Friday, April 24, 2009

Allee effect

French researches, using the internet, have demonstrated that conservation bodies ought to think very carefully about exploiting rare and endangered species as a ways and means of raising environmental awareness. Apparently, under the anthropogenic Allee effect, humans place a high value on rarity and so are willing to play high costs to exploit the last individuals. This effect is manifesting itself now with top-end ecotourism and the increase in rare and exotic 'pets'.
Using the internet, researches placed a series of slide shows of photographs free to view on-line and then monitored access and duration of viewings. They found that common species were viewed infrequently and rapidly, but that rare and endangered species experienced longer viewings - with individuals prepared to wait even longer for loading to see them. They then argue that labelling a species as rare or endangered promotes public perceptions to the extent that individuals will go out of their way to either 'see' or 'acquire' a species before it disappears - which inadvertently they will then be adding too.
Thus conservationists should be prudent when using rarity to promote conservation.

Angulo E, Courchamp F (2009) Rare Species Are Valued Big Time. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5215. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005215

Friday, April 17, 2009


I bet most birdwatcher could count the number of owls they see each year on one hand, and maybe only on two fingers for the number of species. For most, Barn Owl is probably the most visualised species (hopefully not dead at the side of the road) followed either by Tawny Owl or Little Owl. They just don't seem to be birds we come across duing our general birding - even if we are up before dawn!
So, as we enter another period of recording for the National Atlas we are all being asked to spare a thought for owls. As we plan our visits to sites, and the routes we will take, we are also being asked to look at the clock i.e. make time to stay on site to either see or hear whatever owls may be about. Generally owls are not covered well during surveys unless specifically targeted, so it is important to encourage all volunteers to spare a moment for the owls and to try and add their 'spot' to the national map of their distribution.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Craneflys - daddy-long-legs to you and me.

Global warming is killing cranefly larvae such that up to 95% of the population is killed before emergence as adults the following spring. Golden Plover breeding in the uplands is also being altered in accordance with the same rise in temperature.
In this scenario two plus two equals five and the effect is cumulative. According to new research Golden Plover populations in the uplands will disappear within 100 years if they do not adapt, or find new food sources. In the meantime numerous chicks will die of starvation.
Furthermore it is not only Golden Plover that will be affected but all other upland bird species i.e. curlew, that use craneflys as an important source of food.
Ref: Pearce-Higgins et al. Impacts of climate on prey abundance account for fluctuations in a population of a northern wader at the southern edge of its range. Global Change Biology 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cuck, no, oooo.

Everyone appears to be awaiting the arrival of the Cuckoo this year, and much has been printed on their expected continued decline. The next couple of weeks or so could determine whether Cuckoo is reclassified as Red-Listed. Listen-out.

Butterflies not doing so well either.

For 12 species of butterfly 2008 was their worst year since records began in the mid 1970s. Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshell have dwindled rapidly in recent years, and for some species, there are parts of the country where they are now extinct. Being sensitive indicators of habitat and meterological changes these findings serve to add to the gloomy global picture of a changing world.
You can help by documenting and reporting all of your butterfly sightings (whilst doing that survey or Atlas roving record) and sending them into either your local Records Centre or direct to Butterfly Conservation. If you wish to be more involved Oxford University are recruiting volunteers to actually rear (and release) some butterfly species (Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock) in order to record hatching failure rates and/or wasp infestations of caterpillars (see:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

UK Biodiverstity Traffic Lights

The most recent set of the eighteen biodiversity indicators have recently been published. The indicators include the population status of: key species; plant diversity; the status of priority species, habitats and ecosystems; genetic diversity of rare breeds of sheep and cattle; protected sites; management of woodland agricultural land and fisheries; impacts of air pollution and invasive species; expenditure on biodiversity; and the amount of time given by volunteers to nature conservation activities.
Of the 33 components measured 11 show long-term deterioration and only 9 long-term improvement.
Using an introduced traffic light system Breeding Farmland Birds, Breeding Woodland Birds and Breeding water and wetland birds are all red (deteriorating) over the period 1970-2007, while breeding seabirds and wintering waterbirds are green (improving) - for the same period for breeding, but the shortened period of 1975-2007 for wintering birds.
However, if one considers the change since the year 2000, breeding farmland birds, seabirds and wintering waterbirds are all red, with breeding woodland, water and wetland birds moving to amber (little or no overall change).
For full material see:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Migration web sites

Two new(ish) web sites to push your way - both related to bird migration. is a site dedicated to raising awareness of bird migratory routes and attempts to make them 'safe-routes' for birds. It features detailed articles, maps and videos of water-birds, land-birds and soaring birds. It's worth a look.
The second site is Birdlife Internationals Flyways Programme. This is another site similar to the first which is attempting to raise awareness of the importance of protecting birds along the whole of their migratory pathway and not just in either their breeding or wintering quarters.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

simple but effective

The number of birds killed by crashing into communication towers could be reduced by about 50–70% by simply changing the towers’ lighting systems, researchers say. Millions of night-migrating songbirds collide with (these) towers each year. Joelle Gehring of Michigan State University in Lansing and her colleagues counted bird carcasses below 21 similar-sized towers in Michigan during two 20-day migration periods in 2005. Towers with only flashing lights had a mean of 3.7 bird kills per season, whereas towers with both flashing and steadily burning lights had a mean of 13. As the steady light may attract birds, the team suggests that tower operators turn off those lights or reprogram them to flash.
Original article published in: Ecol. Appl. 19, 505–514 (2009)
Picture is a bit OTT - but you get the idea.

frogs and toads and...

The BTO, Froglife and the Herpetological Conservation Trust launch a combined initiative today in order to attempt a 'stock-take' of the nations' frogs, toads, and other reptiles. Called Reptiles and Amphibians in your Garden the scheme aims to combine scientists and volunteers in a nationwide review of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards. The objective is to understand how amphibian and reptile populations may be responding to a variety of threats, including habitat loss, disease and garden chemicals.
Although people may think of amphibians and reptiles as creatures that occur only in the countryside, the 13 species native to Britain can all, to differing degrees, inhabit gardens. Some gardens can harbour hundreds of common frogs, and others can house large populations of slow-worms (a legless lizard). Grass snakes can also be prevalent in some urban areas, where they dip in and out of ponds looking for amphibian prey.
Volunteers are needed to complete a simple recording form, marking off species they have seen and answering straightforward questions about their gardens, such as whether they have a pond, whether they use pesticides or whether or not they have a compost heap.
For your ‘Reptiles and Amphibians in your Garden’ pack please call the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team on 01842-750050 or email: