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Conlisk E.,University of California at Riverside | Syphard A.D.,Conservation Biology Institute | Franklin J.,Arizona State University | Flint L.,U.S. Geological Survey | And 2 more authors.
Global Change Biology | Year: 2013

Concern over rapid global changes and the potential for interactions among multiple threats are prompting scientists to combine multiple modelling approaches to understand impacts on biodiversity. A relatively recent development is the combination of species distribution models, land-use change predictions, and dynamic population models to predict the relative and combined impacts of climate change, land-use change, and altered disturbance regimes on species' extinction risk. Each modelling component introduces its own source of uncertainty through different parameters and assumptions, which, when combined, can result in compounded uncertainty that can have major implications for management. Although some uncertainty analyses have been conducted separately on various model components - such as climate predictions, species distribution models, land-use change predictions, and population models - a unified sensitivity analysis comparing various sources of uncertainty in combined modelling approaches is needed to identify the most influential and problematic assumptions. We estimated the sensitivities of long-run population predictions to different ecological assumptions and parameter settings for a rare and endangered annual plant species (Acanthomintha ilicifolia, or San Diego thornmint). Uncertainty about habitat suitability predictions, due to the choice of species distribution model, contributed most to variation in predictions about long-run populations. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Moritz M.A.,University of California at Berkeley | Batllori E.,University of California at Berkeley | Bradstock R.A.,University of Wollongong | Gill A.M.,Australian National University | And 7 more authors.
Nature | Year: 2014

The impacts of escalating wildfire in many regions-the lives and homes lost, the expense of suppression and the damage to ecosystem services-necessitate a more sustainable coexistence with wildfire. Climate change and continued development on fire-prone landscapes will only compound current problems. Emerging strategies for managing ecosystems and mitigating risks to human communities provide some hope, although greater recognition of their inherent variation and links is crucial. Without a more integrated framework, fire will never operate as a natural ecosystem process, and the impact on society will continue to grow. A more coordinated approach to risk management and land-use planning in these coupled systems is needed. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.


By chance, she had discovered a malaria parasite, Plasmodium odocoilei—that infects white-tailed deer. It's the first-ever malaria parasite known to live in a deer species and the only native malaria parasite found in any mammal in North or South America. Though white-tailed deer diseases have been heavily studied—scientist hadn't noticed that many have malaria parasites. Martinsen and her colleagues estimate that the parasite infects up to twenty-five percent of white-tailed deer along the East Coast of the United States. Their results were published February 5 in Science Advances. "You never know what you're going to find when you're out in nature—and you look," says Martinsen, a research associate at the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute and adjunct faculty in the University of Vermont's biology department. "It's a parasite that has been hidden in the most iconic game animal in the United States. I just stumbled across it." The new study, led by Martinsen, was a collaboration with scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Park Service, the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—and UVM biologist and malaria expert Joseph Schall. Though Martinsen and Schall are quick to note that they anticipate little danger to people from this newly discovered deer malaria, it does underline the fact that many human health concerns are connected to wider ecological systems—and that understanding the biology of other species is a foundation to both conservation and public health management. Zika virus is recently making worrisome headlines and "there's a sudden surge in interest in mosquito biology across the United States," says Schall. "This is a reminder of the importance of parasite surveys and basic natural history." In 1967, a renowned malaria researcher reported he'd discovered malaria in a single deer in Texas. But the received understanding was that "malaria wasn't supposed to be in mammals in the New World," says Schall, who has studied malaria for decades. "It was like the guy was reporting he saw Big Foot," and no other discoveries were made after that. But now Martinsen and her colleagues have discovered that the deer malaria is widespread—though it's "cryptic" she says, because the parasites occur in very low levels in many of the infected deer. "Ellen spent days and days looking through a microscope at slides that were mostly empty," Schall says, but eventually found the parasites. Combined with sensitive molecular PCR techniques to understand the genetics, the team confirmed a high prevalence of the disease—between eighteen and twenty-five percent—in sites ranging from New York to West Virginia to Louisiana. The new discovery fundamentally changes our understanding of the distribution and evolutionary history of malaria parasites in mammals, Martinsen says. Some scientists wondered if the deer malaria could have jumped from people or zoo animals in the recent past. But the new study suggests otherwise. The team's data shows that the deer actually carry two genetic lineages of the malaria parasites—"probably different species," she says—and that the two lineages are substantially different from each other. This divergence between the two forms of malaria was used by the scientists as a kind of molecular clock. "We can date the evolutionary split between those two lineages," Martinsen says—to 2.3 to 6 million years ago. Which probably means that when the ancient evolutionary ancestors to white-tailed deer traveled from Eurasia across the Bering Land Bridge to North America in the Miocene, some 4.2 to 5.7 million years ago—malaria came along for the ride. "We think malaria is native to the Americas," Martinsen says, "that it's been here for millions of years." Malaria is a major problem for people in many parts of the world—and for many species of wildlife too. It has been devastating bird species in Hawaii and Bermuda, among many epidemics. Whether it is hurting white-tailed deer in America is an open question. Martinsen suspects not, because she'd expect to see more obviously sick animals. But Schall wonders if, like some human malaria infections, the disease causes a low-level burden that hurts deer populations. They both agree that it is an area that calls for more research—and that the new study raises many other questions, including whether the parasite might infect dairy cows or other hoofed species. Ellen Martinsen completed her undergraduate and doctoral training at UVM in Joe Schall's lab and went on to do her postdoctoral research at the Smithonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation Genetics. The new discovery drew on a team of scientists and veterinarians at the Smithsonian and other institutions, who studied samples from both live and necropsied deer as well as mosquitoes. Additionally, Martinsen returned to Schall's lab for some of the new research. "Malaria is a top parasitic disease in humans and wildlife," Ellen Martinsen says. "It's important that we gain a better understanding of its diversity and distribution not just across humans but across other species too." Explore further: Genetic diversity of sub-species of a malaria-causing parasite found More information: Hidden in plain sight: Cryptic and endemic malaria parasites in North American white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501486 , advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/2/e1501486


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Bao Bao (BOW-BOW) the 3 ½ year-old giant panda began her journey to China this morning. She departed the Smithsonian’s National Zoo at 11 a.m. for Dulles International Airport, where she will board a FedEx Express 777F plane bound for Chengdu, China. The non-stop flight will take about 16 hours. Bao Bao’s departure from the Zoo was broadcast via Facebook Live. This morning, the panda team arrived at 6:30 a.m. to finalize preparations for Bao Bao’s departure. Bao Bao received her morning diet of 17 pounds (8 kilograms) of bamboo and 5.4 (150 grams) leafeater biscuits and spent time in her outdoor habitat. Already acclimated from daily training, keeper Marty Dearie called Bao Bao back indoors and then into the custom travel crate at approximately 10 a.m. Zoo staff moved the crate onto a specially-decorated forklift which traveled carefully out of the David M. Rubenstein Giant Panda Habitat through the Zoo and was loaded on a FedEx Express truck. Dennis Kelly, director of the Zoo, was joined by Ambassador Cui Tiankai from the People’s Republic of China, Smithsonian Regent and Zoo giant panda conservation program supporter David Rubenstein and animal care staff to say goodbye. The “FedEx Panda Express,” a custom-decaled 777F aircraft, is expected to depart at 1:30 p.m. today from Dulles International Airport. FedEx supports the movement of rescued or endangered animals across the country and around the world as part of its commitment to sustainability. “At FedEx, we take great pride in using our global networks to move precious cargo around the world,” said Dave Bronczek, president & COO, FedEx Corp. “Through our charitable shipping program, we are honored to be entrusted with Bao Bao’s journey to her new home in China. Our team of skilled logistics experts, pilots and drivers are honored to support the efforts to preserve this beloved, rare animal. I extend a special thanks to our team members who go above and beyond every single day to make a positive impact in our communities.” In 2010, FedEx Express transported Bao Bao’s brother Tai Shan from The National Zoo to the China Conservation and Research Center in Chengdu. FedEx Express also provided the transport for Bao Bao’s parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, from China to the United States in 2000. The Zoo will broadcast the departure of the plane on Facebook. The specialized travel crate is made of steel and weighs approximately 800 lbs. Marty Dearie, one of the keepers who has cared for Bao Bao since her birth, and Katharine Hope, veterinarian at the Zoo will make the 8,600-mile trip with her. They will continuously monitor Bao Bao during the trip and are traveling with a supply of her favorite treats, including 50 pounds of bamboo, 2 pounds of apples, 2 bags of leafeater biscuits, cooked sweet potatoes and water. Upon arrival in Chengdu, Bao Bao’s new keepers from China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda will drive her to Dujiangyan Panda Base where she will stay in quarantine for approximately 30 days. The American team will follow, and Dearie will remain with Bao Bao for three days while she acclimates to her new home. It is not confirmed if Bao Bao will remain at Dujiangyan after the quarantine period has ended. Bao Bao will enter the giant panda breeding program when she reaches sexual maturity between 5 and 6 years old. The panda team prepared Bao Bao for the move to make sure she is comfortable and safe during her journey. To slowly acclimate her to the travel crate, keepers asked Bao Bao to walk through it every day. After she became comfortable doing that, they got her used to spending short periods of time in it with the doors closed. Bao Bao was born at 5:32 p.m. Aug. 23, 2013, at the Zoo’s David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Her name translates to “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese. Both Mrs. Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States, and Madame Peng Liyuan, first lady of China sent congratulatory messages for her naming ceremony when she was 100 days old. At her first birthday zhuazhou (dra-JO) ceremony, she selected a banner depicting peaches, representing longevity. She is the second surviving cub of her parents Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN). Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are an estimated 1,800 in the wild. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is a leader in giant panda conservation. Ever since these charismatic bears arrived at the Zoo in 1972, animal care staff and scientists have studied giant panda biology, behavior, breeding, reproduction, and disease. These experts are also leading ecology studies in giant panda’s native habitat. The Zoo’s giant panda team works closely with colleagues in China to advance conservation efforts around the world. Chinese scientists are working to reintroduce giant pandas to the wild. The Zoo is posting and sharing content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #ByeByeBaoBao.


Syphard A.D.,San Diego State University | Syphard A.D.,Conservation Biology Institute | Franklin J.,San Diego State University
Journal of Vegetation Science | Year: 2010

Questions: To what extent do plant species traits, including life history, life form, and disturbance response characteristics, affect the degree to which species distributions are determined by physical environmental factors? Is the strength of the relationship between species distribution and environment stronger in some disturbance-response types than in others? Location: California southwest ecoregion, USA. Methods: We developed species distribution models (SDMs) for 45 plant species using three primary modeling methods (GLMs, GAMs, and Random Forests). Using AUC as a performance measure of prediction accuracy, and measure of the strength of species-environment correlations, we used regression analyses to compare the effects of fire disturbance response type, longevity, dispersal mechanism, range size, cover, species prevalence, and model type. Results: Fire disturbance response type explained more variation in model performance than any other variable, but other species and range characteristics were also significant. Differences in prediction accuracy reflected variation in species life history, disturbance response, and rarity. AUC was significantly higher for longer-lived species, found at intermediate levels of abundance, and smaller range sizes. Models performed better for shrubs than sub-shrubs and perennial herbs. The disturbance response type with the highest SDM accuracy was obligate-seeding shrubs with ballistic dispersal that regenerate via fire-cued germination from a dormant seed bank. Conclusions: The effect of species characteristics on predictability of species distributions overrides any differences in modeling technique. Prediction accuracy may be related to how a suite of species characteristics co-varies along environmental gradients. Including disturbance response was important because SDMs predict the realized niche. Classification of plant species into disturbance response types may provide a strong framework for evaluating performance of SDMs. © 2009 International Association for Vegetation Science.


News Article | March 3, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

In a birth announcement of sorts, the Smithsonian National Zoo and the Nashville Zoo released a joint statement Thursday saying that a male clouded leopard cub was born on March 1. The cub is the first of his species to be born from artificial insemination using frozen (and then thawed) semen. Clouded leopards have difficulty reproducing outside of their natural habitat and have been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2008. Tweets from the two zoos have been greeted with delight. The day-old cub has been declared "adorable" — but he is also important, according to the scientists at The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. "This cub ... is a symbol of how zoos and scientists can come together to make positive change for animals and preserving global biodiversity," said Adrienne Crosier, a biologist at the Institute. "Collaboration is the key to conservation of clouded leopards, along with so many other rare and endangered species we care for and study."


Beier P.,Northern Arizona University | Spencer W.,Conservation Biology Institute | Baldwin R.F.,Clemson University | Mcrae B.H.,The Nature Conservancy
Conservation Biology | Year: 2011

To conserve ecological connectivity (the ability to support animal movement, gene flow, range shifts, and other ecological and evolutionary processes that require large areas), conservation professionals need coarse-grained maps to serve as decision-support tools or vision statements and fine-grained maps to prescribe site-specific interventions. To date, research has focused primarily on fine-grained maps (linkage designs) covering small areas. In contrast, we devised 7 steps to coarsely map dozens to hundreds of linkages over a large area, such as a nation, province, or ecoregion. We provide recommendations on how to perform each step on the basis of our experiences with 6 projects: California Missing Linkages (2001), Arizona Wildlife Linkage Assessment (2006), California Essential Habitat Connectivity (2010), Two Countries, One Forest (northeastern United States and southeastern Canada) (2010), Washington State Connected Landscapes (2010), and the Bhutan Biological Corridor Complex (2010). The 2 most difficult steps are mapping natural landscape blocks (areas whose conservation value derives from the species and ecological processes within them) and determining which pairs of blocks can feasibly be connected in a way that promotes conservation. Decision rules for mapping natural landscape blocks and determining which pairs of blocks to connect must reflect not only technical criteria, but also the values and priorities of stakeholders. We recommend blocks be mapped on the basis of a combination of naturalness, protection status, linear barriers, and habitat quality for selected species. We describe manual and automated procedures to identify currently functioning or restorable linkages. Once pairs of blocks have been identified, linkage polygons can be mapped by least-cost modeling, other approaches from graph theory, or individual-based movement models. The approaches we outline make assumptions explicit, have outputs that can be improved as underlying data are improved, and help implementers focus strictly on ecological connectivity. © 2011 Society for Conservation Biology.


Hannah L.,Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans | Flint L.,U.S. Geological Survey | Syphard A.D.,Conservation Biology Institute | Moritz M.A.,University of California at Berkeley | And 2 more authors.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution | Year: 2014

Microclimates have played a critical role in past species range shifts, suggesting that they could be important in biological response to future change. Terms are needed to discuss these future effects. We propose that populations occupying microclimates be referred to as holdouts, stepping stones and microrefugia. A holdout is a population that persists in a microclimate for a limited period of time under deteriorating climatic conditions. Stepping stones successively occupy microclimates in a way that facilitates species' range shifts. Microrefugia refer to populations that persist in microclimates through a period of unfavorable climate. Because climate projections show that return to present climate is highly unlikely, conservation strategies need to be built around holdouts and stepping stones, rather than low-probability microrefugia. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


Wiens J.A.,PRBO Conservation Science | Bachelet D.,Oregon State University | Bachelet D.,Conservation Biology Institute
Conservation Biology | Year: 2010

To anticipate the rapidly changing world resulting from global climate change, the projections of climate models must be incorporated into conservation. This requires that the scales of conservation be aligned with the scales of climate-change projections. We considered how conservation has incorporated spatial scale into protecting biodiversity, how the projections of climate-change models vary with scale, and how the two do or do not align. Conservation planners use information about past and current ecological conditions at multiple scales to identify conservation targets and threats and guide conservation actions. Projections of climate change are also made at multiple scales, from global and regional circulation models to projections downscaled to local scales. These downscaled projections carry with them the uncertainties associated with the broad-scale models from which they are derived; thus, their high resolution may be more apparent than real. Conservation at regional or global scales is about establishing priorities and influencing policy. At these scales, the coarseness and uncertainties of global and regional climate models may be less important than what they reveal about possible futures. At the ecoregional scale, the uncertainties associated with downscaling climate models become more critical because the distributions of conservation targets on which plans are founded may shift under future climates. At a local scale, variations in topography and land cover influence local climate, often overriding the projections of broad-scale climate models and increasing uncertainty. Despite the uncertainties, ecologists and conservationists must work with climate-change modelers to focus on the most likely projections. The future will be different from the past and full of surprises; judicious use of model projections at appropriate scales may help us prepare. © 2009 Society for Conservation Biology.


Spencer W.D.,Conservation Biology Institute
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2012

Animals concentrate their activities within areas we call home ranges because information about places increases fitness. Most animals, and certainly all mammals, store information about places in cognitive mapsor neurally encoded representations of the geometric relations among placesand learn to associate objects or events with places on their map. I define the value of information as a time-dependent increment it adds to any appropriate currency of fitness for an informed versus an uninformed forager, and integrate it into simple conceptual models that help explain movements of animals that learn, forget, and use information. Unlike other space-use models, these recognize that movement decisions are based on an individual's imperfect and ever-changing expectancies about the environmentrather than omniscience or ignorance. Using simple, deterministic models, I demonstrate how the use of such dynamic information explains why animals use home ranges, and can help explain diverse movement patterns, including systematic patrolling or traplining, shifting activity or focal areas, extra-home-range exploration, and seemingly random (although goal-directed and spatially contagious) movements. These models also provide insights about interindividual spacing patterns, from exclusive home ranges (whether defended as territories or not) to broadly overlapping or shared ranges. Incorporating this dynamic view of animal expectancies and information value into more-complex and realistic movement models, such as random-walk, Bayesian foraging, and multi-individual movement models, should facilitate a more comprehensive and empirical understanding of animal space-use phenomena. The fitness value of cognitive maps and the selective exploitation of spatial information support a general theory of animal space use, which explains why mammals have home ranges and how they use them. © 2012 American Society of Mammalogists.

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