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. 


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

Using Animal Behavior to Establish Protected Areas
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Protecting wild places is conservation's most pressing task given rapid contemporary declines in biodiversity and massive land use changes.
2. In this opinion piece, authors suggest that that the in-depth studies of behavioral ecologists on wildlife may have an important role in conservation by elevating species’ status from mundane to charismatic and often sparking public empathy; and In protected areas that sanction exploitation, it may also be important to understand individuals' behavioral and life-history responses to management decisions.
3. More generally, behavioral ecologists will only be listened to, and their contributions considered of conservation importance, if they become more involved in decision-making processes as witnessed by several prominent examples that have supported the establishment of protected areas.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Can behavioural ecologists help establish protected areas?"   from  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
WCS Co-Author(s):  Joel Berger , WCS North America Program

Scientists + Wildlife Managers = Better Conservation
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Even though wildlife managers view science as critical to their decision-making processes and strongly support scientific research, particularly when research directly addresses their information needs, they reported problems in accessing final results and highlighted the need to access raw ecological data from research undertaken within protected areas.
2. Scientists need to engage more with managers through all steps of the research process, from project design and implementation through to scientific publication and end-of-project agreements.
3. The analysis calls for a greater awareness of the geo-political context under which science is undertaken, and for increased scientific participation through an inclusive approach that recognizes, and gives credit to, a wider diversity of scientific contributions and expertise.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Bridging the divide between scientists and decision-makers: How behavioural ecologists can increase the conservation impact of their research?"   from  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
WCS Co-Author(s):  Sarah Durant , WCS Tanzania program

Zigging and Zagging to Avoid Predators
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers measured how northern Yellowstone elk (Cervus elaphus) responded to wolves (Canis lupus) and cougars (Puma concolor), and found that elk seek out places and times where and when predators are least active to minimize threats from multiple predators simultaneously.
2. This enabled elk to avoid one predator without necessarily increasing its exposure to the other.
3. The authors argue that a multi-predator framework that looks at how species hunt in different places and times is vital to understand the causes and consequences of prey response to predation risk in environments with more than one predator.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Do prey select for vacant hunting domains to minimize a multi-predator threat?"   from  Ecology Letters
WCS Co-Author(s):  Toni Ruth , WCS North America Program

Do you Really Like Wildlife?
Credit: Cristian Samper/WCS
1. Having support from stakeholders is critical to achieving conservation success, but few approaches account for bias arising from reporting errors; that is, reporting a positive attitude towards conservation when the respondent actually does not have one (a false positive error), or not reporting a positive attitude when the respondent is positive towards conservation (a false negative error).
2. Researchers used a Bayesian hierarchical model to quantify attitudes toward Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in India’s Kaziranga Karbi Anglong landscape to allow for a more accurate assessment of stakeholder attitudes.
3. Authors say that regular and reliable assessment of stakeholder attitudes combined with an understanding of factors contributing to variation in attitudes can feed into participatory conservation monitoring programs, help assess the success of initiatives aimed at facilitating human behavioral change, and inform conservation decision-making.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "A Bayesian hierarchical approach to quantifying stakeholder attitudes toward conservation in the presence of reporting error"   from  Conservation Biology
WCS Co-Author(s):  D. Vasudev (Lead) , WCS India Program ;  V. R. Goswami , WCS India Program

Reducing the Sense of Unfairness in East Africa Fisheries
Credit: WCS
1. Researchers evaluated heterogeneity in governance principles, which are increasingly important tools for natural resource management with communities and co-management arrangements, by asking 449 people in 30 fishing communities in four East African countries to rate their effectiveness.
2. Overall, group identity, group autonomy, decision-making process, and conflict resolution principles were perceived to be most effective and likely to be enforced by repeated low-cost intragroup activities; while graduated sanctions, cost-benefit sharing, and monitoring resource users, fisheries, and ecology were the least scaled principles and less affordable via local control.
3. The researchers concluded that management effectiveness in resource-limited situations depends on distributing power, skills, and costs beyond fishing communities to insure conservation needs are met.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Conservation needs exposed by variability in common-pool governance principles"   from  Conservation Biology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Tim McClanahan (Lead) , WCS Marine Program ;  Carol Abunge , WCS Marine Program

Don’t Overlook Even Marginal Habitat
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. In this commentary piece, researchers argue that current Environmental Impacts Assessments, which look at the effect of infrastructure projects on wildlife, are grossly underestimating potential loss of habitat.
2. The authors say this is because they are overlooking even marginal habitat areas, which may become increasingly important as wildlife gets squeezed into smaller spaces.
3. They recommend that habitat of ‘lower perceived quality’ needs to be considered along with higher quality habitat to allow nations to undertake the assessments (and actions) needed to meet their international obligations of halting the biodiversity crisis.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "All threatened species habitat is important"   from  Animal Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Director Science and Research Initiative

PNG on Road to Ruin
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Papua New Guinea has the third largest tropical rainforest on the planet.
2. Using fine-scale biophysical and environmental data, researchers assessed a plan that calls for doubling PNG’s road network over the next three years.
3. The team found that roads would dissect more than 50 of PNG’s critical habitats home to rare species as Goodfellow’s and Matchie’s tree kangaroos and several birds of paradise, and would open up areas to hunting, logging, and land-conversion, including carbon-rich peatlands.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Infrastructure expansion challenges sustainable development in Papua New Guinea"   from  PLOS ONE
WCS Co-Author(s):  T. Mutton , WCS PNG Program ;  A. Brenier , WCS PNG Program

Post Mortem of a Whale Stranding
Credit: C. Dougnac/WCS Chile Program
1. Researchers published results of a mass stranding of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) in Southern Chile, where some 124 animals stranded and died in July of 2016.
2. Due to an advance state of decomposition, researchers were unable to pinpoint an exact cause of death, but noted several large marine storms in the area just prior to the stranding, theorizing that large waves combined with strong tides could have impacted the whales.
3. The authors note the need for more rapid, coordinated responses to stranding events, which are expected to rise due to climate change.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "A mass stranding event of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) in Southern Chile"   from  Aquatic Mammals
WCS Co-Author(s):  C. Dougnac , WCS Chile Program

Following Lemmings
Credit: Fritz Mueller
1. Researchers conducted a comprehensive overview of projects monitoring lemmings—a key component of tundra food webs—and found that since 2000, lemmings have been monitored at 49 sites circumpolar Arctic, of which 38 are still active.
2. Researchers are monitoring for abundance at all sites, but health, genetic diversity and potential drivers of population change, were often not monitored.
3. There was no evidence that lemming populations were decreasing in general, although a negative trend was detected for low arctic populations sympatric with voles.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Documenting lemming population change in the Arctic: Can we detect trends?"   from  Ambio
WCS Co-Author(s):  Don Reid , WCS Canada

Do Insects Think about the Future?
Credit: Antoine Morin
1. Researchers looked at whether female red flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) assess both current and future competition at sites where they lay eggs, testing the theory by manipulating both beetle density, which represented current competition, and sex ratio, which represented future competition, at laying sites.
2. They found that the female beetles responded to both density and sex ratio: they layer fewer eggs in higher density areas and more eggs when the sex ratio was male-biased.
3. Eggs laid at male-biased sites were more likely to develop into adults, so females laying eggs at these sites would have higher fitness than females laying eggs at female-biased sites.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Do female red flour beetles assess both current and future competition during oviposition?"   from  Journal of Insect Behavior
WCS Co-Author(s):  William Halliday , WCS Canada

Latest Pangolin Trafficking Hotspot: South Sudan
Credit: Lucie Escouflaire
1. The 2013–2018 conflict in South Sudan, and resulting insecurity, inaccessibility and political instability, has severely impacted the enforcement and monitoring capabilities and efforts of the South Sudan National Wildlife Service and other law enforcement agencies to monitor the trafficking of pangolins.
2. Though researchers do not do not know the exact trade routes through South Sudan, it is reasonable to assume that pangolin products are also trafficked by road across the borders with Uganda, DRC, Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries due to limited and, at certain locations, nonexistent border control.
3. Given the evidence we present, and the current situation in South Sudan, it is likely that volumes of pangolin trafficking in South Sudan are higher than presented in the study, which warrants monitoring of both the current state of trafficking and pangolin populations, and that enforcement agencies, technical partners and funding partners work together on concerted efforts to monitor and address wildlife trafficking in South Sudan.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "First records of pangolin trafficking in South Sudan"   from  African Journal of Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  P.P. Awol , WCS Africa Program

Forest Fragments are Now Havens for Wildlife
Credit: WCS
1. Destruction of tropical rainforests reduces many unprotected habitats to small fragments of remnant forests within agricultural lands, and to date, these remnant forest fragments have been largely disregarded as wildlife habitat.
2. Researchers conducted camera trap surveys within Sumatra’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and five surrounding remnant forest fragments, finding 28 mammal species in the protected forest and 21 in the fragments—including critically endangered species such as Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) and Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), along with species of conservation concern such as marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata) and Asiatic golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii).
3. The biodiversity found within the fragments suggests that these small patches of remnant forest may have conservation value to certain mammal species and indicates the importance of further research into the role these habitats may play in landscape-level, multispecies conservation planning.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "The conservation value of forest fragments in the increasingly agrarian landscape of Sumatra"   from  Environmental Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  W. Pusparini , WCS Indonesia Program

New Threat to Wild Lemurs: Worms from Dogs
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. With human encroachment and associated increases in free-roaming dog populations in Madagascar, we examined lemurs for zoonotic canid pathogens and found for the first molecular detection of canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) in a wild non-human primate, the mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus).
2. Zoonotic D. immitis infection has been associated with clinical pathology that includes serious and often fatal cardiac and pulmonary reactions.
3. D. immitis presents a new potential conservation threat to lemurs, and the authors highlight the need for wide-ranging and effective interventions, particularly near protected areas, to address this growing conservation issue.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Causative agent of canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) detected in wild lemurs"   from  International Journal for Parasitology-Parasites and Wildlife
WCS Co-Author(s):  C. A. Chapman , WCS Conservation Fellow

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