Landscape change and conservation objectives

I've posted notes for Thursday's lecture. As usual, there's a lot more in the notes than I could possibly cover in lecture. I'll focus on the extended example of landscape change in the northeastern US, particularly David Foster's work on the Pisgah Forest in southwestern New Hampshire. It illustrates very nicely the challenges that arise from taking historical ecology seriously.

There are notes on a radical proposal, Pleistocene re-wilding at the end of this set of notes. I don't expect us to get to them on Thursday, but I think we will want to discuss the idea next Tuesday when we talk about ecological restoration. I'll put up links to several relevant papers on the lecture detail page for October 13 in the next day or two. Please take some time to read them and to think about the questions I pose at the end of the notes for Thursday. I'd like to spend 20-30 minutes discussing the issues in class next Tuesday.

Diversity, stability, and ecosystem functioning

I've posted notes on the relationships among diversity, stability, and ecosystem functioning. There will be one more paper added to the background reading tomorrow morning. For technical reasons that you really don't care about, I can't do it from home.

The notes for Thursday's lecture will probably get posted Tuesday night. I've put in titles for all of the ecosystem management lectures. Don't hesitate to let me know if there's a topic you'd like to see covered that doesn't seem to be included. If you do suggest something additional, be prepared for me to ask you what topic I should drop. There is, after all, only a certain amount of time available for everything.

Mass extinctions and community stability

There are two papers in today's Science that are worth reading. One is the report of an analysis of paleocommunity stability over the Permo-Triassic boundary (the time of the greatest mass extinction in the history of life). The other is a commentary on that report. Here's the title and abstract of the report. You'll find links to both articles below.

Community stability and selective extinction during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction

Peter D. Roopnarine and Kenneth D. Angielczyk

The fossil record contains exemplars of extreme biodiversity crises. Here, we examined the stability of terrestrial paleocommunities from South Africa during Earth's most severe mass extinction, the Permian-Triassic. We show that stability depended critically on functional diversity and patterns of guild interaction, regardless of species richness. Paleocommunities exhibited less transient instability--relative to model communities with alternative community organization--and significantly greater probabilities of being locally stable during the mass extinction. Functional patterns that have evolved during an ecosystem's history support significantly more stable communities than hypothetical alternatives.
Science 350:90-93; 2015.
doi: 10.1126/science.aab1371

Systematics, setting priorities, and ecosystem management

Notes for this week's lectures have been posted. On Tuesday we'll start with a discussion of the "not warranted" finding that the US Fish & Wildlife Service issued for the Greater Sage Grouse. Then we'll spend a little time discussing the role of systematics in endangered species conservation, and touch on some of the challenges associated with setting conservation priorities.

On Thursday, we'll probably have a few last things to say about the biology of small populations and endangered species conservation before we shift gears and begin our discussion of ecosystem management. Remember to come prepared to discuss your preliminary thoughts about Project #2, including thoughts on what you need to know in order to answer the questions it poses. We'll spend the last 20-30 minutes of class talking about that.

Project #2 is posted

I posted Project #2 last night. You'll see it listed on the lecture schedule for September 23. In addition, you may have heard the news that the Fish & Wildlife Service decided not to list the sage grouse. I haven't read the official decision, but here's the first paragraph of the story in theĀ New York Times:

HOUSTON -- The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that the greater sage grouse, a flamboyant bird that roams across 11 Western states, does not warrant a listing as an endangered species, an action that could have damaged oil and natural gas interests and the economies of many local communities.

Population viability analysis notes posted

On Tuesday we'll finish up our discussion of the genetics of small populations by taking any last questions about the extent to which loss of genetic diversity is or is not a concern in populations large enough to be ecologically vialbe. Then we'll begin an overview of population viability analysis. There's a lot of mathematical detail about Leslie and Lefkovitch matrices and their analysis in the notes, but we'll focus on broad general principles in class rather than those details. My main goal is to give you a sense of the kind of data that are necessary to construct a PVA and to get you ready for a reasonably detailed study of one particular example on Thursday: the northern spotted owl.

Notes for both lectures are now available.

Oh, and if you haven't looked at the course schedule lately, let me remind you that Project #1 is due on 29 September, a week from Tuesday. Framing questions for Project #2 are due the next day. I expect to have Project #2 posted no later than Wednesday afternoon (23 September), and I hope to have it available before then.

Adaptive capacity and conservation management

Adrienne Nicotra1 and colleagues have a very interesting paper in the most recent issue of Conservation Biology. We may discuss it briefly at the start of lecture on Tuesday, since it's very relevant to the discussion we had on Thursday about the extent to which we ought to worry about long-term genetic viabiity of populations that are large enough to buffer against ecological threats to population persistence. Here's the abstract:

Natural-resource managers and other conservation practitioners are under unprecedented pressure to categorize and quantify the vulnerability of natural systems based on assessment of the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of species to climate change. Despite the urgent need for these assessments, neither the theoretical basis of adaptive capacity nor the practical issues underlying its quantification has been articulated in a manner that is directly applicable to natural-resource management. Both are critical for researchers, managers, and other conservation practitioners to develop reliable strategies for assessing adaptive capacity. Drawing from principles of classical and contemporary research and examples from terrestrial, marine, plant, and animal systems, we examined broadly the theory behind the concept of adaptive capacity. We then considered how interdisciplinary, trait- and triage-based approaches encompassing the oft-overlooked interactions among components of adaptive capacity can be used to identify species and populations likely to have higher (or lower) adaptive capacity. We identified the challenges and value of such endeavors and argue for a concerted interdisciplinary research approach that combines ecology, ecological genetics, and eco-physiology to reflect the interacting components of adaptive capacity. We aimed to provide a basis for constructive discussion between natural-resource managers and researchers, discussions urgently needed to identify research directions that will deliver answers to real-world questions facing resource managers, other conservation practitioners, and policy makers. Directing research to both seek general patterns and identify ways to facilitate adaptive capacity of key species and populations within species, will enable conservation ecologists and resource managers.

Conservation Biology 29:1268-1278; 2015. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12522

Environmentalism's racist history

That's the title of an article by Jedediah Purdy in the August 13 issue of the New Yorker. It's an article anyone interested in conservation and environmental protection should read. Purdy's article distinguishes the two strains of environmental protection that I discussed: the romantic-transcendentalist strain associated with Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir and the resource conservation strain associated with Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot.1

The article begins by describing Madison Grant's career "at the center of the same energetic conservation circle as Roosevelt." It continues by pointing out that in 1916 he published a book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History, in which he argued that people of Nordic ancestry were natural aristocrats being overtaken by lesser races.2 Adolf Hitler wrote Grant an admiring letter.

Now it's clearly the case that just because Grant was a racist doesn't mean that all of them were, but Purdy points out that Roosevelt and other prominent conservationists in the resource conservation strain praised the book, and he argues that their aristocratic opinion of themselves in relation to other people is consistent with their aristocratic approach to conservation that focused on "noble" animals and ignored others.

Purdy admits that racist tendencies in the romantic-transcendentalist strain of conservation are gentler, but he still finds evidence of them in Muir. He points out that in this regard, Muir fell short of Thoreau who wrote in Slavery in Massachusetts, "What signifies the beauty of nature when men are base? . . . The remembrance of my country spoils my walk." But even Thoreau "proposed that American greatness arose as 'the farmer displaces the Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some respects more natural.'"

In short, Purdy describes a troubling history of racism among environmentalists. I encourage you to read the whole article.

More on sage grouse

Biology of small populations

I've just posted the notes on demography and genetics of small populations. Please take a look at them before coming to lecture. You'll find a fair amount - OK, a lot - of math in them, but don't let that worry you. I don't expect you to remember any of the math or to be able to derive the principles from the math yourself. The math is there only to help solidify your understanding of the principles, and (I hope) to increase the chances that you'll remember the principles better and be better able to apply them. While it would be interesting if you found a way to use some of the quantitative approaches we'll be discussing to Project #1, I don't expect that you will. What I do expect is that you'll apply some of the principles we derive from understanding these approaches. The principles are very relevant, even if the math isn't.