Employing dogs to save endangered species and places.
For millennia dogs have been helpers to humans: they have herded and protected livestock, pulled sleds, hunted game, led the blind, located people after disasters, and sniffed out drugs. Now a new occupation can be added: conservation aide. Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) was co-founded by Megan Parker in 2000: the idea, to use dogs' impeccable scent capabilities for conservation initiatives, appears so logical and useful when Parker talks about it, one is surprised it took environmentalists so long to realize the potential of dogs. "Our mission is to benefit science and conservation by working with detection dogs. We help save wildlife by supporting conservation efforts to gather information on rare species in an accurate and non-invasive way," explains Parker. "We train dogs to detect rare samples and they excel at finding trained target odors from endangered species scats to invasive weeds on a huge landscape." WDC has worked on a wide variety of projects across all regions of the United States. For example, they worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on The Carnivore Connectivity Project where the dogs located scats of wolves, cougars, black and grizlly bears along the Idaho-Montana border. "Thanks to our team of dogs, we’re proud to report that this work led to the protection of critical wildlife corridors by closing more than 40 miles of roads and preventing a development in a sensitive area," says Parker. The group has also helped survey the comeback of moose in the Adirondacks and located threatened plants in Oregon and invasive snails in Hawaii, among many other projects. Parker says for each of these projects the dog's nose is key: "canids have evolved as amazing scenting machines. Their noses, and the vast majority of their brains, are built to detect and discriminate small quantities of odor, picking out single scents among the millions of other scents in the environment. Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years to serve myriad human purposes, yet most dogs retain the architecture and ability to scent incredibly well." WDC has even worked overseas: detecting snakes in the tropics of Guam, locating wild dog and cheetah scat in Kenya, and working with the Andean Cat Project in Argentina to find one of the world's rarest felines. "We have really learned from our mistakes while working internationally, where the work periods are typically short and the work intense in unfamiliar territory where we have to find dogs and train handlers, which is different from how we usually work," Parker says. Despite such challenges, Parker believes that the program could easily be implemented in other countries.
Labels: animals, dogs, ecology, felines, restoration, saving, species
First comprehensive study of insect endangerment: ten percent of dragonflies threatened
A lot of time, effort, and funds have been spent on programs evaluating the threat of extinction to species around the world. Yet insects have not benefited from these programs, which have largely focused on more 'charismatic' species such as mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. This gap is clearly shown by the fact that 42 percent of vertebrates have been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and only 0.3 percent of invertebrates.
Given this dearth of knowledge regarding the threat level of extinction to invertebrates, conservationists concerned about the current extinction crisis have largely had to do without hard data on insects and other invertebrates to make predictions regarding the level of extinction possible.
A new study in Biological Conservation has begun the long and difficult process of evaluating the state of insect populations around the globe, focusing on the order of Odonata, which includes dragonflies and damselflies.
Assessing the threat
Viola Clausnitzer, one of the paper’s lead authors, told mongabay.com that assessing the Odonata order was a natural choice to begin this process. "Odonata are an easy to study group: they are active at daytime, have a striking appearance and courtship behavior, the taxonomy is more or less solved (unlike most other insect groups), they are used as indicator organisms for assessments, they can serve as flag-ship species for environmental health ('guardians of the watershed')," Clausnitzer said, a geographer at the Phillips University of Marburg, Germany. "For most other insect groups a global approach is not yet possible because of problems with taxonomy and too many yet undescribed species." To determine the overall threat level to dragonflies and damselflies, researchers assessed individual threat levels for 1,500 randomly selected species out of the total 5,680 described Odonata species (26.5 percent). Clausnitzer and her team assessed threat status by looking at the availability and state of habitat within each species' range. Researchers were surprised to find that only 10 percent of these species appeared to be under threat of extinction. This was a better than expected, especially considering that 31 percent of amphibians, 20 percent of mammals, and 12 percent of birds are threatened. The highest ratio of threatened Odonata species were found in Australia and islands off Southeast Asia. Australian species are increasingly threatened by climate change’s affect on freshwater environments, while island dragonflies and damselflies face constricted habitats and deforestation. To date only two Odonata species has been recorded going extinct in modern times, both on islands: Megalagrion jugorum from Maui and Sympetrum dilatatum from Saint Helena. Data Deficient In addition to 10 percent of dragonflies and damselflies considered threatened, the researchers also found that 35 percent, or 527 species, were classified as Data Deficient. In other words, the scientists simply did not have enough information on the species to make determination of their status. The higher the Data Deficient category the poorer the results," Clausnitzer admits. "But the percentage of Data Deficient species was equally high in the global amphibian assessment and is only lower with birds and mammals. Nevertheless much effort is needed to lower the number of Data Deficient species." While the percentage of Data Deficient species is relatively high for vertebrates, Clausnitzer says that it is unique for invertebrates. "If you assess other groups [of invertebrates, the percentage of Data Deficient] will be much higher. Still, the data deficient areas are tropical countries and much more surveys, ecological and biodiversity field work and taxonomica work is necessary to lower the Data Deficient category," Clausnitzer says. Nearly 60 percent of the world's Odonata species live in the Neotropics and the Indo-Malayan realms.
According to the paper, the percentage of Data Deficient species could raise the number of threatened Odonata species to approximately fifteen percent, rather than ten, but this is still only half the number of threatened amphibians.
These findings call into question predictions of the current extinction crisis that tend toward the higher end. For example, even if fifteen percent of Odonata species are threatened it is difficult to imagine an extinction crisis that exceeds this percentage if other insect species are similar.
"Some of the predictions seem to be largely exaggerated," Clausnitzer says, adding that "insects can survive in small pockets of habitats."
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This delicate damselfly was assessed as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List, because it was known from only a few males from two localities close to each other in the Amazon forest of northern Peru. During a visit to the Research Station of Tiputini, located in eastern Ecuador this last January, R. W. Garrison and Natalia von Ellenrieder found it also inhabiting several narrow streams within the Ecuadorian forest. This discovery considerably enlarges the range of distribution of this beautiful damselfly, and hopefully many other rare species of Odonates which are insufficiently known are found more widely distributed upon further search of this vast and rich forest. The adults fly very close to the water surface, and perch horizontally on sticks and leaves overhanging the water. In the shaded streams they are rendered inconspicuous, and can usually be noticed only after examination of the vegetation growing along the stream banks. Text credit: Natalia von Ellenrieder. Photo by: Rosser W. Garrison.
In addition dragonflies and damselflies do not face the same hunting pressures as many mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The bushmeat and wildlife trafficking has become one of the leading causes behind species endangerment worldwide, but it is a threat that insects, other than butterflies, have avoided.
Conservation and research
Although not as media-friendly as polar bears and pandas, Clausnitzer believes that conserving dragonflies and damselflies is important to saving ecosystems in general.
"Odonata are key-predators and are sensitive to changes to the aquatic and terrestrial environment. Because they are easy to observe and survey they are excellent indicator organisms to monitor environmental health. Since most people know dragonflies, they are good flag-ship species to teach people about the importance of conservation and monitoring. Thus dragonflies can be regarded as 'guardians of the watershed'," Clausnitzer says.
To conserve these 'guardians'—and the ecosystems they inhabit—Clausnitzer urges "serious global attempts to protect forests, springs, streams and rivers. In Europe we can currently watch an increase in water quality, while third world countries, which often rely directly on river water, have a drastic decrease in water quality and availability. For example it would help to have a 10m wide strip along streams and rivers, which remains untouched."
Still, there is a lot more research and work that needs to be done. "Odonata only comprise a small invertebrate order, with above-average dispersal ability and relatively wide distribution ranges," Clausnitzer and the other authors write in the paper. "For conservation science and policy to be truly representative of global biodiversity a representative cross-section of invertebrates needs to be included."
What insect orders would they recommend next?
"In terms of feasibility grasshoppers and butterflies might be possible," Clausnitzer said. "But more important would be an assessment of hymenoptera, since these play an important role in pollination and as predators of pest-insects (key ecosystem-services)."
Hymenoptera is a large order of insects, comprising everything from bees and ants to sawflies and wasps.
Clausnitzer says that in order to move forward there needs to be "funding for more surveys, field work and taxonomic work," adding that, "nevertheless with the current economic situation it is even more difficult to get funding for basic biodiversity research."
If scientists are ever to make accurate estimates regarding the extinction crisis already under way, more research will be necessary.
Labels: animals, bees, costa rica rainforest, flies, forest, insects, species, vegetation, wasp