Saving Endangered Species

Identifying Global Patterns in Conservation Effectiveness

The most comprehensive assessment of biodiversity to date recently estimated that about 1 million species are threatened with extinction. This is unprecedented within human history, and is cause for concern, not least because of the unique and irreplaceable species that are being lost. High profile examples include the recent extinction in the wild of Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) and complete loss of the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), a type of freshwater dolphin. Additionally, human health and wellbeing is closely tied with biodiversity and ecosystem services, including everything from food and raw materials to air quality and soil health.

Conservation science aims to stem the loss of biodiversity by reducing the likelihood that species will go extinct. Since funding is limited and time is short, it is essential to evaluate different strategies to determine which are most effective and whether we are actually achieving our conservation goals. To do that, our researchers are compiling a comprehensive database, drawing from various conservation sources, that outlines the threats that specific species face and the conservation strategies that are being used to tackle these threats. This information can then be mapped spatially to show where species are in relation to their threats and conservation interventions. Importantly, we can assess which interventions have worked and which have not.

Thus, across the world, over time, and for as many animal and plant groups as we have data, we can begin to see where we are winning, where we are losing outright, and where we are losing but not as badly as we could be. By better understanding the factors and actions that give favorable conservation outcomes, the hope is to better allocate limited resources and maximize the benefits for biodiversity.

Researcher: Rebecca Senior

Trade and Consumption of Freshwater Turtles in the Urban Areas of the Brazilian Amazon

Across the globe, people are increasingly moving out of rural areas and into urban areas to improve their access to resources and financial opportunity. Our researchers are investigating what this mass migration may mean for biodiversity, particularly looking at how rural-to-urban migration influences the consumption of wild meat (i.e. meat from wild animals, sometimes called bushmeat). Current research focuses on endangered freshwater turtles in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, where urban consumption rates total more than 2 million turtles per year. Our results so far show that rural-to-urban migrants consume more turtles than non-migrants do, and that consumption decreases with the size of the city. Our researchers work closely with local decision-makers to inform public policy related to conservation of freshwater turtles.

Researcher: Willandia Chaves

Habitat Loss and Migratory Shorebirds

Few groups of migratory species have declined as precipitously in recent decades as have the coastal shorebirds migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). Among the ~20 species that occur regularly along the Pacific Coast of Asia, 11 species are now listed as threatened or near threatened by the IUCN Red List. The cause of the shorebird declines in the EAAF has been largely attributed to the rapid loss of tidal flat habitat in the Yellow Sea region, which most coastal shorebirds use to rest and refuel during their long-distance migrations. The drastic changes in both habitats and populations pose great challenges to saving these species, but they also provide an excellent opportunity to understand the effects of habitat loss on populations of migratory animals at both local and global scales.

At the local scale, our researchers are mapping the detailed foraging patterns of different shorebird species at stopover sites, identifying the key foraging areas to conserve. Preliminary results suggest that the areas used most intensively by the birds are also the areas most vulnerable to development and other human-caused threats. Our researchers are working closely with other research collaborators, local NGOs, and governmental agencies in China to secure the key habitats of these birds and to improve degraded areas.

Researcher: Tong Mu

The Impacts of Hunting and Bycatch on Shorebird Populations in China

Globally, migratory shorebirds are experiencing massive population declines, often caused by human-induced changes to their habitats and stopover points. Bird populations that migrate along the East Asia-Australasia Flyway (EAAF) are experiencing the steepest declines, and, consequently, a high proportion of these shorebird species are listed as threatened or near threated by the IUCN Red List. The well-documented threats include habitat loss and habitat degradation, especially of the intertidal mudflats along the Yellow Sea. However, a significant source of bird mortality may be due to intentional hunting as well as unintentional capture of birds in tidal fishing nets – factors largely ignored to date.

Our field-based study investigates the combined effects of hunting and bycatch on shorebird populations across the entirety of China’s coast. By determining the density of mist nets, decoys, and tidal fishing nets and by monitoring the mortality rates of shorebirds in randomly selected stopover sites, we are able to estimate the magnitude of hunting and bycatch. Then, by developing population models, we can then quantify the effects of hunting and bycatch on shorebird populations. Our research will provide information critical to protecting declining populations of migratory shorebirds.  

Researcher: Dan Liang