Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Conservation


A widespread opinion is that conservation efforts disproportionately benefit charismatic species. However, this doesn’t mean that they are not threatened, and which species are “charismatic” remains unclear. Here, we identify the 10 most charismatic animals and show that they are at high risk of imminent extinction in the wild. We also find that the public ignores these animals' predicament and we suggest it could be due to the observed biased perception of their abundance, based more on their profusion in our culture than on their natural populations. We hypothesize that this biased perception impairs conservation efforts because people are unaware that the animals they cherish face imminent extinction and do not perceive their urgent need for conservation. By freely using the image of rare and threatened species in their product marketing, many companies may participate in creating this biased perception, with unintended detrimental effects on conservation efforts, which should be compensated by channeling part of the associated profits to conservation. According to our hypothesis, this biased perception would be likely to last as long as the massive cultural and commercial presence of charismatic species is not accompanied by adequate information campaigns about the imminent threats they face.

Concepts: Scientific method, Conservation biology, Observation, Endangered species, Hypothesis, Conservation, Biodiversity Action Plan, IUCN Red List


Understanding cumulative effects of multiple threats is key to guiding effective management to conserve endangered species. The critically endangered, Southern Resident killer whale population of the northeastern Pacific Ocean provides a data-rich case to explore anthropogenic threats on population viability. Primary threats include: limitation of preferred prey, Chinook salmon; anthropogenic noise and disturbance, which reduce foraging efficiency; and high levels of stored contaminants, including PCBs. We constructed a population viability analysis to explore possible demographic trajectories and the relative importance of anthropogenic stressors. The population is fragile, with no growth projected under current conditions, and decline expected if new or increased threats are imposed. Improvements in fecundity and calf survival are needed to reach a conservation objective of 2.3% annual population growth. Prey limitation is the most important factor affecting population growth. However, to meet recovery targets through prey management alone, Chinook abundance would have to be sustained near the highest levels since the 1970s. The most optimistic mitigation of noise and contaminants would make the difference between a declining and increasing population, but would be insufficient to reach recovery targets. Reducing acoustic disturbance by 50% combined with increasing Chinook by 15% would allow the population to reach 2.3% growth.

Concepts: Ecology, Endangered species, Salmon, Conservation, Whale, Population growth, Killer whale, Recovery Plan


Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in the ocean, but their impacts on marine species are hotly debated. We evaluated marine fish statuses using conservation (Red List threatened or not) and fisheries (above or below reference points) metrics, compared their alignment, and diagnosed why discrepancies arise. Whereas only 13.5% of Red Listed marine fishes (n = 2952) are threatened, 40% and 21% of populations with stock assessments (n = 166) currently are below their more conservative and riskier reference points, respectively. Conservation and fisheries metrics aligned well (70.5% to 80.7%), despite their mathematical disconnect. Red Listings were not biased towards exaggerating threat status, and egregious errors, where populations were categorized at opposite extremes of fisheries and conservation metrics, were rare. Our analyses suggest conservation and fisheries scientists will agree on the statuses of exploited marine fishes in most cases, leaving only the question of appropriate management responses for populations of mutual concern still unresolved.

Concepts: Fish, Endangered species, Extinction, Ocean, Overfishing, Conservation, Population dynamics of fisheries, IUCN Red List


Captive breeding and rearing are central elements in conservation, management, and recovery planning for many endangered species including Rio Grande Silvery Minnow, a North American freshwater cyprinid. Traditionally, the sole purpose of hatcheries was to produce as many fish as feasible for stocking and harvest. Production quotas are also an important consideration in hatchery programs for endangered species, but they must also maintain and maximize genetic diversity of fish produced through implementation of best breeding practices. Here, we assessed genetic outcomes and measures of productivity (number of eggs and larval viability) for three replicates of three mating designs that are used for this small, pelagic-spawning fish. These were 1) monogamous mating, 2) hormone-induced communal spawning, and 3) environmentally cued communal spawning. A total of 180 broodstock and 450 progeny were genotyped. Genetic diversity and egg productivity did not differ significantly among spawning designs (H e : F = 0.52, P = 0.67; H o : F = 0.12, P = 0.89; number of eggs: F = 3.59, P = 0.09), and there was evidence for variance in reproductive success among individuals in all three designs. Allelic richness declined from the broodstock to progeny generation in all breeding designs. There was no significant difference in the genetic effective size (regardless of the method used) among designs. Significantly more viable eggs were produced in environmentally cued communal spawn compared to the alternative strategies (F = 5.72, P = 0.04), but this strategy is the most difficult to implement.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Implementation, Design, Fishing, Conservation, Ex-situ conservation


Incorporating the values of the services that ecosystems provide into decision making is becoming increasingly common in nature conservation and resource management policies, both locally and globally. Yet with limited funds for conservation of threatened species and ecosystems there is a desire to identify priority areas where investment efficiently conserves multiple ecosystem services. We mapped four mangrove ecosystems services (coastal protection, fisheries, biodiversity, and carbon storage) across Fiji. Using a cost-effectiveness analysis, we prioritised mangrove areas for each service, where the effectiveness was a function of the benefits provided to the local communities, and the costs were associated with restricting specific uses of mangroves. We demonstrate that, although priority mangrove areas (top 20%) for each service can be managed at relatively low opportunity costs (ranging from 4.5 to 11.3% of overall opportunity costs), prioritising for a single service yields relatively low co-benefits due to limited geographical overlap with priority areas for other services. None-the-less, prioritisation of mangrove areas provides greater overlap of benefits than if sites were selected randomly for most ecosystem services. We discuss deficiencies in the mapping of ecosystems services in data poor regions and how this may impact upon the equity of managing mangroves for particular services across the urban-rural divide in developing countries. Finally we discuss how our maps may aid decision-makers to direct funding for mangrove management from various sources to localities that best meet funding objectives, as well as how this knowledge can aid in creating a national mangrove zoning scheme.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Costs, Ecology, Ecosystem, Management, Conservation, Biodiversity Action Plan, Mangrove


1. The ongoing changes to climate challenge the conservation of forest biodiversity. Yet, in thermally limited systems, such as temperate forests, not all species groups might be affected negatively. Furthermore, simultaneous changes in the disturbance regime have the potential to mitigate climate-related impacts on forest species. Here, we (i) investigated the potential long-term effect of climate change on biodiversity in a mountain forest landscape, (ii) assessed the effects of different disturbance frequencies, severities and sizes and (iii) identified biodiversity hotspots at the landscape scale to facilitate conservation management. 2. We employed the model iLand to dynamically simulate the tree vegetation on 13 865 ha of the Kalkalpen National Park in Austria over 1000 years, and investigated 36 unique combinations of different disturbance and climate scenarios. We used simulated changes in tree cover and composition as well as projected temperature and precipitation to predict changes in the diversity of Araneae, Carabidae, ground vegetation, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Mollusca, saproxylic beetles, Symphyta and Syrphidae, using empirical response functions. 3. Our findings revealed widely varying responses of biodiversity indicators to climate change. Five indicators showed overall negative effects, with Carabidae, saproxylic beetles and tree species diversity projected to decrease by more than 33%. Six indicators responded positively to climate change, with Hymenoptera, Mollusca and Syrphidae diversity projected to increase more than twofold. 4. Disturbances were generally beneficial for the studied indicators of biodiversity. Our results indicated that increasing disturbance frequency and severity have a positive effect on biodiversity, while increasing disturbance size has a moderately negative effect. Spatial hotspots of biodiversity were currently found in low- to mid-elevation areas of the mountainous study landscape, but shifted to higher-elevation zones under changing climate conditions. 5.Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight that intensifying disturbance regimes may alleviate some of the impacts of climate change on forest biodiversity. However, the projected shift in biodiversity hotspots is a challenge for static conservation areas. In this regard, overlapping hotspots under current and expected future conditions highlight priority areas for robust conservation management.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Species, Climate, Ecosystem, Sustainability, Conservation, Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis


How often do people visit the world’s protected areas (PAs)? Despite PAs covering one-eighth of the land and being a major focus of nature-based recreation and tourism, we don’t know. To address this, we compiled a globally-representative database of visits to PAs and built region-specific models predicting visit rates from PA size, local population size, remoteness, natural attractiveness, and national income. Applying these models to all but the very smallest of the world’s terrestrial PAs suggests that together they receive roughly 8 billion (8 x 109) visits/y-of which more than 80% are in Europe and North America. Linking our region-specific visit estimates to valuation studies indicates that these visits generate approximately US $600 billion/y in direct in-country expenditure and US $250 billion/y in consumer surplus. These figures dwarf current, typically inadequate spending on conserving PAs. Thus, even without considering the many other ecosystem services that PAs provide to people, our findings underscore calls for greatly increased investment in their conservation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Europe, World, Approximation, Estimation, North America, Conservation, The Wild


Habitat loss and fragmentation are among the biggest threats to tropical biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. We examined forest dynamics in a mid-elevation 365-ha fragment in southern Costa Rica. The fragment was isolated in the mid-1970s and belongs to the Las Cruces Biological Station. A 2.25-ha permanent plot was established in the center of the old-growth forest (>400 m to nearest edge boundary) and all plants >5 cm DBH were censused, mapped, and identified to species in two surveys taken ~5-6 years apart (>3,000 stems/survey). Although the reserve maintains high species richness (>200 spp.), with many rare species represented by only one individual, we document a strong shift in composition with a two-fold increase in the number of soft-wooded pioneer individuals. The dominant late-successional understory tree species, Chrysochlamys glauca (Clusiaceae), and most species in the Lauraceae, declined dramatically. Turnover was high: 22.9% of stems in the first survey were lost, and 27.8% of stems in the second survey represented new recruits. Mean tree diameter decreased significantly and there was a 10% decrease in overall biomass. Such alteration has been documented previously but only in smaller fragments or within ~100 m of an edge boundary. Further penetration into this fragment was perhaps driven by a progressive invasion of disturbance-adapted species into the fragment’s core over time; the loss of once-dominant late successional species could be a contributing factor. The pattern found is of particular concern given that such fragments represent a substantial portion of today’s remaining tropical habitat; further studies in similar-sized fragments that have been isolated for similar prolonged periods are called for.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Fragment, Fragmentation, Species, Ecology, Tree, Conservation, Costa Rica


Originally conceived to conserve iconic landscapes and wildlife, protected areas are now expected to achieve an increasingly diverse set of conservation, social and economic objectives. The amount of land and sea designated as formally protected has markedly increased over the past century, but there is still a major shortfall in political commitments to enhance the coverage and effectiveness of protected areas. Financial support for protected areas is dwarfed by the benefits that they provide, but these returns depend on effective management. A step change involving increased recognition, funding, planning and enforcement is urgently needed if protected areas are going to fulfil their potential.

Concepts: Effect, Effectiveness, Economics, Management, Finance, Conservation, Landscape, Expected shortfall


The IUCN Red List has assessed the global distributions of the majority of the world’s amphibians, birds and mammals. Yet these assessments lack explicit reference to widely available, remotely-sensed data that can sensibly inform a species' risk of extinction. Our first goal is to add additional quantitative data to the existing standardised process that IUCN employs. Secondly, we ask: do our results suggest species of concern-those at considerably greater risk than hitherto appreciated? Thirdly, these assessments are not only important on a species-by-species basis. By combining distributions of species of concern, we map conservation priorities. We ask to what degree these areas are currently protected and how might knowledge from remote sensing modify the priorities? Finally, we develop a quick and simple method to identify and modify the priority setting in a landscape where natural habitats are disappearing rapidly and so where conventional species' assessments might be too slow to respond. Tropical, mainland Southeast Asia is under exceptional threat, yet relatively poorly known. Here, additional quantitative measures may be particularly helpful. This region contains over 122, 183, and 214 endemic mammals, birds, and amphibians, respectively, of which the IUCN considers 37, 21, and 37 threatened. When corrected for the amount of remaining natural habitats within the known elevation preferences of species, the average sizes of species ranges shrink to <40% of their published ranges. Some 79 mammal, 49 bird, and 184 amphibian ranges are <20,000km2-an area at which IUCN considers most other species to be threatened. Moreover, these species are not better protected by the existing network of protected areas than are species that IUCN accepts as threatened. Simply, there appear to be considerably more species at risk than hitherto appreciated. Furthermore, incorporating remote sensing data showing where habitat loss is prevalent changes the locations of conservation priorities.

Concepts: Habitat, Southeast Asia, Species, Endangered species, Extinction, Remote sensing, Conservation, IUCN Red List