When to stop managing or surveying cryptic threatened species.
ABSTRACT: Threatened species become increasingly difficult to detect as their populations decline. Managers of such cryptic threatened species face several dilemmas: if they are not sure the species is present, should they continue to manage for that species or invest the limited resources in surveying? We find optimal solutions to this problem using a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process and rules of thumb derived from an analytical approximation. We discover that managing a protected area for a cryptic threatened species can be optimal even if we are not sure the species is present. The more threatened and valuable the species is, relative to the costs of management, the more likely we are to manage this species without determining its continued persistence by using surveys. If a species remains unseen, our belief in the persistence of the species declines to a point where the optimal strategy is to shift resources from saving the species to surveying for it. Finally, when surveys lead to a sufficiently low belief that the species is extant, we surrender resources to other conservation actions. We illustrate our findings with a case study using parameters based on the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), and we generate rules of thumb on how to allocate conservation effort for any cryptic species. Using Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes in conservation science, we determine the conditions under which it is better to abandon management for that species because our belief that it continues to exist is too low.
Project description:Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys utilize DNA shed by organisms into their environment in order to detect their presence. This technique has proven effective in many systems for detecting rare or cryptic species that require high survey effort. One potential candidate for eDNA surveying is Kirtland's Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii), a small natricine endemic to the midwestern USA and threatened throughout its range. Due to its cryptic and fossorial lifestyle, it is also a notoriously difficult snake to survey, which has limited efforts to understand its ecology. Our goal was to utilize eDNA surveys for this species to increase detection probability and improve survey efficiency to assist future conservation efforts. We conducted coverboard surveys and habitat analyses to determine the spatial and temporal activity of snakes, and used this information to collect environmental samples in areas of high and low snake activity. In addition, we spiked artificial crayfish burrows with Kirtland's Snake feces to assess the persistence of eDNA under semi-natural conditions. A quantitative PCR (qPCR) assay using a hydrolysis probe was developed to screen the environmental samples for Kirtland's Snake eDNA that excluded closely related and co-occurring species. Our field surveys showed that snakes were found in the spring during the first of two seasons, and in areas with abundant grass, herbaceous vegetation, and shrubs. We found that eDNA declines within a week under field conditions in artificial crayfish burrows. In environmental samples of crayfish burrow water and sediment, soil, and open water, a single detection was found out of 380 samples. While there may be physicochemical and biological explanations for the low detection observed, characteristics of assay performance and sampling methodology may have also increased the potential for false negatives. We explored these outcomes in an effort to refine and advance the successful application of eDNA surveying in snakes and groundwater microhabitats.
Project description:Molecular taxonomy often uncovers cryptic species, reminding us that taxonomic incompleteness is even more severe than previous thought. The importance of cryptic species for conservation is poorly understood. Although some cryptic species may be seriously threatened or otherwise important, they are rarely included in conservation programs as most of them remain undescribed. We analysed the importance of cryptic species in conservation by scrutinizing the South European cryptic complex of the subterranean amphipod Niphargus stygius sensu lato. Using uni- and multilocus delineation methods we show that it consists of 15 parapatric and sympatric species, which we describe using molecular diagnoses. The new species are not mere "taxonomic inflation" as they originate from several distinct branches within the genus and coexist with no evidence of lineage sharing. They are as evolutionarily distinct as average nominal species of the same genus. Ignoring these cryptic species will underestimate the number of subterranean endemics in Slovenia by 12 and in Croatia by four species, although alpha diversity of single caves remains unchanged. The new taxonomy renders national Red Lists largely obsolete, as they list mostly large-ranged species but omit critically endangered single-site endemics. Formal naming of cryptic species is critical for them to be included in conservation policies and faunal listings.
Project description:When managing populations of threatened species, conservation managers seek to make the best conservation decisions to avoid extinction. Making the best decision is difficult because the true population size and the effects of management are uncertain. Managers must allocate limited resources between actively protecting the species and monitoring. Resources spent on monitoring reduce expenditure on management that could be used to directly improve species persistence. However monitoring may prevent sub-optimal management actions being taken as a result of observation error. Partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) can optimize management for populations with partial detectability, but the solution methods can only be applied when there are few discrete states. We use the Continuous U-Tree (CU-Tree) algorithm to discretely represent a continuous state space by using only the states that are necessary to maintain an optimal management policy. We exploit the compact discretization created by CU-Tree to solve a POMDP on the original continuous state space. We apply our method to a population of sea otters and explore the trade-off between allocating resources to management and monitoring. We show that accurately discovering the population size is less important than management for the long term survival of our otter population.
Project description:Although phylogenetic diversity has been suggested to be relevant from a conservation point of view, its role is still limited in applied nature conservation. Recently, the practice of investing conservation resources based on threatened species was identified as a reason for the slow integration of phylogenetic diversity in nature conservation planning. One of the main arguments is based on the observation that threatened species are not evenly distributed over the phylogenetic tree. However this argument seems to dismiss the fact that conservation action is a spatially explicit process, and even if threatened species are not evenly distributed over the phylogenetic tree, the occurrence of threatened species could still indicate areas with above average phylogenetic diversity and consequently could protect phylogenetic diversity. Here we aim to study the selection of important bird areas in Central Asia, which were nominated largely based on the presence of threatened bird species. We show that although threatened species occurring in Central Asia do not capture phylogenetically more distinct species than expected by chance, the current spatially explicit conservation approach of selecting important bird areas covers above average taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity of breeding and wintering birds. We conclude that the spatially explicit processes of conservation actions need to be considered in the current discussion of whether new prioritization methods are needed to complement conservation action based on threatened species.
Project description:The use of robust ecological data to make evidence-based management decisions is frequently prevented by limited data quantity or quality, and local ecological knowledge (LEK) is increasingly seen as an important source of information for conservation. However, there has been little assessment of LEK's usefulness for informing prioritization and management of landscapes for threatened species, or assessing comparative species status across landscapes.A large-scale interview survey in the Annamite Mountains (Vietnam and Lao PDR) compiled the first systematic LEK data set for saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, one of the world's rarest mammals, and eight other ungulates. Saola conservation is hindered by uncertainty over continued presence across much of its proposed distribution. We analysed comparative LEK-based last-sighting data across three landscapes to determine whether regional sighting histories support previous suggestions of landscape importance for saola conservation (Hue-Quang Nam: top-priority Vietnamese landscape; Pu Mat: lower priority Vietnamese landscape; Viengthong: high-priority Lao landscape) and whether they constitute an effective spatial prioritization tool for cryptic species management.Wild pig and red muntjac may be the only Annamite ungulates with stable populations; the regional status of all other species appears to be worse. Saola have declined more severely and/or are significantly rarer than most other ungulates and have been seen by relatively few respondents. Saola were also frequently considered locally rarest or declining, and never as species that had not declined.In contrast to other species, there are no regional differences in saola sighting histories, with continued persistence in all landscapes challenging suggestions that regional status differs greatly. Remnant populations persist in Vietnam despite heavy hunting, but even remote landscapes in Lao may be under intense pressure.Synthesis and applications. Our local ecological knowledge data suggest that intact saola populations probably no longer exist, but individuals persist in all three landscapes, making management activities to reduce hunting pressure on ungulates in each landscape a conservation priority. Analysis of last-sighting histories can constitute an important conservation tool when robust data are otherwise unavailable, and collection of last-sighting records should be incorporated more widely into field studies and management of other highly threatened, cryptic species. Our local ecological knowledge data suggest that intact saola populations probably no longer exist, but individuals persist in all three landscapes, making management activities to reduce hunting pressure on ungulates in each landscape a conservation priority. Analysis of last-sighting histories can constitute an important conservation tool when robust data are otherwise unavailable, and collection of last-sighting records should be incorporated more widely into field studies and management of other highly threatened, cryptic species.
Project description:Contribution of indigenous knowledge in developing more effective drugs with minimum or no side effects helped to realise importance of study of indigenous remedies and the conservation of biological resources. This study analysed indigenous knowledge regarding medicinal plants use among the Chepang communities from ward number 3 and 4 of Shaktikhor Village Development Committee located in the central mid hills of Nepal. Data were collected in a one-year period and included interviews with traditional healers and elders. Chepangs are rich in knowledge regarding use of different plants and were using a total 219 plant parts from 115 species including one mushroom (belonging 55 families) for medicinal uses. Out of these, 75 species had 118 different new medicinal uses and 18 of them were not reported in any previous documents from Nepal as medicinal plants. Spiritual belief, economy and limitation of alternative health facilities were cause of continuity of people's dependency on traditional healers. Change in socio-economic activities not only threatened traditional knowledge but also resource base of the area. Enforcement of local institution in management of forest resources and legitimating traditional knowledge and practices could help to preserve indigenous knowledge.
Project description:In a global environment of increasing species extinctions and decreasing availability of funds with which to combat the causes of biodiversity loss, maximising the efficiency of conservation efforts is crucial. The only way to ensure maximum return on conservation investment is to incorporate the cost, benefit and likelihood of success of conservation actions into decision-making in a systematic and objective way. Here we report on the application of a Project Prioritization Protocol (PPP), first implemented by the New Zealand Government, to target and prioritize investment in threatened species in New South Wales, Australia, under the state's new Saving our Species program. Detailed management prescriptions for 368 threatened species were developed via an expert elicitation process, and were then prioritized using quantitative data on benefit, likelihood of success and implementation cost, and a simple cost-efficiency equation. We discuss the outcomes that have been realized even in the early stages of the program; including the efficient development of planning resources made available to all potential threatened species investors and the demonstration of a transparent and objective approach to threatened species management that will significantly increase the probability of meeting an objective to secure the greatest number of threatened species from extinction.
Project description:Host-parasite relationships are likely to be impacted by conservation management practices, potentially increasing the susceptibility of wildlife to emerging disease. Cryptosporidium, a parasitic protozoan genus comprising host-adapted and host-specific species, was used as an indicator of parasite movement between populations of a threatened marsupial, the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). PCR screening of faecal samples (n?=?324) from seven wallaby populations across New South Wales, identified Cryptosporidium in 7.1% of samples. The sampled populations were characterised as captive, supplemented and wild populations. No significant difference was found in Cryptosporidium detection between each of the three population categories. The positive samples, detected using 18S rRNA screening, were amplified using the actin and gp60 loci. Multi-locus sequence analysis revealed the presence of Cryptosporidium fayeri, a marsupial-specific species, and C.?meleagridis, which has a broad host range, in samples from the three population categories. Cryptosporidium meleagridis has not been previously reported in marsupials and hence the pathogenicity of this species to brush-tailed rock-wallabies is unknown. Based on these findings, we recommend further study into Cryptosporidium in animals undergoing conservation management, as well as surveying wild animals in release areas, to further understand the diversity and epidemiology of this parasite in threatened wildlife.
Project description:Knowledge of spatiotemporal distribution of biodiversity is still very incomplete in the tropics. This is one of the major problems preventing the assessment and effectiveness of conservation actions. Mega-diverse tropical regions are being exposed to fast and profound environmental changes, and the amount of resources available to describe the distribution of species is generally limited. Thus, the tropics is losing species at unprecedented rates, without a proper assessment of its biodiversity. Species distribution models (SDMs) can be used to fill such biogeographic gaps within a species' range and, when allied with systematic conservation planning (e.g. analyses of representativeness, gap analysis), help transcend such data shortage and support practical conservation actions. Within the Neotropics, eastern Amazon and northern Cerrado present a high variety of environments and are some of the most interesting ecotonal areas within South America, but are also among the most threatened biogeographic provinces in the world. Here, we test the effectiveness of the current system of Protected Areas (PAs), in protecting 24 threatened and endemic bird species using SDMs. We found that taxa with wider distributions are potentially as protected as taxa with smaller ranges, and larger PAs were more efficient than smaller PAs, while protecting these bird species. Nonetheless, Cerrado PAs are mostly misallocated. We suggest six priority areas for conservation of Neotropical birds. Finally, we highlight the importance of indigenous lands in the conservation of Neotropical biodiversity, and recommend the development of community management plans to conserve the biological resources of the region.
Project description:Madagascar's biodiversity is notoriously threatened by deforestation and climate change. Many of these organisms are rare, cryptic, and severely threatened, making population-level sampling unrealistic. Such is the case with Madagascar's dwarf lemurs (genus Cheirogaleus), the only obligate hibernating primate. We here apply comparative genomic approaches to generate the first genome-wide estimates of genetic diversity within dwarf lemurs. We generate a reference genome for the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius, and use this resource to facilitate analyses of high-coverage (~30×) genome sequences for wild-caught individuals representing species: C. sp. cf. medius, C. major, C. crossleyi, and C. sibreei. This study represents the largest contribution to date of novel genomic resources for Madagascar's lemurs. We find concordant phylogenetic relationships among the four lineages of Cheirogaleus across most of the genome, and yet detect a number of discordant genomic regions consistent with ancient admixture. We hypothesized that these regions could have resulted from adaptive introgression related to hibernation, indeed finding that genes associated with hibernation are present, though most significantly, that gene ontology categories relating to transcription are over-represented. We estimate levels of heterozygosity and find particularly low levels in an individual sampled from an isolated population of C. medius that we refer to as C. sp. cf. medius. Results are consistent with a recent decline in effective population size, which is evident across species. Our study highlights the power of comparative genomic analysis for identifying species and populations of conservation concern, as well as for illuminating possible mechanisms of adaptive phenotypic evolution.