Conservation Biogeography

This past spring, Wiley published the first comprehensive review of the field conservation biogeography, aptly named Conservation Biogeography. To find out more about this field, we sat down with one of the book’s two editors, Dr. Robert J. Whittaker (the other being Dr. Richard J. Ladle), and asked him some questions about the genesis of their book and what can and should be done by both scientists and citizens to preserve our planet.

  • What is conservation biogeography?
    In a nutshell, it is the study of the dynamics of species distributions individually and collectively, at all scales of analysis, to inform conservation policy.
  • When was the sub-discipline of biogeography known as “conservation biogeography” developed and by whom?
    This has quite a lot to do with the International Biogeography Society, which was founded about 10 years ago, and which included a focus on conservation in its core mission statement. The second meeting of the society was dedicated to Conservation Biogeography and several chapters of the resulting conference publication Frontiers of Biogeography: New Directions in the Geography of Nature (Lomolino, M.V. & Heaney, L.R. 2004, Sinauer) were on the theme of Conservation Biogeography. In 2005, the journal Diversity and Distributions identified itself as a journal of conservation biogeography, carrying our 2005 paper (Whittaker et al. 2005) in the first issue.1

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New Social Science Virtual Issue from Conservation Letters

Learn how old-growth forests are irreplaceable for sustaining biodiversity and wolves can help scientists understand how people form ethical decisions about conservation issues in a new Social Science virtual issue of the multidisciplinary journal Conservation Letters.

Handpicked by Co-Editor-in-Chief, Michael B. Mascia, the 20 articles in this issue are freely available online until December 12, 2011, and many of them have already been featured in other media such as Nature, National Geographic, Forbes, The New York Times, BBC, and CNN.

Some highlights include:

  • Exploring the ethical basis for conservation policy: the case of inbred wolves on Isle Royale, USA1
  • Predictions of ecological and social impacts of alternative residential development policies to inform decision making in a rural landscape2
  •  Cost-effective conservation: calculating biodiversity and logging trade-offs in Southeast Asia3

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1.Gore, M., Nelson, M., Vucetich, J., Smith, A., & Clark, M. (2011). Exploring the ethical basis for conservation policy: the case of inbred wolves on Isle Royale, USA Conservation Letters, 4 (5), 394-401 DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00191.x

2.Goldberg, C., Pocewicz, A., Nielsen-Pincus, M., Waits, L., Morgan, P., Force, J., & Vierling, L. (2011). Predictions of ecological and social impacts of alternative residential development policies to inform decision making in a rural landscape Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00194.x

3. Fisher, B., Edwards, D., Larsen, T., Ansell, F., Hsu, W., Roberts, C., & Wilcove, D. (2011). Cost-effective conservation: calculating biodiversity and logging trade-offs in Southeast Asia Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00198.x

Lions, Reforestation, and Satire: Strategies in Environmental Conservation

As the Greek economy maintains its slide towards default and the global climate continues to change for the worse, one organisation, writing in Biotropica, has come up with some novel answers to both problems. Reforest the country to offset historic deforestation and reintroduce long extinct animals such as lions, boosting the economy through eco-tourism.

The Coalition of Financially Challenged Countries With Lots of Trees (CoFCCLoT) also count the introduction of wild gorillas to Spain and the return of forests in G8 nations back to pre-industrial levels, among its suggestions for global sustainability.

CoFCCLoT of course does not exist. However, argue Erik Meijaard and Douglas Sheil, from the University of Queensland and the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation respectively, this fictitious organisation’s demands are an example of the effective use of satire to bridge seemingly impassable gaps in the understanding of politically contentious issues.

“Mockery is seldom part of the scientific approach, but it is effective when it comes to sustainability and the environment,” said Meijaard. “Scientists tend to approach problems using objective logic and data, ignoring the emotional content and subjective values. Conservation science is especially vulnerable as it is about values as much as facts.”

The use of satire to cut to the heart of a crisis has a noble history stretching back to 1729 and Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal to consider cannibalism as an answer to the economic plight of the improvised Irish community. It is this tradition, Meijaard and Sheil argue, which should be embraced by climate and conservation communicators today.

In their Biotropica paper1 Meijaard and Sheil consider a range of issues to compare the demands ‘the West’ makes of the developing world and how this contrasts hypocritically with how western consumers and politicians view their own actions. For example it’s perceived that ‘the West’ lambasts developing economies for focusing on cash crops, while remaining firmly attached to the resulting morning cup of coffee.

“An effective use of satire and humor can clarify the social, political or ethical obstacles to which conservation science is often blind,” concluded Sheil. “These obstacles play a major role in the political impasse to combating problems such as climate change. Using satire to force a reader to consider an issue from a surprising new angle, even if that angle is ridiculous, can help bridge the gap in perspectives.”

Conservation Psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature
by Susan Clayton and Gene Myers
Applied Urban Ecology
edited by Matthias Richter and Ulrike Weiland
Conservation Biogeography
edited by Richard J. Ladle and Robert J. Whittaker