Special Nature Conservation issue: Monitoring protected insects in the European Union

A collection of thirteen research papers has been published to address the conservation of saproxylic beetles and other insects listed in the Habitats Directive

With biodiversity loss well underway, conservation measures are urgent on a global scale and the European Union is no exception. However, for efficient strategies and actions to be put in place, plenty of information, acquired primarily through monitoring, is needed to identify priorities for the conservation of threatened species, also for the elusive saproxylic insects, an ecological group of species that depends on dead wood.

Monitoring and conservation of elusive invertebrates is a particularly complex task, as shown in the papers comprising the special issue “Monitoring of saproxylic beetles and other insects protected in the European Union,” supported by the EU’s LIFE Programme and published in the open access journal Nature Conservation. This special issue was produced in the framework of the Life Project “Monitoring of insects with public participation” (LIFE11 NAT/IT/000252 MIPP) and is a direct result of a European Workshop held in Mantova in May, 2017.

Colonel Franco Mason, project manager of the MIPP project, notes that the European Workshop was aimed primarily at monitoring of saproxylic beetles. The project MIPP resulted in two special issues: “Monitoring of saproxylic beetles and other insects protected in the European Union” and “Guidelines for the Monitoring of saproxylic beetles and other insects protected in the European Union“. The first one is now available in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

This is a female European stag beetle equipped with a radio transmitter in order to detect oviposition sites.
This is a female European stag beetle equipped with a radio transmitter in order to detect oviposition sites.

“No knowledge exists of the success rate of monitoring elusive invertebrates,” writes Dr. Arno Thomaes, Research Institute for Nature and Forest, Belgium, and his team in their paper assessing the feasibility of monitoring the European stag beetle. Having conducted their analysis, though, the scientists conclude that, “monitoring of stag beetles is feasible and the effort is not greater than that which has been found for other invertebrates.”

Alessandro Campanaro, a researcher at the “Bosco Fontana” National Center of Carabinieri, highlights the fundamental role of Citizen Science as an essential tool for acquiring data on species, while simultaneously increasing the public awareness about Natura 2000 and the role of saproxylic species in forests.

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Additional information:

About the Life project MIPP

The main objective of the project MIPP is to develop and test methods for the monitoring of five beetle species listed in the Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive (Osmoderma eremita, Lucanus cervus, Cerambyx cerdo, Rosalia alpina, Morimus funereus).

A decade of monitoring shows the dynamics of a conserved Atlantic tropical forest

Characterised with its immense biodiversity and high levels of endemism, the Atlantic Tropical Forest has been facing serious anthropogenic threats over the last several decades, demanding for such activities and their effects to be closely studied and monitored as part of the forest dynamics.

Cattle farming, expanding agricultural land areas and mining have reduced the Atlantic Forest to many small patches of vegetation. As a result, important ecosystem services, such as carbon stock, are steadily diminishing as the biomass decreases.

Brazilian researchers, led by Dr. Écio Souza Diniz, Federal University of Viçosa, spent a decade monitoring a semi-deciduous forest located in an ecological park in Southeast Brazil. Their observations are published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The team surveyed two stands within the forest to present variations in the structure and diversity of the plants over time, along with their dynamics, including mortality and establishment rates. They based their findings on the most abundant tree species occurring within each stand.

At the forest stands, the most abundant and important species for biomass accumulation are concluded to be trees larger than 20 cm in diameter, which characterise advanced successional stage within the forest.

“It is fundamental that opportunities to monitor conserved sites of the Atlantic Forest are taken, so that studies about their dynamics are conducted in order to better understand how they work,” note the scientists.

“The information from such surveys could improve the knowledge about the dynamics at anthropised and fragmented sites compared with protected areas.”

In order to encourage further research into the composition, diversity and structure of the Atlantic Forest over time and the subsequent contributions to the preservation of this threatened ecosystem, the authors made their data publicly available. The datasets, including species occurrences, are now openly accessible via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility(GBIF) and the biodiversity informatics data standard Darwin Core.

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Original source:

Diniz ES, Carvalho W, Santos R, Gastauer M, Garcia P, Fontes M, Coelho P, Moreira A, Menino G, Oliveira-Filho A (2017) Long-term monitoring of diversity and structure of two stands of an Atlantic Tropical Forest. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e13564. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e13564

Conservation and nameless earthworms: Assessors in the dark?

Species that live exclusively in a single region are at a particular risk of extinction. However, for them to be protected, thorough assessments of the environmental impacts need to be performed.

There are more than 100 earthworm species living in the soil and dead wood of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Most of them live exclusively in small regions in the province, which makes them extremely vulnerable.

To scientists Dr Adrian J. Armstrong, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and Ms Thembeka Nxele, KwaZulu-Natal Museum, the problem is twofold. Firstly, they note that the expression “out of sight, out of mind” is very suitable for the case of the endemic earthworms in South Africa. Secondly, they point out that the lack of common names for these species is a stumbling block that hinders their inclusion in conservation assessments.

As a result, the researchers try to rectify this situation by assigning standardised English names to the endemic earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal. Their article is published in the open access journal African Invertebrates.

Scientific names are often intractable to non-specialists, and the lack of common names leaves environmental assessors in the dark when they need to figure out which earthworms may occur at a development site. In the meantime, it has been found that about 50% of the native vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal has already been removed as a result of infrastructure construction and the figure is rising.

“The indigenous earthworms generally don’t survive in developed areas,” say the authors.

For instance, the informal use of an English name (green giant wrinkled earthworm) for the species Microchaetus papillatus, has facilitated the inclusion of this species in environmental impact assessments in KwaZulu-Natal.

While the green giant wrinkled earthworm does occur in a relatively large and rapidly developing area in KwaZulu-Natal, other species live in smaller areas that have been urbanised even more.

The extinction of these earthworms is not only undesirable from the point of view of biodiversity advocates – the role of this group of soil organisms is impossible to replace fully with non-native earthworms. For example, some of the large indigenous earthworms (more than 1 m in length) burrow much deeper than the non-native species, thereby enriching and aerating the soil at greater depth.

The authors are hopeful that by giving the indigenous earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal common names, the threatened and endemic species will be conserved through inclusion in environmental impact assessments. Furthermore, they believe that earthworms could draw attention to the areas where they occur whenever a choice for new protected areas is to be made.

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Original source:

Armstrong AJ, Nxele TC (2017) English names of the megadrile earthworms (Oligochaeta) of KwaZulu-Natal. African Invertebrates 58(2): 11-20. https://doi.org/10.3897/AfrInvertebr.58.13226

Twenty-five frogs added to the amphibian fauna of Mount Oku, Cameroon

 

While amphibians all over the world are undergoing a continuous decline, their status in certain regions, such as Central Africa, remains unknown due to incomplete information. New paper, published by two scientists in the open access journal ZooKeys, addresses the knowledge gap by providing an updated list of already 50 amphibian species living on Mount Oku, Cameroon.

Scientists Dr Thomas M. Doherty-Bone, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, and Dr Václav Gvoždík, affiliated with both the Czech Academy of Sciences and the National Museum in Prague, have spent more than 10 years studying the Cameroonian mountain. As a result of their thorough surveys, literature review, and re-examination of museum specimens, there are now 50 species known from the locality, which doubles previous numbers. In their newly published checklist the researchers have listed 49 species of frogs and toads, as well as one caecilian species – a limbless, snake-like amphibian.

However, the number of threatened species seems to increase quite proportionally. Many of the newly recorded frogs, for instance, appear to be extremely endangered, yet they have not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Therefore, the authors have used the IUCN criteria to propose conservation assessments for them. If the suggested statuses are approved, together with the updated declines of previously abundant in the area species, the proportion of the threatened would rise to nearly half (48%) of the Mount Oku’s entire amphibian fauna. Meanwhile, it is 42% of amphibians at risk of extinction globally.

In their study, the scientists also review the research and conservation undertaken at the mountain so far, including the work they have initiated themselves. Although Mount Oku’s forest turned out to be the best managed among the rest in the region, threats such as forest loss, encroachment and degradation are still largely present and increasing. Additional threats, including use of agrochemicals, climate change and diseases, have also been identified. However, conservation actions for the amphibians of Mount Oku are on the rise, considering both the population and the ecosystem-level perspectives.

“Our paper provides a foundation for continuously improving amphibian conservation at Mount Oku, as well as other mountains in Cameroon,” conclude the authors.   

 

Original source:

Doherty-Bone TM, Gvoždík V (2017) The Amphibians of Mount Oku, Cameroon: an updated species inventory and conservation review. ZooKeys 643: 19-139. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.643.9422

Claims that declines of pollinator species richness are slowing down in Europe revisited

Having conducted a thorough interpretation of the results of a recent study that inferred decrease in the biodiversity loss among pollinators across Europe, Dr Tom J. M. Van Dooren reveals that this conclusion cannot in fact be drawn. It is only supported for the bee fauna in the Netherlands. His study is published in the open access journal Nature Conservation.

Changes in pollinator abundances and diversity are of major concern. Pollinator diversity is quantified by their species richness: the number of species from a specific taxonomic group of pollinating animals present at a given time in a given area. A recent study, adopted in the recent UN IPBES Pollination Report draft summary, inferred that pollinator species richnesses are decreasing more slowly in recent decades in several taxonomic groups and European countries.

However, Dr Tom J. M. Van Dooren, affiliated with both Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Netherlands, and the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences of Paris, France, has now published his own study to show in detail the inaccuracies that the earlier conclusion has been based on.

Among other points, the scientist notes that the earlier study contained no explicit statistical comparisons between species richness changes in different periods. The earlier study also treated richness changes at country level and small spatial resolution as equivalent, while they probably represent different processes.

“Plants in Great Britain at the smallest spatial scales suggest a reduced rate of changes, but the results for larger spatial scales are not significant,” he illustrates. “The same holds for butterflies in the Netherlands.”

Dr Tom J. M. Van Dooren only finds support in the results of the earlier publication for a decelerating decline in bumblebees and other wild bees in the Netherlands. “This is in fact one taxon, the bees Anthophila, in a single country, the Netherlands”, he notes.

“The lack of robustness points again to the possibility that results found in the data can be due to changes in the shapes of species accumulation curves,” Dr Tom J. M. Van Dooren summarises. “Therefore the status of the statement on decelerating declines in the Pollination Report should be adjusted accordingly.”

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Original source:

Van Dooren TJM (2016) Pollinator species richness: Are the declines slowing down? Nature Conservation 15: 11-22. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.15.9616

 

Photo credit: 

Aiwok, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Thousands of illegally traded wild animals at risk due to gaps in data

The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2014 remains untraceable, according to a new report released by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection.

In their publication in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the researchers document merely one in three partnering to CITES countries providing any data on seizures, and also highlight the importance of having this changed.

Although the reported number of confiscated animals is staggering, the researchers warn that these are likely to be only a fraction of the actual seizures. The study found two out of three countries did not report any live wildlife seizures, despite poaching of endangered species and supplying the illicit global wildlife trade being estimated to be worth between $8-10 billion per year.ball-python-ndc-6929

The figures have prompted calls for better reporting of seizures and what happens to confiscated live wild animals.

The ultimate fate of seized live wild animals is unknown, the researchers found. Once animals have been confiscated, national authorities must decide whether to: keep them in captivity, return them to the wild or euthanize them. CITES provides guidelines to aid this decision-making based on the conservation status and welfare needs of the animals.

However, information about the fate of these wild animals is not a formal CITES requirement and as a result, there are no official numbers on just how many were euthanized, placed in captivity or returned to the wild.

Researchers are concerned this lack of data is placing the well-being and survival of seized wildlife at risk – many wild animals could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry as they simply can’t be accounted for.

University of Oxford‘s Professor David Macdonald, senior researcher for the study, said:

“We fear this staggering number is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a relatively small proportion of wild animals involved with illegal trade are thought to be intercepted by enforcement agencies – confiscation records were completely missing for 70% of countries Party to CITES. Given the rapidly growing global trends in illegal wildlife trade activity, it is highly unlikely that no live wildlife seizures were made on their borders.

spur-thighed-tortoise-cites-ndc-7068“The records that were provided show that around 20% of all live wild animals reported as seized are currently considered to be threatened by extinction. We strongly recommend that the CITES trade database should include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals, and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade.”

World Animal Protection’s Dr Neil D’Cruze, lead researcher for the study, said:

“The illegal wildlife trade is a big, complex and dirty business. National authorities play a key role, facing some tough choices when they seize animals – whether they release them in the wild, place them in care in captivity or euthanize them.

“Improved data recording is critical to knowing what happens to each animal, and can help in looking at the challenges and issues enforcement agencies face in managing animals after seizure. Without this transparency, there’s a real possibility that endangered species may be put back into the hands of the same criminals whom they were taken from. We need to be able to account for these wild animals.

“If we’re really serious about protecting wildlife, action needs to be taken at all levels. It’s unfathomable that 70% of countries recorded no seizures when we know a global, multi-billion wildlife trafficking industry is flourishing.”

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The findings and recommendations of this research were presented at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 September 2016 during a side event focused on the confiscation of live wild animals organised by the Species Survival Network (SSN).wap-tipofaniceberg-infographic-a4-2-0-03

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Original source:

Citation: D’Cruze N, Macdonald DW (2016) A review of global trends in CITES live wildlife confiscations. Nature Conservation 15: 47-63. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.15.10005

Being systematic about the unknown: Grid-based schemes could improve butterfly monitoring

Butterfly monitoring schemes are at the heart of citizen science, with the general public and researchers collaborating to discover how butterfly populations change over time. To develop the concept further, a new paper in the journal Nature Conservation shows how systematically placed, grid-based transects can help schemes by reducing habitat bias.

Rapidly increasing in number and popularity, Butterfly Monitoring Schemes have proved to be a method generating important, high-resolution data. Reliant on enthusiastic volunteers, who record butterflies along freely chosen transects, the collected observations are then used to explore and understand trends in butterfly numbers and distributions.

However, there is a risk associated with free site selection: some habitats can become underrepresented and monitoring results therefore less general than intended.

Butterfly hot-spots, such as semi-natural grasslands, tend to be favoured over less well-known environments. This means that butterflies living in other ‘less popular’ habitats, such as forests and wetlands, are covered less thoroughly and population declines of these species risk going undetected.

A team of Swedish researchers have now investigated the potential of a new, complimentary grid-based design, where butterfly recorders are to walk systematically placed transects across the country.

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The results of testing the new method showed that butterflies were abundant in traditionally overlooked habitats such as coniferous forests, bogs, and clear-cuts. Additionally, the systematic transects also performed well in avoiding habitat bias.

“Butterfly Monitoring Schemes are likely to benefit from adding grid-based butterfly transects as a complement to free site choice designs,” explains Dr. Lars B. Pettersson from Lund University. “Free and systematic site selection should not be seen as mutually exclusive, instead they can be used together to ensure high quality and inclusiveness of data for better assessing of future biodiversity trends.”

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Additional information:

This work has been carried out within the EU project STEP (FP7 grant 244090-STEP-CP-FP) and the Swedish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (Swedish EPA contract 2227-13-003). It is part of the strategic research area Biodiversity and Ecosystems in a Changing Climate, BECC.

Conservation hopes up for the endangered banana frog restricted to Southwest Ethiopia

As the natural forest cover in Ethiopia is already less than 3% of what it once has been, the banana frog species, dwelling exclusively in the remnants of the country’s southwestern forests in only two populations, is exposed to a great risk of extinction.

Through their survey, a research team, led by Matthias De Beenhouwer, Biodiversity Inventory for Nature Conservation (BINCO), Belgium, have now extended the species’ range, thus making the first steps to saving the charming frogs. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Although Ethiopia is known for its high number of both animal and plant species that do not live anywhere else in the world, there is a concerning lack of conservation activities to preserve the local biodiversity. Moreover, while as much as 41% of the amphibians ever recorded in the country are exclusive for its fauna, there have been only few researches. Without such, pointing the hotspots in greatest need of protection and restoration, as well as taking adequate measures subsequently, is impossible.

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Concerned about the endangered status of the banana frog, and supported with a Rufford grant, Matthias and his team spent ten evenings, or 111 hours, in August 2014, seeking and collecting as many frogs as possible from seven different locations. When they determined the species status of the found individuals, it turned out that they have managed to discover several new populations of banana frogs from unexpected localities.

As a result of their survey, the geographical range of the Ethiopian banana frog has been expanded by roughly 40 km towards the North and 70 km to the East. Its altitudinal distribution already reaches a maximum of 2030 metres above sea level, compared to the previously known maximum of 1800 m.

Banana frogs being identified from outside forest habitats is also a good news for the species’ preservation since it shows that not only are the frogs more tolerable against forest degradation than expected, but that also there could be even more populations.

“Although Southwest Ethiopia is known to harbour the last large tracts of natural forest, forest cover has declined dramatically to less than 3% nationwide,” point out the researchers. “Therefore, accurate information on species conservation and distribution is an essential first step to facilitate the delivery of conservation updates, recognize biodiversity hotspots and encourage habitat protection and restoration.”

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Original source:

Mertens J, Jocqué M, Geeraert L, De Beenhouwer M (2016) Newly discovered populations of the Ethiopian endemic and endangered Afrixalus clarkei Largen, implications for conservation.ZooKeys 565: 141-146.doi: 10.3897/zookeys.565.7114