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. 

Wild Camels Not so Wild
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers investigated male lineages of both wild and domestic bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) for the first time.
2. They found that wild and domestic camels were clearly separated into two different genetic populations that share a common ancestor, though they found a domestic paternal lineage within one wild camel – concerning given the importance to conserve the genetic integrity of these highly endangered species in their natural habitat.
3. The research provides a baseline that will help conserve the integrity of the highly endangered wild two-humped camel gene pool.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "A first Y-chromosomal haplotype network to investigate male-driven population dynamics in domestic and wild bactrian camels "   from  Frontiers in Genetics
WCS Co-Author(s):  Cristian Walzer , Executive Director Wildlife Health, Wildlife Health Program

Penguins are not Eating Your Lunch
Credit: Cristian Samper/WCS
1. Researchers examined the diets of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) at two breeding colonies in northern Argentina that were close to commercial fishing areas.
2. They found that the diets varied with each colony and included a variety of prey species, but commercially valuable Argentine Hake (Merluccius hubbsi) and Argentine Shortfin Squid (Illex argentinus) were not widely consumed.
3. These findings suggest a low trophic overlap with commercial fisheries, and helps further the understanding potential penguin-fishery interactions.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Diet composition of expanding breeding populations of the Magellanic Penguin"   from  Marine Biology Research
WCS Co-Author(s):  Pablo Yorio , WCS Argentina Program

Helping Wildlife Prepare for a Warming Planet
Credit: WCS Climate Adaptation Fund
1. A team of researchers identified priorities for securing potential sites where wildlife can take refuge as areas of habitat become climatically unsuitable.
2. They developed and compared two planning scenarios: one that that permits both the retention of high quality habitat and the restoration of land used for forestry and agriculture; and a scenario that favors the retention of high quality habitat above land restoration efforts.
3. The results of the study provide immediate guidance for on-ground management actions, and provides a robust methodology that can support climate change adaptation decisions in multi-use landscapes around the world.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Retention and restoration priorities for climate adaptation in a multi-use landscape"   from  Global Ecology and Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Director WCS Science and Research Initiative

Sea Stars Get a Check-Up
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Sea star wasting disease has killed millions of seas starts along the Pacific coast since 2013, so there is a need for diagnostic tests to evaluate their health.
2. Researchers used a non-invasive technique that is used to access the body fluid of sea stars and tested it on 26 sea stars in aquaria.
3. The results provided a useful baseline and diagnostic tool for health assessments of sea stars.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Coelomic fluid evaluation in clinically normal ochre sea stars Pisaster ochraceus: Cell counts, cytology, and biochemistry reference intervals"   from  Journal of Aquatic Animal Health
WCS Co-Author(s):  Harley Newton , WCS Zoological Health Program’s Aquatic Animal Medicine and Pathology Department

Reef Fisheries Get a Scorecard
Credit: Fakhrizal Setiawan
1. Researchers used ten “ecosystem approach indicators” to assess the status of the management of five commercially important coral reef fish species living in a marine protected area – Karimunjawa National Park (KNP) Jepara, Central Java, Indonesia.
2. The results indicated seven of the ten indicators were at a moderate level, but tactical decisions are necessary to push indicators to achieve a better level.
3. Three indicators still received a poor status: fish abundance, fishing gear modification, and fishing capacity.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Using ecosystem approach indicators for assessing the ecological status of reef fisheries management in a marine protected area"   from  Biodiversitas
WCS Co-Author(s):  Shinta Pardede , Science coordinator, WCS Indonesia

Tropical Crops Need Bugs
Credit: Catalina Gutierrez-Chacon
1. Hymenoptera, a large order of insects that contains bees and wasps, is the main group of pollinators in agricultural systems, yet little is known about the role they play in pollination networks and the dependence of plants on specific pollinators in tropical agroecosystems.
2. Researchers in Valle del Cauca, Colombia looked at the time pollinators visited flowers and the morphological traits of plants and pollinators.
3. They found that floral abundance and body mass of Hymenoptera influence the length of visit, which might affect the quality of pollination.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Functional structure and patterns of specialization in plant-pollinator relationships of an agroecosystem in Valle del Cauca, Colombia"   from  Acta Biologica Colombiana
WCS Co-Author(s):  Catalina Gutierrez-Chacon , Rural Landscapes Coordinator, WCS Colombia Program

Identifying Conservation “Hot Spots” for the Nile River
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. The river Nile flows across 11 African countries, supporting millions of human livelihoods, and holding globally important biodiversity and endemism yet no basin-wide spatial conservation planning has been attempted to date, and the importance of coordinated conservation planning for the Nile's biodiversity remains unknown.
2. The river Nile flows across 11 African countries, supporting millions of human livelihoods, and holding globally important biodiversity and endemism yet no basin-wide spatial conservation planning has been attempted to date, and the importance of coordinated conservation planning for the Nile's biodiversity remains unknown.
3. The team provided a framework for improving return on conservation investment – not just for the Nile but for other complex river systems – finding that collaborative conservation efforts save 34 percent of costs compared to an uncoordinated, business-as-usual scenario.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Navigating the complexities of coordinated conservation along the river Nile"   from  Science Advances
WCS Co-Author(s):  Kendall Jones , WCS Conservation Planning Specialist

Where Wildlife go to Die
Credit: Forest Dept and WCS
1. Researchers identified global concentrations on land and at sea of 4,543 species threatened by unsustainable commercial harvesting.
2. They found that regions under high-intensity threat (based on accessibility on land and on fishing catch at sea) cover 4.3 percent of the land and 6.1 percent of the seas and contain 82% of all species threatened by unsustainable harvesting and approximately 80 percent of the ranges of Critically Endangered species threatened by unsustainable harvesting.
3. With only 16 percent of these regions are covered by protected areas on land and just 6 percent at sea, urgent actions are needed in these centers of unsustainable harvesting to ensure that use of species is sustainable and to prevent further species' extinctions.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Identifying global centers of unsustainable commercial harvesting of species"   from  Science Advances
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Director WCS Science and Research Initiative

Farming Sea Cucumbers
Credit: Sangeeta Mangubhai/WCS
1. The dried body wall of sea cucumber is a valuable marine export commodity in Papua New Guinea (PNG), but overfishing led the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) to impose a moratorium on the fishery in October 2009.
2. The fishery was reopened in 2017 for less than two months, yet dominated the economies of three fishing communities while it was open generating increased income and high consumption of store-bought foods and purchase of other assets intended to increase living standards.
3. Drawing on current understandings of local culture and political economy, together with the results from the 2017 wild sea cucumber fishery, researchers discuss how a livelihood based on holothuriculture (farming of sea cucumbers) could coexist with the wild fishery to increase benefits to coastal communities in PNG.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Socioeconomic impacts of a sea cucumber fishery in Papua New Guinea: Is there an opportunity for mariculture?"   from  Ocean & Coastal
WCS Co-Author(s):  Sven Frijlink, Technical Advisor , WCS PNG Program

Tracking the Illegal Pangolin Trade in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea
Credit: Lucie Escouflaire
1. Populations of Asian pangolins have severely declined, and intercontinental trafficking of African pangolin scales to Asia has emerged in the last decade with coastal countries in the Gulf of Guinea have been highlighted as hotspots of illegal pangolin trade.
2. Researchers characterize the trade and international trafficking of African pangolins in the coastal countries around the Gulf of Guinea using data across three tiers: which countries were most heavily involved in international trafficking using seizure data; where domestic seizures of pangolins took place, and whether they were seized with other species; and the open sale of pangolins across 20-years at the main wild meat market in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
3. They found a total of 55,893 kg of pangolin scales in 33 seizures between 2012 and 2018, with Cameroon and Nigeria being the most common export countries; and a total of 11,207 Phataginus pangolins and 366 Smutsia pangolins were sold between 1997 and 2017 at the Malabo market.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Characterizing trafficking and trade of pangolins in the Gulf of Guinea"   from  Global Ecology and Conservation
WCS Co-Author(s):  Drew Cronin , WCS SMART Partnership Manager

Putting the “Protect” in Marine Protected Areas
Credit: Graham Harris
1. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a critical defense against biodiversity loss in the world's oceans, but to realize near-term conservation benefits, they must be established where major threats to biodiversity occur and can be mitigated.
2. Researchers looked at whether MPAs has targeted stoppable threats, finding that MPA establishment, a primary component of many conservation efforts, largely avoided abatable threats to biodiversity, and relatively high‐threat ecoregions were significantly less protected than expected by chance.
3. The extent of the global MPA estate has increased, but the establishment of MPAs where they can reduce threats that are driving biodiversity loss is now urgently needed.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Quantifying biases in marine-protected-area placement relative to abatable threats"   from  Conservation Biology
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Director WCS Science and Research Initiative

Does the Fishing Cat Still Fish in Myanmar?
Credit: WCS Myanmar Program
1. The distribution of the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) in Myanmar remains poorly known.
2. Researchers present two recent photographic records that confirm the occurrence of the Fishing Cat in the Ayeyarwady Delta of southern Myanmar.
3. The photographic records together with other reports and the availability of suitable wetland habitat suggest that the Ayeyarwady Delta is globally important for fishing cat conservation, however, deforestation, driven largely by agriculture, is of concern for the future survival of this species in Myanmar.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Recent photographic records of Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus (Bennett, 1833) (Carnivora: Felidae) in the Ayeyarwady Delta of Myanmar "   from  Journal of Threatened Taxa
WCS Co-Author(s):  Naing Lin (Lead) , WCS Myanmar Landscape Coordinator ;  Steven Platt , Associate Conservation Herpetologist, WCS Myanmar Program

Carrion Crisis: There’s a Major Decline in Scavengers
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Many scavenger species are in a state of rapid decline and there is growing evidence these declines can drastically alter ecological food webs.
2. Researchers looked at evidence supporting the increase in “mesoscavengers” – those less-efficient scavengers occupying mid-trophic levels – and increase in carrion in the face of declining apex scavengers.
3. The authors further examine the ecological and human well-being implications of apex scavenger decline, including carrion removal and disease regulation services.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "The mesoscavenger release hypothesis and implications for ecosystem and human well-being"   from  Ecology Letters
WCS Co-Author(s):  James Watson , Director WCS Science and Research Initiative

Are Penguins Righties or Lefties?
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers in Punta Tombo, Argentina conducted a study to see whether Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) showed lateralization (handedness) in their behaviors or morphology.
2. They found no lateralization or mixed results in the population of Magellanic penguins in three individual behaviors: stepping up, swimming, and thermoregulation.
3. They did find lateralization when penguins fought for dominance with the more aggressive penguin using its left eye and attacking the other penguin’s right side in most fights.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Lateralization (handedness) in Magellanic penguins"   from  PeerJ 7
WCS Co-Author(s):  Dee Boersma , WCS Magellanic Penguin Project

Leopard Coral Grouper: Overexploited
Credit: Dhani/WCS
1. Researchers measured the population stock in Saleh Bay, Indonesia of the commercially valuable leopard coral grouper (Plectropomus leopardus), a species subject to population collapse due to high fishing pressure.
2. The researchers used yield-per-recruit modeling to evaluate population stock and to estimate a biological reference point finding that the species is in fact over-exploited in Saleh Bay.
3. To reduce fishing mortality, they recommend limiting the catch size and control on spear gun fishing.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Yield-per-recruit modeling as biological reference points to provide fisheries management of Leopard Coral Grouper (Plectropomus leopardus) in Saleh Bay, West Nusa Tenggara"   from  IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science
WCS Co-Author(s):  Irma Agustina, (Lead) , WCS Indonesia Program ;  H. Retroningtyas and Irfan Yulianto, , WCS Indonesia program

Counting the Uncounted
Credit: WCS
1. Though abundance is a fundamental measure in ecology and environmental management, detecting all individuals in a population is usually impossible when monitoring, so estimates of abundance must account for imperfect detection.
2. Researchers developed the first method designed specifically to estimate population abundance from simultaneous counts of unmarked individuals over multiple sites, testing the methodology on three species of critically endangered vulture species in Cambodia.
3. They found that the new approach works best when existing methods are expected to perform poorly (few sites, large variation in abundance among sites), and when individuals may move among sites between sampling; and they believe the approach will be useful in particular for simultaneous surveys at aggregation sites, such as roosts.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Simultaneous-count models to estimate abundance from counts of unmarked individuals with imperfect detection"   from  Conservation Biology
WCS Co-Author(s):  Simon Mahood , Senior Technical Advisor, WCS Cambodia

Taking Stock of Indonesia’s Reef Fishes
Credit: Fakhrizal Setiawan
1. A research team estimated the natural stock of reef fishes from three regencies in the lesser Sunda-Banda Seascape in Indonesia to fill gaps in knowledge of species composition and biodiversity.
2. Using an underwater visual census method, the team recorded a total of 176 species belonging to 19 families of economically important reef fishes.
3. Community structure of target fish in the three regencies is still in a relatively good condition, and there is not much difference in terms of target fish community structure between the three regencies.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Stock estimation, species composition and biodiversity of target reef fishes in the lesser Sunda-Banda Seascape (East Flores, Alor and South West Maluku regencies), Indonesia"   from  IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science
WCS Co-Author(s):  Fakhrizal Setiawan (Lead) , WCS Indonesia Program ;  M. Muhidin, I. Agustina, J. Pingkan, N. Tarigan, A. Muttaqin , WCS Indonesia Program

Elasmobranches Getting Slammed
Credit: Benaya Simeon
1. Elasmobranches – sharks, rays, and skates – are at an elevated risk of extinction due to overfishing, and Indonesia is a global hub for commercial fishing for these slow-growing, cartilaginous fishes.
2. Researchers analyzed four years of catch data from Tanjung Luar – a fishing village specifically targeting sharks – to identify catch abundance and seasonality of vulnerable or endangered species, and found that catch per unit effort (CPUE) of sharks and rays from 2014 to 2017 fluctuated but was not significantly different.
3. The results suggested that management measures should focus on gear control and fishery closures, which could have significant benefits for the conservation of elasmobranch species, and may help to improve the overall sustainability of the fishery.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "“Catch abundance and fishing season from vulnerable and endangered Elasmobranch species in Tanjung Luar Fishery”"   from  IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science
WCS Co-Author(s):  Benaya Simeon (Lead) , WCS Indonesia program ;  M. Ichsan, A. Muttaqin, U. Mardhiah, I. Yulianto, , WCS Indonesia Program

Understanding Amazonia’s Mysterious Ocelots
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers conducted a 12-year study from 2010 to 2017 on ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) in the Brazilian Amazon, deploying 899 camera traps at 12 stations to determine habitat preferences, which were largely unknown.
2. Their findings show that ocelots are ubiquitous and adaptable, and seemingly abundant in protected areas or wherever there are forests populated with suitable prey.
3. The authors warn, however, that this does do not justify complacency regarding their conservation, as deforestation is destroying their habitat.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Habitat use of the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) in Brazilian Amazon"   from  Ecology and Evolution
WCS Co-Author(s):  Fabio Rohe , WCS Amazonia Conservation manager

Better Conservation through Satellites
Credit: A. Vila/WCS
1. The use of satellite telemetry in conservation is entering a “golden age,” and is now being used to track the movements of individual animals at unprecedented scales.
2. To determine the success or failure of satellite tracking devices across species and habitats, authors analyzed data from over 3,000 devices deployed on 62 terrestrial species in 167 projects worldwide
3. While the analysis showed that 48 percent of the unit deployments ended prematurely – half of them due to technical failure – the study showed that the performance of satellite telemetry applications has shown improvements over time, and based on the findings, recommendations are provided for both users and manufacturers.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "“Right on track? Performance of satellite telemetry in terrestrial wildlife research” "   from  PLOS ONE
WCS Co-Author(s):  Buuveibaatar Bayarbaatar and John C. Payne , WCS Mongolia Program ;  Vidya Athreya , WCS India Program

Hope and Challenges for Malaysia’s Elephants
Credit: WCS
1. Conservationists conducted population surveys of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to inform wildlife management policy and practices for the National Elephant Conservation Action Plan for Peninsular Malaysia where elephants are sometimes translocated to mitigate human/elephant conflict (HEC).
2. Using dung count surveys, they estimated 135 elephants living in a 2,500 square kilometer area – a population of national significance, containing possibly the second largest elephant population in Peninsular Malaysia, and with effective management elephant numbers could probably double.
3. They found that the population cannot sustain even very low levels of removal for translocation, so alternative approaches to HEC must be used including better law enforcement to protect elephants and their habitat; maintenance of habitat connectivity; and a new focus on adaptive management.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Viability and management of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) population in the Endau Rompin landscape, Peninsular Malaysia"   from  PeerJ Preprints 7
WCS Co-Author(s):  Melvin Gumal , WCS Malaysia Program

Chasing Species’ “Intactness”
Credit: Rob Wallace/WCS
1. In an effort to better protect the world’s last ecologically intact ecosystems, researchers developed a new metric called “The Last of the Wild in Each Ecoregion” (LWE), which aimed to quantify the most intact parts of each ecoregion.
2. They tested whether LWE against intact forest landscapes (IFL) – another technique to map ecological integrity at the global scale – to see which could adequately capture the abundance of a set of large mammal species sensitive to human disturbance, by mapping the abundance of nine large mammal species from Africa, Asia and the Americas and comparing them to the areas identified by the LWE and IFL approaches.
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:  "“Are we capturing faunal intactness? A comparison of intact forest landscapes and a first scoping of Key Biodiversity Areas of Ecological Integrity”"   from  Frontiers in Forests and Global Change
WCS Co-Author(s):  Daniele Baisero, Hedley Grantham, Fiona Maisels, Justina Ray, Eric Sanderson, Samantha Strindberg , WCS

Meet the Tenrecs
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
1. Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec – a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar.
2. They found that six species (19.4%) were found to be threatened (4 Vulnerable, 2 Endangered) and one species was categorized as Data Deficient, with the primary threat habitat loss, mostly as a result of slash-and-burn agriculture, but some species are also threatened by hunting and incidental capture in fishing traps with climate change also expected to alter tenrec habitats and ranges.
3. Tenrec research, monitoring and conservation should be integrated into broader sustainable development objectives and programs targeting higher profile species, such as lemurs, if we are to see an improvement in the conservation status of tenrecs in the near future.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "“Review of the status and conservation of tenrecs (Mammalia: Afrotheria: Tenrecidae)”"   from  Oryx
WCS Co-Author(s):  Vonjy Andrianjakarivelo , WCS Madagascar Program

Mapping Human Dependence on Marine Ecosystems
Credit: © Lill Haugen
1. Researchers created a new conceptual model to map the degree of human dependence on marine ecosystems based on the magnitude of the benefit, susceptibility of people to a loss of that benefit, and the availability of alternatives.
2. They focused on mapping nutritional, economic, and coastal protection dependence, showing that dependence was highest for Pacific and Indian Ocean island nations and several West African countries with more than 775 million people living in areas with relatively high dependence scores.
3. By identifying where and how people are dependent on marine ecosystems, the framework can be used to design more effective large-scale management and policy interventions.
WCS Media Contact:  Stephen Sautner, 7182203682, ssautner@wcs.org

Study and Journal:  "Mapping global human dependence on marine ecosystems"   from  Conservation letters
WCS Co-Author(s):  Jane Carter Ingram , Formerly of WCS


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