WCS 3-Sentence Science

Each year, WCS scientists author or co-author nearly 300 peer-reviewed studies and papers.  “WCS 3 Sentence Science” is a regular tip-sheet – in bite sized helpings – of some of this published work. 

For Certain Himalayan Birds, It’s Getting (too) Hot, Hot, Hot
Credit: Paul Elsen
1. Researchers studied how bird communities are responding to agricultural expansion in the Himalayan mountain range, which exhibits a strong east-west gradient in annual temperature variation.
2. They surveyed bird communities at opposite ends of that gradient, and tested whether species’ thermal sensitivity influenced their response to the replacement of forest with agriculture.
3. They found that thermal specialists are more vulnerable to forest loss than species with greater thermal tolerances indicating that species’ responses to global change may differ predictably along gradients even within a single region or biodiversity hotspot, and such variation must be addressed in conservation planning.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Annual temperature variation influences the vulnerability of montane bird communities to land‐use change"   from  Ecography
WCS Co-Author(s):  Paul Elsen , Climate Adaptation Scientist

Can Fisheries and Seabirds Co-Exist?
Credit: Andrea Raya Rey
1. Fisheries on the Patagonian shelf in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean are considered a principal cause of seabird population declines.
2. Researchers used a telecoupling framework - which incorporates natural and socioeconomic interactions over large distances – to present a holistic look at the dynamics of threatened seabird/fisheries interactions for the Patagonian Shelf over space and time.
3. Results highlighted specific complexities, bottlenecks, and sensitivities that must still be addressed to achieve both biodiversity conservation and management, as well as fisheries sustainability, not only in this study area, but worldwide.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Telecoupling analysis of the Patagonian Shelf: A new approach to study global seabird-fisheries interactions to achieve sustainability"   from  Journal for Nature Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Andrea Raya Rey (Lead) , WCS Latin America and Caribbean Program

Leopards Can be Fussy Eaters
Credit: K. Subbaiah
1. Researchers found that leopards (Panthera pardus), long thought to be predatory generalists, can in fact be dietary specialists.
2. Looking at 2,960 kills made by 49 leopards in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa, researchers found that males tend to be more specialized than females, as were individuals that encountered a diversity of prey species.
3. Surprisingly, dietary specialization appeared to disadvantage male leopards as their range overlapped with fewer resident females resulting in fewer cubs born on their home ranges and fewer cubs surviving to independence on their home ranges than generalist males.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Ecological opportunity drives individual dietary specialisation in leopards"   from  Journal of Animal Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Luke Hunter , Executive Director, Big Cats Program

Yes, Even Crocodiles Go Through Puberty
Credit: Scott Snider
1. Little is known of its timing or process of puberty in crocodylians.
2. Researchers measured phallus size, snout-vent length, and body condition index of Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) and found distinct differences between males and females, thus marking a sexual dimorphism that begins to present with the onset of puberty.
3. This bodily manifestation of puberty is a novel observation for crocodylians and lays a foundation for further study among species of how changing endocrine signaling within sexually maturing males may also influence a broader range of secondary sex characteristics.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Correlation between increased postpubertal phallic growth and the initiation of cranial sexual dimorphisms in male Morelet's crocodile"   from  Journal of Experimental Zoology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Steven Platt , WCS Myanmar Program

A Mixed Bag for a Rwandan Park
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers explored trends of seven mammal species in Nyungwe National Park (NNP) in Rwanda between 2009 and 2014.
2. They found that species richness varied due to variables such as poaching and proximity to tourist trails, with duiker species having the largest increase in distribution during the study and eastern chimpanzee and blue monkeys decreasing.
3. The results can be used to improve conservation planning in NNP, such as increased patrols to combat poaching activity and thus increase the probability of a species moving into a new area.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Factors affecting species richness and distribution spatially and temporally within a protected area using multi-season occupancy models."   from  Animal Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Felix Mulindahabi , Nyungwe Project Deputy Director in charge of Research and Monitoring

Youth Shall Inherit the Biosphere Reserve
Credit: WCS Guatemala Program
1. Researchers held a workshop for youth living in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Uaxactun, Guatemala to better understand their perspectives and the nature of their connection to local forests and the community as a whole.
2. The workshop revealed strong connections between village youth, their community, and their forest, but also their limited knowledge of community projects and processes.
3. The workshop became the catalyst for participating youth to approach community leaders to request a greater voice and engagement in community decision making and management.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Youth, forests and community in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Petén, Guatemala"   from  World Development Perspectives
WCS Co-Author(s):  Julian Zetina (Lead) , WCS Guatemala Program ;  Roan McNab , WCS Guatemala Program

Maintaining Ecosystem Services in Oceania
Credit: Stacy Jupiter
1. Researchers looked at the role of ecosystem services in the region of Oceania to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3: Health and Wellbeing for All.
2. They found that cultural ecosystem services have a significant impact on mental and socio-cultural health.
3. Research such as the WISHFiji project and the development of a consolidated platform to provide exchange and dialogue, and the development of policy, investment, and action that recognizes ecosystem health co-benefits should be strongly supported.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Ecosystem services for human health in Oceania"   from  Ecosystem Services
WCS Co-Author(s):  Stacy Jupiter , WCS Melanesia Director

Conservation Gets a Business Model
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Innovation has the potential to enable conservation science and practice to keep pace with the escalating threats to global biodiversity, but this potential will only be realized if such innovations are designed and developed to fulfill specific needs and solve well‐defined conservation problems.
2. Authors outline a five‐step, “lean start‐up” based approach for considering conservation innovation from a business‐planning perspective.
3. Then, using three prominent conservation initiatives – Marxan (software), Conservation Drones (technology support), and Mataki (wildlife‐tracking devices) – as case studies, we show how considering proposed initiatives from the perspective of a conceptual business model can support innovative technologies in achieving desired conservation outcomes.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Identifying technology solutions to bring conservation into the innovation era"   from  Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Climate Change Lead for the WCS Conservation Challenges Program

“Functionality” is the Gold Standard of Species Recovery
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. A recently proposed framework for an IUCN Green List of Species formalizes the requirement of “ecological recovery” by defining a fully recovered species in terms of representation, viability and functionality.
2. A group of scientists propose two complementary approaches to assessing a species’ ecological functions: a confirmation approach that starts with a list of the interactions of the species, identifying the ecological processes and the other species that are involved in these interactions and quantifying the extent to which the species contributes to the identified ecological process; and an elimination approach that infers functionality by ruling out symptoms of reduced functionality, analogous to the Red List approach that focuses on symptoms of reduced viability.
3. Authors believe that incorporation of functionality into species recovery planning is not only possible, but also an essential element of an aspirational conservation vision that goes beyond preventing extinctions, aiming to restore a species to levels beyond what is required only for its own viability. Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Assessing Ecological Function in the Context of Species Recovery"   from  Conservation Biology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Eric Sanderson , Senior Conservation Ecologist

Using Journal Records to Track Invasive Amphibians and Reptiles
Credit: Gary Nafis
1. Researchers looked at previously published records in the journal Herpetological Review (HR) -- published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) since 1967 – to see how it chronicled the spread of six invasive reptiles and amphibians in the U.S.
2. The authors found that HR’s Geographic Distribution records, though highly informative, cannot represent a complete picture of the U.S. introduction and spread of invasive amphibian or reptile species by themselves.
3. Authors recommend that the entire Herpetological Review dataset should be made accessible online to increase standardization and accessibility, and should also be expanded to include all known invasions prior to its publication, as well as the range expansions published elsewhere in Herpetological Review.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Tracking the spread of six invasive amphibians and reptiles using the geographic distribution records"   from  Herpetological Review
WCS Co-Author(s):  Michael Lieto , WCS Herpetology Department

Seeing Indonesia’s Forests for the Trees
Credit: WCS Indonesia Program
1. Most of the tropical lowland trees from the dipterocarpacae family in Indonesia’s forests have been fragmented and isolated due to excessive logging and forest fires.
2. Researchers looked at 11 dipterocarp species in Bukit Barisan National Park – 3 of them are critically endangered, 2 are endangered, 1 is vulnerable, and the others are not listed in the IUCN Red List – and found that they flower more than one cycle per year – different from other common dipterocarps’ that usually have a super-annual pattern or mass flowering.
3. Even though mass flowering and fruiting season are believed to represent an evolutionary adaptation for plants that face high mortality, the phenological pattern does not seem to have affected the population dynamics of dipterocarps.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Phenological pattern and community structure of Dipterocarpaceae in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Lampung"   from  Tropical Ecosystems: Structure, Functions and Challenges in the Face of Global Change
WCS Co-Author(s):  Noviar Andayani , Country Director, WCS Indonesia Program

Some Proposed Amazon Hydro-Dams are Carbon Slobs
Credit: Andre Baertschi
1. Hundreds of dams have been proposed throughout the Amazon basin, one of the world's largest untapped hydropower frontiers, and while hydropower is potentially a clean source of renewable energy, some projects produce high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit electricity generated (carbon intensity).
2. Researchers looked at carbon intensities of proposed Amazon dams and found that upland dams are often comparable with solar and wind energy, whereas some lowland dams may exceed carbon intensities of fossil-fuel power plants.
3. Based on 158 existing and 351 proposed dams, researchers presented a multi-objective optimization framework showing that low-carbon expansion of Amazon hydropower relies on strategic planning, which is generally linked to placing dams in higher elevations and smaller streams, and that basin-scale dam planning should consider GHG emissions along with social and ecological externalities.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of Amazon hydropower with strategic dam planning"   from  Nature Communications
WCS Co-Author(s):  Mariana Montoya , Director of WCS's Peru Program

Hot Mess: How Amazon Primates Will Respond to Climate Change
Credit: Carlos Durigan
1. Researchers investigated how climate change will affect the distribution of 80 Amazon primate species, finding that that species response to climate change varied across dispersal limitation scenarios.
2. If species could occupy all newly suitable climate, almost 70 percent of species could expand ranges; dispersal barriers (natural and anthropogenic), however, led to range expansion in only less than 20 percent of the studied species; scenarios where species that were not allowed to migrate lost an average of 90 percent of the suitable area.
3. Protecting important dispersal corridors between protected areas is foremost to allow effective migrations of the Amazon fauna in face of climate change and deforestation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Recalculating route: Dispersal constraints will drive the redistribution of Amazon primates in the Anthropocene"   from  Ecography
WCS Co-Author(s):  Colin Chapman , WCS Research Fellow

Artificial Intelligence and Camera Traps: Perfect Together
Credit: WCS
1. Camera traps are an extremely effective way to collect wildlife data, but their use has developed at a faster rate than tools to manage, process, and analyze these data.
2. Without these tools, wildlife managers and other stakeholders have little information to effectively manage, understand and monitor wildlife populations.
3. A new technology platform called Wildlife Insights uses artificial intelligence to accelerate sharing of information gleaned from camera traps and allowing users to convert this information into conservation action.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Wildlife Insights: A platform to maximize the potential of camera trap and other passive sensor wildlife data for the planet"   from  Environmental Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Tim O'Brien , Senior Conservationist ;  Jonathan Palmer , Executive Director, Office of Strategic Technology,

Fish Recover When Destructive Fishing Ceases
Credit: WCS Indonesia Program
1. Researchers looked at herbivorous reef fish in Karimunjawa National Park in Indonesia to investigate whether areas subject to a restrictive management regime sustained higher biomass over seven years compared to areas where moderate and permissive regulations apply.
2. Overall herbivore biomass doubled in 2012 compared to 2006-2009 and remained high in 2013 across all management regimes suggesting it emerged in response to a park-wide cessation of fishing with large drive nets known as muroami.
3. The study underlines the importance for breaking the cycle of resource depletion and low compliance to zoning, thus alleviating the resulting threats to food security and ecosystem integrity.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Herbivorous fish rise as a destructive fishing practice falls in an Indonesian marine national park"   from  Ecological Applications
WCS Co-Author(s):  S. Pardede , WCS Indonesia Program

For Migratory Marine Species: It’s all about Connectivity
Credit: John Delaney
1. For migratory marine fishes, marine mammals, seabirds, sharks, and sea turtles that span local, national and international jurisdictions, connectivity – the geographical linking of individuals and populations throughout their migratory cycles – influences population abundance, distribution, and species persistence.
2. Researchers reviewed the concept of migratory connectivity and its use in international policy, and described the Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean system – a migratory connectivity evidence-base for the ocean.
3. They propose that without such collaboration focused on migratory connectivity, efforts to effectively conserve these critical species across jurisdictions will have limited effect.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "The importance of migratory connectivity for global ocean policy"   from  Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
WCS Co-Author(s):  Angela Formia , WCS Ocean Giants Program ;  Andres Salazar , WCS Colombia

The Inside Story of Shorebird Guts
Credit: Zak Pohlen
1. Researchers looked at gut microbiota – which can have important effects of host health – of eight shorebird species at breeding sites in the Arctic and Subarctic of North America.
2. They found that breeding location was the main driver of variation in gut microbiota of breeding shorebirds, followed by shorebird host species, and sampling year; but most variation remained unexplained.
3. The study is the first to highlight the potential importance of local environment as a driver of gut microbiota composition in wild, migratory birds under natural conditions.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Composition and drivers of gut microbial communities in Arctic-breeding shorebirds"   from  Frontiers in Microbiology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Rebecca McGuire , WCS Beringia Program

Warmer, Wetter Benefits Some Birds
Credit: Lauren Bortolotti
1. Researchers evaluated how current climate, climate change, land-use, and wetland water quality relate to aquatic macroinvertebrates and birds in Alberta, Canada.
2. They found that climate patterns and climate change are as important as land use pressures with stronger impacts on birds, finding that progressively warmer, wetter conditions are benefiting some bird groups, including aerial insectivores, a group of conservation concern.
3. Riparian vegetation ameliorated the negative impacts of climate and water quality gradients on macroinvertebrate taxa richness and could mitigate global change impacts in agricultural systems.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Antagonistic, synergistic and direct effects of land use and climate on Prairie wetland ecosystems: Ghosts of the past or present?"   from  Diversity and Distributions
WCS Co-Author(s):  Mantyka-Pringle (Lead) , Conservation Planning Biologist, WCS Canada

For Diversity in U.S. Parks, Head South
Credit: Jim Leedom
1. Species richness of most taxa increases toward the equator, so researchers built latitude-enhanced species-area relationship models to predict species richness for amphibians, birds, freshwater fish, mammals, marine fish, plants, and reptiles in selected East Coast protected areas in the United States.
2. The researchers demonstration showed that for two similarly sized US Protected Areas, the parcel l.25 degrees lower in latitude would likely have one more bird species, four more plant species, and an additional amphibian species.
3. The latitude term added value to the species-area relationship models for most taxa and proved useful for conservation and urban planning in local to regional sized areas of the East Coast of the United States.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Latitude-enhanced species-area relationships for conservation planning"   from  Landscape Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Kim Fisher , Spatial Analyst and Developer ;  Eric Sanderson , Senior Conservation Ecologist

Sharks Rebound After Fishery Closure
Credit: Caleb McClennen
1. Researchers examined the impacts of a closed fishery on 15 species of sharks and rays in Colombia’s Seaflower Biosphere Reserve finding that the vulnerability of large sharks decreased greatly once the fishery was closed.
2. The findings highlight the importance of: involving communities to achieve effective management processes; implementing precautionary measures for high impact and targeted fisheries; and using valuable data-poor tools for the study of populations as an alternative for evaluating and suggesting management measures.
3. Finally, it is suggested to maintain the fishing ban in consensus with fishers, and to evaluate economic alternatives already being generated in the area such as recreational diving and ecological tourism, among others.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Effect of a precautionary management measure on the vulnerability and ecological risk of elasmobranchs captured as target fisheries"   from  Regional Studies in Marine Science
WCS Co-Author(s):  Paola Majia Falla (Lead) , WCS Colombia Program

Unsustainable Hunting Quickly Leads to a Protein Cliff
Credit: WCS Gabon
1. Researchers used modeling techniques from a tropical forest area in Gabon to explore how hunter capture rates would need to change over time to halt unsustainable hunting and to maximize the nutritional and economic value of wildlife as a source of food and income over the long term.
2. They found that unsustainable hunting generates more biomass than sustainable hunting but only for the first 1 to 3 years after which offtake dwindles rapidly.
3. Achieving sustainable hunting will require that hunters reduce their offtake for 3–13 years until depleted populations recover, which may be unlikely unless they have access to alternative sources of food and income.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Unsustainable vs. Sustainable Hunting for Food in Gabon: Modeling Short- and Long-Term Gains and Losses"   from  Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
WCS Co-Author(s):  David Wilkie (Lead) , WCS Global Conservation Programs ;  Michelle Wieland , WCS DRC Program

What is a Bokiboky and What does it eat?
Credit: WCS Madagascar
1. The feeding ecology of the bokiboky (Mungotictis decemlineata), a small carnivore found only in Madagascar, is poorly known.
2. Researchers provide detailed observations on the feeding ecology of the bokiboky in the Kirindy Forest/CNFEREF, a dry deciduous forest in central western Madagascar finding a total of 420 food items from 22 different taxa.
3. They conclude that the bokiboky has a broad dietary preference, but is predominantly insectivorous, and that it responds to seasonal variation in prey abundance, and its inclination to insectivory may be a factor facilitating the formation of female groups.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Feeding ecology of the bokiboky, Mungotictis decemlineata (family Eupleridae)"   from  Malagasy Nature 13
WCS Co-Author(s):  Aristide Andrianarimisa , Research and Science Coordination, WCS Madagascar

What do Functioning Coral Reefs Look Like?
Credit: Emily Darling
1. Reversing the global decline of coral reefs is a primary management objective for conservationists, but doing so depends on understanding what keeps reefs “functioning.”
2. Researchers propose a practical definition of coral reef functioning, centered on eight complementary ecological processes: calcium carbonate production and bioerosion, primary production and herbivory, secondary production and predation, and nutrient uptake and release.
3. Connecting research on species niches, functional diversity of communities, and rates of the eight key processes can provide a quantitative understanding of reef functioning and its dependence on coral reef communities that will contribute urgently needed guidance for the management of these important ecosystems.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Coral reef ecosystem functioning: Eight core processes and the role of biodiversity"   from  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
WCS Co-Author(s):  Emily Darling , WCS Conservation Scientist

Fishing for the Facts in River Dolphin Bycatch
Credit: WCS Bangladesh
1. Fisheries bycatch is a primary driver of cetacean declines, especially for threatened freshwater cetaceans, yet information on the factors influencing cetacean susceptibility to bycatch in small-scale fisheries is limited, impeding development of evidence-based conservation strategies.
2. Researchers conducted 663 interviews with fishers from southern Bangladesh to investigate the influence of net and set characteristics on seasonal bycatch rates of Ganges River dolphins (Platanista gangetica gangetica), and found that 170 bycatch events (and a minimum of 14 mortalities) were reported, 89 percent of which occurred in gillnets.
3. The mortality estimate indicates that fisheries-related bycatch currently exceeds the sustainable limit recommended by the International Whaling Commission by 3.5 times, and that if current fishery regulations were effectively enforced, they may also reduce river dolphin bycatch.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Fishing for the facts: River dolphin bycatch in a small-scale freshwater fishery in Bangladesh"   from  Animal Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Sarah Brook , Technical Advisor - Biodiversity Conseration and Counter Wildlife Trafficking Cambodia ;  Simon Mahood , Technical Adviser, WCS Cambodia


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