges. Completely impacted species certainly face extinction without targeted conservation action.

Conversely, we found more than 1,000 species that were not impacted by human threats at all. Although this is positive news, it is important to note that we have not mapped every possible threat, so our results likely underestimate the true impact. For example, we didn’t account for diseases, which are a major threat to amphibians, or climate change, which is a major threat to virtually all species.

Hotspots and coolspots

We produced the first global map of human impacts on threatened species by combining the parts of each species range that are exposed to threats.
The overwhelmingly dominant global hotspot for human impacts on threatened species is Southeast Asia.

This region contains the top five countries with the most threats to species.
These include Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar.

The most impacted ecosystems include mangroves and tropical forests, which concerningly are home to the greatest diversity of life on Earth.

Hotspots of threats and threatened species richness.
Allan et al. Plos Biol., Author provided

We also created a global map of coolspots by combining the parts of species ranges that are free from human threats. This map identifies the last vestiges of wild places where threatened species have shelter from the ravages of guns, snares and bulldozers. As such, these are crucial conservation strongholds.

Coolspots include parts of the Amazon rainforest, the Andes, the eastern Himalayas, and the forests of Liberia in West Africa.

In many places, coolspots are located near hotspots. This makes sense because in species-rich areas it is likely that many animals are impacted whereas many others are not, due to their varying sensitivity to different threats.

Coolspots of unimpacted species richness.
Allan et al. Plos Biol., Author provided

What next?

There is room for optimism because all the threats we map can be stopped by conservation action. But we need to make sure this action is directed to priority areas, and that it has enough financial and political support.

An obvious first step is to secure threat-free refuges for particular species, via actions such as protected areas, which are paramount for their survival.




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To ensure the survival of highly impacted species with little or no access to refuges, “active threat management” is needed to open enough viable habitat for them to survive. For example, tiger numbers in Nepal have doubled since 2009, mainly as a result of targeted anti-poaching efforts.

Tackling threats and protecting refuges are complementary approaches that will be most effective if carried out simultaneously. Our study provides information that can help guide these efforts and help to make national and global conservation plans as successful as possible.


The authors acknowledge the contributions of Hugh Possingham, Oscar Venter, Moreno Di Marco and Scott Consaul Atkinson to the research on which this article is based.The Conversation

James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; Christopher O’Bryan, PhD Candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, and James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How (and why) to stay optimistic when it feels like the environment is falling apart



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Providing optimism in the face of environmental reality can help people stay aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.
Photo: A. Sergeev

Dominic McAfee, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, University of South Australia

Humans love optimism. It’s a no-brainer – optimism makes us feel good and wanting more. This attraction has deep neurological roots that affect both our brain functions and how we process new information.

For this reason, optimism is powerful. Optimistic individuals or groups frequently perform better in sports, are better negotiators in business, and recover faster from illness. Feeling optimistic may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.




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But for scientists trying to communicate dark and difficult messages about conservation, extinction risks or climate change, pessimism can also be a useful tool (and a logical outcome). Shock headlines grab attention – and may more accurately reflect reality. But too much leads to fatigue and disengagement.

Published today in BioScience, our research outlines steps to usefully combine optimism with pessimism when talking about environmental conservation. We took a deep dive into the literature from psychology, business, politics and communications disciplines, to understand how positive and negative thinking influence human performance.

Know your target audience

To make your environmental message stick, first you need to know who your target audience is. What are their daily fears and future worries? Do they care about nature for nature’s sake, or only when it impacts themselves? How do they perceive scientists? Knowing their fundamental values helps tailor your message.

Let’s say we want to restore an endangered forest, whose existence has been largely forgotten. The benefits of restoring a forgotten habitat are many: the mental health benefits of walking among wise, old trees, the busy routine of forest creatures that churn the soil, increasing forest productivity and cleaning the rivers that flow beyond, and the abundant fruit that falls from the canopy. Not to mention the beauty and wonder of nature, which inspires and enlightens.

Clearly, the benefits of conserving the forest can be framed in many ways for many audiences, whether their primary concerns are environmental, social, economic or personal. Knowing the values and fears of your target audience helps identify what information will resonate.

Build awareness of the threat

Shock grabs attention, so clearly explaining a dire environmental issue is a good strategy for generating initial awareness. An impeding or recent loss (for example, the River Franklin in Tasmania, or fish within the Murray Darling Basin) has a greater attention-grabbing property than positive news, particularly when framed to address the audience’s key concerns. This is where pessimism is necessary – and in fact may simply be realism.




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In our endangered forest, the valuable wood has been logged to near extinction. Without the tree’s shade the soil has turned toxic and hard under the baking sun, rendering the land unsafe for human use. The inaccessibility of the last remnant patches means few people can experience their wonders and they will soon be lost from common memory.

Forest accessibility is important for hikers.
Shutterstock

This is where the first step, understanding your audiences’ values, helps. For keen hikers the accessibility of forests may be most important. For those focused on the cost of living, you might highlight that without the forest filtering and cleaning drinking water they will need to pay for water treatment plants.

If the trees become extinct so will a sustainable logging industry, which reduces employment. (It also speaks to intergenerational equity, where earlier generations benefited at the expense of later generations.)

Build optimism with success stories

While negative news grabs attention, in the absence of hope it can quickly lead to despair and disengagement. By introducing optimism in the face of environmental crises, people can remain both aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.

Indeed, expectation of a positive outcome is a key motivator for people to commit to a cause. But where can optimism be found when all is seemingly lost?




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Optimism can be built on back of environmental success stories. In our example, the endangered trees produce more seeds than needed to replace old trees. Using these seeds, a local community has reforested toxic land where an old forest once stood, producing early signs of a healthy restored ecosystem. Such a success story provides optimism for other communities to envisage success in their own backyard.

Provide a path forward

Neither hope nor fear alone will change people’s behaviour. To allow change, people must believe their actions can make a difference. Therefore, our next step is to infuse optimism with efficacy, by offering the audience a pathway to engage with the issue.

The initial success of the restored forest breathed optimism into other revival efforts. But without public pressure, local governments can see investment in restoration as unnecessary (especially when the town’s water treatment facilities need updating anyway).

However when councils are convinced and communities engaged we can sow the seeds of recovery and create the community stewardship needed for long-term care.

Create community spirit

Our final step is to build a sense of community. Believing in the collective ability of a unified group gives us motivation and commitment. Belonging to a group can empower the individual, helping them confront an issue they would not tackle alone.

Positive community spirit is hard to overlook.
Mike Lemmon/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Encouraging the target audience to form community groups can see a trickle of public pressure increase to a flood. Local administrators may overlook the demands of one or two forest-loving individuals, but it’s hard to ignore a group of voters seeking action.




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The power of positive thinking has long been recognised. But environmental optimism is no panacea. It needs to be balanced with the reality of environmental pessimism. Both have their motivating virtues and finding a balance between them attracts attention and inspires action over the long-term.

Our forest example was derived from our experience with restoring Australia’s lost oyster reefs. South Australia’s 20 hectare oyster reef restoration was enabled by the local enthusiasm of a rural community, which was empowered by the expertise of an NGO and solution-seekers within several government departments; all underpinned by the credibility of university research.The Conversation

Dominic McAfee, Postdoctoral researcher, marine ecology, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, Professor, Ecology, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, Research Fellow, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guinea flowers are fierce and golden



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This guinea flower is called ‘fierce’ after its sharp, painful needles.
The Conversation/Shutterstock

Betsy Jackes, James Cook University

Welcome to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely Australian. Read more about the series here or get in touch to pitch a plant at batb@theconversation.edu.au.


I first became interested in guinea flowers when I heard of a plant growing in Queensland’s White Mountains nicknamed “excruciating” by all who handled it, because of the pungent needle-like leaves which attached themselves to fingers and clothes.

This species is a guinea flower, now scientifically named Hibbertia ferox, meaning “fierce”. Guinea flowers grow across Australia, from the rainforest to semi-arid areas.




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Guinea flowers belong to the genus Hibbertia, which dates back to Gondwana. Members of the genus are easy to recognise, but individual species are hard to tell apart. Their brilliant yellow (or sometimes orange) flowers have petals with a notch at the apex, and they were thought to resemble the appearance of the 18th-century coin known as a golden guinea. As usual there are a couple of exceptions – at least two species have petals that lack a notch.

All too often these small shrubs and woody climbers grow in areas likely to be razed for urban sprawl or mining.



The Conversation

What we know about Hibbertia

English merchant and amateur botanist Henry Charles Andrews named the genus Hibbertia after his friend George Hibbert (1757-1837). Andrews was an artist and engraver as well as a botanist, and the first species he named was based on a plant collected around Port Jackson.

Around 200 species are recognised but there are many unnamed varieties, particularly in tropical areas. Probably the most widespread species and one of the few cultivated is the climbing guinea flower (Hibbertia scandens). It can be grown readily from cuttings but germinates slowly from seeds.

Most species have hairs covering the leaves, which can be critical for identifying a species. Under a good hand lens or a simple microscope their variety and beauty is obvious. In some species the hairs are straight. In others they are branched with arms resembling the spokes on a star, the so-called “stellate hairs”.

Some species have scales – flat, plate-like structures – on their leaves and flowers. Sometimes there are large and small scales on the one surface.

The leaves are also diverse in shape and form: some leaves are shaped like spear and thick, as in Hibbertia banksii of the eastern Cape York area, others are needle-like with margins rolled towards the lower midrib, with a sharp, blood-drawing tip, as in Hibbertia ferox.

A 1795 guinea coin from the reign of George III.
Wikipedia

The flowers are usually solitary and roughly 2cm in diameter, but in some of the northern species they grow in spikes roughly 4-5cm across.

Five sepals surround the five petals, which are broadest towards the top. The flowers usually close at night and reopen the next day.

A distinctive feature is the arrangement of the stamens (the male parts). These may be all on one side of the carpels (the structures containing the unfertilised seeds at the centre of the flower) or may form a form a ball in the centre. The number varies between species from fewer than 10 to more than 100.

Hibbertia ferox was nicknamed ‘excruciating’ because of its needle-like leaves.
Shutterstock

Floral frolics

For a plant to be involved in sex of a floral kind it needs to offer rewards for services rendered. Sometimes guinea flowers grow sterile stems, which add to the floral display and provide a food source, particularly for beetles. They are messy eaters, chewing on various plant tissues as they wander around the flower’s surface, but they do help to transfer pollen to the stigmas, or female parts (and no doubt are involved in sex with their own kind).

Guinea flowers don’t produce nectar to tempt pollinators, but people have reported them producing weak fragrance. There’s some dispute over how pleasant the smell is, with some describing it as sweet and others insisting it smells like cow dung. There have been only a couple of reports of what this smell resembles, so we need you to go and stick your nose in a freshly open flower. (Make sure to check – is the fragrance there all day or only in the morning?)

However, there is plenty of pollen. If you look closely at the anthers, those yellow sacs on the top of a thin stalk, you will see either an opening or pore at the top, or a slit down the side through which pollen can escape. Whether the marauding bug causes the pollen to spray out through the top or it accidentally falls on the bug through the slit, the bug gets dusted in pollen and then this can get brushed off on the female parts or stigma. Bees and flies are the most common bugs seen around guinea flowers.

The fruit is composed of 2-5 loosely adhering capsule-like follicles, surrounded by the five sepals, which remain and do not fall off.

Hibbertia scandens, a climbing guinea flower, is commonly known as snake vine.
Shutterstock

The fruit contains one or two seeds that are covered by a reddish coating or aril. This nutritious tissue is a valuable food source for dispersers such as ants and birds; birds have been recording spreading the seeds of Hibbertia scandens. However, in the drier areas where these plants are commonly found, ants appear to be the common dispersers.

So next time you are in the bush don’t just ignore that small shrubby plant with yellow flowers and notched petals. Stop and admire their beauty.




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Note if there are any bugs visiting and what they might be doing. Why not record their presence on iNaturalist – an app that lets us record and share your nature encounters – particularly if you are off the beaten track?


Sign up to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely Australian.. Read previous instalments here.The Conversation

Betsy Jackes, Adjunct professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.