Illegal hunting and bushmeat trade threatens biodiversity and wildlife of Angola

Hunting and bushmeat trade negatively impact wildlife worldwide with serious implications for biodiversity conservation. The current situation in Angola shows a concerning increase in bushmeat trade along main roads. In a recent publication in the open-access journal Nature Conservation, an international group of scientists presented data gathered on a roundtrip around five main Angolan cities. It turned out that the influence of those activities on wildlife population is very unsettling.

Hunting wild animals has been practised by humans for millions of years; however, the extraction of wildlife for subsistence and commercialisation has become a major biodiversity threat in recent decades. Meanwhile, over-exploitation is reported to be the second most important driver of change and biodiversity loss globally. 

To assess the state of affairs, an international group of scientists, led by Dr. Francisco M. P. Gonçalves of the University of Hamburg in Germany, went on a roundtrip along the roads between five main Angolan cities. Their observations made it possible to conclude that, despite the existing legislation, as well as government efforts to handle poaching and bushmeat trade, currently there is no effective law enforcement mechanism to help dealing with the situation.

Map of Africa showing the location of Angola (left) and the provinces covered by the study along the main road from Lubango (Huíla province) to Uíge (right).
Credit: Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

In their study, the team also states that Angola is one of the richest and most biodiverse countries in Africa with an estimated 6,850 native and 226 non-native plant species, 940 bird species (including many endemic species), 117 amphibians species, 278 reptile species, 358 freshwater fishes (22% of them endemic) and 275 species of mammals.

The long-lasting civil war in Angola has contributed to the dramatic loss of wildlife and led to the near extinction of many species, as a result of the increase in illegal poaching. A variety of fresh, smoked or dried bushmeat, as well as live animals, are being sold along the roads, mostly to urban dwellers travelling between the main cities of Angola.

Despite the recent outbreaks of diseases (i.e. Ebola in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo), animals still appear to be obtained directly from hunters and slaughtered with no sanitary measures, while the consumption of wildlife in Africa is frequently associated with an increased risk of acquiring zoonotic diseases.

The major trade road runs between the provinces of Bengo and Uíge, where the animals sold include many species of antelopes, monkeys, snakes and a globally protected species of pangolin (Manis tricuspis). Multiple species of wading birds and parrots are often sold in pet shops, as well as along the streets. At fairs and entry points to the main cities, these can be found offered by young boys.


Wild animals and smoked bushmeat on sale along the roadside of the Sequele village, between Bengo and Uíge provinces: Blue duikers, Talapoin and Vervet (green) monkey in the cage on the ground on the left,  Northern Rock Python on the right top and Tree pangolin (bottom right).
Photo by Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

Although there is no evidence of cross-border trade, there might, however, be cases of bushmeat trade in the informal markets at the principal border posts. Commercial activities between the countries are not regulated and stay intense, note the scientists.

“We witnessed a Chinese customer looking for pangolins in one of the villages; pangolin scales, when soaked, are trusted for having medicinal properties for a large variety of human illnesses mostly in Asia. It is currently estimated there are 0.4–0.7 million pangolins hunted annually, representing an increase of around 150% only for medicinal purposes over the past four decades,” share the researches.

Wild animals and smoked bushmeat on sale along the roadside of the Sequele village, between Bengo and Uíge provinces: Blue duikers, Talapoin and Vervet (green) monkey in the cage on the ground on the left, Northern Rock Python on the right top and Tree pangolin (bottom right).
Photo by Francisco Maiato P. Gonçalves

Trying to find a solution, the Angolan government has undertaken a number of measures, including: a list of species prohibited for hunting and trade (five of those species were found on the markets during the survey); banning hunting of certain species outside the hunting season; introducing compensation fees.

However, despite the legal basis, local authorities (i.e. police checkpoints close to the road markets) do not take the necessary measures to discourage hunting and bushmeat trade practices in the region. Due to lack of clear definition and responsibility arrangements, the hunting and trade of wild animals remain uncontrolled.

All these recent observations bring us to the necessity for a re-assessment of the wildlife in Angola and the need to produce appropriate legislation to be efficiently enforced across the whole territory of the country.  This can be achieved through better-educated police officials and alternative sources of meat supply in rural areas. These actions should bring down the demand for bushmeat and reduce the overharvesting of wildlife, suggest the scientists.

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Original source:

Gonçalves FMP, Luís JC, Tchamba JJ, Cachissapa MJ, Chisingui AV (2019) A rapid assessment of hunting and bushmeat trade along the roadside between five Angolan major towns. Nature Conservation 37: 151-160. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.37.37590 


Experiment suggests the best ways to tackle invasive Oregon grape in Belgian coastal dunes

The Belgian coastal dunes, a protected habitat of high conservation value, are getting severely impacted by one of its worst enemies amongst invasive species: the Oregon grape. To help mitigate the detrimental effect of this North American shrub invader, Belgian scientists carried out an experiment to assess the effectiveness of different management methods.

The Belgian coastal dunes, a protected habitat of high conservation value, are getting severely impacted by one of its worst enemies amongst invasive species: the Oregon grape. To help mitigate the detrimental effect of this North American shrub invader, Belgian scientists carried out an experiment to assess the effectiveness of different management methods.

The Atlantic coastal dunes form a dynamic and diverse ecosystem, home to a large number of native species, many of which are regionally threatened. Embryonic dunesshifting white dunes, moss dunes, dune grasslands, and dune slacks are considered high conservation value sites, according to the interpretation manual of European habitats. However, the dunes are highly affected by external influences, and one of the most important threats to their biodiversity are invasive non-native plant species. These plants often colonised the dunes as garden escapes or spread from garden waste dumps or public plantings. Oregon grape is one of the worst invaders amongst them.

Oregon grape growing on sand dune (Belgium).
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

In their study, published in the open-access journal NeoBiota, the scientists, led by Tim Adriaens and Sam Provoost of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), focus on the management of the current populations of Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) in the Belgian coastal dunes, where the species has already managed to invade half of the 46 nature reserves and is starting to replace native vegetation. Such a negative effect on the biodiversity of the area requires practical management advice. Due to the high level of infestation of the dunes, the researchers recommend prompt eradication as the most appropriate management strategy. So far, however, it has been unclear which method would show the best effectiveness.

“Invasive shrub species exert an additional pressure on Belgian dune ecosystems, which are already highly fragmented by urbanisation. Oregon grape is one of the worst and should be tackled urgently before it gets out of control,” says Tim Adriaens.

Having compared four previously suggested treatments: manual uprooting, foliar herbicide application, stem cutting followed by herbicide and salt application, the scientists reported herbicide leaf treatment to be the most effective method. Manual removal by digging and treating stems with glyphosate showed medium effectiveness. Treating stems with a saturated salt solution appeared rather cosmetic. However, it’s not that easy to choose which method would be the best to work with, since with herbicide use there are non-target effects on the environment, economy, and society to be considered.

Dune restoration by mechanical removal of dense Oregon grape infestation (left) and leaf treatment of Oregon grape clone with a hand sprayer (right).
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

“Individual clones are best treated with herbicide, large surface areas provide opportunities for landscape-scale ecological restoration, combining invasive shrub removal with sand dune creation,” further explains Tim Adriaens.

In Belgium, Oregon grape was first recorded in the wild in 1906 and naturalised in the period 1920-1950. It has been spreading rapidly since the 1990s. This expansion might be linked to cultivated hybrids and global warming, with the latter leading to a lengthened growing season, suggest the scientists. The species likes calcareous soils. Along the Belgian coast, Oregon grape has mainly invaded grey dunes, scrub and woodland.

Thanks to its numerous blue berries, which are easily dispersed over long distances by songbirds, the plant can appear everywhere within the dunes sites, also in places hardly accessible to managers. With the help of a highly branched root system, the plants attach themselves firmly in the sand, which makes manual pulling of mature plants hardly possible and labor-intensive.

“Dune managers and scientists across Europe should unite to draft alert lists and prioritise established alien species for management,” Tim says in conclusion.

In conclusion, the scientists highlight the importance of an EU-wide collaboration between scientific communities. Invasive species are not bothered by administrative borders and exchanging experiences on impact and management options is crucial to maintain dune ecosystems in good conservation status.

Coastal dunes in Belgium provide unique habitat to many Red listed species.
Photo by Tim Adriaens.

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Original source

Adriaens T, Verschelde P, Cartuyvels E, D’hondt B, Vercruysse E, van Gompel W, Dewulf E, Provoost S (2019) A preliminary field trial to compare control techniques for invasive Berberis aquifolium in Belgian coastal dunes. NeoBiota 53: 41-60. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.53.38183

Revolutionary method could bring us much closer to the description of hyperdiverse faunas

A novel approach relying on a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen was proposed to greatly accelerate species identification and description, especially when it comes to hyperdiverse taxa, such as parasitic wasps.

At today’s rate, it could take another two millennia for science to document all currently existing species of multicellular life

Two hundred and sixty-one years ago, Linnaeus formalized binomial nomenclature and the modern system of naming organisms. Since the time of his first publication, taxonomists have managed to describe 1.8 million of the estimated 8 to 25 million extant species of multicellular life, somewhere between 7% and 22%. At this rate, the task of treating all species would be accomplished sometime before the year 4,000. In an age of alarming environmental crises, where taking measures for the preservation of our planet’s ecosystems through efficient knowledge is becoming increasingly urgent, humanity cannot afford such dawdling.

“Clearly something needs to change to accelerate this rate, and in this publication we propose a novel approach that employs only a short sequence of mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with a lateral image of the holotype specimen,”

explain the researchers behind a new study, published in the open-access journal Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift (DEZ).
Description rate of parasitic wasps species (superfamily
Ichneumonoidea).
Data from Taxapad (Yu et al. 2016).

In standardized practices, it is required that experts conduct plenty of time- and labor-consuming analyses, in order to provide thorough descriptions of both the morphology and genetics of individual species, as well as a long list of characteristic features found to differentiate each from any previously known ones. However, the scientists argue, at this stage, it is impossible to pinpoint distinct morphological characters setting apart all currently known species from the numerous ones not yet encountered. To make matters worse, finding human and financial resources for performing this kind of detailed research is increasingly problematic.

This holds especially true when it comes to hyperdiverse groups, such as ichneumonoid parasitoid wasps: a group of tiny insects believed to comprise up to 1,000,000 species, of which only 44,000 were recognised as valid, according to 2016 data. In their role of parasitoids, these wasps have a key impact on ecosystem stability and diversity. Additionally, many species parasitise the larvae of commercially important pests, so understanding their diversity could help resolve essential issues in agriculture.

Meanwhile, providing a specific species-unique snippet of DNA alongside an image of the specimen used for the description of the species (i.e. holotype) could significantly accelerate the process. By providing a name for a species through a formal description, researchers would allow for their successors to easily build on their discoveries and eventually reach crucial scientific conclusions.

“If this style were to be adopted by a large portion of the taxonomic community, the mission of documenting Earth’s multicellular life could be accomplished in a few generations, provided these organisms are still here,”

say the authors of the study.

To exemplify their revolutionary approach, the scientists use their paper to also describe a total of 18 new species of wasps in two genera (Zelomorpha and Hemichoma) known from Área de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Currently, the team works on the treatment of related species, which still comprise only a portion of the hundreds of thousands that remain unnamed.

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Original source:

Meierotto S, Sharkey MJ, Janzen DH, Hallwachs W, Hebert PDN, Chapman EG, Smith MA (2019) A revolutionary protocol to describe understudied hyperdiverse taxa and overcome the taxonomic impediment. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 66(2): 119-145. https://doi.org/10.3897/dez.66.34683

Field research in Turkmenistan’s highest mountain reveals high biological diversity

Camera trap image of male Markhor Capra falconeri at the Koytendag State Nature Reserve
Photo by Koytendag State Nature Reserve

New open-access book presents a comprehensive report on the remarkable ecosystems of the Koytendag nature reserve

Situated in the extreme south-east of Turkmenistan: on the border with Uzbekistan and close to the border with Afghanistan, Koytendag presents one of the most distinct landscapes in Central Asia. Reaching elevations of up to 3,137 m, this is also the highest mountain in Turkmenistan.

Location of Koytendag
Image by Atamyrat Veyisov

Koytendag State Nature Reserve and its three Wildlife Sanctuaries: Hojapil, Garlyk and Hojaburjybelent, were established between 1986 and 1990 to protect and preserve the mountain ecosystem of the Koytendag region and maintain the ecological balance between the environment and increasing economic activities.

Since 2013, a series of scientific expeditions and assessments were coordinated and funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to pave the way for the protection and preservation of the unique landscape and rare wildlife the site is recognised for.

As a result, the efforts of the conducted field studies of multidisciplinary international research teams are brought together in a comprehensive report, which is now openly available as an Advanced Book from the scientific publisher and technology provider Pensoft, edited by Geoff Welch (RSPB) and Prof. Pavel Stoev (National National Museum of Natural History of Bulgaria and Pensoft). Soon, the book will also be available in Russian.

The book is split into eight sections focused on different areas within the study of biodiversity: Flora, Surface dwelling invertebrates, Cave fauna, Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals. An additional chapter is dedicated to the hydrogeology of the site because of its key role in supporting both the cave fauna and the local communities.

Entrance to the newly discovered record-breaking underground lake at the Koytendag State Nature Reserve
Photo by Mikhail Pereladov

In the summary of the report, the authors make a list of the most significant findings made during the research. These include the discovery of a cave hosting the largest underground lake in the whole North Eurasia (4,400 m2) and a total of 48 species of higher plants that can only be found in Koytendag. In terms of Koytendag’s surface-dwelling fauna, the report lists a number of species new to science: a scorpion (most likely yet unnamed species currently recognised as a species complex) and a spider. Meanwhile, a total of seven previously unknown species were found underground, including the very first exclusively subterranean animal found in the country: the insect-like ‘marvellous’ dipluran named Turkmenocampa mirabilis, and a strongly adapted to the underground waters of a desert sinkhole Gammarus troglomorphus. Additionally, the annual monitoring, conducted since 1995 by the reserve staff, report an encouraging increase in the populations of the rare markhors and mouflons. An intact predator-prey community was also identified as a result of observations of numerous Eurasian lynxes and grey wolves, as well as prey species.

Entrance of the cave Kaptarhana, (Lebap Province, Eastern Turkmenistan), where scientists discovered the first ever exclusively subterranean dweller for the country (find more here).
Photo by Aleksandr Degtyarev

Stephanie Ward, RSPB Central Asia Partner Development Officer, says:

“RSPB has been working in Turkmenistan under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government since 2004. In that time we have had the privilege of working with a team of talented and dedicated national experts across the diverse and inspiring nature of this fascinating country. Our work in Koytendag has captured the attention and interest of many international scientists who hope that their contemporary biodiversity research will help to deepen the understanding and therefore ensure protection of the unique wonders of this mountain ecosystem. As a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, we will continue to collaborate with the Turkmen people on the research and promotion of Koytendag State Nature Reserve.

Book editor and member of the research team Prof. Pavel Stoev adds:

“Koytendag Mountain is among the least explored and, simultaneously, one of the most biologically diverse regions in Central Asia. The rapid assessments of its flora and fauna revealed a high number of highly specialised species, all of which have undergone a long evolution to adapt to the harsh environments of the mountain. The establishment of Koytendag State Nature Reserve and the associated wildlife sanctuaries is a step in the right direction for the protection of this unique biota.”

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Cover of the book, available as an open-access Advanced book from: https://doi.org/10.3897/ab.e37858.

Original source:

Welch G, Stoev P (2019) A report of RSPB-supported scientific research at Koytendag State Nature Reserve, East Turkmenistan. Advanced Books. https://doi.org/10.3897/ab.e37858

Additional information:

This work was carried out under the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection of Turkmenistan and the RSPB, within the Project on “Improvement of the status of birds and other biodiversity in Turkmenistan”.

About Koytendag State Nature Reserve:

Koytendag State Nature Reserve was established in 1986 to protect and preserve the mountain ecosystem of the Koytendag region and maintain the ecological balance between the environment and the increasing anthropogenic activities. Of particular importance was the protection of rare species, such as the markhor; important habitats, including pistachio and juniper forests; and the impressive dinosaur trackways at Hojapil.

Advanced Books publishing by Pensoft:

Launched by Pensoft and powered by the scholarly publishing platform ARPHA, the Advanced Books approach aims to issue new books or re-issue books previously only available in print or PDF. In the Advanced Books format, the publications are semantically enhanced and available in HTML and XML as well, in order to accelerate open access, data publication, mining, sharing and reuse. The Advanced books builds on the novel approaches developed by the Pensoft’s journals.



Be prepared: Prioritising invasive species for strategic prevention in Durban, South Africa

Durban Harbour, used for both commercial and recreational purposes, is an important hub of human activity. The harbour was found to be an important point of first introduction as well as a site for naturalisation for the three species highlighted in this study.
(Photos by Şerban Procheş /left/ and Carl Munsamy /right/)

While exploring the way alien species invade cities around the world, South African PhD student Ashlyn L. Padayachee (University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN) and her supervisors, Serban Proches (UKZN) and John Wilson (SANBI and Stellenbosch University) remember suddenly being stricken.

What they realised was that while cities were gradually starting to prepare for climate change, their responses to invasions were rather reactive. Even though management focused on widespread invasive species, which were currently having the most negative impacts on native biodiversity, the researchers noted that if those decision makers had only targeted the next highly damaging invaders ahead of their arrival, the associated costs would have greatly decreased.

Consequently, the team developed a methodology, based on three key aspects: priority species, points of first introduction and sites of naturalisation, in order to identify the most probable and concerning invasive species for Durban (eThekwini in KwaZulu Natal), a coastal city in South Africa. Furthermore, their work, published in the open-access journal Neobiota provides decision makers from around the world with a new tool, that is easy to use and adjustable to the specificity of different cities.

Firstly, the researchers identified cities with a similar climate to Durban and used existing alien species watch lists, environmental criteria and introduction pathways to identify species, which are not present in South Africa, but are considered of unacceptable risk of invasion. The team continued by figuring out which of those selected species are likely to have pathways facilitating their introduction to the city and developed a climatic suitability model for each. Finally, the scientists linked the climate and pathway information, so that they could identify sites within Durban to be considered as a focus for the contingency planning for particular species.

As a result, the authors identified three alien species as priorities for Durban: Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta).


River systems are ideal habitats for Alligator weed. River systems adjacent to points of first introduction were identified as important sites of first naturalisation of this species.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In terms of points of introductions, the data highlighted the Durban Harbour, especially for the red imported fire ant. Plant nurseries and garden centres, as well as pet and aquarium shops were also identified as important sites for the three studied species. Additionally, suitable habitats located near the points of introduction, such as river systems and built infrastructure, were found in need of monitoring.


The red imported fire ant is usually found in close proximity to human dwellings, which provide ideal habitats for this species. Built infrastructure, especially those adjacent to the Durban Harbour, was identified as an important site of its naturalisation.
(Photo by Şerban Procheş)

In conclusion, the implementation of prioritisation schemes to consider the three aspects (species, pathways, and sites) allows managers to focus resources on those species which pose a greater risk of invasion and impact.

“This will only ever be one part of a broad range of biosecurity efforts, but it is one where, we believe, we can be prepared,” comment the authors.

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Original source:

Padayachee AL, Proches S, Wilson JRU (2019) Prioritising potential incursions for contingency planning: pathways, species, and sites in Durban (eThekwini), South Africa as an example. NeoBiota 47: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.47.31959

Australian study into how seals react to boats prompts new ecotourism regulations

Australian fur seals alert to the presence of the potential danger. Photo: Julia Back

Unable to differentiate between a predator and a tourist boat carrying humans curious to view a colony of seals while resting in their natural habitat, pinnipeds are quick to react defensively as soon as they sense what they perceive as a potential life threat. The closer the vessel approaches, the more likely it is for the animals to rush into the sea in an attempt to escape and the greater the risk of injury and even death in the event of a stampede, or predation once they are in the water. In fact, just the act of remaining alert comes at potentially high energetic costs for the animals.

“Although the purpose of ecotourism is to give patrons the opportunity to observe animals in the wild engaging in typical behaviors, ecotourism-based human interactions may instead alter pinniped behavior by initiating responses indicative of predation avoidance,” explain the scientists.
“The periods fur seals spend ashore at colonies are particularly important for resting, evading predators, molting, breeding and rearing young. Fleeing behaviors in themselves expend energy, and time spent in the water as a result of flight responses can also be energetically costly,” they add.

Australian fur seals begin to flee into the water as a boat approaches Kanowna Island. Photo: Julia Back

To provide recommendations for appropriately informed management guidelines, so that ecotourism does not clashes with the animals’ welfare, the Australian research team of Julia Back and Prof John Arnould of Deakin University, Dr Andrew Hoskins, CSIRO, and Dr Roger Kirkwood, Phillip Island Nature Park, observed the response to approaching boats of a breeding colony of Australian fur seals on Kanowna Island in northern Bass Strait, southeastern Australia. Their study is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

A female Australian fur seal calling for her pup.  Photo: Andrew Hoskins

Whenever a seal detects a threat while onshore, they first change posture, watch the object and remain alert and vigilant until the danger is gone. In the field survey, such a response was triggered when the research boat approached the colony at a distance of 75 m. Interestingly, this reaction would be more pronounced in the morning (the researchers would normally visit the colony twice a day), while in the afternoon the seals would demonstrate a reduced response. Why this is so, remains unclear.

When there was only 25 m between the seals and the boat, the scientists observed many of the animals fleeing to the safety of the water. This kind of reaction is particularly dangerous for the seals and especially their young, as these animals tend to perceive risk based on the responses of the individuals around them. In such a cascading response, a large-scale stampede is likely to occur, where pups could easily get trampled to death or fall from cliffs.

“While the infrequency of these events suggests they are unlikely to have population-level effects, such disturbance impacts are in violation of state and federal regulations protecting marine mammals”, note the authors, citing the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

As a result of the study, the management guidelines were updated, so that they currently restrict boat approaches to 100 m at Kanowna Island from March through October, when the rearing of the pups takes place. During the breeding period, vessels need to keep a distance of at least 200 m, as previously.

In conclusion, the authors also note that their findings are limited to a single colony and are therefore insufficient to make any generalisations about other species or even other Australian fur seal populations.

Australian fur seals begin to flee into the water as a boat approaches Kanowna Island. Photo: Julia Back

 

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Original source:

Back JJ, Hoskins AJ, Kirkwood R, Arnould JPY (2018) Behavioral responses of Australian fur seals to boat approaches at a breeding colony. Nature Conservation 31: 35-52. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.31.26263

Wildlife on the highway to hell: Roadkill in the largest wetland, Pantanal region, Brazil

Adult individual of Erythrolamprus aesculapii captured in roadside habitats of BR-262. Photo by Michel Passos

Scientists provide crucial data to prompt further conservation and safety measures at the notorious BR-262 highway

Having systematically monitored wild animals killed on the Brazilian federal highway BR-262, which passes through the Pantanal region, a research team from the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, published their data concerning birds and reptiles in the open access journal Check List.

Apart from information crucial for future conservation activities, the paper provides new and unexpected roadkill records, including the Black-and-white hawk-eagle.

Authored by Wagner Fischer and his colleagues Raquel Faria de Godoi and Antonio Conceição Paranhos Filho, the article is part of the first dataset of vertebrate mortality in the region. A separate paper of theirs is planned to present the data concerning mammals gathered during the same survey, which took place between 1996 and 2000.

An adult individual of Xenodon matogrossensis captured in roadside habitats of BR-262. Photo by Cyntia Santos.

Having mapped bird and reptile roadkill on the highway between the cities of Campo Grande and Corumbá in the Brazilian savannah, the team reports a total of 930 animals representing 29 reptile and 47 bird species. In addition, the data provide the first regional geographic record of the colubrid snake Hydrodynastes bicinctus.

The researchers conclude that the species richness observed in the road-killed animals clearly confirms earlier concerns about wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Pantanal region. Such accidents lead to long-term and chronic impact on both wildlife and road safety.

“Mitigation of wildlife-vehicle collisions on this road continues to claim urgency for biodiversity conservation and for human and animal safety and care,” say the authors.

“For managers, the main goal should be to determine target species of greatest concern, focusing on those vulnerable to local extinction or those which represent major risks of serious accidents.”

In the past, the team’s dataset had already been used as a guide to road fauna management. In particular, it was used by government road managers when planning animal overpassess and underpassess equipped with roadside fences as part of the long-term project Programa Estrada Viva: BR-262. So far, however, only some of the less efficient safety methods, such as road signs and lowered speed limits, have been applied at the most critical points.

Over the past several years, a few independent studies have been conducted to monitor roadkill in a similar manner. Two of them (2010 and 2017) looked into mammal-vehicle collisions, while the third recorded reptiles and birds as well. All of them serve to demonstrate that BR-262 continues to be a major cause for the regional wildlife mortality, which in turn increases the risks of serious accidents.

“BR-262 keeps its inglorious fame as a highway to hell for human and wild lives,” points out lead author Wagner Fischer.

Roadkill on the BR-262 highway, Pantanal region, Brazil. Photos by Ricardo Fraga and Wagner Fischer.

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Original source:

Fischer W, Godoi RF, Filho ACP (2018) Roadkill records of reptiles and birds in Cerrado and Pantanal landscapes. Check List 14(5): 845-876. https://doi.org/10.15560/14.5.845

New light on the controversial question of species abundance and population density

Inspired by the negative results in the recently published largest-scale analysis of the relation between population density and positions in geographic ranges and environmental niches, Drs Jorge Soberon and Andrew Townsend Peterson of the University of Kansas, USA, teamed up with Luis Osorio-Olvera, National University of Mexico (UNAM), and identified several issues in the methodology used, able to turn the tables in the ongoing debate. Their findings are published in the innovative open access journal Rethinking Ecology.

Both empirical work and theoretical arguments published and cited over the last several years suggest that if someone was to take the distributional range of a species – be it animal or plant – and draw lines starting at the edges of the space inwards, they would find the species’ populations densest at the intersection of those lines. However, when the team of Tad Dallas, University of Helsinki, Finland, analysed a large dataset of 118,000 populations, equating to over 1,400 species of birds, mammals, and trees, they found no such relationship.

Having analysed the analysis, the American-Mexican team concluded that despite being based on an unprecedented volume of data, the earlier study was missing out some important points.

Firstly, the largest dataset used by Tad and his team comprises observational data which had not required a certain sampling protocol or a plan. Without any standard in use, it is easy to imagine that the observations would be predominantly coming from people around and near cities, hence strongly biased.

Additionally, the scientists note that the analysis largely disregards parts of species’ geographic distributions for which there were no abundant data. As a result, the range of a species could be narrowed down significantly and its centroid – misplaced. Meanwhile, the population would appear denser on what appears to be the periphery of the area.

Similar issue is identified in the localisation of populations in the environmental space, where once again their range turned out to have been represented as significantly smaller, when compared to data available from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Further, a closer look into the supplementary materials provided revealed that the precision of the population-density data was not scalable with the climate data. As a result, it is likely that multiple abundance data falls within a single climate pixel.

In conclusion, the authors note that in order to comprehensively study the abundance of a species’ populations, one needs to take into consideration a number of factors lying beyond the scope of either of the papers, including human impact.

“We suggest that this important question remains far from settled,” they say.

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Original source:

Soberón J, Peterson TA, Osorio-Olvera L (2018) A comment on “Species are not most abundant in the centre of their geographic range or climatic niche”. Rethinking Ecology 3: 13-18. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.3.24827

Pan-European sampling campaign sheds light on the massive diversity of freshwater plankton

In a major pan-European study, a research team from Germany have successfully extracted environmental DNA (eDNA) from as many as 218 lakes to refute a long-year belief that vital microorganisms do not differ significantly between freshwater bodies and geographic regions the way plants and animals do.

Their new-age approach to biodiversity studies resulted in the largest freshwater dataset along with a study published in the open access journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics.

Surface freshwaters are of critical importance for terrestrial life and, in particular, human life and welfare. However, these vital ecosystems are severely understudied, as compared to terrestrial or oceanic biomes, and so are the microbial organisms living in them.

Image 2On the other hand, it is these invisible to the naked eye creatures, called protists, that are responsible for keeping our ecosystems running. Their diversity and their high metabolic rates maintain ecosystem stability. In fact, microbes are the major source of the worlds oxygen.

In 2012, the team of Prof. Jens Boenigk, University of Duisburg-Essen, undertook the sampling campaign to study the distribution pattern of microbial organisms on a continental scale and the impact of Europe’s climatic history on their present-day whereabouts.

They sampled freshwater lakes and ponds from sites in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland. Site selection focused on the European orogens, specifically the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Apennine, the High Tatras, the southern Scandinavian mountains and the connecting flatlands.

Thanks to the excellent collaboration both within the team and with a number of scientific institutions across Europe, which gave their support as access points for re-stocking sampling equipment and immediate sample preservation, the campaign delivered groundbreaking results illuminating the hidden diversity of the microbial biosphere.

The scientists reported that plankton diversity was highly partitioned between lakes which bear distinct biological fingerprints. In particular, high mountain ranges imprinted the microbial communities on both regional and continental scale. Ecological factors, such as temperature and nutrient concentrations, are well accepted factors structuring plankton communities.

Beyond the high plankton diversity and the associated highly specific community composition in distinct lakes, the plankton community composition revealed signals of the past, i.e. since the last glaciation some 12,000 years ago.

While this expedition yielded many new scientific findings, the scientists note that these are only the first results of this continental survey.

“We are well aware that we have only just begun our exploration of the hidden diversity of plankton diversity,” they conclude.

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Original source:Probennahme

Boenigk J, Wodniok S, Bock C, Beisser D, Hempel C, Grossmann L, Lange A, Jensen M (2018) Geographic distance and mountain ranges structure freshwater protist communities on a European scale. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics 2: e21519. https://doi.org/10.3897/mbmg.2.21519

Special issue: Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure

The focus is on the case-law of the European Court of Justice and the German Federal Administrative Court

With over 27,500 sites, Natura 2000 is the greatest nature conservation network in the world. It covers more than 18 percent of the land area in the European Union and around 395,000 km2 of its marine territory.

Projects and plans within those sites or in their vicinity require an appropriate assessment to ensure that they will not have a significant impact on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site, according to Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. The Natura 2000 appropriate assessment is the central statutory instrument for the protection of the network, in addition to the general prohibition of deterioration.

An assessment must take place prior to the authorisation and implementation of a project or a plan. As a result of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having maximised the effectiveness of the assessment by a stringent legal interpretation, a project or a plan must be rejected by the competent authorities if there is any remaining reasonable scientific doubt that it might adversely affect the integrity of the site.

Nevertheless, in accordance with the European principle of proportionality, the Habitats Directive does not intend to ban all human activity in Natura 2000 sites. This is the reason why, on the one hand, only significant adverse impacts on the integrity of a Natura 2000 site are relevant and, on the other, according to Article 6(4) Habitats Directive, a derogating authorisation is possible in favour of public interests.

However, numerous questions, which are relevant in practice, have so far only been considered by national courts. A special issue recently published with the open access journal Nature Conservation features a comprehensive review of the relevant case-law of the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), which has thoroughly dealt with the Natura 2000 regime in a long series of judgements.

The author, Dr. Stefan Möckel of the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH, Germany, is a long standing specialist in European and German nature conservation law. Within the four articles comprising the issue, he analyses the scope, procedural steps and requirements of the appropriate assessment and the derogation procedure. He also comments on the interpretations and practical solutions found by the ECJ and the BVerwG.

The first article explains the main steps and demands of the appropriate assessment. Questions on the scope of the terms “project” and “plan”, as well as determining significant impacts are discussed in greater detail in the second and third article. The fourth paper explores the requirements needed for a derogation to be approved.

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Original source:

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and the appropriate assessment for projects and plans under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 1-29. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13599

Möckel S (2017) The terms “project” and “plan” in the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 31-56. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13601

Möckel S (2017) The assessment of significant effects on the integrity of “Natura 2000” sites under Article 6(2) and 6(3) of the Habitats Directive. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 57-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13602

Möckel S (2017) The European ecological network “Natura 2000” and its derogation procedure to ensure compatibility with competing public interests. In: Möckel S (Ed.) Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and derogation procedure – legal requirements in the light of European and German case-law. Nature Conservation 23: 87-116. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.23.13603