Friday, 29 August 2008

Science Blogging 2008: London, 30 August

Tomorrow (30 August) sees the first conference dedicated to science blogging. 'Science Blogging 2008: London' will be held at the Royal Institution and is jointly organised by the RI, Nature Networks and DIUS.

The conference will bring together science bloggers worldwide to explore issues in science research, science communication, public engagement and education. Participants will explore whether blogging can contribute to scientific research and careers. Can blogs contribute to the public understanding of science? What can science bloggers do to maximise the impact of their blogs?

This is a great chance to meet others blogging about science and learn more about this growing area of science communication.

Find out more about the conference and register on the Science Blogging website.

Mayor of London Launches New 'Green' Strategy for the Capital

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has today launched a new strategy for the UK's Capital, aimed at better preparing the city and its people for the challenges of climate change. The strategy is claimed as a first for a world city.

Measures outlined in the strategy include measures to 'green' London; including the use and design of green spaces, green roofs and tree-planting to reduce water run-off and flooding, and greater preparedness for extreme weather events expected under climate change, specifically flooding, drought and heatwaves. There are plans to increase public awareness of flood risk in the capital, alongside a promotion, and compulsory introduction, of water metering to reduce water consumption.

Launching the strategy, the Mayor commented: "the range of weather conditions facing London...could seriously threaten our quality of life...and endanger our pre-eminence as one of the world's leading cities". The Mayor's manifesto included an ambitious target to cut London's carbon emissions by 60% by 2025.

Organisations are invited to comment on the first draft of the strategy. As a result of these comments, a second draft will be published for public consultation in 2009.

Access the Mayor's website with official press release and the draft strategy

Forthcoming Conferences: September 2008

Two conferences are taking place in the next two weeks which may be of interest to readers of the Blog....

The BES Annual Meeting and AGM

The BES is holding its annual meeting next week, from 3 - 5 September (student session 2 September) at Imperial College, South Kensington, London. It is not too late to register for the event: simply turn up on the day you would like to attend and make your way to the registration desk. Day registration costs £100 for BES members, £160 for non-members and £70 for students.

Several talks are highly relevant to policy and there is a dedicated 'Special Session' on Thursday 4th September, organised by the BES and UK BRAG, bringing together policy-makers, ecologists and others to discuss the ecosystem approach. This will be followed by a networking drinks reception for participants.

Access full details of the BES meeting
Access the programme for the joint BES - UK BRAG session on the ecosystem approach

IALE (UK) Annual Conference

The International Association for Landscape Ecology (UK) is holding its annual conference at the University of Cambridge from 8 - 11 September.

To find out more and to register, visit the IALE website.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Science Advisory Council Open Meeting: 28 October 2008

Defra's Science Advisory Council has announced an Open Meeting on 28 October 2008, to provide the opportunity for delegates to find out more about how the Council works, and to explore the biggest challenges faced by Defra.

The Science Advisory Council was established in 2004 and provides independent scientific advice to Defra's Chief Scientific Advisor and to Government Ministers.

The meeting will examine:
· Defra's Evidence Programme – establishing the major evidence challenges Defra is facing and the future research and development activities needed to tackle these,
· The Council’s role in continuing to provide the best possible independent strategic science advice to Defra,
· Current animal health issues, including an update on work to identify research gaps and priorities for the control of Bluetongue.

Professor John Beddington, Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor will address the meeting on “Key Science Challenges across Government”.

The meeting is free to attend but pre-registration is essential.
Register for the event at Defra's website.

IIED Research and Media Social Network

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has established a 'Research and Media Network' to link together researchers, journalists, science communicators, policy-makers and others with an interest in research, policy and sustainable development. The social network now boasts over 1000 members in 100 countries.

View the network and sign up.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Progress Towards Copenhagen as Officials Meet in Ghana

The latest round of UN climate change negotiations began yesterday in Accra, Ghana, and will conclude on 27 August. The talks mark an important step between the negotiations in Bali last year and the 2009 convention on climate change, to take place in Copenhagen, aimed at negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Writing in this week's Climate-L.ORG Bulletin, the Executive Secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer, outlines his hopes for the Accra conference, stating that "careful progress" has been made since 2007, with meetings in Bangkok in March this year and in Bonn, Germany, in June.

Mr de Boer says that the Ghana meeting will provide an opportunity for work on the "rules and tools" that will be available to developed countries to meet future emissions reduction targets. Work will also continue on the main elements of the Copenhagen agreement through two focussed workshops. The first will be on policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) in developing countries, encouraging sustainable forest management. The focus of the second will be on "cooperative sectoral approaches", exploring the expansion of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism to cement and steel manufacture, and power generation: rolling out the sectoral approaches adopted in some countries within a universal agreement.

Mr de Boer stresses that the Accra talks are a significant step towards Copenhagen, with Governments having the opportunity to put concrete proposals on the table as to what could eventually be included in the 2009 agreement.

Link to original article: With the global house on fire, there is no time to lose at the UN Climate Change Talks in Accra

Link to official UNFCCC site: Accra Climate Change Talks 2008

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Science Committee Criticises Government for Encouraging 'Throw Away' Culture

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee yesterday published a report criticising the Government for doing too little to encourage recycling amongst businesses. The Committee encourage the Government to amend waste targets, shifting the focus from reducing the weight of domestic waste sent to landfill to addressing commercial and industrial waste. Producers must be encouraged to take responsibility for the amount of waste generated by their products, with financial penalties to encourage greater efforts amongst businesses to reduce this.

The report also calls on the Government to introduce variable VAT rates, reducing VAT on projects which use sustainable raw materials. The Committee also suggest the Government examine the VAT levied on repairs to products, encouraging consumers to repair electronic goods, for example, rather than throwing them away when broken. Electronic goods can often cost as much to repair as the same product would cost to buy anew.

The Committee expressed disappointment that the Government is cutting funding to waste-reduction programmes, such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), in 2008/09. Lord O'Neill, Chair of the Sub-Committee on Waste Reduction said: "This sends out entirely the wrong message at a time when reducing commercial waste both for economic and environmental reasons is more important than ever."

The Committee are clear in their recommendation that Government focus must be on waste reduction, as well as re-use and recycling, to provide a long-term framework in which businesses are incentivised to improve the sustainability of their own practices.

Read full report: Waste Reduction (20 August 2008)

Department for International Department Seeking Research Fellows

The Department for International Development (DFID) is looking to employ a Senior Research Fellow to design and implement research initiatives under a proposed new strategy.

The Senior Research Fellows will provide scientific leadership for DFID’s research priorities and assist with DFID’s engagement with the science, academic and policy research communities in international development and across UK government.

Research scientists with a background in any of the following fields are welcome to apply:

  • Growth: economic policy and performance; investment and innovation; firm behaviour; trade policy; financial development; infrastructure and growth; private sector development
  • Sustainable agriculture: natural resources management; agricultural productivity, crop breeding technologies including biotechnology; agricultural markets; plant science; bio-fuels for developing countries
  • Climate change: climate science; low carbon growth paths and technologies; carbon markets; carbon capture and storage; local level adaptation strategies; ecosystems
  • Health and education: service delivery; health systems and financing; poverty and nutrition; drugs and vaccines for chronic and infectious diseases; maternal mortality; health and climate change; educational quality, access and results; education and growth
  • Governance in challenging environments: conflict, state fragility and social cohesion; social exclusion and inequality; state-building; migration
  • New and emerging technologies: nanotechnology; role of systems biology in development; rapid diagnostic devices; information and communications technology; advanced energy technologies for developing countries

Further job particulars will be available from the 1st September. To have the job particulars sent directly to you, please register your interest by sending your contact details to .Completed applications should be returned to by no later than 26 September 2008.

For further information about these opportunities please visit the DFID website.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Environmentally Induced Displacements: Cyber-Seminar

The Population Environment Research Network (PERN) is hosting a cyber-seminar until 29 August on the topic of "Environmentally Induced Population Displacements". The seminar is open to all who are interested and registration is free of charge.

The purpose of the cyber-seminar is to provide natural and social scientists with the opportunity to debate and discuss cutting-edge environmental research topics; in this case to determine if there is consensus on the magnitude of migration and movement which may be caused by environmental factors. Evidence exploring the effect of environmental factors, relative to other pressures, on migration and displacement will be considered.

The seminar will consider the potential future displacement which might result from climate change; particularly changes in rainfall patterns and sea level rise.

Visit the PERN website to register for the seminar and access background papers from invited experts.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Systematics and Taxonomy in Crisis: House of Lords Report

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has delivered its report on the current state of systematics and taxonomy in the UK. The Committee argues that systematics and taxonomy research in the UK is in critical decline and that further decline would severely impact on the UK's ability to deliver its conservation aims.

The Committee has criticised the NERC for a lack of clarity over its process for funding taxonomic research; calling for greater funds to be made available to support this area, and also for the Research Councils to better coordinate dialogue between the producers and users of taxonomic research.

Speaking last week (13 August) on the launch of the report, the Committee's Chair, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood said: ""Systematic biology is crucial for many of the Government’s targets on maintaining biodiversity and the protection of endangered species as well as providing an important measure of the effects of climate change. However there seems to be significant confusion within Government over who has responsibility for this vital area."

The Committee has called on the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) to take the lead in supporting systematics and taxonomic research.

The BES responded to the Committee's inquiry, together with the Institute of Biology and Biosciences Federation. Read our response here.

Read full report: Systematics and Taxonomy: Follow-up

New Anaerobic Digestors for Urban Areas Under Government Plans

It's a mind-blowing statistic: the average person throws away three to four times their weight in food waste annually, with much of it going into landfill and contributing to the 16 - 18 million tonnes of leftovers buried each year. Now food waste into landfill could shortly be a thing of the past given the success of a commercial scale trial of anaerobic digestion in Ludlow, Shropshire.

The company behind the Ludlow initiative, Greenfinch, have developed the ability to process waste on a commercial scale without using slurry from farm waste: usually used to add moisture to the recycling process. This technology has opened the doors for anaerobic digesters to be introduced into urban areas.

Joan Ruddock MP, Minister for the Environment, toured the Ludlow site last week , saying: "anaerobic digestion is extremely attractive...It seems to me that a plant on this scale would fit into any industrial estate in the country...I am sure this is the way forward".

The Ludlow digester should generate approximately 1400 megawatt hours of electricity from the biogas ( a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide) produced by the digestion process.

At present only four other anaerobic digesters are operational in the UK at a commercial level, with less than 12 at the farm-scale. This is compared to 4,000 in operation in Germany. The UK Government has announced £10 million in funding to encourage the consrtuction of digesters, with 60 currently under construction.

Access information on Capital Grants Funding for anaerobic digestion at WRAP [applications open in autumn 2008 - contact WRAP for more information]

Call for International Climate Court

The Guardian has today published an editorial piece by Stephen Hockman QC, calling for an international climate court to resolve disputes and ensure that burdens accompanying solutions to climate change problems are shared equitably.

In the piece, Mr Hockman suggests that an international court should "be compulsory and...include a convention on the right to a healthy environment...It would include a scientific body to assess technical issues."

An international court could deliver those regulations and sanctions which would provide a greater incentive for individual countries to take action against climate change, whilst also offering benefits to the business community: "an enhanced body of law regarding environmental issues and consistency in judicial resolution of environmental disputes. He continues: "Such a court would also bring an increased focus on preventative measures, a set of global standards of care, and the facilitation and enforcement of environmental treaties".

See original article (In Search of World Justice, Guardian, 19 August 2008)

Coral Reef Ecosystem Services Valued

A team of environmental economists have asked Bermuda's residents to put a Total Economic Value on Bermuda's reefs.

Household surveys of residents will be used to determine a mean TEV for the reefs, so that fines can be levied against any person or company, found to damage the reefs, whether by ship grounding, propellor scarring or anchor damage. The proposals aim to incorporate the coral reefs into future planning proposals too, so, for example if offshore wind farms are planned to be built over the reefs then their value can be included in any cost benefit analysis.

Project coordinator Dr. Sarkis spoke of the novelty and importance of the work:

"[This is] the first study which gives a voice to the environment, so when people are trying to make decisions and policies, we can bring the environment to the table on an equal footing."

A draft version of a Marine Bill for England's coast has been consulted on by relevant stakeholders and NGOs, including the BES. It is strongly hoped that the Government will take an ecosystem services approach to managing our marine wildlife, as is planned in Bermuda. The BES is actively engaged in work to ensure that British Government take an ecosystems services approach to all future developments proposals whether marine or land-based.

It is hoped that the coral reef valuation project, funded by the UK Overseas territory project, will be completed by mid-2009.

BES members and blog readers are invited to comment

Monday, 18 August 2008

Sir David Attenborough Calls for end to Bird Extinctions

Sir David Attenborough made a strong call to end Bird Extinctions globally, at the recent British Birdfair.

In a speech to ornithologists and bird enthusiasts at the event, Sir David said:

“We have no right to exterminate the species that evolved without us... ...we have the responsibility to do everything we can to preserve their continued existence.”

Birdlife International have a specific species extinction prevention programme, whereby individuals can 'champion' a species of bird that is deemed to be critically endangered (see the Red List).

Sir David has decided to be the species champion for the
Araripe Manakin Antilophia bokermanni, estimated to number fewer than 800 individuals and confined to a 28 square kilometre patch of moist forest in Brazil. The forest is under pressure from leisure home creation, and agricultural expansion resulting in habitat loss and degradation. The director of Aquasis, Alberto Campos, responsible for the species' protection programme cites a lack of understanding from the million people that depend on the forest, of the ecosystem services that the forest provides, particularly the provision of freshwater. He also believes that sugarcane plantations for the production of biofuel could soon pose a considerable novel threat to the remaining forest.

Sir David will also be supporting a campaign to reach out to and support the local community, who ultimately, are the guardians of the remaining forest.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Recycling "as complicated as Sudoku"

Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded that recycling household waste is a complicated as completing a Sudoku puzzle. 

The scientists conducted a study into the effort and complexity of recycling; monitoring participants' brainwaves as they sorted their waste into various categories. Dr David Lewis, who ran the study, commented that "The whole process is so confusing that even hardened and dedicated recyclers still get it wrong."

The number of British people who recycle their waste has tripled in the past two years. More people would be willing to recycle, research suggests, if it was made easier, an incentive was offered, and manufacturers were more responsible with packaging.

At the BES we are committed to 'greening' our activities; including comprehensive recycling throughout our offices, composting our organic waste on-site and measures to improve the energy and water efficiency of our buildings. 

We are also trying to ensure that delegates travel as sustainably as possible to our forthcoming Annual Meeting. To find out about opportunities for car sharing, visit our Facebook group (log-in required).

'State of the UK's Birds Report' Reveals Climate Change Effects on Bird Species

The annual 'State of the UK's Birds' report, produced by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the RSPB, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, along with the statutory conservation agencies for the four UK countries (Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage) reveals that climate change is having major impacts on the breeding success and timing of breeding of many well-known species of bird.

Records show that the chaffinch, blue and great tits, robins and swallows all, on average, lay their eggs a year earlier than in the 1960s; a phenomenon thought to be linked to rising temperatures as a result of climate change. Data from the BTO also reveals that song thrushes rear fewer young in drier summers, thought to be due to difficulties in foraging for earthworms in harder soil. As drier summers are projected to increase in the UK as the globe warms, this has negative implications for the survival of this species.

The report also reveals a worrying decline in wading birds since the 1990s. Fewer purple sandpiper, ringed plover and dunlin have been recorded visiting Britain's shores in recent years. The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust suggest that these birds could be over-wintering elsewhere in Europe, where conditions are now more favourable, although admit that data is lacking on the balance between 'real' declines in numbers and redistribution: "It is vital that we learn more about the extent and consequences of redistribution in order to ensure that these species are effectively conserved."

Commenting on these and other species' declines, Dr Tom Tew, Chief Scientist at Natural England said: "The consistent decline in specialist bird species...indicates that the variety and richness of our countryside is being lost. We urgently need to reverse the loss and fragmentation of important habitats is our wildlife is to stand any chance of adapting to climate change."

Thursday, 14 August 2008

British Waterways Releases List of 'Dirty Dozen' Invasive Non-Native Species

British Waterways has today released a list of the 12 non-native species most likely to damage the country's canals, rivers and towpaths, harming native wildlife. The organisation is encouraging people to think about the impact on the environment before releasing these so-called "dirty dozen" into the environment.

British Waterways spends £1million each year controlling non-native invasive species across its infrastructure, monitoring the impact of these species with the help of its ecologists. Chris John, British Waterways' National Ecologist said: "Whilst not all non-native species are harmful, many pose real problems to our native wildlife, to boaters and to our historic channels, locks and bridges. With no natural predators to control them they can overwhelm wildlife, channels, banks and towpaths...We are therefore asking people to help us by disposing of non-native plants safely and carefully, selecting alternative plants for gardens, ponds and aquariums."

The twelve species are: Japanese Knotweed, Australian Swamp Stonecrop, Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam, Water Fern, Floating Pennywort, Chinese Mitten Crab, Red-Eared Terrapin, Mink, Zander, American Signal Crayfish and Zebra Mussels.

Access British Waterways' guidance for the public

Access the Inasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain

Access POSTnote 303 by 2008 BES POST Fellow, Fay Collier, on Non-Native Invasive Species

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Honeybee Populations' Numbers Lower Than Feared

A survey by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) has revealed that nearly one in three of the Uk's 240,000 honeybee hives did not survive over the last winter and srping, putting at risk the pollination of fruits and vegetables.

One in five colonies were reported dead earlier in 2008 by a government survey of 10% of the UK's hives. The losses reported in the BBKA survey are substantially higher. Defra has attributed high mortality to wet weather last summer and early in spring 2008, which confined bees to their hives. They were unable to forage for nectar and pollen and this provided the opportunity for pathogens to build up and spread through the colonies. The BBKA believe the causes are less clear.

The President of the BBKA, Tim Lovett, stated that: "Average winter bee losses due to poor weather and disease vary from betwen 5- 10%, so a 30% loss is deeply worrying." The Honey Association warns that English honey will run out by Christmas, with shortages into next year.

The colony collapse is expected to cost the UK economy £50 million. Rowse Honey, the UK's leading honey company, has pledged to provide extra support for honeybee research. The company has pledged to provide £25,000 to support research to find a "hardier bee", which can better withstand disease. Defra currently spends £1.3 million on bee health each year, with an extra £200,000 for research. The BBKA has called for government to increase support to £8 million per annum.

Rowse's clear English honey comes from the borage plant. However, less borage has been planted this year due to the increased demand for biofuels; making wheat more profitable to grow.

Other honey-producing nations have seen a decline in their bee populations. Argentina has seen a 27% drop in honey yield due to droughts and the planting of soya beans for biofuel.

Prince Charles in Outspoken Attack on GM Crops

Prince Charles has warned, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, that the adoption of genetic modification in farming risks "the biggest disaster environmentally of all time". In an outspoken attack, the Prince accused "gigantic corporations" of conducting an "experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong". He believes that over-reliance on large argri-business and GM corporations will drive millions of smaller farmers from their land, threatening future food security.

The biotechnology industry believes that there is a role for GM technology in tackling potential future food shortages: contributing to disease resistance and higher yields of crop varieties. In a statement from Defra the Government stated that "there is an important debate to be had on the potential role of GM crops in the future" and "welcome[d] all voices to that debate."

Read more on the BBC and Guardian Online

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Wetter Climes Increase Aphid Crop Damage

Milder UK winters are resulting in increased crop damage from aphids, research from the Rothamsted Institute has found.

Aphids are now appearing up to four weeks earlier than the long-term average; the findings indicate that for every 1 degree centigrade rise in January or February the aphids are emerging 8 days earlier than on average in the 42 years the research has been going on at Rothamsted. Of particular concern is the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae), which feeds on a variety of plants including fruits and vegetables, having been recorded as emerging two weeks earlier than the long-term average.

Dr Richard Harrington of the Rothamsted Insect Survey described how warmer winters lead to earlier emergence or advanced phenology:

"One of the most noticeable consequences of climate change in the UK is the frequency of mild winters. As a direct result of this, aphids... are appearing significantly earlier in the year and in significantly higher numbers... ...after a warm winter, there are much larger numbers flying and they are hence detected much earlier. This means that there are more aphids flying in spring and early summer, when crops are particularly vulnerable to damage."

Aphids are important vectors of a variety of diseases that affect fruit and vegetables including strawberries and tomatoes. They also inflict damage on crop plants directly by predation. Crops such as potatoes are particularly vulnerable to aphids whilst they are young - exactly the time when aphids are increasingly beginning to emerge in their greatest numbers.

Dr. Harrington envisages that if current trends continue, aphid numbers could increase 10-fold over the next fifty years.

Now that the BBSRC funded research has identified this problem, mitigation options can be considered for the future to prevent serious crop loss.

BES members and blog readers are invited to comment on this topic.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Increase In Tropical Rainfall May Be Greater Than Predicted

Research published this week in Science suggests that an increase in tropical rainfall events, due to climate change, could be greater than predicted by models to date.

A team of researchers from the UK and the US analysed satellite data from 1988 - 2004, to assess how changes in temperature and atmospheric moisture affect the rainfall in the tropics. They found that the frequency of heavy rain is strongly associated with increasing temperature - in agreement with current climate models - but that these incidences are set to increase with temperature at a faster rate than so far predicted.

The researchers suggest that previous climate models, operating at a lower resolution, may miss localised heavy rainfall events, picked up by this model. They also suggest that future models should build in projections of how the atmosphere is going to respond to warming: as the atmospheric circulation alters, this will shift the distribution of rainfall events around the globe.

Allen R.P., Soden B.J. Atmospheric Warming and the Amplification of Precipitation Extremes. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1160787

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Chief Scientific Advisor Says Country Should Plan for 4C Rise

Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor to Defra has commented, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, that the UK should plan for the effects of a 4C rise in temperature on pre-industrial levels. Professor Watson is reported, on the front page of today's paper, as saying "There is no doubt that we should aim to limit changes in the global mean surface temperature to 2C above pre-industrial...But given this is an ambitious target...we should be prepared to adapt to 4C."

According the scenarios in the 2006 Stern Review, 20 - 50% of plant and animal species would face extinction at this higher temperature, along with increased coastal flooding (affecting 7 - 300 million more people each year), a decline of 15 - 35% of agricultural yields in Africa and a 30 - 50% reduction of water availability in the Mediterranean.

Professor Watson also said that the UK should take the lead in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technology (CCS). He advocated an "Apollo-type" programme to introduce 10 - 20 CCS pilot projects. He commented that "without this technology we have a real problem".

See the full article in the Guardian: Prepare for global temperature rise of 4C, warns top scientist, 7 August 2008

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

£55 Million Alliance for Biological and Environmental Science

The Welsh Assembly Government has announced that it will provide £23.5 million to support a £55 million alliance between the universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth. The alliance will bring together Aberystwyth’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences and Bangor’s College of Natural Sciences to create the largest group of biological, environmental and rural scientists in the UK.

Research at the newly formed group will focus on some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, including climate change, renewable energy, food security and wildlife disease.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Extinction Threat for Primates at Crisis Point

The IUCN has highlighted the plight of the world's primates in a comprehensive review of all 634 known species. The IUCN is the world's leading conservation body, funding, equipping and managing conservation scientists and projects, as well as leading on policy development internationally. The recent published review found that almost half of all primates face extinction unless urgent action is taken across the globe.

One of the greatest threats to primates is habitat loss, which is primarily caused by the burning and clearing of forests for global commercial gain. Habitat destruction is particularly a problem in South-East Asia, in part driven by the growing palm oil plantation industry. Hunting of primates for food is also a considerable threat, especially in Central Africa.

President of Conservation International and leading conservation scientist, Russell A. Mittermeier described the 'chilling indictment' of primates globally:

“We’ve raised concerns for years about primates being in peril, but now we have solid data to show the situation is far more severe than we imagined... ...tropical forest destruction has always been the main cause, but now it appears that hunting is just as serious a threat in some areas, even where the habitat is still quite intact. In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction.”

Two of the 13 red colobus monkeys could already be extinct; Bouvier's red colobus and Miss Waldron's red colobus have not been seen by primatologists for 25 and 30 years respectively.

There is some good news however; increasing conservation efforts have had a positive effect on some primates. For example the black lion tamarin and the golden lion tamarin have been downlisted from critically endangered to endangered, after increased protection efforts and successful reintroduction programmes.

The BES would like to invite members and readers of the blog to comment on this topic.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Seabirds Sensitive to Local Impacts of Climate Change

A paper published recently in the journal Global Change Biology, has shown how local impacts of climate change affect seabird populations of the common guillemot Uria aalge and the thick-billed guillemot Uria lomvia around the Northern Hemisphere.

Climate change may alter the frequency, intensity and distribution of the climatic indices; the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation. These climatic oscillations are linked to sea surface temperature (SST), which in turn affects the prey abundance for seabirds.

In this study, data were collected and analysed from 43 different colonies across the whole circumpolar region. Colonies where factors other than climate were known to have a great impact on guillemot populations, (such as excessive hunting and oil spills) were excluded from the study so as not to confound the results. Whereas previous studies had focused on effects of climate change on seabird populations at single locations, the strength of this study lies in the extent of area covered; most of the Northern Hemisphere. Looking at such a large geographic area greatly minimises the possibility that observed changes could have been caused by anything other than climate change. SST datasets were taken from three time-series, 1965-76, 1977-88 and 1989-97. SST was described as the temperature deviation (positive or negative) from a 50-year average around guillemot colonies.

The researchers discovered that both species responded negatively to rapid changes in the environment, regardless of how the temperature changed. However, common guillemots responded favourably to colder phases (that is, an increase in colder, energy-rich waters) and thick-billed guillemots favoured warmer phases (since they are found further north and warmth allows ice melt and greater feeding opportunities). The response to rapid change reinforces the idea that broadly, even within an ecological time frame, species with a slow life-history strategy particularly cannot adapt fast enough to rapid environmental change.

The wider implications for biodiversity, and thus for conservation managers and policy-makers, is once again a strengthening of measures to tackle climate change. Although conservation measures can be implemented for biodiversity at mid-latitudes to help local adaptation, species already at northern latitudes cannot readily shift their climatic envelopes. Hence globally, we must increase efforts to reduce the rate at which we are changing our climate.


Irons, D., Tycho, A-N., Gaston, A.J. et al. (2008). Fluctuations in circumpolar seabird populations linked to climate oscillations. Global Change Biology. 14(7):1455-1463.

Read the full paper online here (subscription required).