Just in case you're still listening

There's an interesting (and brief) article in today's Nature that I highly recommend: Conservation: the Endangered Species Act at 40. It consists of brief reflections from four scientists who have been involved with endangered species protection and has some valuable insights. You can bet that I'll be referring to this article when I teach Conservation Biology again in 2015.

Final grades posted

I just posted final grades to PeopleSoft. I managed to grade all papers that I received, so if you submitted your final paper, you should be able to see your final grade very soon. I won't have time to send back papers until Friday or possibly even Saturday. If you have any questions about your final grade, please wait until you've received your final paper before contacting me.

Thank you for a great semester. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

I know the semester is over, but

If you're reading this you might be interested in a pair of papers in Trends in Ecology & Evolution that were just made available as corrected proof:

A horizon scan of global conservation issues for 2014: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2013.11.004

What is the future of conservation? http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2013.10.01

Your evaluations of me

Please don't forget to fill out the online evaluation of this course when you have a chance. Right now only 3 of you have responded. I'm hoping for 100 percent. (Keep in mind that I won't be able to see the results of the survey until after I've turned in your grades. So be as brutally honest as you think you need to be. There's no way it could affect the grade I'll assign.)

Final class discussion

As you'll recall, our final class meeting is next Tuesday, 3 December. We'll spend the first 45 minutes discussing Project #3, the reserve plan for Tejon Ranch. Then I'll have to leave for a Deans' Council meeting. Laura will lead a discussion of two papers for the last half hour. You'll find a link to the papers on the lecture detail page for Tuesday (link).

The Thomas paper is a commentary on the paper by Vellend et al. Vellend and his co-authors make a provocative claim based on their meta-analysis of local-scale species diversity in plant communities:

A major advance of the last 20 y at the interface of biological, environmental, and conservation sciences has been the demonstration that plant biodiversity positively influences ecosystem function. Linking these results to applied conservation efforts hinges on the assumption that biodiversity is actually declining at the local scale at which diversity-function relationships are strongest. Our compilation and analysis of a global database of >16,000 repeat survey vegetation plots from habitats across the globe directly contradict this assumption. We find no general tendency for local-scale plant species diversity to decline over the last century, calling into question the widespread use of ecosystem function experiments to argue for the importance of biodiversity conservation in nature. (emphasis added)

Please come prepared to discuss these results and what they mean for conservation biology.

Peer evaluations for Project #3

Peer evaluations for Project #3 will be due at 5:00pm on Monday, 2 December - the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The first 45 minutes of the lecture on 3 December will review Project #3. Laura will lead a discussion for the last 30 minutes. I hope to post 2-3 relevant readings later this week or early in Thanksgiving week.

If you are traveling over Thanksgiving, please travel safely.

Global forest cover change

A paper in yesterday's Science descries construction of a high-resolution map for forest cover change worldwide. The image above is a screen shot of the area around UConn, with areas in red showing where forest cover was lost from 2000-2012. Here's the abstract from the paper:

Quantification of global forest change has been lacking despite the recognized importance of forest ecosystem services. In this study, Earth observation satellite data were used to map global forest loss (2.3 million square kilometers) and gain (0.8 million square kilometers) from 2000 to 2012 at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. The tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2101 square kilometers per year. Brazil's well-documented reduction in deforestation was offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola, and elsewhere. Intensive forestry practiced within subtropical forests resulted in the highest rates of forest change globally. Boreal forest loss due largely to fire and forestry was second to that in the tropics in absolute and proportional terms. These results depict a globally consistent and locally relevant record of forest change.

You can explore the data at http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest

Teaching evaluation

I believe that the evaluation form for this course is now on-line. I added three short qualitative questions to the end of the form. Please take the time to respond to the evaluation. I take your feedback seriously, and every time I teach the course, I incorporate suggestions from previous students. I won't see the results of the evaluations until after final grades have been assigned. So you can be brutally honest with me about what I did poorly. If you have more extensive comments than the form will accommodate, feel free to send them to me separately. Or if you'd prefer to remain anonymous, send them to Laura. She will anonymize them and give them to me without any identifiers.

Biodiversity and human health

I haven't read this yet, but the abstract is intriguing:

Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: An ecosystem service essential to health
Graham A. Rook
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences http://www.pnas.org/content/110/46/18360.full

Epidemiological studies suggest that living close to the natural environment is associated with long-term health benefits including reduced death rates, reduced cardiovascular disease, and reduced psychiatric problems. This is often attributed to psychological mechanisms, boosted by exercise, social interactions, and sunlight. Compared with urban environments, exposure to green spaces does indeed trigger rapid psychological, physiological, and endocrinological effects. However, there is little evidence that these rapid transient effects cause long-term health benefits or even that they are a specific property of natural environments. Meanwhile, the illnesses that are increasing in high-income countries are associated with failing immunoregulation and poorly regulated inflammatory responses, manifested as chronically raised C-reactive protein and proinflammatory cytokines. This failure of immunoregulation is partly attributable to a lack of exposure to organisms ("Old Friends") from mankind's evolutionary past that needed to be tolerated and therefore evolved roles in driving immunoregulatory mechanisms. Some Old Friends (such as helminths and infections picked up at birth that established carrier states) are almost eliminated from the urban environment. This increases our dependence on Old Friends derived from our mothers, other people, animals, and the environment. It is suggested that the requirement for microbial input from the environment to drive immunoregulation is a major component of the beneficial effect of green space, and a neglected ecosystem service that is essential for our well-being. This insight will allow green spaces to be designed to optimize health benefits and will provide impetus from health systems for the preservation of ecosystem biodiversity.

Who is conservation for?

I doubt that many - any - of you are regular readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Heck, there's a good chance you've never even heard of it before. Why do I bring this up? Not because I'm encouraging you to read it regularly, but because I do, and I happened to see an article this morning that I think you'll find very interesting.

It describes how a "failure" in her doctoral research project led to a change of direction, not just in her research, but also in much of conservation biology. Here's a key paragraph:

The rhetorical shift to a human-centered conservation has been quick, if not always easy--angry debate and ethical qualms are hallmarks of the change. But it has also called for a new kind of science, one that finds a way to understand humans, animals, and the environment at once; a science built to knit together the forest and crop rows of the Costa Rican coffee plantation. It's a science Daily has helped construct for the past two decades, combining economics and applied ecology to describe the benefits that humans gain from the natural world--drinking water, pollination, recreation. And at the base of it all is one snooze-inducing term: ecosystem services.
I encourage you to read the whole thing.
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