An ecological framework for informing permitting decisions on scientific activities in protected areas.
ABSTRACT: There are numerous reasons to conduct scientific research within protected areas, but research activities may also negatively impact organisms and habitats, and thus conflict with a protected area's conservation goals. We developed a quantitative ecological decision-support framework that estimates these potential impacts so managers can weigh costs and benefits of proposed research projects and make informed permitting decisions. The framework generates quantitative estimates of the ecological impacts of the project and the cumulative impacts of the proposed project and all other projects in the protected area, and then compares the estimated cumulative impacts of all projects with policy-based acceptable impact thresholds. We use a series of simplified equations (models) to assess the impacts of proposed research to: a) the population of any targeted species, b) the major ecological assemblages that make up the community, and c) the physical habitat that supports protected area biota. These models consider both targeted and incidental impacts to the ecosystem and include consideration of the vulnerability of targeted species, assemblages, and habitats, based on their recovery time and ecological role. We parameterized the models for a wide variety of potential research activities that regularly occur in the study area using a combination of literature review and expert judgment with a precautionary approach to uncertainty. We also conducted sensitivity analyses to examine the relationships between model input parameters and estimated impacts to understand the dominant drivers of the ecological impact estimates. Although the decision-support framework was designed for and adopted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for permitting scientific studies in the state-wide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), the framework can readily be adapted for terrestrial and freshwater protected areas.
Project description:Humans have restructured food webs and ecosystems by depleting biomass, reducing size structure and altering traits of consumers. However, few studies have examined the ecological impacts of human-induced trait changes across large spatial and temporal scales and species assemblages. We compared behavioural traits and predation rates by predatory fishes on standard squid prey in protected areas of different protection levels and ages, and found that predation rates were 6.5 times greater at old, no-take (greater than 40 years) relative to new, predominantly partial-take areas (approx. 8 years), even accounting for differences in predatory fish abundance, body size and composition across sites. Individual fishes in old protected areas consumed prey at nearly twice the rate of fishes of the same species and size at new protected areas. Predatory fish exhibited on average 50% longer flight initiation distance and lower willingness to forage at new protected areas, which partially explains lower foraging rates at new relative to old protected areas. Our experiments demonstrate that humans can effect changes in functionally important behavioural traits of predator guilds at large (30 km) spatial scales within managed areas, which require protection for multiple generations of predators to recover bold phenotypes and predation rates, even as abundance rebounds.
Project description:Earth's terrestrial large carnivores form a highly endangered group of species with unique conservation challenges. The majority of these species have experienced major geographical range contractions, which puts many of them at high risk of extinction or of becoming ecologically ineffective. As a result of these range contractions and the associated loss of intact predator guilds, the ecological effects of these species are now far less widespread and common, with inevitable consequences for ecosystem function. Rewilding-which includes reintroducing species into portions of their former ranges-is an important carnivore conservation tool and means for restoring top-down ecological regulation. We conducted a global analysis of potential reintroduction areas. We first considered protected areas where one or more large carnivore species have been extirpated, identifying a total of 130 protected areas that may be most suitable for carnivore reintroduction. These protected areas include sites in every major world region, and are most commonly found in Mongolia (n?=?13), Canada (n?=?11), Thailand (n?=?9), Namibia (n?=?6), Indonesia (n?=?6) and Australia (n?=?6). We considered the sizes of protected areas, their levels of protection, the extent of human impacts within and around the protected areas, and the status of prey species in the protected areas. Finally, we used the 'last of the wild' approach to identify contiguous low human footprint regions within the former ranges of each species, identifying an additional 150 areas which could be the focus of conservation efforts to create conditions conducive to reintroductions. These low footprint regions were most commonly found in the USA (n?=?14), Russia (n?=?14), Canada (n?=?10), China (n?=?9) and Mauritania (n?=?8). Together, our results show the global-scale potential for carnivore rewilding projects to both conserve these species and provide critical ecological and social benefits.
Project description:Mismatches between the composition of a time-averaged death assemblage (dead remains sieved from the upper mixed-zone of the sedimentary column) and the local living community are typically attributed to natural postmortem processes. However, statistical analysis of 73 molluscan data sets from estuaries and lagoons reveals significantly poorer average "live-dead agreement" in settings of documented anthropogenic eutrophication (AE) than in areas where AE and other human impacts are negligible. Taxonomic similarity of paired live and dead species lists declines steadily among areas as a function of AE severity, and, for data sets comprising only adults, rank-order agreement in species abundance drops where AE is suspected. The observed live-dead differences in composition are consistent with eutrophication (anomalous abundance of seagrass-dwellers and/or scarcity of organic-loving species in the death assemblage), suggesting compositional inertia of death assemblages to recent environmental change. Molluscan data sets from open shelf settings (n = 34) also show higher average