We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Large mammals aren’t getting enough attention (for once)

Guest Post by Dani Rabaiotti 

Large mammals get an awful lot of attention. People love a fluffy, charismatic, animal, and their large size often makes them comparatively easier to study, and an awful lot of time, effort and money goes into conserving charismatic large mammals. As a result, there are systematic biases towards large mammals in conservation research, in the media, across social media (guilty), and in the amount of money raised both through charities and grants. Whilst most people think of large African megafauna when they hear large mammals, they are actually making a comeback in Europe: numbers of wolves, bears, and lynx are increasing across most of the continent and, in some areas, these animals are even expanding their ranges.

This leads me onto one area of research where…possibly (hear me out here!)…large mammals might be overlooked. A lot of the focus on climate change response research has been into reptiles and amphibians, which have physiological traits that mean their behaviour and/or breeding is directly dependant on temperature, or species like corals, which have been identified as most at risk. Low down on the list of climate change impact studies are large mammals. A fairly large number of correlative studies have been done, where researchers look at where species live now and what the climatic conditions are, and use it to project where they could live under climate change. Far fewer studies have looked at the mechanisms by which large mammals might be affected by temperature changes.

African Wild Dog. Photo contributed by Dani Rabaiotti.
It could be argued, however, that large mammals may be disproportionately at risk. Due to their size, large mammals need a lot of resources and as a result generally need big territories to survive. Large mammals are disproportionately threatened compared to small mammals, in part due to global habitat loss, but also because they are more likely to come into conflict with humans, and be persecuted as a result: think large carnivores eating livestock or elephants eating crops. This also means that, as the climate warms, many species have no-where to move to (many plants and animals will move to cooler areas to avoid rising temperatures). In my study species, the African wild dog, for example, it has already been extirpated from over 90 percent of its former range through habitat loss and human conflict – there is no other ‘range’ for it to shift to. On top of this, large mammals take a really long time to reproduce, meaning that if they need to adapt to climate change, it has to be through behaviour and not evolution.

Because of this, it is really important that we understand the responses of large mammals to changes in temperature. This can be challenging as, unlike many smaller species, you can’t stick an elephant in a lab and heat it up to see what happens. The fields of herpetology, fisheries research, and, to a slightly lesser extend ornithology, have done some great work into how the physiology, behaviour and breeding habits of various species are impacted by climate change. These can be used to gain a mechanistic (that is, the mechanism behind how climate change might effect a species in future) understanding of climate change impacts, and allows the building of more detailed, mechanistic models that don’t just rely on correlation. However, there are far fewer papers of this kind on large mammals.

The good news is we already have a lot of data on large mammals, and where data is missing there are a lot of long-term projects out there. It would be a shame to pour money into conserving large mammals in an area that may be too hot for them to survive in the future, when it may be better directed elsewhere. It would be tragic if the large mammal conservation successes in Europe were lessened by an oversight in research. It is important that people start looking at past datasets, and collecting new datasets with questions on temperature impacts in mind. This would help ensure the future of these species that people know and love so well.


Dani Rabaiotti is a PhD student studying the impact of climate change on African wild dogs at the Zoological Society of London and UCL.  You can find more about her research here or reach out to her on Twitter @DaniRabaiotti.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Can conservation science alone save the planet?

Guest Post by Ewa Orlikowska

Conservation science recognizes the tight coupling of social and natural systems; for conservation to be fully successful, poverty must be addressed, but is it enough? What about our increasingly polarized societies? Is there still time to reverse ecosystem collapse or stop the human-driven sixth mass extinction? What if Stephen Hawking is right in giving humanity only 100 years to find a new planet, because we will not survive without escaping beyond our fragile Earth?

Degrowth principles and the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries concepts may guide us in providing for the human race without over-stressing the Earth’s life-support systems. We must act now and the actions need to be simultaneous, multilateral and bottom-up with citizen involvement applying Aldo Leopold’s land ethic that ‘…changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.’ Conservation must be incorporated into education and everyday life; the way we eat, travel, and consume needs to be sustainable to bring about social and environmental justice.

Some believe that scientists possess the “magic wand” giving them an extraordinary power to save the planet. With 7.4 billion of us inhabiting the Earth and researchers accounting for merely 0.1% of the global population, it seems highly infeasible. We all need to take responsibility for the state of our environment and act together on its behalf.

Many small steps add up – grow your own garden instead of maintaining a green lawn; compost, recycle, pick up street litter, walk and bicycle as opposed to driving, repair and reuse, wear plastic-free clothes, improve wildlife habitat in your area, eat organic - less meat and more plants, reduce plastic waste, support fossil-fuel-free technologies, be conscientious citizen and consumer. Look into the past for solutions for the future such as the consumption levels of our grandparents. Get involved in your local community – spread the conscientious lifestyle by example, educate your neighbors, friends and family. 

As one of the Student Conference on Conservation Science, University of Cambridge, 2017 (#SCCS2017) plenary speakers, Brendan Fisher taught us, we need to address each individual’s identity in framing our questions and approaches. For instance, the environmental aspects of palm oil plantations, such as deforestation of regions with the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth (Indonesia and Malaysia), may not impact the consumer decision of my 74-year-old mother, but the health risks its consumption imposes due to its high content of saturated fat long linked to heart disease will do.

As scientists, we must devote more time and effort to communication of scientific findings to the public; we must build bridges, educate, and reach out in order to break the ‘bubble’ encapsulating us from the society. Perhaps, we enclosed in the “ivory tower” of academia focus too much on pursuing our own careers, publishing another paper or improving our h-index. What we scientists consider common knowledge among ourselves is often unknown, misunderstood or misinterpreted by the public or politicians. We need to make our knowledge accessible to fellow citizens, we need to lead and encourage civic participation and dialogue processes in nature conservation, management and sustainability. There is so much to be done and so little time left. But we need to remember ‘Yes we can’!

The 2017 SCCS in Cambridge provided numerous examples of successful evidence-based conservation projects, giving us a sense of optimism (#earthoptimism). What struck me the most was that many projects were not just about publishing another paper or obtaining a degree, but about bringing a real change to the world around us – saving one more tapir from being run over in Costa Rica or another bat from collision with wind farm in Poland, to name just two. The SCCS 2017 yielded extraordinary inspiration and empowerment. As many of the 183 participants from 59 counties showed, ‘Every individual in this world can make a difference, and we can go out there and we can actually achieve our dreams’ (Carl Jones, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust).

Resources used:

1. Lindenmayer et al. 2017. http://go.nature.com/2f1KG4j; 2. Williams et al. 2015. http://bit.ly/2f2wRCT; 3. Holley 2017. http://wapo.st/2j0eJOh; 4. Raworth 2017. https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/; 5. Leopold, A. 1989. A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There.; 6. Unites States Census Bureau 2017. U.S. and World Population Clock, https://www.census.gov/popclock/; 7. UNESCO 2017. Facts and figures: human resources. From the UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030. https://en.unesco.org/node/252277; 8. The Zoological Society of London. 2017. SPOTT. Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit. Environmental impacts. https://www.sustainablepalmoil.org/impacts/environmental/; 9. Harvard Medical School. 2017. Harvard Health Publications. By the way, doctor: Is palm oil good for you? http://bit.ly/2w57lm3; 10. The New York Times. 2008. Barack Obama’s New Hampshire Primary Speech. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/us/politics/08text-obama.html; 11. Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, https://www.facebook.com/DurrellWildlife/


Ewa Orlikowska is a PhD student at the School for Forest Management, Faculty of Forest Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Her  doctoral research focuses on large scale biodiversity conservation in forested habitats, especially on the European network of protected areas Natura 2000. You can connect with Ewa on Twitter: @ewa_orlikowska

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The tragedy of the commons reloaded: now with better technology

Entry by: Guy Pe’er.

Disclaimer: This entry represents my personal opinion and should not be considered as an official statement of SCB-ES. I would like to thank Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley for her kind assistance in preparing and editing this entry.

It was a beautiful sunny morning as I was cycling along Cospudener Lake in Leipzig, Germany. The area was once an open cast mine for brown coal, and is now a restored environment and a popular leisure area. I put my bike aside and approached the waterline, enjoying the soothing wind and the murmur of the waves. I then sat on the soft grass, and… pulled out my mobile phone to read the news. Soon after, the calming effect of nature was gone once reading the news that the United States' President, Donald Trump, had resigned the Paris agreement. For me, this moment offered a powerful demonstration of our disconnection from nature.

While many world leaders and companies have already condemned this decision, we as scientists, and particularly as conservation scientists, should recognize the severity of the political discourse where science and evidence seem irrelevant or even undesirable, and where the most developed countries, who are the key contributors to the current environmental crisis, withdraw any responsibility to remedy it.

The United States is the world's largest national economy in nominal terms and second largest according to purchasing power parity (PPP), representing 22% of nominal Gross Domestic Product, and 17% of Gross World Product (GWP). The United States is also the world’s second largest contributor of Green House Gas emissions (14.34%; second to China with 29.51%), and this is without considering the global emissions the country is driving elsewhere. It is also the 5th leading country in terms of Ecological Footprint, and 2nd largest (after China) when multiplying ecological footprint (gha/person) by its population.

Ecological footprint by nation - source: Wikipedia

Despite this, the people of the United States have democratically elected a government which endorses environmental irresponsibility and the silencing of the scientific community as its official policy line. To put it straight, the question should not be whether climate change is happening because of us, but rather, why do so many people choose to deny climate change? While this question is likely best addressed by a social scientist, it seems plausible that accepting the fact that Earth has planetary boundaries forces all of us to call into question the freedom of consumption and the concept of limitless economic growth. Accepting that Earth has boundaries implies that we must limit our own consumption, yet without immediate observable benefits for doing so. With this in mind, there is plenty of evidence that Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States to bring economic growth at any cost, be it to poorer communities, the global South, our environment (both climate and biodiversity), but also costs to our children and future. All these costs in favour of achieving one digestible coin, namely growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is in fact a poor indicator of human well-being and can be achieved by just a few people getting exceedingly rich.

The collapse of global agreements and international responsibilities is in no way exclusive to the United States. Across many developed countries we see an ongoing struggle to enable the global economy to continue growing, against all odds. In Europe this is demonstrated by Juncker’s “Growth and Jobs” agenda (no environment mentioned), and the looming Brexit was largely motivated by economic grounds. Yet when nations take to themselves, they allow non-national actors to govern the global economy and global markets, guiding our society from consumerism to hyper-consumerism. 

This is nothing else but a revised form of the Tragedy of the Commons, where individuals act to maximise their own short-term benefits by exhausting a common good (our environment) to a point of collapse – yet now we are shifting from mere exploitation to using increasingly-modern technologies for extracting more of Earth’s dwindling resources at a faster rate. As conservation scientists, we should therefore be alarmed by the years ahead of us, particularly because climate change takes the headlines anyway, whereas biodiversity is put aside; and beyond that, the mechanisms to reverse the biodiversity crisis remain weak or fragile.

So what can (conservation) scientists, as members of society, do to help us move away from this political lock-in? Here are ten ideas that came to mind.

1. Abandon wrong indicators and particularly GDP. We need an economy which makes sense, and which internalizes Earth’s natural resources. Neither growth nor “sustainable growth” should be accepted without questioning them. As scientists we should thus help a transition from speaking about incomes and the economy to focusing on well-being, health and tangible life quality, and accordingly improving the links between socio-economic and environmental (biodiversity) indicators.

2. Ensure that biodiversity is not put aside in the current discourse on climate, energy, water and waste. In contrast with the climate discourse, the biodiversity crisis is to a certain extent more tangible and cannot be denied, and likely there is also more room for facts and science compared to other discussions (e.g. climate) which seem to move ever deeper into the post-normal arena. Perhaps we should even ask ourselves: how can conservation science offer leadership in shaping the sustainability agenda?

3. Invest in bottom-up solutions. I believe this is particularly important, because ultimately, democratic leaders tend to respond to what the public wants. By putting emphasis on small-scale initiatives such as citizen science, outreach, and education, we can begin at the grass-roots level to engage with others and to share our passion and knowledge about our natural environment. Possibly, only bottom-up approaches can drive changes in our society and economy in the longer term.

4. Communicate conservation knowledge through social media. Humans as a social species seem to accept information based on where and whom it comes from, more so than if the information is (stated as) a fact. This suggests that scientists need to be as present as possible in public discussions regarding our environment, and the relation with the public may need to be tighter. Social media therefore offer key avenues for building these connections.

5. Ask hard questions, and write clear statements. It is our responsibility as scientists to unravel the processes underlying not only Earth’s ecosystems but also the mechanisms driving the ever-worsening human-Earth conflict – be it at the individual, community, national or international level. As individual scientists, we may also need to train ourselves in identifying and combating false-evidence and false-narratives, such as the unsupported claims that “we need to produce more” , the belief that “technology can save the environment” , or statements such as “…always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection” (D.J. Trump, 22.4.2017). Factually, activities relating to economic growth inherently come in conflict with nature conservation, and there is no evidence that we can decouple consumption from material- and space-use. Along these lines, we also need to be aware of opportunities to leverage our roles in societies, like the Society for Conservation Biology, to produce official position papers such as an immediate statement against Trump's myriad policy decisions both against climate change mitigation and the environment in general.

6. Leverage opportunities for action. The United States resignation from the Paris Agreement opens the opportunity for other nations to lead the dialogue and actions to drive change, and design more robust and equitable environmental policies. Actions to come, likely in the contexts of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (or Brexit), can offer opportunities to raise awareness to the severity of the biodiversity crisis and the risks of deregulation. Consider how you could use such events to contact your elected officials, and encourage them to take leadership on progressive policies that explicitly value the environment and human well-being.

7. Work with economists, policy-experts, and environmental lawyers. We need to identify what constitutional, legal and economic adaptations can be achieved and how. While natural scientists can point at the problems, the solutions require finding the paths to mainstream public opinion, setting the economic tools and incentives, and developing the necessary legal instruments to ensure that the fate of our natural capital – and our future - will not be put at the hand of one person or a short-sighted political constellation.

8. Live by example. Socio-economic changes can be practiced by each of us: Scientists have an above-average CO2 footprint, so a good place to start is by taking actions to reduce our own footprint. Also, the impacts of consumption on biodiversity are often indirect or difficult to avoid, so raising our own awareness about impacts of certain goods and consumption patterns, and taking efforts to reduce those impacts, is another good start. If we expect society to change, we too need to reflect on our own habitat, and drive changes from within.

9. Ensure own sustainability. By this I mean support your own mental and physical well-being so that you are prepared for the science-policy dialogue, and not to burn yourself out. Be mindful of the fact that diverse values sit at the science-policy table and interface, and that acknowledging other's values, whether you agree or not, is important. Along these lines, remember self-care. You can't always be present or address all critical topics. There are many of us in conservation, and we should support one another and sustain ourselves and presence jointly to ensure we are continuously present, expressing our concerns and offering solutions where possible.

10. I leave it for you to propose your observations and suggestions. What should we, conservation scientists and members of SCB, do?


Guy Pe’er is a "Catalyst post-doc" at the sDiv, the synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Why do some social scientists still feel the need to apologise for their presence at a conservation conference?

At the recent 2017 Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) in Cambridge, student talks kicked off with an apology. The first talk featured a common anthropological study method, ethnography – something that the PhD researcher presenting felt the need to justify. Given increasing recognition that the root causes of many (if not most) conservation issues can be traced back to human behaviours in some form, why do the social sciences still sometimes seem out of place in the conservation field?

From economic cost-benefit analyses to psychological insights into human decision-making, conservation has much to gain from embracing the social sciences and yet the default position still seems to be one of “hard science” quantitative positivism. There is a need for more holistic approaches to conservation research, practice, and policy. Transdisciplinary research, which goes beyond interdisciplinarity by transcending specific disciplines and holistically approaching complex issues, can help us to break down the old barriers between research silos. A true community-based approach to conservation can be developed by integrating disparate forms of learning and beliefs, including those from civil society.

This may perhaps be a minority view, but not an outlying one. There have been multiple papers published in the last few years proclaiming the value that social scientists can contribute to conservation. We work in a solution-orientated subject where it makes sense to avail ourselves of all available methods, including those which tackle the human dimensions of conservation for practice and policy.  This does not seem to be merely lip service; there is increasingly recognition from funders also. Conservation social scientists are beginning to win big grants. In my own department at DICE, Zoe Davies has just been awarded a 2 million Euro grant to study how nature underpins human wellbeing.

And yet, only two of the nine SCCS student sessions, and three of the ten workshops, could be characterised as focusing on the human-dimensions of conservation (though credit is due for the fantastic plenary talk on behavioural economics by Brendan Fisher). Whether this was due to lack of applicants or an oversight by the organising committee, a token presence, a vague nod at inclusion, is not enough. We need to start playing a major role both at the forefront of the field in journals and backstage at conferences. Consider this a call to my fellow conservation social scientists, the anthropologists and the psychologists, the lawyers and the educators, to join me at the Cambridge SCCS 18 without apologising for your presence. Where could be a better place to form long-lasting transdisciplinary collaborations, to develop a holistic approach to conservation using knowledge generated across disciplinary boundaries?
This post is by Laura Thomas-Walters who is a PhD candidate at DICE, University of Kent, United Kingdom. You can reach Laura on Twitter @LauraThoWal.  

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Scientists meet to identify top 100 questions for Mediterranean biodiversity conservation

From 13-16 June, 2017 Angela and Grant Wardell-Johnson (Curtin University, Perth, Australia) visited Francisco Moreira (Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Ad-Hoc Committee for Mediterranean Conservation Coordinator) in Lisbon, Portugal. The SCB Europe Section funded part of the travel costs for the two Australian researchers to visit Portugal. The team, representing 2 of the 5 Mediterranean environments in the world, met to advance the top 100 questions for Mediterranean biodiversity conservation. The goal of the top 100 questions initiative is to identify priorities for the conservation of biological diversity in the world's five Mediterranean regions.

Mediterranean regions are biodiversity hotspots facing multiple threats from climate change and anthropogenic drivers of change like land use and damming of waterways. The Ad-Hoc Committee for Mediterranean Conservation was established in 2012 under SCB Europe Section with the goal of tackling conservation issues in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, and elsewhere around the world. Mediterranean-type regions exist not only in Southern Europe but also in North Africa and four other regions in the world (USA, Chile, South Africa, Australia), spanning different SCB sections. Often, biodiversity threats and conservation issues are shared across these regions. After two days of intensive work making progress on the top 100 questions for these regions, the three researchers took some time off, and travelled to Mediterranean biodiversity hotspots around Lisbon.

Finally, SCB encourages the development of topical working groups with relevance to its mission and goals  (see https://conbio.org/groups/working-groups/about-working-groups). Francisco  is actively working to establish a Mediterranean Working Group, and needs twenty active SCB members to support the idea through expressions of interest. If you are a SCB member, and interested in joining a Mediterranean Working Group, please contact Francisco (fmoreira(at)cibio(dot)up(dot)pt). 

From left to right, Francisco Moreira (SCB Europe Section), Angela Wardell-Johnson, Grant Wardell-Johnson and Pedro Beja, during the meeting at the Institute of Agronomy, Lisbon.

Thanks to Francisco for sharing the story and update! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Our ECCB 2018 mascot has a name!

We have an exciting year ahead! The next European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB 2018) will take place in Jyväskylä, Finland and we’re busy preparing for the event! Last month one of our tasks was to choose and name our mascot. We asked ourselves, what could represent the natural beauty of the taiga? There is no one better than the magnificent Great Grey Owl!

Seppo, a talented Finnish cartoonist and illustrator, made some amazing drawings (above) of the ECCB 2018 mascot, and we here at the SCB Europe Section asked our Facebook members and Twitter followers to share their favorite names for our festive bird!

Our followers were very inspired to name the ECCB 2018 mascot, and so it was hard to choose the four finalists (Aurora, Dr Woo-Who, Misty and Nokka) from 17 total nominations that we originally received. With our four finalist names in-hand (see above), we asked our Facebook members and Twitter followers to vote for their favorite name.

And the winner is….

Dr Woo-Who! Thumbs-up!

Thank you to all of members and followers who contributed suggestions and feedback during our ECCB2018 Mascot naming contest!

We extend a warm congratulations to Chris Parsons aka @Craken_MacCraic for nominating our winning name!  Dr Woo-Who!

Post by: Nadia Castro-Izaguirre

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Seeking European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB) Diversity Officer/Chair

We are seeking a Diversity Officer/Chair for European Congress for Conservation Biology! 
See below for details, and please email your application to SCB Europe Section President Bege JonssonDetails for the application and the role are shared below, and any questions can be directed to Bege (Bengt-gunnar.jonsson(at)miun(dot)se). 

You can download the application and role description as a .pdf here.

Thank you!