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Concept: Recovery Plan


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


Listing endangered and threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act is presumed to offer a defense against extinction and a solution to achieve recovery of imperiled populations, but only if effective conservation action ensues after listing occurs. The amount of government funding available for species protection and recovery is one of the best predictors of successful recovery; however, government spending is both insufficient and highly disproportionate among groups of species, and there is significant discrepancy between proposed and actualized budgets across species. In light of an increasing list of imperiled species requiring evaluation and protection, an explicit approach to allocating recovery funds is urgently needed. Here I provide a formal decision-theoretic approach focusing on return on investment as an objective and a transparent mechanism to achieve the desired recovery goals. I found that less than 25% of the $1.21 billion/year needed for implementing recovery plans for 1,125 species is actually allocated to recovery. Spending in excess of the recommended recovery budget does not necessarily translate into better conservation outcomes. Rather, elimination of only the budget surplus for “costly yet futile” recovery plans can provide sufficient funding to erase funding deficits for more than 180 species. Triage by budget compression provides better funding for a larger sample of species, and a larger sample of adequately funded recovery plans should produce better outcomes even if by chance. Sharpening our focus on deliberate decision making offers the potential to achieve desired outcomes in avoiding extinction for Endangered Species Act-listed species.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Endangered species, Extinction, Endangered Species Act, Biodiversity Action Plan, IUCN Red List, Threatened species, Recovery Plan


The conditions required by rare species are often only approximately known. Monitoring such species over time can help refine management of their protected areas. We report population trends of a rare moth, the Dark Bordered Beauty Epione vespertaria (Linnaeus, 1767) (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) at its last known English site on a protected lowland heath, and those of its host-plant, Salix repens (L.) (Malpighiales: Salicaceae). Between 2007 and 2014, adult moth density reduced by an average of 30-35% annually over the monitored area, and its range over the monitored area contracted in concert. By comparing data from before this decline (2005) with data taken in 2013, we show that the density of host-plants over the monitored area reduced three-fold overall, and ten-fold in the areas of highest host-plant density. In addition, plants were significantly smaller in 2013. In 2005, moth larvae tended to be found on plants that were significantly larger than average at the time. By 2013, far fewer plants were of an equivalent size. This suggests that the rapid decline of the moth population coincides with, and is likely driven by, changes in the host-plant population. Why the host-plant population has changed remains less certain, but fire, frost damage and grazing damage have probably contributed. It is likely that a reduction in grazing pressure in parts of the site would aid host-plant recovery, although grazing remains an important site management activity. Our work confirms the value of constant monitoring of rare or priority insect species, of the risks posed to species with few populations even when their populations are large, of the potential conflict between bespoke management for species and generic management of habitats, and hence the value of refining our knowledge of rare species' requirements so that their needs can be incorporated into the management of protected areas.

Concepts: Biology, Insect, Botany, Population density, Endangered species, Lepidoptera, Rare species, Recovery Plan


Separating myth and reality is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of laws. Section 7 of the US Endangered Species Act (Act) directs federal agencies to help conserve threatened and endangered species, including by consulting with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service on actions the agencies authorize, fund, or carry out. Consultations ensure that actions do not violate the Act’s prohibitions on “jeopardizing” listed species or “destroying or adversely modifying” these species' critical habitat. Because these prohibitions are broad, many people consider section 7 the primary tool for protecting species under the Act, whereas others believe section 7 severely impedes economic development. This decades-old controversy is driven primarily by the lack of data on implementation: past analyses are either over 25 y old or taxonomically restricted. We analyze data on all 88,290 consultations recorded by FWS from January 2008 through April 2015. In contrast to conventional wisdom about section 7 implementation, no project was stopped or extensively altered as a result of FWS finding jeopardy or adverse modification during this period. We also show that median consultation duration is far lower than the maximum allowed by the Act, and several factors drive variation in consultation duration. The results discredit many of the claims about the onerous nature of section 7 but also raise questions as to how federal agencies could apply this tool more effectively to conserve species. We build on the results to identify ways to improve the effectiveness of consultations for imperiled species conservation and increase the efficiency of consultations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Conservation, Endangered Species Act, Threatened species, Recovery Plan, United States Fish and Wildlife Service


Restoring connectivity between fragmented populations is an important tool for alleviating genetic threats to endangered species. Yet recovery plans typically lack quantitative criteria for ensuring such population connectivity. We demonstrate how models that integrate habitat, genetic, and demographic data can be used to develop connectivity criteria for the endangered Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), which is currently being restored to the wild from a captive population descended from 7 founders. We used population viability analysis that incorporated pedigree data to evaluate the relation between connectivity and persistence for a restored Mexican wolf metapopulation of 3 populations of equal size. Decreasing dispersal rates greatly increased extinction risk for small populations (<150-200), especially as dispersal rates dropped below 0.5 genetically effective migrants per generation. We compared observed migration rates in the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) wolf metapopulation to 2 habitat-based effective distance metrics, least-cost and resistance distance. We then used effective distance between potential primary core populations in a restored Mexican wolf metapopulation to evaluate potential dispersal rates. Although potential connectivity was lower in the Mexican wolf versus the NRM wolf metapopulation, a connectivity rate of >0.5 genetically effective migrants per generation may be achievable via natural dispersal under current landscape conditions. When sufficient data are available, these methods allow planners to move beyond general aspirational connectivity goals or rules of thumb to develop objective and measurable connectivity criteria that more effectively support species recovery. The shift from simple connectivity rules of thumb to species-specific analyses parallels the previous shift from general minimum-viable-population thresholds to detailed viability modeling in endangered species recovery planning. Desarrollo de Criterios de Conectividad Metapoblacional a Partir de Datos Genéticos y de Hábitat para Recuperar al Lobo Mexicano en Peligro de Extinción.

Concepts: Genetics, Demography, Population, Endangered species, Immigration, Gray Wolf, Recovery Plan, Wolves


Aquatic species are threatened by climate change but have received comparatively less attention than terrestrial species. We gleaned key strategies for scientists and managers seeking to address climate change in aquatic conservation planning from the literature and existing knowledge. We address 3 categories of conservation effort that rely on scientific analysis and have particular application under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA): assessment of overall risk to a species; long-term recovery planning; and evaluation of effects of specific actions or perturbations. Fewer data are available for aquatic species to support these analyses, and climate effects on aquatic systems are poorly characterized. Thus, we recommend scientists conducting analyses supporting ESA decisions develop a conceptual model that links climate, habitat, ecosystem, and species response to changing conditions and use this model to organize analyses and future research. We recommend that current climate conditions are not appropriate for projections used in ESA analyses and that long-term projections of climate-change effects provide temporal context as a species-wide assessment provides spatial context. In these projections, climate change should not be discounted solely because the magnitude of projected change at a particular time is uncertain when directionality of climate change is clear. Identifying likely future habitat at the species scale will indicate key refuges and potential range shifts. However, the risks and benefits associated with errors in modeling future habitat are not equivalent. The ESA offers mechanisms for increasing the overall resilience and resistance of species to climate changes, including establishing recovery goals requiring increased genetic and phenotypic diversity, specifying critical habitat in areas not currently occupied but likely to become important, and using adaptive management. Incorporación de las Ciencias Climáticas en las Aplicaciones del Acta Estadunidense de Especies en Peligro para Especies Acuáticas.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Endangered species, Endangered Species Act, Recovery Plan


It is widely recognized that feedbacks exist between plant litter and plant community species composition, but this relationship is difficult to interpret over heterogeneous conditions typical of modified environments such as roadways. Given the need to expedite natural recovery of disturbed areas through restoration interventions, we characterized litter accumulation and nutrient content (i.e., organic carbon, total N, and P) and quantified their association with key plant species. Plant species cover and litter characteristics were sampled at 18 successional forest plant communities along major roadways in Sichuan Basin, western China. Variation in litter across communities was assessed with principal component analysis (PCA) and species with the highest correlation to PCA axes were determined with Pearson’s r coefficients. Plant communities with the longest time since road construction (i.e., 70 years) were distinctly different in litter total N and organic carbon compared to plant communities with a shorter disturbance history. We encountered 59 plant species across sampling plots, but only four rare species (i.e., frequency < 5) were strongly correlated with litter characteristics (p < 0.01); none of which were the most abundant where they occurred. These results highlight the importance of site-specific factors (i.e., geographic location, disturbance age) regulating plant litter across heavily disturbed landscapes and how litter characteristics and rare plant species are correlated.

Concepts: Water pollution, Endangered species, Principal component analysis, Correlation and dependence, Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, Karl Pearson, Rare species, Recovery Plan


In July 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service announced a new policy interpretation for the Endangered Species Act. According to the Act, a species must be listed as threatened or endangered if it is determined to be threatened or endangered in a significant portion of its range. The 1973 law does not define “significant portion of its range,” leading to concerns that interpretations of “significant” by federal agencies and the courts could be inconsistent. The 2014 policy seeks to provide consistency by establishing that a portion of the range should be considered significant if the associated individuals' “removal would cause the entire species to become endangered or threatened.” Here, we review quantitative techniques to assess whether a portion of a species' range is significant according to the new guidance. Our assessments are based on the “3R” criteria - Redundancy (i.e., buffering from catastrophe), Resiliency (i.e., ability to withstand stochasticity), and Representation (i.e., ability to evolve) - that the Fish and Wildlife Service uses to determine if a species merits listing. We identify data needs for each quantitative technique and indicate which methods might be implemented given the data limitations typical of rare species. We also identify proxies that may be used with limited data. To assess potential data availability, we evaluate seven example species by assessing the data in their Species Status Assessments, which document all the information used during a listing decision. Our evaluation suggests that resiliency assessments will likely be most constrained by limited data. While we reviewed quantitative techniques for the US Endangered Species Act, other countries have legislation requiring identification of significant areas that could benefit from this research. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Evaluation, Endangered species, Conservation, Endangered Species Act, Biodiversity Action Plan, Threatened species, Rare species, Recovery Plan


Post-operative pain control is crucial to any successful recovery plan. Many currently used medication regimens are narcotic-focused.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Experimental design, Randomized controlled trial, Control, Recovery Plan


Integration of unexpected discoveries about charismatic species can disrupt their well-established recovery plans, particularly when this requires coordinate actions among the different governments responsible. The Critically Endangered Coronopus navasii (Brassicaceae) was considered a restricted endemism to a few Mediterranean temporary ponds in a high mountain range of Southeast Spain, until a new group of populations were discovered 500 km North in 2006. Ten years after this finding, its management has not been accommodated due to limited information of the new populations and administrative inertia. In this study, DNA sequences and species distribution models are used to analyse the origin of the C. navasii disjunction as a preliminary step to reassess its recovery plan. Molecular results placed the disjunction during Miocene-Pleistocene (6.30-0.49 Mya, plastid DNA; 1.45-0.03 Mya, ribosomal DNA), which discards a putative human-mediated origin. In fact, the haplotype network and the low gene flow estimated between disjunct areas suggest long-term isolation. Dispersal is the most likely explanation for the disjunction as interpreted from the highly fragmented distribution projected to the past. Particularly, a northward dispersal from Southeast is proposed since C. navasii haplotype network is connected to the sister-group through the southern haplotype. Although the reassessment of C. navasii conservation status is more optimistic under the new extent of occurrence, its long-term survival may be compromised due to the: (1) natural fragmentation and rarity of the species habitat, (2) genetic isolation between the two disjunct areas, and (3) northward shift of suitable areas under future climate change scenarios. Several ex-situ and in-situ conservation measures are proposed for integrating Central East Spanish populations into the on-going recovery plan, which still only contemplates Southeast populations and therefore does not preserve the genetic structure and diversity of the species.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Biology, Endangered species, Population genetics, Recovery Plan