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. 


Are Southeast Asia’s Leopards Declining?
Credit: WCS Thailand
1. Using camera trap data, researchers analyzed the behavioral interactions between leopards (Panthera pardus), their prey, and tigers to determine if leopards fine-tune their activity to maximize contact with four prey species (sambar; wild boar; barking deer; banteng) while avoiding tigers; and if prey alter their temporal activity in response to variation in their relative abundance ratio with leopards.
2. They found that differences in tiger relative abundance did not appear to impact the temporal activity of leopards, and that leopards had highest activity at dawn and dusk – a behavior that appears to be a compromise to provide access to diurnal wild boar and barking deer and nocturnal sambar and banteng.
3. This is the first study in Southeast Asia to quantify spatial and temporal interactions between the leopard, its primary ungulate prey, and the tiger and provides new insights for conserving this declining subspecies.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Spatial and temporal analysis of leopards (Panthera pardus), their prey and tigers (Panthera tigris) in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand"   from  Folia Oecologica
WCS Co-Author(s):  Saisamorn Apinya (Lead) , Wildlife Monitoring Coordinator, WCS Thailand ;  Anak Pattanavibool , Program Director, WCS Thailand

Northern Elephant Seals Loud Regardless of Background Noise Levels
Credit: ©Michael "Mike" L. Baird/Wikimedia Commons
1. Northern elephant seals produce loud, stereotyped calls during breeding seasons.
2. Researchers measured calls of competing male seals on three different sound level pressure metrics within context of biotic and abiotic ambient noise.
3. Results indicated that male seals emit airborne calls with little variation in call amplitude with no detected adjustment to compensate for higher background noise levels (no Lombard effect, which is when animals either call louder or change pitch to be heard above background noise); these findings reinforce the view that northern elephant seal calls serve as indicators of size, status, and motivation.
WCS Media Contact:  John Delaney, 7182657908, jdelaney@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "High amplitude vocalizations of male northern elephant seals associated ambient noise on a breeding rookery"   from  The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
WCS Co-Author(s):  Stephen Insley , Arctic Research Associate, WCS Canada

Ethanol Production and Brazil’s Biodiversity
Credit: Valciney Martins de Oliveira
1. Researchers provided the first indication of biodiversity impacts of increased ethanol demand, and related sugarcane cultivation, in Brazil – which is useful for policy makers and ethanol producers aiming to mitigate impacts.
2. Decreased potential species richness due to increased ethanol demand in 2030 was projected for about 19,000 km2 in the Cerrado, 17,000 km2 in the Atlantic Forest, and 7000 km2 in the Pantanal.
3. In the Cerrado and Atlantic Forest, the biodiversity impacts of sugarcane expansion were mainly due to direct land-use change; in the Pantanal, they were largely due to indirect land-use change, but overall biodiversity impact of increased ethanol demand was projected to be smaller than the impact of other drivers of land-use change.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Biodiversity impacts of increased ethanol production in Brazil"   from  Land
WCS Co-Author(s):  Daniele Baisero , Conservation Solutions

Carnivores are not Vertically Challenged
Credit: IR Iran DoE
1. Researchers investigated the influence of vertical relief and three-dimensional landscape features on the home range patterns of Persian leopards (Panthera pardus saxicolor) using GPS telemetry-tracking and globally-available digital elevation models (DEMs).
2. They found that calculating only planimetric (i.e. geographical features independent of elevation such as rivers and lakes) approaches may be underestimating aspects of animal ranging behavior and ecology.
3. They conclude that topography should be considered, not as an ancillary metric, but as an important aspect of home range calculation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Vertical relief facilitates spatial segregation of a high density large carnivore population"   from  Oikos
WCS Co-Author(s):  Luke Hunter , Executive Director, WCS Big Cats Program

For Sustainability, Perception can be Everything
Credit: Emilie Beauchamp
1. Researchers present an analysis of household perceptions of land issues in 20 villages across different conservation and development contexts in Northern Cambodia, assessing whether conservation and development interventions, such as economic land concessions, influence perceptions of land issues.
2. Highlights of the findings: large-scale protected areas do not calm insecurity about land issues, but some village-based payment for environmental services projects do.
3. Ultimately, evidence from perception studies can help address current concerns and shape future conservation activities.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Investigating perceptions of land issues in a threatened landscape in Northern Cambodia"   from  Sustainability
WCS Co-Author(s):  Tom Clements , WCS Conservation Solutions

Snow Leopards Get a Game Plan
Credit: WCS Afghanistan
1. Researchers conducted the first range-wide, systematic landscape conservation plan for snow leopards (Panthera uncia),identifying seven large continuous habitat patches as Landscape Conservation Units (LCUs) across its range, noting that each LCU faces differing threat levels from poaching, anthropogenic development, and climate change.
2. They identified ten potential inter-LCU linkages, and centrality analysis indicated that Tianshan-Pamir-Hindu Kush-Karakorum, Altai, and the linkage between them play a critical role in maintaining the global snow leopard habitat connectivity, but international border fences, railways and major roads can fragment LCUs and potentially obstruct linkages.
3. They propose LCU-specific conservation strategies and transboundary cooperation that should be highlighted in future snow leopard conservation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Defining priorities for global snow leopard conservation landscapes"   from  Biological Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Wee Liang Neo , WCS Malaysia ;  George Schaller , WCS Senior Conservationist

Herpesviruses Jumping Primate Hosts
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Herpesviruses are thought to have evolved in very close association with their hosts, particularly for cytomegaloviruses (CMVs; genus Cytomegalovirus) which infects primates.
2. Researchers screened all 9 African great ape species/subspecies, using 675 fecal samples collected from wild animals to see if chimpanzees and gorillas might have mutually exchanged CMVs in the past.
3. The model best supported by the data involved the transmission of a gorilla CMV to the panine (chimpanzee and bonobo) lineage more than 800,000 years ago, adding to a growing body of evidence suggesting that viruses with a double-stranded DNA genome often jumped between hominine lineages over the last few million years.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Cytomegalovirus distribution and evolution in hominines"   from  Virus Evolution
WCS Co-Author(s):  Deo Kujirakwinja , WCS Congo Program ;  Gullain Mitamba, WCS Congo Program; Emmanuel Muhindo , WCS Congo Program

Understanding the Full Range of Infrastructure Impacts
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Growth-inducing infrastructure, such as electrical transmission lines, and roads open intact areas, induce or intensify industrial development, and accelerate carbon emissions.
2. Yet decision makers often ignore the secondary, growth‐induced effects and full range of impacts, even though they can outweigh the impacts of the initial development.
3. In this study, researchers identify the characteristics of growth‐inducing infrastructure and provide an overview of methods and policy that can facilitate a deliberate assessment of these keystone decisions.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Growth‐inducing infrastructure represents transformative yet ignored keystone environmental decisions"   from  Conservation Letters
WCS Co-Author(s):  Justina Ray , President, WCS Canada ;  James Watson , Director, WCS Science and Research Initiative

Rwanda’s declining ecosystem services
Credit: WCS Rwanda Program
1. Researchers documented a decline in ecosystem services (ES) in Rwanda over a 25-year period mostly due to conversion of forests to croplands, and were most pronounced from 1990 to 2000 and again from 2010 to 2015.
2. The results quantify nationwide ES trends, their implications for key water‐dependent industries, and the importance of protected areas in safeguarding ES flows and potential supply in Rwanda.
3. They also provide data that can be integrated with existing land, water, and economic accounts for Rwanda, as well as a baseline to inform development strategies that better link economic and environmental goals.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Towards ecosystem accounts for Rwanda: Tracking 25 years of change in flows and potential supply of ecosystem services"   from  People and Nature
WCS Co-Author(s):  Mediatrice Bana , Sustainable Conservation Finance Manager, WCS Rwanda

The challenge of conserving “scary” species
Credit: Larry Master
1. The order in which individuals receive information about wildlife may influence their attitude toward wildlife differently which can have implications for how conservationists communicate messages about issues affecting wildlife.
2. In a study on bats, a risk-laden species also facing massive mortalities in North America due to white-nose syndrome (WNS), for people with high biospheric values (where the costs and benefits to ecosystems or the biosphere are at the center of individual decision making) reading a suffering message about WNS first led to a more positive attitude than reading a threat message about rabies first, whereas for people with low biospheric values reading a threat message first led to a more positive attitude than reading a suffering message first.
3. Knowing the target audience and their values can help conservation practitioners think strategically about designing messages on species traditionally portrayed as villains in the media (e.g., bats, sharks, wolves, lions); they should consider placing information that elicits compassion at the end of the message for those who may care less about the species and its conservation, and ensure that compassion-inducing information is the first piece of information for those who care more about the species and conservation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Scared yet compassionate? Exploring the order effects of threat versus suffering messages on attitude toward scary victims."   from  Science Communication
WCS Co-Author(s):  Heidi Kretser , Conservation Social Scientist

When Snakes Cannibalize
Credit: Sean de la Harpe‐Parker
1. Scientists have recorded the first-known case of cannibalism in African vine snakes, (Thelotornis spp.) -- a group of venomous snakes which inhabit savannah and forested regions across sub-Saharan Africa.
2. Instances of cannibalism are rarely recorded in African snakes.
3. Few detailed diet studies on these genera exist, which can lead to an underrepresentation of rare, but important, predation events, and further investigation into the cannibalistic tendencies is warranted.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Ophiophagy and cannibalism in African vine snakes "   from  African Journal of Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Acácio Hélio Domingo Chechene , WCS Mozambique Program

Planning for change on Colombia’s savannahs
Credit: Pato Salcedo/WCS
1. Researchers present a new, spatially explicit, land-use planning framework that addresses the decision-making needed to account for different, competing economic-environment objectives (agricultural production value, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem service retention) when land use change is inevitable within an intact landscape.
2. They applied the framework to the globally significant savannahs of the Orinoquia (Colombia), which in a post-conflict era is under increased agricultural development pressure.
3. They identified planning solutions that perform well across all objectives simultaneously, despite trade-offs among them, providing an evidence base to inform proactive planning and the development of environmentally sensible agricultural development policy and practice in the region.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Minimising the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in an intact landscape under risk of rapid agricultural development"   from  Environmental Research Letters
WCS Co-Author(s):  Brooke Williams (Lead) , WCS/University of Queensland ;  Hedley Gantham, Conservation Science and Solutions; James Watson, Director, Science and Research Solutions; Silvia Alvarez, Field Consultant, WCS Colombia; German Forero-Medina , Species and Science Director, WCS Colombia

Mercury in Northern Ontario Fish
Credit: Alexandra Sumner
1. Scientists investigated current patterns of mercury in walleye and white sucker across a climatic gradient in northern Ontario, Canada, to assess the possible influence of climate change, which is predicted to alter many processes in boreal aquatic ecosystems.
2. They found that drainage basin characteristics and lake water chemistry, not long-term mean temperatures or precipitation, were currently the strongest indicators of mercury in fish.
3. They conclude that mercury levels in fish is not strongly associated with current climatic conditions across northern Ontario but may be influenced by climate change in the future through indirect effects on water chemistry and food web structure.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Mercury bioaccumulation in lacustrine fish populations along a climatic gradient in northern Ontario, Canada"   from  Ecosystems
WCS Co-Author(s):  Gretchen Lescord , WCS Canada

Gorilla in mourning
Credit: WCS Congo
1. Researchers working in the Congo’s Nouabale Ndoki National Park provide observations on a wild, female western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), who was observed to carry her dead infant for at least 16 days.
2. While several observations of behaviors towards dead members of the same species are available for chimpanzees, reports on other great ape species are less frequent.
3. Comparative observations in great apes and other nonhuman primates could reveal whether humans are unique in our ‘culturized’ ways to grieve.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Attached beyond death: Wild female western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) carries and cares for mummified infant"   from  African Journal of Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Claudia Stephan (Lead) , WCS Congo Program

The Secret Lives of Sulawesi’s Civets
Credit: Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and WCS Indonesia Program
1. There has been a 20-year lapse since the last field record of the Sulawesi civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), which is found only on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where it is the largest mammalian predator.
2. Researchers set up 148 camera trap stations across the forests of North Sulawesi, including in two of its main protected areas: Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and Tangkoko Nature Reserve, recording civets 17 times at 12 stations, and in almost equal numbers in primary forest, secondary forest and farmland, including the first photographic records from both the National Park and Nature Reserve.
3. The results show that neither IFL nor LWE identifies areas of ecologically intact fauna well enough, underscoring a strong need to obtain additional site-level survey data to confirm faunal intactness.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "New insights into Sulawesi's apex predator: The Sulawesi civet Macrogalidia musschenbroekii"   from  Oryx
WCS Co-Author(s):  Iwan Honowu (Lead) , WCS Indonesia program ;  Alfons Patandung, Biodiversity Conservation Officer, WCS Indonesia; Wulan Pusparini, WCS Indonesia Program; Andi Nugraha Cahyana, GIS Specialist, WCS Inonesia program; Matthew Linkie , WCS Indonesia Program Director

Marine scientists examine impacts of different fishing gear on coral reefs
Credit: Emily Darling
1. Unsustainable fishing is a major driver of change in marine ecosystems, and the ways in which fishing gears target different species of fish with varying ecological functions are unclear.
2. Over a 7-year period, marine scientists examined whether artisanal fishing gear (spear guns, gillnets, beach seines, basket traps, etc.) selectively target fishes with unique combinations of traits (diet, body size, depth, schooling behaviour) in a coral reef ecosystem.
3. There were 163 unique combinations of traits analysed in the study, but half of the catches by each fishing gear type were linked to two to six trait combinations; banning specific gears will benefit species with certain trait combinations, but fishing effort reductions are still needed to alleviate pressure on fish populations.
WCS Media Contact:  John Delaney, 7182657908, jdelaney@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Functional traits illuminate the selective impacts of different fishing gears on coral reefs"   from  Journal of Applied Ecology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Tim McClanahan , Country Director, Kenya Marine

Study Finds Beluga Calls Drop When Boat Traffic Increases
Credit: John Delaney
1. Marine mammals are negatively impacted by ship traffic, which causes behavioural disturbances, acoustic masking, ship strikes, and other harmful effects.
2. Scientists examined the effects of vessels on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area in the Mackenzie River estuary between 2015 and 2018 with acoustic recorders placed near the only shipping lane in the protected area.
3. Beluga vocalizations decreased significantly when ships were within five kilometres of the acoustic recorder, suggesting that the cetaceans either avoid the vessels or vocalize less; future studies are needed to determine long-term consequences of vessel traffic on belugas and formulate management decisions to reduce impacts.
WCS Media Contact:  John Delaney, 7182657908, jdelaney@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Beluga vocalizations decrease in response to vessel traffic in the Mackenzie River Estuary"   from  Arctic
WCS Co-Author(s):  illiam. Halliday (Lead) , Associate Conservation Scientist, WCS Canada ;  Stephen Insley , Western Arctic Associate Conservationist, WCS, Canada

Do Belize’s jaguar corridors work?
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Connectivity among jaguar (Panthera onca) populations will ensure natural gene flow and the long-term survival of the species throughout its range.
2. Researchers used non-invasive genetic sampling and analyses to assess diversity and levels of genetic connectivity between 50 individuals in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and the Maya Forest Corridor in Belize.
3. They found high levels of relatively recent gene flow for jaguars between two study sites in central Belize, which highlights the importance of maintaining already established corridors and consolidating new areas that further promote jaguar movement across suitable habitat beyond the boundaries of currently protected areas.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Population genetic structure and habitat connectivity for jaguar (Panthera onca) conservation in Central Belize"   from  BMC Genetics
WCS Co-Author(s):  Natalia Rossi , WCS Latin America and Caribbean Program

Camera traps reveal good news for duikers
Credit: WCS Rwanda Program
1. Researchers used systematic camera-trap monitoring to assess population trends for 15 populations of nine duiker species in six national parks in Central and East Africa to see if they were being negatively affected by bushmeat hunting.
2. They found that most duiker populations appear relatively healthy in monitored parks, indicating that these parks are effective in protecting most duikers despite hunting pressure.
3. Authors recommend that systematic, standardized camera-trap monitoring be initiated in other African parks in combination with point-abundance models to objectively assess forest ungulate population trends.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Camera trapping reveals trends in forest duiker populations in African National Parks"   from  Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Tim O'Brien (Lead) , Senior Scientist, Measures ;  Terry Brncic, Felix Mulindahabi, Breuer-Ndoundou Hockemba Mireille, Protais Niyigaba, Madeleine Nyiratuza, Kiebou Opepa Cisquet , WCS Congo Program, Nyungwe Project Deputy, WCS Congo Program, WCS Rwanda Program, WCS Rwanda Program, WCS Congo Program

Speaking up for animal migration
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. In this opinion piece WCS conservationist Joel Berger makes the argument that for conservation to succeed across broad scales, more vocal scientists are needed.
2. He says that despite burgeoning data sets coupled with substantive concerns about the persistence of land, water, and aerial migrations, not enough is being done to sustain Earth's animal migrations, and that the public must be motivated, and attendant concerns rendered into policy actions to protect them.
3. He says that universities need to restructure their internal reward systems so that faculty can be incentivized for biodiversity activities to benefit ecological health, and that regardless of age or background, spokespersons from all walks of life must emerge and defend migration as an intrinsic and important component of biodiversity and its conversation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "The endangered phenomenon of animal migration, and the dissonance between doing science and achieving conservation"   from  The Ecological Citizen
WCS Co-Author(s):  Joel berger (Lead) , WCS Americas Program

A First for a Bat Species
Credit: TTU/Nathan Fuller
1. Scientists report a case of diphallia -- or penile duplication -- in a bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus totonsendii), captured during fall swarming at a hibernaculum in northern Utah, USA.
2. Upon examination, they determined that one phallus was functional, as evidenced by production of urine, while the secondary phallus appeared to be overgrown with skin.
3. Researchers hypothesize that this morphological deformity likely has a low impact on the survival of this individual but may act as a physical barrier to copulation.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "First reported case of diphallia in Corynorhinus townsendii"   from  Western North American Naturalist
WCS Co-Author(s):  Sarah Olson , WCS Associate Director of Wildlife Epidemiology ;  Kirk Silas , Wildlife Conservation Society

Putting the “legal” back in legal wildlife trade
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. A team of researchers explored the scope of legality of so-called legal acquisition verifications under CITES.
2. They drew from the experience of the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process, whose understanding of legality extends beyond the scope of laws directly related to the extraction and trade of timber to include laws pertaining to environmental quality, biodiversity conservation, land tenure (access and ownership), and other considerations relevant to the long-term sustainability of trade.
3. They argue that there is much to be gained from establishing a collaborative process within CITES to develop a shared understanding of the range of laws that ought to be considered and complied with when determining legal acquisition, ultimately contributing to better implementation of CITES.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Verification of Legal Acquisition under the CITES Convention: The Need for Guidance on the Scope of Legality Journal of International Wildlife law and Policy"   from  Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy
WCS Co-Author(s):  Susan Lieberman , WCS Vice President of International Policy

Sifting through the rockhopper penguin clan
Credit: Graham Harris/WCS
1. Rockhopper penguins are delimited as two species: the northern rockhopper (Eudyptes moseleyi) and the southern rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome), with the latter comprising two subspecies, the western rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) and the eastern rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome filholi).
2. Researchers sampled 114 individuals across 12 colonies from the entire range of the northern/southern rockhopper complex to assess population structure, gene flow and species limit.
3. Their findings suggest that the current taxonomic definitions within rockhopper penguins be upheld and that southern rockhopper populations, all found south of the subtropical front, should be treated as a single taxon with distinct management units for the western rockhopper and eastern rockhopper.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Phylogeography, population structure, and species delimitation in rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome and Eudyptes moseleyi)"   from  Journal of Heredity
WCS Co-Author(s):  Alejandro Kusch , Research Coordinator, WCS Chile ;  Andrea Raya Rey , WCS Argentina

Climate action needs more citizen social scientists
Credit: Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle
1. Researchers propose elevating Citizen Social Science (CSS) to a new level across governments as an advanced collaborative approach of accelerating climate action and policies.
2. Moving beyond the traditional science-policy model of the democratization of science in enabling more inclusive climate policy change, authors present examples of how CSS can potentially transform citizen behavior and enable citizens to become key agents in driving climate policy change.
3. They also discuss the barriers that could impede the implementation of CSS and offer solutions to these, and they articulate the implications of increased citizen action.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Citizen social science for more integrative and effective climate action: A science-policy perspective"   from  Frontiers in Environmental Science
WCS Co-Author(s):  Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle , WCS Canada

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