Institute for Conservation Research

San Diego, CA, United States

Institute for Conservation Research

San Diego, CA, United States
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News Article | December 21, 2015

Giant panda cubs are more likely when mom and dad find "love," new research suggests. Here, a cub eats bamboo shoots at the Bifengxia Chinese Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan, China. More There's a secret to making panda babies, and it looks a little bit like love. Pandas are more likely to produce young when they have a preference for the partner they're meant to mate with, a new study finds. If "love" is too strong a word for this preference, it's safe to say that panda lust, at least, plays a role in reproductive success. In a new study published Tuesday (Dec. 15) in the journal Nature Communications, researchers allowed pandas to pick their own mates by letting them observe a pair of opposite-sex bears through barriers in a special enclosure. Bears showed their romantic interest by making chirping noises and scent-marking near their preferred partner. This freedom of choice turned out to have a major effect on the likelihood of pandas reproducing. Overall, mutual attraction raised the rates of successful mating and cub-rearing from around zero percent when the two bears weren't interested in one another to 75 percent when they were both attracted. [Photos: A Panda Cub Grows Up] Data broken down by gender illustrates the effect. When a female was paired for mating purposes with a male she preferred, the pair had successful sex 70 percent of the time, compared with only about 30 percent of the time when fertile females were placed with a male they weren't interested in. Females gave birth to a cub 90 percent of the time when a preferred male was the father versus 40 percent of the time when they mated with a non-preferred male. And 100 percent of pandas who copulated with a preferred male cared for their offspring, a number that dropped to 80 percent in pandas whose offspring were fathered by unappealing mates. Male choice mattered, too — a surprising finding, given that females that do all the gestation and rearing are generally thought to be pickier than males who invest less of themselves. But panda males invest considerable time and energy in wooing females in the wild and fending off rival males, researcher Meghan Martin-Wintle of the Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global and PDXWildlife in Portland and her colleagues wrote. Thus, they have to be choosy about which female pandas they pursue. When males got busy with a preferred female, they completed the sex act more than 70 percent of the time, compared with only about 30 percent of the time when mating with an unappealing female. Mating resulted in cubs almost 80 percent of the time when males picked a female they liked, but only 60 percent of the time when they had to mate with a non-preferred partner. And panda moms seemed influenced by whether the male had seen them as a good match: When males mated with a preferred partner, that female reared her cub more than 90 percent of the time. When the male fathered a cub with a female he didn't prefer, the likelihood of maternal care dropped to less than 70 percent. Overall, the researchers found, mutual attraction can improve panda reproduction. Giving pandas free reign over their mate choices, however, may be tougher than it sounds. Conservation breeders have to be careful to ensure genetic variability in endangered species like pandas, which are few in number. But if breeders were to pre-screen bears for genetic diversity and then check in on how the pandas respond to one another, that would allow for "the best of both worlds," Martin-Wintle and her colleagues wrote. The research was conducted at the Bifengxia Chinese Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan, China. China is working to reintroduce pandas into the wild, a goal that will require breeding more pandas than in the past. To meet this goal, the researchers wrote, biologists will need a better of understanding of how pandas reproduce on their own in the wild. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

News Article | August 29, 2016

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest black market in the world (behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking) with the total trade worth $19 billion a year. The affect on the targeted animal species has been horrific. It's estimated that 100 elephants are poached every day for their tusks and more than 1,000 rhinos are killed every year for their horns, meaning both could be extinct within the next decade or two. Other animals like tigers, snakes, pangolins and turtles have suffered major population loss thanks to poaching for their skins, hides, bile and more. While there are wonderful organizations doing what they can to crack down on the poaching and selling of these animals, there are many people like you and me who want to contribute to the fight, too. Australia’s Taronga Zoo and TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network have created an app that lets us do our part. Called Wildlife Witness, the app lets users submit information and photos of any suspected hunting, trapping or selling of endangered animals by pinning the incident to a virtual map. The submission then gets forwarded to wildlife authorities who will investigate it. The app basically lets wildlife authorities increase the eyes and ears they have watching and listening for these crimes. Anyone who travels to Southeast Asia and Australia, where wildlife trafficking is a huge problem, can lend their senses and their smartphones to the cause. The app is being promoted in the U.S. by the San Diego Zoo Global, informing people who visit zoos about the problem and what they can do to help when they travel. "It’s an app for people to have an action component to conservation right in their back pocket," says Suzanne Hall, a research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research to FastCoExist. "We want to make everyone aware that this is out there so that when you travel you can participate in trying to put an end to wildlife crime." The app was released in May and has already had over 1,000 reports of suspicious activity that are being used by officials to create a map of trading hotspots. There has been action taken against at least 500 people thanks to tips from the app. The app actually helped authorities realize that a particular animal that they hadn't been watching out for, the robust earless monitor lizard, was becoming a popular species in the trade. The reptile is protected in its home of Malaysia. The app educates people as well as letting them make reports. There is a tab that explains the animals typically targeted and what to look out for and a way to see if other users are reporting crimes in the same area. If criminal activity is seen, users can click "Make a Report" and then choose from a drop-down list of options like endangered animals on a restaurant menu, illegal animal products in a store or the viewing of a wildlife crime in action. The report is then geo-tagged so that investigators know exactly where to go. The San Diego Zoo hopes to have a U.S. version of the app soon as well to help crack down on poaching and the trading of illegal wildlife items in the states and to help travelers keep an eye out when they're abroad. The app is available for free through the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

Horn C.M.,Institute for Conservation Research | Gilmore M.P.,George Mason University | Endress B.A.,Institute for Conservation Research
Forest Ecology and Management | Year: 2012

In this study, we sought to better understand the social, economic, and ecological factors influencing the development of sustainable management practices for Mauritia flexuosa (aguaje) in two Maijuna indigenous communities. Focus groups, semi-structured interviews and household surveys were conducted to document current and historical patterns of aguaje harvest and management, the importance of aguaje to household income, and to identify current harvesting strategies and key perceptions regarding management. This was complemented with ecological sampling in 12 aguaje stands to determine population abundance, population structure, and sex ratio. Results indicated that M. flexuosa stands show clear evidence of past over-exploitation, with a current sex ratio of 3.48 males for each female, and low adult female densities (21females/ha). Despite this, M. flexuosa remains highly abundant and populations maintain an inverted J-curve structure; however, results also showed a significant relationship between low densities of adult females and low densities of seedlings (R 2=0.476; p=0.013), suggesting that the felling of females from the canopy is reducing recruitment rates. The current state of M. flexuosa populations corroborates the harvest history as told by interviewees that intensive destructive harvesting began in the 1990s and has since waned, primarily due to the decline in the stock of females and low prices. Attempts at non-destructive harvesting, via the use of climbing harnesses has had mixed success as nearly half of the M. flexuosa palms harvested in 2010 were cut down rather than climbed. Scarcity of adult females and low prices resulted in low return on effort, and current income from aguaje accounts for just 5% of the communities' cash income. Results indicated that four factors synergistically interact to hinder development of sustainable aguaje management: (1) low resource stock, (2) market barriers, including poor market access and low prices, (3) limited access to climbing technology and training, and (4) limited organizational experience at a community level, which limits the effectiveness of attempts to mitigate the first three barriers. Despite these challenges, the Maijuna and aguaje have many attributes associated with successful management of natural resources. Our study suggests that in cases where forest resources have already been degraded, transitioning to more sustainable management alternatives can be difficult as a number of ecological and socio-economic factors interact to hinder implementation. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

Andersen K.M.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute | Andersen K.M.,Institute for Conservation Research | Turner B.L.,Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Journal of Ecology | Year: 2013

Soil nitrogen (N) occurs in a range of chemical forms from simple inorganic compounds, such as nitrate (NO3 -) and ammonium (NH4 +), to organic compounds, such as amino acids. Plants differ in their capacity to use these various forms, which might influence the distribution of species across environmental nutrient gradients. We tested the hypothesis that the distribution of understorey palm species along a soil N gradient in a tropical montane forest in Panama is related to preferences for different chemical forms of N. We conducted a field experiment using 15N-labelled ammonium, nitrate and glycine to examine whether tropical plants show preferences for, or are flexible in, their use of chemical forms of soil N. All species used N from inorganic and organic sources and showed no preference for chemical forms of N. However, across all species, the overall N acquisition pattern was glycine ≥ nitrate ≥ ammonium. Species from low-nutrient sites dominated by ammonium and organic N forms had inherently slow N uptake rates. Synthesis. Patterns in the distribution of understorey palms were related to nitrogen (N) uptake rates rather than preferences for N chemical forms. Down-regulation of N uptake rates may be an important adaptation for plant species associated with low-N soils, with plasticity in N acquisition patterns from various N sources important in alleviating competition for soil N. We found that patterns in the distribution of understorey palms were related to nitrogen (N) uptake rates rather than preferences for N chemical forms. Down-regulation of N uptake rates may be an important adaptation for plant species associated with low N soils, with plasticity in N acquisition patterns from various N sources important in alleviating competition for soil N. © 2013 The Authors. Journal of Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society.

News Article | November 25, 2015

Nola's death leaves only three northern white rhinos in the world - all in the Ol Pejeta Sanctuary in Kenya. At 41, Nola was in rapidly declining health; zookeepers on Sunday opted to euthanize her. Nola's horns and body will be kept in the off-exhibit area at the Smithsonian with materials from other northern white rhinos in order to help researchers "continue to study this magnificent species," the San Diego Zoo announced Tuesday. In the minutes after Nola's death, researchers at the zoo's Institute for Conservation Research collected ovarian and uterine tissue samples for storage in the institute's Frozen Zoo for study. The Frozen Zoo has genetic material from 11 other northern white rhinos. But as expected, researchers found that her eggs were not viable and thus were not collected. The Frozen Zoo has semen from male northern white rhinos but no eggs. No method exists for removing the eggs from a living northern white rhino. Despite long odds, the zoo's research institute, along with the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Medicine in Berlin, and the Ol Pejeta Sanctuary in Kenya - are determined to preserve the northern white rhino species. Nola arrived at the Safari Park in 1989 from a zoo in what is now the Czech Republic and quickly became a favorite of zookeepers and visitors. She did not succeed in giving birth - although at one time, the Safari Park had two male northern white rhinos. One has since died, the other was transferred to another facility. As the panda is the poster animal for the San Diego Zoo, the rhino plays the same role for the Safari Park, beginning with a large cutout at the park entrance. "Although Nola did not reproduce in her long lifetime, she touched the hearts of everyone who was fortune enough to meet her," said Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive physiology at the conservation institute. Various options are being considered to preserve the species or possibly reintroduce it after the three remaining rhinos die. One option is a hybrid between the northern white rhino and the southern white rhino. Another option is to create a northern white rhino embryo - possibly from a stem cell line - and use a southern white rhino female as a surrogate. Six southern white rhino females arrived at the Safari Park this month from South Africa to act as possible surrogates. Nola's passing "only strengthens our commitment to develop the technology needed to realize the goal of producing an offspring from Nola's preserved cells," Durrant said. The task will be neither easy nor quick. Durrant has predicted a northern white rhino offspring by 2023. Making the venture more difficult is the fact that the three remaining northern white rhinos in Kenya all have reproductive issues: Sudan, 43, the male; and the females Najin, 26, and Fatu, 15. The sanctuary has 24-hour armed guards to protect the rhinos from poachers. All five species of rhinos are in dire condition around the globe because of poaching, habitat destruction and warfare. Three of the species are on the "red list" of critically endangered species. Some conservationists have predicted that rhinos could disappear within a generation. Durrant and others, however, hope that knowledge gained in the pursuit of a northern white rhino offspring could assist in projects to help other species of rhinos. Explore further: Rare white rhino dies in Kenya, pushing breed close to extinction

Tobler M.W.,Institute for Conservation Research | Powell G.V.N.,World Wildlife Fund
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Camera traps have become the main method for estimating jaguar (Panthera onca) densities. Over 74 studies have been carried out throughout the species range following standard design recommendations. We reviewed the study designs used by these studies and the results obtained. Using simulated data we evaluated the performance of different statistical methods for estimating density from camera trap data including the closed-population capture-recapture models Mo and Mh with a buffer of 1/2 and the full mean maximum distance moved (MMDM) and spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) models under different study designs and scenarios. We found that for the studies reviewed density estimates were negatively correlated with camera polygon size and MMDM estimates were positively correlated. The simulations showed that for camera polygons that were smaller than approximately one home range density estimates for all methods had a positive bias. For large polygons the Mh MMDM and SECR model produced the most accurate results and elongated polygons can improve estimates with the SECR model. When encounter rates and home range sizes varied by sex, estimates had a negative bias for models that did not include sex as a covariate. Based on the simulations we concluded that the majority of jaguar camera trap studies did not meet the requirements necessary to produce unbiased density estimates and likely overestimated true densities. We make clear recommendations for future study designs with respect to camera layout, number of cameras, study length, and camera placement. Our findings directly apply to camera trap studies of other large carnivores. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Pekin B.K.,Institute for Conservation Research
Conservation Biology | Year: 2013

Although agricultural intensification is thought to pose a significant threat to species, little is known about its role in driving biodiversity loss at regional scales. I assessed the effects of a major component of agricultural intensification, agricultural chemical use, and land-cover and climatic variables on butterfly diversity across 81 provinces in Turkey, where agriculture is practiced extensively but with varying degrees of intensity. I determined butterfly species presence in each province from data on known butterfly distributions and calculated agricultural chemical use as the proportion of agricultural households that use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I used constrained correspondence analyses and regression-based multimodel inference to determine the effect of environmental variables on species composition and richness, respectively. The variation in butterfly species composition across the provinces was largely explained (78%) by the combination of agricultural chemical use, particularly pesticides, and climatic and land-cover variables. Although overall butterfly richness was primarily explained by climatic and land-cover variables, such as the area of natural vegetation cover, threatened butterfly richness and the relative number of threatened butterfly species decreased substantially as the proportion of agricultural households using pesticides increased. These findings suggest that widespread use of agricultural chemicals, or other components of agricultural intensification that may be collinear with pesticide use, pose an imminent threat to the biodiversity of Turkey. Accordingly, policies that mitigate agricultural intensification and promote low-input farming practices are crucial for protecting threatened species from extinction in rapidly industrializing nations such as Turkey. © 2013 Society for Conservation Biology.

Reeder N.M.M.,San Francisco State University | Pessier A.P.,Institute for Conservation Research | Vredenburg V.T.,San Francisco State University
PLoS ONE | Year: 2012

Chytridiomycosis, a disease caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is driving amphibian declines and extinctions in protected areas globally. The introduction of invasive reservoir species has been implicated in the spread of Bd but does not explain the appearance of the pathogen in remote protected areas. In the high elevation (>1500 m) Sierra Nevada of California, the native Pacific chorus frog, Pseudacris regilla, appears unaffected by chytridiomycosis while sympatric species experience catastrophic declines. We investigated whether P. regilla is a reservoir of Bd by comparing habitat occupancy before and after a major Bd outbreak and measuring infection in P. regilla in the field, monitoring susceptibility of P. regilla to Bd in the laboratory, examining tissues with histology to determine patterns of infection, and using an innovative soak technique to determine individual output of Bd zoospores in water. Pseudacris regilla persists at 100% of sites where a sympatric species has been extirpated from 72% in synchrony with a wave of Bd. In the laboratory, P. regilla carried loads of Bd as much as an order of magnitude higher than loads found lethal to sympatric species. Histology shows heavy Bd infection in patchy areas next to normal skin, a possible mechanism for tolerance. The soak technique was 77.8% effective at detecting Bd in water and showed an average output of 68 zoospores per minute per individual. The results of this study suggest P. regilla should act as a Bd reservoir and provide evidence of a tolerance mechanism in a reservoir species. © 2012 Reeder et al.

Many publications within the field of zoo animal welfare have stated the importance of decreasing stereotypic behavior (e.g., pacing) to help ensure a positive visitor experience. The idea behind these statements is that visitors want to see animals engaged in natural behavior. Additionally, it is thought that watching an animal exhibit species-appropriate behavior could help increase a visitor's connection to wildlife and ultimately their interest in conservation. However, until recently, no information was available to validate such statements. The purpose of this research was to examine people's reaction to viewing an animal engaged in pacing behavior. Participants were randomly selected to fill out a survey after watching a short video of either a tiger pacing or resting (control). Results indicate that having viewed a tiger pacing significantly decreases people's perception of the level of care animals receive at that facility. In addition, people's interest in supporting zoos decreased as a result of viewing this behavior. Results are discussed from an animal welfare, business, and conservation perspective. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Pekin B.K.,Institute for Conservation Research
Land Use Policy | Year: 2016

Natural vegetation enhances the value of agricultural landscapes for people and wildlife. However, the role of anthropogenic versus topographic factors in driving the extent of natural vegetation cover within agricultural lands at large spatial scales remains unexplored. I assessed the influence of anthropogenic and topographic variables on the extent of agricultural mosaics with high natural vegetation cover in the country of Turkey where a large extent of natural and semi-natural vegetation is maintained by traditional agriculture. GIS layers depicting human land use, elevation, slope, roads and population data were obtained and summarized at two spatial scales, within provinces and for 100 km2 grid cells covering the country's entire agricultural land area. Average farm size was also obtained at province level. Hierarchical Partitioning was conducted to determine the independent effect of anthropogenic and topographic variables on the variation in agriculture with high natural vegetation. Slope had the largest independent effect on the variation in the proportion of agricultural mosaic with high natural vegetation cover. The extent of agricultural and settlement area also explained much of the variation in natural vegetation across both grid cells and provinces. The proportion of natural vegetation increased as human population and road density decreased across grid cells and as average farm size decreased across provinces. These results suggest that while topography is the primary driver of natural vegetation cover within agricultural mosaics in Turkey, the pressures associated with urban development and agricultural industrialization may also influence the cultural and wildlife value of agricultural landscapes. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd.

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