Tag Archives: biodiversity

Aichi biodiversity targets, Sustainable Development Goals and the Protected Planet report

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets were adopted by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, and at least some aspects of them (slightly confusing to me) were incorporated in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015. In short, my understanding from a quick skim is that the target is to protect 17% of land area. The current status is reported in a Protected Planet report that the UN produces every two years. (Disclaimer: I could easily have some details wrong here.)

In terms of the representation element of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, less than half of the world’s 823 terrestrial ecoregions have at least 17% of their area in PAs and only one third of the 232 marine ecoregions have at least 10% of their area protected. Less than 20% of Key Biodiversity Areas are completely protected, and therefore further efforts are needed to expand PA systems to ensure that the global PA estate adequately covers areas important for biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services to people.

de-extinction

Here’s the Amazon description of a new (to me) book called Bring Back the King: The New Science of De-extinction.

If you could bring back just one animal from the past, what would you choose? It can be anyone or anything from history, from the King of the Dinosaurs, T. rex, to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, and beyond.

De-extinction, the ability to bring extinct species back to life is fast becoming reality. Around the globe, scientists are trying to de-extinct all manner of animals, including the woolly mammoth, the passenger pigeon and a bizarre species of flatulent frog. But de-extinction is more than just bringing back the dead. It’s a science that can be used to save species, shape evolution and sculpt the future of life on our planet.

In Bring Back the King, scientist and comedy writer Helen Pilcher goes on a quest to identify the perfect de-extinction candidate. Along the way, she asks if Elvis could be recreated from the DNA inside a pickled wart, investigates whether it’s possible to raise a pet dodo, and considers the odds of a 21st century Neanderthal turning heads on public transport.

Pondering the practicalities and the point of de-extinction, Bring Back the King is a witty and wry exploration of what is bound to become one of the hottest topics in conservation if not in science as a whole in the years to come.

biodiversity and ecosystem services in decisions

Here’s an “open-source software tool for integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services into impact assessment and mitigation decisions“.

Governments and financial institutions increasingly require that environmental impact assessment and mitigation account for consequences to both biodiversity and ecosystem services. Here we present a new software tool, OPAL (Offset Portfolio Analyzer and Locator), which maps and quantifies the impacts of development on habitat and ecosystem services, and facilitates the selection of mitigation activities to offset losses. We demonstrate its application with an oil and gas extraction facility in Colombia. OPAL is the first tool to provide direct consideration of the distribution of ecosystem service benefits among people in a mitigation context. Previous biodiversity-focused efforts led to redistribution or loss of ecosystem services with environmental justice implications. Joint consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem services enables targeting of offsets to benefit both nature and society. OPAL reduces the time and technical expertise required for these analyses and has the flexibility to be used across a range of geographic and policy contexts.

more on China’s “ecological civilization”

The United Nations has a new report on China’s “ecological civilization” plan. What seems notable is that it takes an urban and regional planning framework, then weaves in goals related to environmental quality and sustainable agriculture. There are also a few targets related to habitat and biodiversity conservation. It’s a good vision and contains all the right rhetoric.

instrinsic vs. utilitarian value of nature

This thoughtful opinion piece in Trends in Ecology and Evolution talks about resolving conflicts between moral and economic arguments for conservation.

Biodiversity exists at multiple levels of organization, including at the levels of genes, populations, species, and ecosystems [11]. Although it might be argued that intrinsic value is associated with all levels of biological organization, this interpretation is of no practical use for planning and decision-making. If all levels of biological organization have equal intrinsic value, and if all species are regarded as having equal intrinsic value, then the implication is that no harm can be done in any way to any component of biodiversity [I don’t quite follow this last sentence…]. The concept of intrinsic value applied equally to all of nature therefore offers no way to prioritize and points only toward a halt to human progress because most human developments impact on nature to some degree. In practice, then, intrinsic value is commonly associated with certain species and ecosystems…

Species conservation and the beauty of nature are reasons for conservation commonly associated with intrinsic and non-use values. For instance, it can be regarded as morally right to maintain the existence of tigers in the wild, and to conserve the beauty of Yosemite Valley, regardless of human use. But accepting this should not preclude accepting arguments for conservation that are based on utilitarian value, particularly when we consider different levels of biological organization. For instance, populations of species provide vital ecosystem services such as pollination, such that loss of a population can cause loss of an ecosystem service that has utilitarian value. If the continued existence of populations of the species elsewhere means that the species itself is not threatened, or if the population lives in a human-dominated, non-wild landscape, then arguments for the intrinsic value of species and ecosystems are inadequate. Given that population declines are perhaps the most prevalent aspect of biodiversity loss [14], failure to recognize the utilitarian value of populations does a disservice to conservation.

Viewing reasons for conserving nature at different levels of biological organization thus clarifies when alternative arguments are most relevant, in particular that arguments based on intrinsic value are most commonly associated with species and ecosystem levels. This takes us some way toward melding utilitarian and intrinsic reasons for conservation, enabling both to be included within a multifaceted approach.

The article also wades into the debate on monetization.

I agree with using all the tools. We also have to recognize that even reasonable people have a range of values, and there are also unreasonable people out there, and we have to find arguments that appeal to a critical mass of people in order to make any progress.

The Windup Girl

Another book I’m reading (actually listening to) right now is the The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This is biopunk, possibly my favorite genre when it is done well. I won’t spoil the plot below, but I’ll tell you some of the background on what is going on in the society about halfway through the book, so if you prefer to read it and discover this gradually, then stop reading now!

The interesting thing about this society (Southeast Asia, supposedly about 100 years in the future), is that it has very advanced scientific and technological knowledge compared to our current society, and yet it is extremely energy and resource poor compared to our current society. All food seems to be genetically engineered by a few western companies (“calorie companies”). At some point there has been a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. At the point in the book where I am now, there are hints that these companies themselves have engineered the pests and diseases that brought this about. We don’t know why – maybe as a form of competition to attack each others products, or maybe to attack non-genetically engineered organisms. Whatever the original strategy, these plagues have devastated natural ecosystems and come back to attack the company crops themselves, and also to sometimes jump to humans, so that everyone is sick and starving and the companies are trying to hunt down any surviving stashes of biodiversity.

The society is also extremely energy poor. Climate change and sea level rise have been devastating, and fossil fuels seem to be entirely gone with the exception of coal, the latter rare and used only by the government for pumping in a last-ditch effort to keep the ocean at bay. There is some methane available from digesting animal manure, again tightly controlled by the government. For mobile power, they wind “springs” using animal power, including “megadonts” which sound like reconstituted mammoths. I have a couple questions on plausibility here, neither of which detracts from the story which I am really enjoying. First, which such advanced biological technology developed over 100 years, it is surprising not to see solar power, wind power, fuel cells, or even nuclear power. In fact, there seems to be no form of electricity at all. Second, I imagine mammoths would eat a lot. Let’s say you grow food, feed the mammoths, have them wind the springs, then digest their manure to obtain methane all very efficiently. I find it hard to believe that if you took whatever you are feeding the mammoths and digested it directly, you would not obtain more energy. The exception might be if the mammoths go foraging themselves and eat something that grows naturally on land that will not grow anything else, and that particular plant is digestible by mammoths but not by methane-generating bacteria. With a very limited range of plants available, maybe this is not all that implausible in the bizarre universe of this book.

the case of the missing mammals

Where would the large mammals be if humans hadn’t come along?

How would the world look if humans had never spread out across the Earth? For a start, we’d have a lot more forest, much less pollution, and the stars would look unbelievably bright. But, as a new map shows, the planet would also be absolutely teeming with large mammals, from the Serengeti to Northern Europe and all the way across the Americas. Researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University have created a global map which shows the distribution of large mammals as it may have been if humans had never left Africa…

The Americas used to be home to 105 large mammal species, including sabre-toothed cats, mastodons, giant sloths and giant armadillos, which all disappeared in the last 100,000 years or so. A previous study by the Aarhus University research team showed that human activity was responsible for this mass extinction

“The reason that many safaris target Africa is… that it’s one of the only places where human activities have not yet wiped out most of the large animals,” said Postdoctoral Fellow Søren Faurby, lead author on the study.

The highest levels of diversity would be in central regions of north and south America, especially parts of Texas, the U.S. Great plains and regions of Brazil and Argentina.

bees

Here’s a nice example of how diversity is related to resilience. As honeybees are having more problems, farmers are learning to use combinations of other bees, including bumblebees, to get the same pollination effect.

just like in the apple orchards, scientists are finding that between those two kinds of bees, farmers can probably get by without using honeybees. It’s all part of a new strategy of diversification that entomologist Shelby Fleischer affectionately refers to as Plan B.

“I think the key to remember is resilience,” Fleischer says. “So don’t just aim for any one species. Historically, there’s been a lot of emphasis on making honeybees our pollinator, and resilience suggests that we should try and support a community of bees.”

natural capital

Here’s a slightly novel take on natural capital, as a charged battery.

Human domination of the biosphere: Rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind

Earth is a chemical battery where, over evolutionary time with a trickle-charge of photosynthesis using solar energy, billions of tons of living biomass were stored in forests and other ecosystems and in vast reserves of fossil fuels. In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth. This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources. The laws of thermodynamics governing the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery are universal and absolute; the earth is only temporarily poised a quantifiable distance from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space. Although this distance from equilibrium is comprised of all energy types, most critical for humans is the store of living biomass. With the rapid depletion of this chemical energy, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.

 

bumblebees

Science says bumblebees are being “crushed” by climate change. Apparently their fur coats are too hot at the southern edge of their range, and they aren’t expanding north because so far there is not the kind of vegetation they need to the north.

…climate change could further strain species already struggling with dwindling habitat and other pressures, Kerr says. “We’re hitting these animals with everything,” he says. “There’s no way you can nail a bee with neonicotinoids, invasive pathogens, and climate change and come out with a happy bee.”

The loss of bee species could carry consequences for ecosystems and people. For instance, “plants that like their pollinators to be pretty loyal” could see declines in reproduction, says ecologist Laura Burkle of Montana State University, Bozeman. And given that wild bees help pollinate many crops, “we play with these things at our peril,” Kerr says. “The human enterprise is the top floor in a really big scaffold. What we’re doing is reaching out and knocking out the supports.”