The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution located on a 3,200-acre campus located just outside the historic town of Front Royal, Virginia. An extension of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the SCBI has played a leading role in the fields of veterinary medicine, reproductive physiology and conservation biology since its founding in 1974.Previously named the Conservation and Research Center, the CRC became known as the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in 2010 as a symbol of its growing independence from the captive animals associated with the traditional images of zoos. Wikipedia.
News Article | May 3, 2017
Coastal habitat ringing the Gulf of Mexico is crucial for the birds that pass through the region every year on their journeys between North America and the Neotropics. Credit: A. McBride The Gulf of Mexico is hugely important to birds that migrate between North America and the Neotropics—almost all migrants have to go around it or across it. Coastal habitats around the Gulf of Mexico are critical for these migrating birds, but these habitats face more and more threats from human activity. A new Review in The Condor: Ornithological Applications brings together what we know—and don't know—about the state of the region's ecosystems and the birds that pass through them. Understanding the population impacts of events during migration requires knowing which species are using what coastal habitats, how good those habitats are, where the birds are coming from, and where they're going. Birds use a variety of coastal habitats, from vast tracts of hardwood forests to patches of vegetation embedded in agricultural or urban areas. The amount of food present in these areas, the intensity of competition for that food, and the danger from predators all shape how well a certain spot can meet a migrating bird's needs. Threats to birds passing through the Gulf of Mexico include coastal habitat loss from forest clearing, wetland filling and dredging, and shoreline hardening; tall structures like cell phone towers and wind turbines; and, of course, climate change. More data is needed in all of these subjects. Today the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network is taking on the enormous task of coordinating monitoring across the region by integrating the efforts of multiple organizations and agencies. Doing this well will require close cooperation between the United States, Mexico, and Caribbean countries. "Many migratory bird species are declining, including the species that breed in our backyards every summer, and we're trying to understand if events that occur during migration might impact birds here on the breeding grounds. Our focus is the Gulf of Mexico region because it's a bottleneck for migratory land birds—a place they have to move through every spring and fall," says the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Emily Cohen, the lead author of the Review. "Birds use these coastal habitats twice a year to eat and rest before and after their spectacular non-stop flight across the Gulf, which can take up to twenty hours! What's going on during these migratory journeys is the final frontier for bird biology, and many new tools are making it possible to solve the mysteries of migration that previously limited our ability to develop conservation priorities." "This Review highlights the tremendous importance of the Gulf of Mexico to migratory birds, not only from an ecological and conservation perspective, but also as an opportunity to understand mechanisms that drive the evolution of migration across dozens of families," according to Erik Johnson of Audubon Louisiana, an expert on bird conservation in the region. "As this paper makes clear, preserving this landscape is a tremendous responsibility shared across multiple countries, and our collective success has implications for how our descendants across North America will experience the amazing phenomenon of bird migration." Explore further: How migratory birds respond to balmier autumns? More information: "How do en route events around the Gulf of Mexico influence migratory landbird populations?" will be available May 3, 2017, at americanornithologypubs.org/doi/full/10.1650/CONDOR-17-20.1
News Article | April 27, 2017
The ability of some Western conifer forests to recover after severe fire may become increasingly limited as the climate continues to warm, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Harvard Forest found in a new study published today in Global Change Biology. Although most of these cone-bearing evergreen trees are well adapted to fire, the study examines whether two likely facets of climate change -- hotter, drier conditions and larger, more frequent and severe wildfires -- could potentially transform landscapes from forested to shrub-dominated systems. As part of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, scientists examined conifer forests in the richly diverse Klamath region of northern California and southwestern Oregon. The Klamath region is a botanical hotspot, home to 29 species of conifers and a suite of plant species that exist nowhere else on earth. The researchers sampled sites that burned severely in wildfires between 1987 and 2008. They found that, after fire, hardwood trees and shrubs quickly established by either re-sprouting from surviving root systems or growing rapidly from seeds that persisted in the soil. These plants dominated the vegetation for at least the first few decades after fire. Most conifers, on the other hand, were slow to compete, relying on establishment of new seedlings borne by trees in less severely burned patches or from outside the fire perimeter. As a result, conifers had only a few years to establish before the regenerating hardwoods and shrubs grew dense enough to suppress them. "If they miss that window there's much less chance of successful establishment and their growth will be slower," says study author Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, a forest ecologist at SCBI and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In fact, the study found that the longer the interval between the fire and the conifer's establishment, the slower the tree's growth. "The Klamath ecosystem is an important transition zone separating the shrubs of the California chaparral from the Pacific Northwest's temperate rainforest," says Jonathan Thompson, a Senior Ecologist at Harvard Forest and co-author on the study. "Our work suggests climate change will push the chaparral north at the expense of the Klamath's existing conifer forests." Because most conifers depend on seed dispersal from surviving trees, larger patches of high-severity fire could put a growing portion of the landscape at risk of poor post-fire conifer regeneration. The study suggests this trend could be even more pronounced because under drier conditions more abundant seed sources are needed to support conifer seedlings at densities sufficient for forest recovery. In addition, previous research by Thompson and others suggests the young, shrub-dominated vegetation that develops after severe fire tends to burn more severely in subsequent fires than older conifer forests, meaning that once severe fire converts a conifer forest to a shrub-dominated system, the non-forested vegetation could be perpetuated almost indefinitely through a cycle of repeated burning. "We see climate change affecting the system from two directions," says Thompson. "First, it is slowing conifer growth, keeping them low to the ground and more vulnerable to future fires for a longer period of time. Second, climate change is making fire more frequent. This phenomenon, which researchers call the 'interval squeeze,' threatens to transform this and other arid, fire-prone forests worldwide." Still, portions of the landscape may be relatively resilient. For example, conifers were able to regenerate in wetter sites, even amid relatively large high-severity patches with few surviving trees. "The Klamath region has supported conifers for thousands of years," says Thompson. "Some patches will surely survive no matter what climate throws at them." The researchers hope these findings could help provide information needed to prioritize management efforts. "Our study helps to identify the places that are at greatest risk of forest loss, where managers could either target management to promote post-fire forest recovery, or accept that we're going to see some degree of landscape transformation in the coming decades and learn to meet ecological objectives under the new climate and disturbance regimes," says Alan Tepley, a forest ecologist with SCBI and the study's lead author. These findings could also be applied in a broader context to other forest ecosystems. "There are concerns for much of the western U.S. and other similar landscapes that under climate change, forests may be less likely to regenerate," says Anderson-Teixeira. "And that can then reduce forest cover on the landscape and result in big losses of carbon storage." According to Anderson-Teixeira, the fate of the Klamath region depends in part on societal carbon emissions, where increased emissions lead to more warming, which ultimately could result in more forest loss. An additional author on this paper is Howard Epstein from the University of Virginia. The study is part of a large collaborative effort that includes the US Forest Service and Portland State University. The Harvard Forest, founded in 1907 and located in Petersham, Mass., is Harvard University's outdoor laboratory and classroom for ecology and conservation, and a Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site funded by the National Science Foundation. Its 4,000 acre property is one of the oldest and most intensively studied research forests in the U.S. In addition to studying New England landscapes, research scientists at the Forest study ecosystems around the U.S. and the globe. More information can be found at http://harvardforest. . SCBI plays a leading role in the Smithsonian's global efforts to save species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Va., the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today's most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability. For interviews with a Harvard Forest scientist or contacts for SCBI scientists, contact Clarisse Hart, firstname.lastname@example.org; 978-756-6157.
News Article | May 17, 2017
The country is one of the most forested in Southeast Asia, providing habitat for endangered species The loss of intact forest cover in Myanmar has accelerated over the last decade, according to a study published May 17, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Peter Leimgruber from Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, United States of America; Ned Horning from American Museum of Natural History, United States of America; and colleagues. Due to its long political and economic isolation, Myanmar has retained much of its original forest cover but much of the intact forest is unprotected and is increasingly subject to pressures from rapid political and economic changes in the country. Areas that were inaccessible due to armed conflicts between the government and ethnic groups, for example, are starting to open up for timber production and commercial plantations. To investigate changes to forest cover, Leimgruber, Horning and colleagues used Landsat satellite images to map forest cover in Myanmar between 2002 and 2014. The researchers found that in 2014 63% of Myanmar was covered by forest (more than 42 million hectares), making it one of the region's most forested countries. However, in terms of conservation efforts and protection of endangered species, intact (un-fragmented) forests are the most valuable. In Myanmar, 38% of forest cover is intact forest and during the study period the authors found that this intact forest declined by 11% (more than 2 million hectares) with an annual loss of 0.94%. Through their analyses the authors also identified 9 township hotspots of deforestation of intact forests and a large area 6.1 million hectares of intact forest in Northern Myanmar. The authors suggest that protection of intact forests should take priority but other ways of improving forest management could include encouraging forest restoration, and reclaiming degraded forestlands for plantations and sustainable agriculture. Co-author Dr. Qiongyu Huang states: "We found that forests cover 42,365,729 ha or 63% of Myanmar, making it one of the most forested countries in the region. However, severe logging, expanding plantations, and degradation pose increasing threats. Only 38% of the country's forests can be considered intact with canopy cover >80%. Between 2002 and 2014, intact forests declined at a rate of 0.94% annually, totaling more than 2 million ha forest loss." In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals. Citation: Bhagwat T, Hess A, Horning N, Khaing T, Thein ZM, Aung KM, et al. (2017) Losing a jewel--Rapid declines in Myanmar's intact forests from 2002-2014. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176364. https:/ Funding: EU FLEGT--Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Provided funding for mapping forest condition and change from Landsat satellite imagery. Website: http://www. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Website: http://helmsleytrust. Supporting Integrated Protected Area Land and Seascape Management in Tanintharyi. The funder supported salaries for trainers and senior remote sensing analysts based in Myanmar. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. USAID Burma Program Website: https:/ Provided funding to support local GIS/remote sensing analyst as well as capacity building. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website: https:/ Provided funding to support Myanmar GIS/RS analysts to help with mapping. Role: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
News Article | May 17, 2017
The loss of intact forest cover in Myanmar has accelerated over the last decade, according to a study published May 17, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Peter Leimgruber from Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, United States of America; Ned Horning from American Museum of Natural History, United States of America; and colleagues. Due to its long political and economic isolation, Myanmar has retained much of its original forest cover but much of the intact forest is unprotected and is increasingly subject to pressures from rapid political and economic changes in the country. Areas that were inaccessible due to armed conflicts between the government and ethnic groups, for example, are starting to open up for timber production and commercial plantations. To investigate changes to forest cover, Leimgruber, Horning and colleagues used Landsat satellite images to map forest cover in Myanmar between 2002 and 2014. The researchers found that in 2014 63% of Myanmar was covered by forest (more than 42 million hectares), making it one of the region's most forested countries. However, in terms of conservation efforts and protection of endangered species, intact (un-fragmented) forests are the most valuable. In Myanmar, 38% of forest cover is intact forest and during the study period the authors found that this intact forest declined by 11% (more than 2 million hectares) with an annual loss of 0.94%. Through their analyses the authors also identified 9 township hotspots of deforestation of intact forests and a large area 6.1 million hectares of intact forest in Northern Myanmar. The authors suggest that protection of intact forests should take priority but other ways of improving forest management could include encouraging forest restoration, and reclaiming degraded forestlands for plantations and sustainable agriculture.
News Article | May 25, 2017
The study originated in 2008 with a planned expansion of Fort Irwin National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. But the expansion area included a swath of prime habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. So the U.S. Department of Defense funded relocation of the tortoises to an area adjacent to the base that is less than 10 miles south of their previous home. The Smithsonian Institute's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has completed parentage analysis after the relocation and has found that none of the transported males had sired any offspring. In contrast, all the moved females and the resident tortoises had adjusted well and reproduced. "These results were really surprising," said Emily Latch, a UWM associate professor of biological sciences and a co-author of a paper published May 24 in the journal Biological Conservation. "We fully expected that after several years, all tortoises would be reproducing at 'regular' levels. Our radio telemetry data indicated that translocated males were in the vicinity of females, and so had access to mates." Translocation is common conservation strategy, used to increase genetic diversity among populations and move threatened animals in the case of habitat loss. Latch, who worked on the early stages of tortoise project as a post-doctoral researcher with the Smithsonian, has also worked on translocation projects involving species of wild turkeys, mule deer, bison, bighorn sheep, river otters and fishers. These findings, she said, suggest that for some species, translocation may not be as effective a tool to rescue populations at risk as previously thought. Kevin Mulder, a graduate student at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and first author on the paper, said more research is necessary to identify what may have happened. Explore further: California tortoises died trying to reproduce during drought More information: Kevin P. Mulder et al. No paternal genetic integration in desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) following translocation into an existing population, Biological Conservation (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.04.030
Loss S.R.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute |
Will T.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service |
Marra P.P.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Nature Communications | Year: 2013
Anthropogenic threats, such as collisions with man-made structures, vehicles, poisoning and predation by domestic pets, combine to kill billions of wildlife annually. Free-ranging domestic cats have been introduced globally and have contributed to multiple wildlife extinctions on islands. The magnitude of mortality they cause in mainland areas remains speculative, with large-scale estimates based on non-systematic analyses and little consideration of scientific data. Here we conduct a systematic review and quantitatively estimate mortality caused by cats in the United States. We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals. Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.
Mcshea W.J.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences | Year: 2012
Due to chronic high densities and preferential browsing, white-tailed deer have significant impacts on woody and herbaceous plants. These impacts have ramifications for animals that share resources and across trophic levels. High deer densities result from an absence of predators or high plant productivity, often due to human habitat modifications, and from the desires of stakeholders that set deer management goals based on cultural, rather than biological, carrying capacity. Success at maintaining forest ecosystems require regulating deer below biological carrying capacity, as measured by ecological impacts. Control methods limit reproduction through modifications in habitat productivity or increase mortality through increasing predators or hunting. Hunting is the primary deer management tool and relies on active participation of citizens. Hunters are capable of reducing deer densities but struggle with creating densities sufficiently low to ensure the persistence of rare species. Alternative management models may be necessary to achieve densities sufficiently below biological carrying capacity. Regardless of the population control adopted, success should be measured by ecological benchmarks and not solely by cultural acceptance. © 2012 New York Academy of Sciences.
Brown J.L.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Animal Reproduction Science | Year: 2011
Many felid species are endangered because of destructive human activities. As a result, zoos are being tasked with sustaining genetically healthy populations in case of catastrophic extinctions. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few species, most felids do not reproduce well in captivity. The ability to track reproductive activity via hormones is key to developing successful ex situ breeding programs. Through the development of noninvasive fecal hormone monitoring techniques, a high degree of variability in estrous cycle characteristics has been found to exist across the taxon, including the type of ovulation. For example, although all felids have induced ovulations, the occurrence of spontaneous ovulations varies across species, and even between individuals within a species. Clouded leopards, fishing cats and margays frequently have spontaneous ovulations, whereas these are rarely observed in the cheetah, tigrina and ocelot. There are marked species differences in the impact of season on reproductive function, with some being exquisitely sensitive to photoperiod (e.g., Pallas' cat), some moderately affected (tiger, clouded leopard, snow leopard), and others that are not influenced at all (e.g., ocelot, tigrina, margay, lion, leopard, fishing cat). One of the greatest challenges remaining is overcoming the problems associated with highly variable ovarian responses to ovulation induction therapies used with assisted reproductive procedures, like artificial insemination (AI). Success is relatively high in the cheetah and ocelot, but few pregnancies have resulted after AI in clouded leopard, fishing cat and tiger. Current knowledge of the reproductive physiology of nondomestic felids, including aspects of the anatomy, behavior and ovarian cycles will be presented, and how the rapidly growing endocrine database is aiding ex situ management efforts. © 2010.
Sharma S.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society | Year: 2013
Understanding the patterns of gene flow of an endangered species metapopulation occupying a fragmented habitat is crucial for landscape-level conservation planning and devising effective conservation strategies. Tigers (Panthera tigris) are globally endangered and their populations are highly fragmented and exist in a few isolated metapopulations across their range. We used multi-locus genotypic data from 273 individual tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) from four tiger populations of the Satpura-Maikal landscape of central India to determine whether the corridors in this landscape are functional. This 45 000 km(2) landscape contains 17% of India's tiger population and 12% of its tiger habitat. We applied Bayesian and coalescent-based analyses to estimate contemporary and historical gene flow among these populations and to infer their evolutionary history. We found that the tiger metapopulation in central India has high rates of historical and contemporary gene flow. The tests for population history reveal that tigers populated central India about 10 000 years ago. Their population subdivision began about 1000 years ago and accelerated about 200 years ago owing to habitat fragmentation, leading to four spatially separated populations. These four populations have been in migration-drift equilibrium maintained by high gene flow. We found the highest rates of contemporary gene flow in populations that are connected by forest corridors. This information is highly relevant to conservation practitioners and policy makers, because deforestation, road widening and mining are imminent threats to these corridors.
Studds C.E.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute |
Marra P.P.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2011
Climatic warming has intensified selection for earlier reproduction in many organisms, but potential constraints imposed by climate change outside the breeding period have received little attention. Migratory birds provide an ideal model for exploring such constraints because they face warming temperatures on temperate breeding grounds and declining rainfall on many tropical non-breeding areas. Here, we use longitudinal data on spring departure dates of American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) to show that annual variation in tropical rainfall and food resources are associated with marked change in the timing of departure of the same individuals among years. This finding challenges the idea that photoperiod alone regulates the onset of migration, providing evidence that intensifying drought in the tropical winter could hinder adaptive responses to climatic warming in the temperate zone. © 2011 The Royal Society.