Wildlife Conservation Research Unit

Abingdon, United Kingdom

Wildlife Conservation Research Unit

Abingdon, United Kingdom
SEARCH FILTERS
Time filter
Source Type

Less affluent countries are more committed to conservation of their large animals than richer ones, a new Oxford University research collaboration has found. Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have assessed how much, or little, individual countries contribute to protecting the world's wildlife. Working in partnership with Panthera, the only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, they found that in comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region. Led by Panthera Research Associate Dr Peter Lindsey, the team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations, to evaluate their conservation footprint. Since a high proportion of mega-fauna species, such as tigers, leopards and gorillas face extinction, the team focused their research on the protection of large mammals. The benchmarking system evaluated three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP. The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety per cent of countries in North and Central America and 70 per cent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts. Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa was found to prioritise wildlife preservation, and contribute more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries made up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranked nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation. Dr.Lindsey said: 'Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We cannot ignore the possibility that we will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.' Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 per cent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty per cent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction. Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper, said: 'Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum. There is a strong case for countries where mega-fauna species have been historically persecuted, to assist their recovery.' The study also goes some way to explaining why the regional disparities occur. Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist, makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions. The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions to conservation the team hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation. Addressing how countries can improve their MCI scores, Dr Peter Lindsey said: "There are three ways; Firstly, they can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad." At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per annum towards conservation in developing nations. However, current conservation contributions from developed nations sit at just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year. Discussing how the scores were tallied, Professor Macdonald added: "These countries have achieved high scores in a variety of ways - some by setting aside vast protected area networks, others by allowing mega-fauna species to occupy high proportions of their landscape, and others by investing significant funding in conservation either domestically or internationally. Our hope is that this will be produced annually to provide a public benchmark for commitment to protecting nature's largest, and, some would say, most charismatic wildlife. The way the index has been structured means that as countries of the world do more, the average benchmark will increase encouraging underperformers to try harder." Professor William Ripple, Co-author and Oregon State University Professor concluded: "The Megafauna Conservation Index is an important first step to transparency - some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated, whereas some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough." TITLE OF PAPER: Relative efforts of countries to conserve global megafauna David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org For interviews or supporting images please contact: Lanisha Butterfield, Media Relations Manager on 01865 280531 or lanisha.butterfield@admin.ox.ac.uk The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) is one of four academic divisions at the University of Oxford, representing the non-medical sciences. Oxford is one of the world's leading universities for science, and MPLS is at the forefront of scientific research across a wide range of disciplines. Research in the mathematical, physical and life sciences at Oxford was rated the best in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. MPLS received £133m in research income in 2014/15. Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world's ecosystems. Panthera's team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers and their vast landscapes. In 50 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats--securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.


Researchers from Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have assessed how much, or little, individual countries contribute to protecting the world's wildlife. Working in partnership with Panthera, the only organisation dedicated to protecting wild cats, they found that in comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region. Led by Panthera Research Associate Dr Peter Lindsey, the team created a Mega-Fauna Conservation Index (MCI) of 152 nations, to evaluate their conservation footprint. Since a high proportion of mega-fauna species, such as tigers, leopards and gorillas face extinction, the team focused their research on the protection of large mammals. The benchmarking system evaluated three key measures: a) the proportion of the country occupied by each mega-fauna species that survives in the country (countries with more species covering a higher proportion of the country scoring higher); b) the proportion of mega-fauna species range that is protected (higher proportions score higher); c) and the amount of money spent on conservation - either domestically or internationally, relative to GDP. The findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety per cent of countries in North and Central America and 70 per cent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts. Despite facing a number of domestic challenges, such as poverty and political instability in many parts of the continent, Africa was found to prioritise wildlife preservation, and contribute more to conservation than any other region of the world. African countries made up four of the five top-performing mega-fauna conservation nations, with Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe topping the list. By contrast, the United States ranked nineteenth out of the twenty performing countries. Approximately one-quarter of countries in Asia and Europe were identified as significantly underperforming in their commitment to mega-fauna conservation. Dr.Lindsey said: 'Scores of species across the globe, including tigers, lions and rhinos, are at risk of extinction due to a plethora of threats imposed by mankind. We cannot ignore the possibility that we will lose many of these incredible species unless swift, decisive and collective action is taken by the global community.' Human impact continues to have a devastating effect on the natural world, with wildlife species across the globe under threat from poaching, hunting and the consequences of climate change. Recent studies indicate that 59 per cent of the world's largest carnivores and sixty per cent of the largest herbivores are currently threatened with extinction. Professor David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU and co-author of the paper, said: 'Every country should strive to do more to protect its wildlife. Our index provides a measure of how well each country is doing, and sets a benchmark for nations that are performing below the average level, to understand the kind of contributions they need to make as a minimum. There is a strong case for countries where mega-fauna species have been historically persecuted, to assist their recovery.' The study also goes some way to explaining why the regional disparities occur. Mega-fauna species are associated with strong 'existence values', where just knowing that large wild animals exist, makes people feel happier. In some cases, such as the African nations, this link explains why some countries are more concerned with conservation than others. Larger mammal species like wild cats, gorillas and elephants play a key role in ecological processes as well as tourism industries, which are an economic lifeline in poorer regions. The conservation index is intended as a call to action for the world to acknowledge its responsibility to wildlife protection. By highlighting the disparity in each nations' contributions to conservation the team hopes to see increased efforts and renewed commitment to biodiversity preservation. Addressing how countries can improve their MCI scores, Dr Peter Lindsey said: "There are three ways; Firstly, they can 're-wild' their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad." At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, developed nations promised to allocate at least $2 billion (USD) per annum towards conservation in developing nations. However, current conservation contributions from developed nations sit at just half of the proposed amount, $1.1 billion (USD) per year. Discussing how the scores were tallied, Professor Macdonald added: "These countries have achieved high scores in a variety of ways - some by setting aside vast protected area networks, others by allowing mega-fauna species to occupy high proportions of their landscape, and others by investing significant funding in conservation either domestically or internationally. Our hope is that this will be produced annually to provide a public benchmark for commitment to protecting nature's largest, and, some would say, most charismatic wildlife. The way the index has been structured means that as countries of the world do more, the average benchmark will increase encouraging underperformers to try harder." Professor William Ripple, Co-author and Oregon State University Professor concluded: "The Megafauna Conservation Index is an important first step to transparency - some of the poorest countries in the world are making the biggest investments in a global asset and should be congratulated, whereas some of the richest nations just aren't doing enough." Explore further: Prides, protection and parks: Africa's protected areas can support four times as many lions More information: Relative efforts of countries to conserve global megafauna, Global Ecology and Conservation, 27 April 2017


In a new study researchers have found that although warmer weather should benefit badger populations, the predicted human population increase in the Scottish highlands is likely to disturb badgers and counteract that effect. These results emphasise the importance of interactive effects and context-dependent responses when planning conservation management under human-induced rapid environmental change. The new findings, published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions, result from a collaboration between researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Building on data from 168 camera trap stations actually collected originally to look at Scottish wildcat distributions, the team was also able to detect local badger (Meles meles) presence and absence. They found that different factors, such as weather conditions, land cover type and human disturbance interact to determine which locations badgers choose to populate across the Scottish Highlands. Overall, badger occupancy was more likely at sites with higher minimum winter temperature and lower elevation. But when study areas of similar temperature and elevation were grouped together, more complex patterns emerged. Specifically, in less favourable cooler upland areas badger occupancy was associated with higher availability of agricultural patches, possibly due to the additional food resources they provide. This pattern was, however, not found in warmer lowland areas. These lowland areas typically provide more favourable foraging conditions, but also include more human infrastructures (farms, roads, villages, etc) that constrained badger occurrence; badgers were more often found further away from settlements and roads. While medium estimates of a 1-3°C increase in mean minimum winter temperature for Northern Scotland by the 2050s would lead to better conditions for badgers in Highland Scotland, forecasts based on this factor alone are likely to prove simplistic and naïve. Disturbances associated with a predicted parallel 5% increase in human population in the Scottish Highlands by 2037 may counteract the benefits of increasing temperatures. It may therefore prove faulty or superficial to assume that species will simply benefit from warming conditions along the former cold-edge of their distribution if other environmental factors are not considered. The study was led by André Silva and Gonçalo Curveira-Santos from Uppsala University and University of Lisbon, in collaboration with WildCRU (Oxford University) and the University of Aveiro.


Heat- and motion-activated camera-traps were used to document badger presence in Northern Scotland. Credit: Kerry Kilshaw / WildCRU In a new study researchers have found that although warmer weather should benefit badger populations, the predicted human population increase in the Scottish highlands is likely to disturb badgers and counteract that effect. These results emphasise the importance of interactive effects and context-dependent responses when planning conservation management under human-induced rapid environmental change. The new findings, published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions, result from a collaboration between researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Building on data from 168 camera trap stations actually collected originally to look at Scottish wildcat distributions, the team was also able to detect local badger (Meles meles) presence and absence. They found that different factors, such as weather conditions, land cover type and human disturbance interact to determine which locations badgers choose to populate across the Scottish Highlands. Overall, badger occupancy was more likely at sites with higher minimum winter temperature and lower elevation. But when study areas of similar temperature and elevation were grouped together, more complex patterns emerged. Specifically, in less favourable cooler upland areas badger occupancy was associated with higher availability of agricultural patches, possibly due to the additional food resources they provide. This pattern was, however, not found in warmer lowland areas. These lowland areas typically provide more favourable foraging conditions, but also include more human infrastructures (farms, roads, villages, etc) that constrained badger occurrence; badgers were more often found further away from settlements and roads. While medium estimates of a 1-3°C increase in mean minimum winter temperature for Northern Scotland by the 2050s would lead to better conditions for badgers in Highland Scotland, forecasts based on this factor alone are likely to prove simplistic and naïve. Disturbances associated with a predicted parallel 5% increase in human population in the Scottish Highlands by 2037 may counteract the benefits of increasing temperatures. It may therefore prove faulty or superficial to assume that species will simply benefit from warming conditions along the former cold-edge of their distribution if other environmental factors are not considered. Explore further: Bovine TB infection depends on feedback between cattle and badgers More information: André P. Silva et al, Climate and anthropogenic factors determine site occupancy in Scotland's Northern-range badger population: implications of context-dependent responses under environmental change, Diversity and Distributions (2017). DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12564


News Article | May 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

With rain forests at risk the world over, a new collaboration is equipping conservationists with the tools to predict and plan for future forest loss. A new study by scientists from the Universities of Oxford, Montana and the US Forest Service highlights novel approaches to tackling deforestation. The team focused their research on Borneo, an island that has lost a staggering 30 percent of its forest since the 1970s and is among the most biodiverse and threatened on the planet. The loss of Bornean forests threatens species such as the orangutan, Sumatran rhino, and the Sunda clouded leopard; as well as emitting significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Although focussed on Borneo, the study findings, published in Landscape Ecology, will be useful to all forest conservationists, and could help tropical forests around the world. The study took an innovative approach to conducting their data analysis, using existing maps of the area and the machine learning algorithm 'Random Forests', the team built a multi-scale model of deforestation on the island over time (from 2000- 2010). After calculating the historic links between landscape variables and deforestation, the team used this information to predict the future deforestation risk facing Borneo's remaining forests. The goal of this study was to provide national authorities with a tool that would support them to recognise potential deforestation threats in the future. The deforestation risk factors varied from nation to nation, within the island. In Brunei, deforestation was associated with a highly patchy landscape with multiple land uses within a 10km radius and a large amount of forest edge. By contrast, in the Malaysian provinces of Borneo, deforestation was associated with a high proportion of lowland mosaic landscape types within 20km and high proportions of existing plantations within 30km. This led to a diffuse pattern of risk across Malaysian forests. Finally, in the Indonesian provinces of Borneo, deforestation was associated with areas of low elevation and a highly patchy landscape, leading to strong frontiers of deforestation risk. Ewan Macdonald, joint first author and a researcher in Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) said: 'Our results provide the best insight to date of where the highest risks lie to Borneo's remaining forests. I hope this will help governments and conservation planners to develop effective strategies to combat these risks and to conserve these beautiful forests for future generations. 'If we understand where risks lurk, we can plan action to counteract them. And these risks are real and imminent for many species, such as the beautiful and enigmatic Sunda clouded leopard, which are threatened by Borneo's forest loss. I hope our understanding of the patterns of deforestation risk will provide a vital tool in developing effective conservation strategies.' The research findings strongly suggest that this novel approach offer a powerful method for analysing land use change. In addition, it highlights the immense and imminent deforestation risk to Borneo's forest biodiversity, with clear spatial patterns of risk related to topography and landscape structure that differ between the three nations that comprise Borneo. Samuel Cushman, joint first author, Director of the Center for Landscape Science and Research Landscape Ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said: 'It is well accepted that ecological processes interact across a range of scales both in time and space; despite this, very few studies have explicitly accounted for scale dependence in predictive modelling. This analysis highlights the power of multi scale approaches to land cover change modelling and we hope it will encourage other researchers to adopt this approach.' Professor David Macdonald, Director of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit said: 'Borneo's majestic forests and glorious wildlife are beacons to the world and what's so exciting about this study is that the intelligence gained from studying patterns in Borneo, sheds a light to illuminate a way of helping tropical forests around the world. The innovation lies in a methodology that can be rolled out far beyond Borneo.'


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The seven big cats that went extinct towards the end of the last Ice Age, including several sabre-toothed cats, are those which lost the greatest proportion of their prey, according to an international team of scientists who believe the African Lion and Sunda clouded leopard are next on the list. A new study led by scientists from the universities of Sussex, Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru), Aarhus and Goteborg has assessed whether Ice Age extinction trends could be applied to populations of big cat species now, by using a new global database FelidDIET. The team researched the cause of extinction of seven large cats from the Ice Age: four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions and the American cheetah. They discovered that if these animals were alive today on average, only 25 percent of their preferred prey species would still remain across their former natural ranges - the majority have gone extinct, partly due to human pressure. The team believe this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these big cats. The team have also used the database to work out whether a similar decline in the availability of prey species now could lead to the demise of some of the world's most well-known big cat species. They have discovered that if all the currently threatened and declining prey species within big cat natural ranges were to go extinct, only 39 percent of the African lion's prey and 37 percent of Sunda clouded leopard's would remain. Worryingly the researchers believe that if this prey loss trend continues this poses 'a high risk of extinction' to these two big cat species in particular. They also report that prey diversity within the geographical ranges of tiger, leopard and cheetah puts them at risk too. Dr Chris Sandom, from the University of Sussex, said: "This joint study clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, Sunda clouded leopard, tiger and cheetah are at high risk of extinction. "Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. "We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey." Professor David Macdonald, Director of the University of Oxford's WildCRU, remarked: "The fairy-tale consequences of Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard being bare are all too vividly real for modern big cats. Our study of the consequences of prey loss - 'defaunation' in the jargon - is about, in everyday language "what if" or perhaps better "if only": without the extinctions of the Pleistocene, in which the fingerprints of humanity are all to incriminating, there would have been between one and five more felid species in most places today. He adds: "The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain down which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed." Dr Dawn Burnham, another WildCRU co-author, added: "NIMBYISM has taken its toll on our own part of the world - where today only the Eurasian lynx represents biggish cats in Western Europe, our calculations suggest there would have been at least three more large felids had the prey species survived to sustain them." The study entitled: 'Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness' has been published in the journal Ecography and can be found here. This project was conceived by Dr Chris Sandom while at WildCRU, and grew out of a collaboration between Professor David Macdonald and Professor Kathy Willis which was originally funded by the Oxford Martin School. The University of Sussex's School of Life Sciences is one of the largest academic schools at the University of Sussex. With 96 per cent of its research rated as world leading, internationally excellent or internationally recognised (REF 2014), it is among the leading research hubs for the biological sciences in the UK. The School is home to a number of prestigious research centres including the Genome Damage and Stability Centre and the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre, where academics work with industry to translate scientific advances into real-world benefits for patients. David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) is one of four academic divisions at the University of Oxford, representing the non-medical sciences. Oxford is one of the world's leading universities for science, and MPLS is at the forefront of scientific research across a wide range of disciplines. Research in the mathematical, physical and life sciences at Oxford was rated the best in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. MPLS received £133m in research income in 2014/15.


A new study led by scientists from the universities of Sussex, Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru), Aarhus and Goteborg has assessed whether Ice Age extinction trends could be applied to populations of big cat species now, by using a new global database FelidDIET. The team researched the cause of extinction of seven large cats from the Ice Age: four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions, and the American cheetah. They discovered that if these animals were alive today on average, only 25 per cent of their preferred prey species would still remain across their former natural ranges – the majority have gone extinct, partly due to human pressure. The team believe this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these big cats. The team have also used the database to work out whether a similar decline in the availability of prey species now could lead to the demise of some of the world's most well-known big cat species. They have discovered that, if all the currently threatened and declining prey species within big cat natural ranges were to go extinct, only 39 per cent of the African lion's prey and 37 per cent of Sunda clouded leopard's would remain. Worryingly the researchers believe that if this prey loss trend continues this poses 'a high risk of extinction' to these two big cat species in particular. They also report that prey diversity within the geographical ranges of tiger, leopard and cheetah puts them at risk too. Dr Chris Sandom, from the University of Sussex, said: "This joint study clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, Sunda clouded leopard, tiger and cheetah are at high risk of extinction. "Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. "We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey." Professor David Macdonald, Director of the University of Oxford's WildCRU, remarked: "The fairy-tale consequences of Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard being bare are all too vividly real for modern big cats. Our study of the consequences of prey loss – 'defaunation' in the jargon - is about, in everyday language 'what if' or perhaps better 'if only': without the extinctions of the Pleistocene, in which the fingerprints of humanity are all to incriminating, there would have been between one and five more felid species in most places today. "The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain down which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed." Dr Dawn Burnham, another WildCRU co-author, added: "NIMBYISM has taken its toll on our own part of the world – where today only the Eurasian lynx represents biggish cats in Western Europe, our calculations suggest there would have been at least three more large felids had the prey species survived to sustain them." More information: Christopher James Sandom et al. Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness, Ecography (2017). DOI: 10.1111/ecog.03303


News Article | May 10, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Newly published in the journal Ecography, the study shows that the wildlife that went extinct during the period, including the sabre-toothed cat, cave and American lions and the American cheetah, lost the greatest proportion of their prey. Big cats today face the same challenges and food shortages as their ancestors and without immediate action, the same fate could likely be inevitable. Led by scientists from the Universities of Sussex, Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Aarhus and Goteborg, the team assessed several Ice Age extinction factors and whether they could be applied to big cat species populations today. Using a new global database of felid diets called FelidDiet, the team uncovered the cause of extinction of several Ice Age giants. The findings show that if these animals were alive today, on average, just 25% of their preferred prey still remain in the natural world, with the majority now extinct, partly due to human interference. The team believe this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these animals. Addressing the question of what impact similar prey declines in natural big cat ranges would have today, the research has revealed that only 39% of the African lion's prey and 37% of the Sunda clouded leopard's would remain. The paper ends with a grave warning that if this prey loss trend continues all affected species will face 'a high risk of extinction.' Dr Chris Sandom, who conceived the study at Oxford's WildCRU, before joining the University of Sussex, said: 'Our research clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah, are at risk. 'Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey.' Professor David Macdonald, Director of the WildCRU unit, said: 'the fairytale consequences of Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard being bare are all too vividly real for modern big cats. Our study of the consequences of prey loss - 'defaunation' in the jargon - is about, in everyday language "what if" or perhaps better "if only": without the extinctions of the Pleistocene, in which the fingerprints of humanity are all too incriminating, there would have been between one and five more felid species in most places today'. He added, 'The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and in East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed.' Dr Dawn Burnham, another WildCRU co-author, added: 'NIMBYISM has taken its toll on our own part of the world where today only the Eurasian lynx represents biggish cats in Western Europe, our calculations suggest there would have been at least three more large felids had the prey species survived to sustain them'. The study entitled: "Learning from the past to prepare for the future: Felids face continued threat from declining prey richness" has been published in the journal Ecography and can be found here. This project was conceived by Dr Chris Sandom while at WildCRU, and grew out of a collaboration between Professor David Macdonald and Professor Kathy Willis which was originally funded by the Oxford Martin School. For interviews or supporting images please contact: Lanisha Butterfield, Media Relations Manager on 01865 280531 or lanisha.butterfield@admin.ox.ac.uk David Macdonald founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in 1986 at the University of Oxford. Now the foremost University-based centre for biodiversity conservation, the mission of the WildCRU is to achieve practical solutions to conservation problems through original research. WildCRU is renowned for its specialisation in wild carnivores, especially wild cats, for its long-running studies on lion and clouded leopard, and for its training centre, where early-career conservationists, so far from 32 countries, are trained by experts to become leaders in conservation, resulting in a global community of highly skilled and collaborative conservationists. Visit wildcru.org The Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division (MPLS) is one of four academic divisions at the University of Oxford, representing the non-medical sciences. Oxford is one of the world's leading universities for science, and MPLS is at the forefront of scientific research across a wide range of disciplines. Research in the mathematical, physical and life sciences at Oxford was rated the best in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment. MPLS received £133m in research income in 2014/15.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

The extinction trends that caused the demise of several Ice Age species, including many of the saber-toothed family, may be a threat to wildlife today and particularly to the African lion, a new Oxford University research collaboration has revealed. Newly published in the journal Ecography, the study shows that the wildlife that went extinct during the period, including the saber-toothed cat, cave and American lions and the American cheetah, lost the greatest proportion of their prey. Big cats today face the same challenges and food shortages as their ancestors and without immediate action, the same fate could likely be inevitable. Led by scientists from the Universities of Sussex, Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Aarhus and Goteborg, the team assessed several Ice Age extinction factors and whether they could be applied to big cat species populations today. Using a new global database of felid diets called FelidDiet, the team uncovered the cause of extinction of several Ice Age giants. The findings show that if these animals were alive today, on average, just 25 percent of their preferred prey still remain in the natural world, with the majority now extinct, partly due to human interference. The team believes this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these animals. Addressing the question of what impact similar prey declines in natural big cat ranges would have today, the research has revealed that only 39 percent of the African lion’s prey and 37 percent of the Sunda clouded leopard’s would remain. The paper ends with a grave warning that if this prey loss trend continues all affected species will face “a high risk of extinction.” “Our research clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah, are at risk,” said Chris Sandom, who conceived the study at Oxford’s WildCRU, before joining the University of Sussex. “Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey.” “The fairytale consequences of Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard being bare are all too vividly real for modern big cats,” added David Macdonald, director of the WildCRU unit. “Our study of the consequences of prey loss – ‘defaunation’ in the jargon -  is about, in everyday language ‘what if’ or perhaps better ‘if only:’ without the extinctions of the Pleistocene, in which the fingerprints of humanity are all too incriminating, there would have been between one and five more felid species in most places today.” “The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and in East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed.”


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.bbc.co.uk

Two big cats - the African lion and the Sunda clouded leopard - are most at risk from extinction caused by loss of prey, according to a new analysis. Lack of food was a factor in why seven big cats, including sabre-toothed tigers, went extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, say scientists. The trend is continuing, threatening a range of modern big cats, they warn. If the prey of big cats continues to decline it will add to other pressures such as habitat loss, a study found. Dr Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex said: "I think it adds an extra pressure for these animals. They are already suffering quite heavily from other conflicts with humans." He said the lesson from the past was that even if Ice Age big cats had survived conflicts with humans and the changing climate, they would not have had much left to eat. "We're in a continued decline of big, exciting animals," he added. "These charismatic predators are facing this consistent threat that started in the Ice Age and continues to this day and we need to turn that trend around." The research, led by scientists at Sussex and Oxford universities, looked at the causes of extinction in seven big cats - four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions, and the American cheetah. They found that if the animals had survived until modern times they would have lost the majority of their prey, partly due to human influences. The researchers then turned their attention to modern big cats, and the status of their prey. If all the prey species currently considered at risk were to go extinct, then the lions of East Africa and the clouded leopards of Indo-Malaya would be in a similar position to their Ice Age relatives, say the scientists. The same would apply to some populations of tiger, leopard and cheetah. Prof David Macdonald, Director of the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, said: "The Churchillian aphorism that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it was painfully in mind when we saw how many of the prey of lions and East Africa and of clouded leopards in Indo-Malaya look set to go down the same drain down which their counterparts in other regions have already been flushed." The Sunda clouded leopard is a medium-sized wild cat found in forests of the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The study is published in the journal Ecography.

Loading Wildlife Conservation Research Unit collaborators
Loading Wildlife Conservation Research Unit collaborators