1:03 Defining Conservation Goals in Regional Perspectives.

Moderator: Emily Lindsey. Panelists: Claire Kremmen, Carsten Nowak, Zhibin Zhang, Gerardo Ceballos.

Question for the panel: What is the most pressing conservation problem for your region? Solutions?

Zhang: China is in top 12 countries in biodiversity, top 3 in plant species. Biodiversity threats include deforestation, endangered species (25% of CITES species), invasive species. Ongoing threats: expansion of human population and land use, pollution.

Solutions? Government regulations very effective. E.g. they have increased the strength of their gun laws, reducing poaching and wildlife has rebounded. They have linked evnironmental assessment to promotion of government officers, providing incentive for local officials. Establishing new parkland, 60 million ha reforestation, converting farm land into wildland all helpful policies. Changing focus from endagered species to endangered ecosystems or flora or fauna. Strong limits on urban and industrial expansion.

Nowak: The problem with conservation in Europe is that the land has been used heavily for thousands of years. They are starting to create wilderness areas, but it’s a new experiment for Europe. Most landscapes are 100% used, with the rivers cemented in place and the forests managed for lumber and the rest of the land either for agriculture or housing/industry. How to protect habitats in a completely man-made environment.

So, they ignore the past and focus on conserving the present status. EU Habitats directive (1992). No one at that time thought of climate change, so their goal is 1992. They have to make the habitats survive at the 1992 level.

An example: the yellow-bellied toad thrived in abandoned Russian Tanks in eastern Germany. When those tanks were remediated as part of park developmment, the frog populations decreased. Because of the 1992 baseline, they had to reinstate the pools created by water standing in the old tanks.

Kremmen: Switching back to regions with iconic ecosystems, surrounded by human-modified landscapes. Focusing on CA, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. 75% of habitats converted to human use. It’s possible to protect biodiversity in agricultural context, e.g. migratory bird flyways. Connectivity is the key: making sure wild areas are connected. Also, must think of sustainability of agricultural productivity. Can we improve both the farmer’s bottom line and sustainability while also protecting biodiversity? She thinks so.

Land-sparing vs. Land-sharing. If you can expand wildlive-friendly farming, you can share land between farms and wildlife whle overall producing more food. Very inspiring.

Ceballos: Quotes Tale of Two Cities, “Best of times, worst of times.”

Mexico, representative of many countries in Latin America. Top 5 countries biodiversity. 20 to 65% of species are endemic. Many problemms, as all countries experience today. Population growth, poverty, habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, climate change.

Ceballos and Garcia (2013): The next two decades will define the future for organisms in Mexico and, really, on Earth.

Conservation opportunities: Environmental scientists are respected by the government and people, 60% of people support gov’t action to reduce global disruption impacts, first developing country to commit to 50% emissions reduction by 2030.

Even with the uncertainty and lack of knowledge we have in science, we are in a much better position to make good decisions than the folks who typically make those policy decisions. We need more solutions and we need to give hope.

Emily goes first: Do any of you see positive opportunities produced by increased globalization and connectivity?

Kremmen: Globalization and hope: we can transmit information a lot quicker.

Nowak: Only in a globalized world can we correct the social problems that create wars and get in the way of conservation.

Zhang: Alas, introduced species distract from other conservation priorities. On the other hand, social meidia gets folks excitied about conservataion areas and protecting natural systems.

Ceballos: World pressure got China to put a halt to ivory trade. We are now able to reach so many people that in the end it’s a benefit to get folks on board.

Q: Can large carnivores and large herbivores share managed landscapes?

Kremmen: It’s more about managing the human reaction to the shared wild-managed land. It’s not easy, but it is feasible.

Nowak: Europeans have been stunned at how quickly wolves have reintroduced without any issue in agricultural landscape. It’s about getting the nation to pay for the damage, so local farmers do not see the wild animals as a burden.

Ceballos: Jaguars kill cattle sometimes, so they’re helping train people to manage cattle to reduce deaths, but the government also has to pay out cattle insurance to keep farmers happy.

1:49 Conservation Paleobiology session, moderated by Cindy Looy

Mikael Fortelius on “A common metric for assessing past and present biomes.”

He has no solutions to offer, but he can tell us what his field of study can contribute.

Can we explore humanity’s “Safe Operating Space” of the deep past? Steffen et al. Science (2015). Looking to the past for baselines for sustainability.

He’s using ecometrics: quantitative traits of organisms that can be used to estimate environmental parameters.

Example: fossil rain. Animals browsing in open habitats have higher crowned teeth to resist the dental wear of their abrasive diets (from dust on food, mostly). You can use the tooth crown height to map ancient rainfall. Eronen et al. 2010 EER. Fortelius et al. 2002 EER.

Example 2: Humans and megafaunal extinction. Barnosky PNAS 2008.  How far back can we look for evidence of human impact on environment? When did humans start to have a global impact? Werdelin (2013) suggests that Homo erectus switching to a large carnivore niche had a strong trophic cascade effect in eastern Africa.

Mace et al. 2013(? missed the date) suggest biome resilience is a key metric of Safe Operating Space.

2:04 Paul Koch on “Intersection of ecological networks and conservation paleobiology.”

Connectivity of networks affects whether a species will recover quickly, slowly, or not at all, if it is perturbed (or “poked”). Studying ancient networks that persist for millions of years could tell us important things about modern networks, allowing us to understand human effects.

He’s going to focus on the unraveling of the Egyptian ecosystem (Yeakel et al. 2014, PNAS). How do we get at the presence/absence of taxa over the past 10,000 years? Cave drawins, archaeological remains, other illustrations.

Paul makes it clear they’re building on others’ work. Dale Osborn, Rufus Churcher, specifically.

In the late Pleistocene there were 37 large mammals in the Egyptian ecosystem, today there are 8. The largest carnivore is the hyena.

What happens to the community as it unravels? Ratio of predator to prey goes up. Some relationship between aridification and predator-prey ratio.

Details require reconstructing predator-prey interactions, which can be inferred from body-size differences. Lots of math he glosses over here, but you can go read the paper if you want more.

The results: there is a step-wise decrease in stability until a big collapse in the last 100 years. As the network gets smaller, keystone species appear because the ecosystem loses redundancy. So small pokes can have big consequences on the depleted ecosystem.

Take home: Sensitivity predicts persistent.

2: 21 Michelle Lawing on “Ataxic indicators of ecosystem structure and function.”

More examples of ataxic indicators with more details for why they work.

Amusement; The laser pointer is no longer working because an earlier speaker dropped it. Jessic Blois to the rescue. Nope, that one wasn’t working either. Now Tony has one that works.

Cool graphic of ecosystem services from metrovancouver.org.

Ataxic indicators are taxon-free (mostly). Allows non-specialist to get data from fossils. Allows detection of ecological shift within species.

You can create transfer functions that go from measurable traits to environmental metrics, like hypsodonty or leaf shape to precipitation.

Other examples include carnivore ankles and snake tails vs. openness of habitat and Dunn et al. (2015) phytolith shape vs. canopy cover.

We need many ecometric models because not all fossils are found everywhere and traits may only help with some environmetal variables. So you need many models to get a complete picture of ancient environments.

Inverse model: paleoenvironments from traits. Forward model: future trait changes from environmental change.

2:37 Allison Stegner “Paleecology for land management”

“When we see changes in our environment, how concerned should we be?”

Her study area is the Colorado Plateau. Management is a big issue here. E.g. 80% of Utah is public land. It will also see reduced rainfall and warmer temperatures under most scenarios.

What is “normal” on these lands? She’ll be discussing two cave sites east of Canyonlands NP to get that baseline. About 2500 years ago, it began to get warmer, and it trended drier over that time. This climate change has been invoked in the depopulation of the area by humans 650 years ago.

The deposits are mostly small mammas, like jackrabbits and woodrats.  Only jackrabbbits show a change in abundance related to climate change. No clear reason why.

Evenness: also shows no clear relationship with the climate change.

Is the modern fauna perturbed from baselines? She is conducting mark-recapture surveys. Kangaroo rats are rare and deer mice are common, suggesting a strong change from fossil baseline. Also, evenness is lower than it ever was in any of the fossil levels.

So while there was no taxonomic loss, the evenness of the sites is depressed and once common species are now rare.

She asked her managers about the best ways to share science with managers, so here are the results: Research is essential, but you have to understand the mission of the agency. You have to have a short timeline and concrete product. Rogue researchers who never deliver on the promised product can cause them to be suspicious.

Tony moved the break up to here in the schedule, so we’ll be back in a few minutes with another panel discussion.


Panel discussion on ataxic metrics, moderated by Tony Barnosky. Panelists: Chase Mendenhall, P. David Polly (& Jason Head – remote because of back issue), Thomas Hickler, Alexis Mychajliw.

How do you envision using ataxic metics to help conserve biological systems? Or do you?

Hickler: Not going to talk about plant functional types. Intead will talk about global ecosystem functioning and the carbon cycle.

Climate change seems to be good for biosphere: it’s taking up more carbon than ever. Many ecosystems have become greener over the last 30 years. It seems we can lose some biodiversity without losing productivity at the largest scale. But how far can we push it? No clue. We need the fossil record to get an idea how this could play out.

Polly: The big challenge for conservation paleo is that we have different species in the past, so transferring our knowledge is tricky (but not impossible). So instead of looking at taxa, look at functional traits (Polly et al. 2011, Proc B). Recode ecosystem functions in terms of traits to get at generalities in evolving ecosystems.

Here he works on unpacking the example of mammal tooth crown height. It can tell us about precipitation in modern systems, but in the Oligocene, e.g., it’s more about volcanic ash in the environment.

We can use changes in traits to define geographic regions that have been subject to greater forcing.

Mychajliw: Islands are weird places, so comparing island metrics with mainland metrics may not always work well.

Size and isolation are stong filters on island composition; can use island biogeography math to determine expected diversity. This filter can strongly bias the taxonomic compisition of the islands, leaving big gaps in phylogenetic representation. You can artificially maintain a high phylogenetic diversity on an island because of isolation creating unusual endemic lineages.

Mendenhall: No slides, so he’ll be quick. He’s going to challenge the idea. He’s trying to predict which of his animals will go extinct, not looking back at extinct animals. He learned about ataxic metrics when prepping for this conference. The world will be very different in the future, so can we use a very different ancient world to predict what will happen in this highly modified environment? He suspects body size might create some generalities.

Tony asks: should we let ecosystems just change on their own, or should we interfere to try to produce a “natural” system?

Mendenhall: He has a hard time with “natural” systems because his human-engineered systems are then “Frankenstein” systems. What is natural? He worries about defining natural.

Hickler: as a European, either natural is dead or humans are part of natural systems. If we are going to face >3 deg warming, we will have to actively manage ecosystems. Biodiversity is not there just to serve a function; we have an ethical responsibility to preserve it because of its essential qualities.

From the audience: Instead of trying to define “natural” we should think about what states we do and don’t want just because of the values of those states.

Polly: We know there is no pre-human stable baseline. Instead we have change over time and we have to just manage in that context.

Mychajliw: Islands have lost a lot, like Europe, but there are still unique things there. She asks how (or whether) introduced ungulates are functioning as replacements for the extinct herbivores?

Q: Has nature gone through a series of steps ranging from antithetical to humans to resource for humans and now “nature and humans.” I missed the source of the quote.

Panelists agree it should be nature and/with humans.

Mychajliw: We should include archaeologists in this discussion because they can show how humans have lived in harmony (or not) with nature in the past.

Tony: If we’re going to keep ecosystems healthy, how are we going to define health? Can we use ataxic metrics?

Polly: I cannot come close to answering the question of ecosystem health… But I can give an idea of the role of ataxic metrics. The taxa and the traits are two sides of the coin of diversity/ecosystem health. We can use trait composition as another line to monitoring ecosystem health in addition to richness and evenness.

Hickler: Cannot define ecosystem health, but thinks it might have to do with carbon storage. It should also have to do with protecting the soil.

Mendenhall: Human health should be part of the measure. Not just physical health, but emotional/mental health. The rest of the world doesn’t care as much about diversity, and is still focused on food, resources.

I’m moderating this session so I won’t take notes, so I can keep folks on time.


Last panel, moderated by Harry Greene. Ecological Baselines for Decision Making.

Panelists: Jessica Blois, Jussi Eronen, David Ackerly.

What is your view of an ecological baseline?

Ackerly: If you ask an ecologist if they’ve shaken off the shackles of a static model, they’ll say yes, but they still think in tems of variation from a stable baseline. The problem is that we know baselines have never been stable through any of the history of life.

We have a disconnect between embracing change in the past and accepting it in the present. We only value change in the case of ‘degraded ecosystems’. We’re OK with restoration ecology.

Conservation biology is based on the promise to save something. If we embrace change, we break that promise.

If we embrace change and give up baselines, what do we replace it with? How to judge desirable vs. undesirable change? It comes down to value judgements: no objective ‘natural’ answer.

Eronen: The idea of baselines is both familiar and strange. In the paleo record, environments and ecosystems are constantly changing. One of his concerns is that because of sampling, we only see dominant modes in deep time, missing the complex variability in systems. OTOH, paleo records show us how communities assemble in non-analog environments, providing insight into future assembly.

Blois: We’ve heard about different concepts of baselines all day, and we can at least agree that the concept of a baseline is a construct and not an objective reality. She often needs a benchmark or reference for her research, for the sake of comparison, so she tests sensitivity of her results to using different baselines (pre-industrial, 1980’s, etc.). What are the robust patterns that emerge despite baseline choice?

What about the subconscious baselines she brings to her research? As a native Californian, ‘normal’ means ecosystems which are brown in the summer and green in the winter. When she was a postdoc in Wisconsin she had a hard time engaging, because it was brown in winter and green in summer and she had to cross roads on her hikes. This experience made her realize she (and all of us, indeed) brings her own personal bias to her work. It’s important to reflect and acknowledge your own biases.

Greene: First question: What David Ackerly said and what several speakers have said would upset conservation biologists in the United Sates. Is the status quo in cons bio out of touch with reality?

Ackerly: He’s given similar remarks to cons bio audiences and they have not been able to engage with his idea: it takes them completely out of their life’s work. Triage is not OK for that research community, but it might be a good idea. The goal of not losing a single species is unreaslistic.

Blois: Cannot spak to the status quo of cons bio, because she’s not of that communtiy. Her message from looking at fossils is that change is the only constant. Change as the mantra doesn’t necessarily mean we have to come up with a completely new system.

Eronen: From the deep paleo side: the species are different. That’s the point of developing ecometrics. Then you don’t have to worry about individual species, but in terms of ecosystem roles.

Greene: Could the problem be that we think of ourselves as distinct from nature?

Blois: Part of her problem in Wisconsin was that she viewed nature as a desintation, as it is for urban Californians, but in WI the managed land is much more intertwined with all the inhabitants. So this could be a problem that only some societies have?

Q from audience: Could there be two kinds of baseline? The outdated static baseline Greene started with, and a fluctuating baseline of how ‘things should be’.

Ackerly: How can we think of managing land as though there were no humans when there will be 9 billion of us? Does that make sense? Do we want to be constantly disappointed by failure?

Blois: We are fearful of novel ecosystems that we can’t predict or understand. But we see them in the fossil record and they’re cool, not unnatural.

Q from audience: The focus on the taxa from the past is a bit misleading. Are there lessons we can learn that will be applicable in the future? Are there generalities we can bring out and use for conservation?

Blois: Are these stable systems in the past helpful because we know we’re going so far outside of what we’ve seen in the fossil record? Don’t know?

Eronen: Relying only on the past is the only thing we can do at the moment because it’s the best dataset we have for building models of change in response to climate shifts.

Ackerly: A big part of the problem is that agencies aren’t managing a whole continent, but instead are managing their little bits of refuge.

Q: There are two key steps to think about. 1) If you replace ecological baselines, you have to understand what policy makers were trying to achieve. Self restraint mechanism? If so, find a new restraint mechanism. 2) We should be talking to humanities folks who have insight into changing folks minds and controlling their desires. Also, if you give up on goals so quickly now (like keeping species), you’ll get your lunch eaten in congress.

Ackerly: Part of the problem is how it happens. If a bird flies to another island itself, no problem. If we move it, it’s a big deal.

Q: How much does appreciation and interpretation weigh into this equation? Are we trying to protect biodiversity because we owe it to the world?

Greene: He’ll address it in his closing remarks.

Q: As scientists we’re OK with studying the world, but as a species, we have a hard time handling our status as a global force. The baseline is likened to the Garden of Eden and our actions to sin. Also, this discussion is very high level and can’t be taken to policy makers: we’ll leave them behind when we talk of giving up baselines.

Q: Another reason to have a baseline is to understand what’s happening. Not to stop anything, but just to measure change.

Q: Our nation rejects evolution, so could that be part of why we can’t get away from the baseline?

Ackerly: It’s true that our backgrounds color all of our perceptions. E.g. eucalyptus as the smell of nature to kids from California (big laughs — it’s introduced).

Panel closes————————————————————

5:42 Harry Greene provides closing remarks: “Must an Urutu be beautiful to matter?”

He has been to a lot of symposia, but this one takes the cake.

Two or three brief comments and then a few slides. Then off to dinner.

1) We lack a comprehensive theory in Conservation Biology. There isn’t even a consensus on what it means in textbooks.

2) Some of the questions we’re grappling with are creating massive cognative dissonance.

3) We are massively hampered by ignorance but also uncertainty.

4) Doing nothing isn’t risk free, it’s just criticism free. It’s just risk aversive.

Of all the creatures he’s seen in the field, the most beautiful was an Urutu. Charles Darwin thought it was the most ugly creature he’d ever seen. We don’t all value creatures equally.

Why do we care? Instrumental values: means to an end. Intrinsic or objective final values: Irrespective of our judgement. Subjective final values come from within us: I love this because it is beautiful/makes me happy.

As an example, art has no intrinsic/objective final value, but it has subjective final value. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“If I could I’d give every young naturalists three gifts, but I’ll only tell you one.” He’s put you on foot in Africa in the middle of the last remaining megafauna. That’s because wilderness in the States is “a place without humans” but not so in Africa. Wilderness exists there with people.

Poop is pristine. You will be shocked at the amount of poop on the ground in Africa.

You always have an escape route in mind when you’re on foot in Africa.

“Native cattle”. In the western US, we think of cattle as an evil, introduced species. Columbus brought cattle to the New World in ~1500. Within a couple of years they got to Mexico and Florida, and had about 500 years of feral evolution. These wild cattle have great resistance to hoofrot, etc. In Texas these are the longhorns.

Greene visits a cattle ranch in Texas where the cattle live in a wild state, and it has a rich biota of amphibians and reptiles. Those cattle have no concerns with predators: they’re longhorns.

California condors: Big debate between using technology to save the birds vs. letting them go naturally. The technology side won, and despite mistakes the result is now 400 condors. None are really ‘wild’, because they have to be recaptured and treated for lead poising. Why? Because of the preponderance of lead bullets in hunting.

Funny story: the first condors he saw were circling above him whle he was a straggler on a Grand Canyon hike.

Two questions about elephants:

1) Is anybody here completely satisfied that we’ll solve the problem of poaching, etc. to keep elephants alive in the wild in 200 years?

2) Would you rather there were no elephants anywhere or that there were GMO elephant/mammoths in North America?

Referring back to Stegner’s opening remarks: We should be stewards, not managers, and we need a declaration of interdependence.