Clapper Rail
May 30, 2014

Research Details Threats Of Eliminating Invasive Species, Benefits Of Technology In Species Conservation Efforts

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Issues related to threatened and endangered species are the focus of two new studies appearing in the journal Science, one of which focuses on how to balance recovery efforts with the eradication of invasive species and the other detailing advances in technologies that could make it easier to identify creatures in need of protection.

In the first paper, Adam Lampert of the University of California, Davis and his colleagues examined how to balance the elimination of invasive species with the protection of at-risk ones by focusing on the ongoing saga of a type of bird found only in the San Francisco Bay region.

The species is known as the California Clapper Rail, and its native habitat has slowly disappeared over the past several decades, primarily due to urban development and the invasion of a type of salt marsh cordgrass known as hybrid Spartina. During that time, however, the bird has come to depend on the cordgrass for its nesting habitat, the researchers explained on Thursday.

Eliminating the invasive hybrid Spartina would threaten the recovery of the California Clapper Rail, they noted, presenting a potential conflict between two separate conservation goals that typically complement each other. In their study, Lampert’s team explain that while the eradication of the invasive species would normally be carried out as quickly as possible, in cases like this, it is prudent to be flexible in terms of the timetable.

“Just thinking from a single-species standpoint doesn’t work. The whole management system needs to take longer, and you need to have much more flexibility in the timing of budgetary expenditures over a longer time frame,” said co-author and UC Davis environmental science and policy professor Alan Hastings.

“This work advances a framework for cost-effective management solutions to the conflict between removing invasive species and conserving biodiversity,” Alan Tessier, acting deputy division director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences, added in a statement. The NSF supported the research through the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

The researchers combined biological and economic data for Spartina and the California Clapper Rail in order to craft a simulated framework to balance the conflicting goals of endangered species recovery and invasive species removal under budget-related constraints. They found that the ideal management method would entail less intensive treatments over a longer period of time to be more in line with the time frame of naturally occurring processes.

While the UC Davis-led study detailed potential obstacles to endangered species protection, the authors of the other Science paper looked at new technologies that could help keep creatures from dying out, including online databases, mobile apps, crowd-sourcing campaigns and new hardware devices.

According to Stuart L. Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, and his co-authors, human activity has increased global extinction rates by 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. However, these technological advances “are making it easier to collect data on species.”

“When combined with data on land-use change and the species observations of millions of amateur citizen scientists, technology is increasingly allowing scientists and policymakers to more closely monitor the planet's biodiversity and threats to it,” he added. “For our success to continue, however, we need to support the expansion of these technologies and the development of even more powerful technologies to come.”

In their study, Pimm and his colleagues review several different advances in conservation science resulting from new technologies, including knowledge of where the most vulnerable species live, where and how people have impacted the planet, and how those activities drive extinctions. Websites like the Red List of Threatened Species have helped make conservation efforts more accessible and transparent, they added.

However, those efforts also highlight some of the challenges ahead. Pimm explained that the majority of species are currently unknown to science, and those creatures probably face far greater threats than those we are aware of. Without immediate action, additional increases in extinction rate are likely to occur – potentially leading to what could become the sixth mass extinction in the history of our planet.

“Most species live outside protected areas, so understanding how their environments are changing is a vital task,” he said. “One of the most exciting opportunities made possible by new technology is that we can now combine existing databases such as the Red List with constantly updated maps of where species live, maps of areas that are protected, maps of land-use change and human impacts, and the species observations of amateurs.”

“The gap between what we know and don't know about Earth's biodiversity is still tremendous -- but technology is going to play a major role in closing it and helping us conserve biodiversity more intelligently and efficiently,” added Lucas N. Joppa, a conservation scientist at Microsoft’s Computational Science Laboratory in the UK. “These new approaches will also be vital in evaluating progress toward international conservation goals.”