In collaboration with more than 40 other scientist we published an opinion article in the journal BioScience calling for a coordinated global plan to prevent the world’s megafauna from extinction.
You can access a full copy of the paper HERE
A key part of the paper is the following declaration:
We conservation scientists
Acknowledge that most of the terrestrial megafauna species are threatened with extinction and have declining populations. Some megafauna species that are not globally threatened nonetheless face local extinctions or have Critically Endangered subspecies.
Appreciate that “business as usual” will result in the loss of many of the Earth’s most iconic species.
Understand that megafauna have ecological roles that directly and indirectly affect ecosystem processes and other species throughout the food web; failure to reverse megafaunal declines will disrupt species interactions, with negative consequences for ecosystem function; biological diversity; and the ecological, economic, and social services that these species provide.
Realize that megafauna are epitomized as a symbol of the wilderness, exemplifying the public’s engagement in nature, and that this is a driving force behind efforts to maintain the ecosystem services they can provide.
Recognize the importance of integrating and better aligning human development and biodiversity conservation needs through the engagement and support of local communities in developing countries.
Propose that funding agencies and scientists increase conservation research efforts in developing countries, where most threatened megafauna occur. Specifically, there is a need to increase the amount of research directed at finding solutions for the conservation of megafauna, especially for lesser-known species.
Request the help of individuals, governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations to stop practices that are harmful to these species and to actively engage in helping to reverse declines in megafauna.
Strive for increased awareness among the global public of the current megafauna crisis using traditional media as well as social media and other networking approaches.
Seek a new and comprehensive global commitment and framework for conserving megafauna. The international community should take necessary action to prevent mass extinction of the world’s megafauna and other species.
Urge the development of new funding mechanisms to transfer the current benefits accrued through the existence values of megafauna into tangible payments to support research, conservation actions, and local people who bear the cost of living with wildlife in the places where highly valued megafauna must be preserved.
Advocate for interdisciplinary scientific interchange between nations to improve the social and ecological understanding of the drivers of the decline of megafauna and to increase the capacity for megafauna science and conservation.
Recommend the reintroduction and rehabilitation, following accepted IUCN guidelines, of degraded megafauna populations whenever possible, the ecological and economic importance of which is evidenced by a growing number of success stories, from Yellowstone’s wolves (Canis lupus) and the Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) in China to the various megafauna species of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
Affirm an abiding moral obligation to protect the Earth’s megafauna.
We hope the paper stimulates discussion and action to help save the world’s terrestrial megafauna from extinction.
Ian Fraser who is a Canberra-based professional naturalist and writer recently reviewed our book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; an early account by A.E. Newsome“.
Below is a copy of the review and links to the original webpages.
“When I was a shy young teenager growing up in a housing trust suburb of Adelaide, a most interesting family moved next door for a while. He was a tall dark-haired quietly spoken young biologist doing a PhD at Adelaide University; even then I was fascinated by the natural world and he was a natural hero for me. His name was Alan Newsome, and in later years I followed his zoological career with interest. You may recall that he came to temporary prominence as the CSIRO dingo expert at the Lindy Chamberlain trial, but he deserves to be remembered for much more than that. He was one of the greats in a line of Australian desert zoologists, which includes such names as Hedley Finlayson, Francis Ratcliffe, Tim Ealey, Graham Caughley and Geoff Sharman. In particular he was instrumental in unravelling many secrets of the Red Kangaroo and the Dingo over decades of complex and diligent work in central Australia, working closely with pastoralists and indigenous communities. This is an interesting and historically highly significant book, published by his son Thomas (himself a professional ecologist) from notes he found in the Canberra family garage after Alan died in 2007. It was an account of the results of his years of desert research into the Red Kangaroo, its ecology and its interactions with the pastoral industry, and was supposed to be published at the time – Thomas found letters from the publisher asking that it be completed – but it never was. Cannily, Thomas finishes the book with a reprint of a paper Alan published in 1980, on ‘Eco-mythology’ – a comparison of indigenous stories and modern ecology, in which he found that the stories made perfect sense when seen through the lens of ecology. This was one of Alan’s most important achievements. I am personally delighted that this book has been published, and in the broader world it fully deserves an honoured place in the Australian zoological literature.”
Thanks Ian for the kind review.
It’s been a while since my last post, but a lot has happened in 2016. Three exciting updates are outlined below.
Update 1: Book Release
You can view a copy of the promotional material, including how to pre-order a copy of my new book “The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia: An Early Account by AE Newsome” HERE
Update 2: New Paper – Food Habits of the World’s Grey Wolves
In this paper we provide the first comprehensive review of grey wolf diets around the world. Below is a copy of abstract, and you can view the paper HERE
1. Grey wolves (Canis lupus) have been studied extensively, but there has been no detailed review of the species’ feeding ecology. This is despite growing debate about how to conserve wolf populations while limiting their impacts on wild or domestic ungulates. Here, we assess the extent to which grey wolf diet varies among and within North America, Europe and Asia. We discuss the implications of the results for conservation and management.
2. We derived dietary data from searches of published literature. We grouped studies based on their bioregional location. We compared grey wolf diet among locations using nonmetric multidimensional scaling and analysis of similarity. We assessed whether increased human impacts would decrease grey wolf dietary diversity. Finally, using studies from southern Europe, we assessed whether the proportion of wild ungulates in grey wolf diet increased over time, coincident with a decline in domestic species in grey wolf diet over time.
3. We compiled dietary data from 177 studies incorporating 94,607 scat and stomach samples. Grey wolf diet was dominated by large (240-650 kg) and medium-sized (23-130 kg) wild ungulates, but variation in the proportion of wild ungulates consumed, along with high proportions of domestic and smaller prey species consumed, contributed to the dietary differences found among and within continents.
4. We found no evidence that grey wolf dietary diversity varies globally. However, the result from southern Europe suggests that grey wolves may switch their diets away from domestic species if more wild ungulates are available.
5. The diversity of prey consumed by grey wolves highlights that the species is capable of surviving dramatic anthropogenic upheaval. However, there is an urgent need to increase our understanding of grey wolf foraging ecology in human-dominated landscapes to determine whether restoration of depleted prey populations, coupled with effective damage-prevention measures, will reduce human-wolf conflicts.
Update 3: New Paper – Our Take on the Trophy Hunting Debate
An exciting opportunity exists for a PhD student to study wolf-cougar interactions in Washington State, U.S.A.
For details on how to apply for the fully funded position please read carefully the position description below.
University of Washington
Graduate Assistantships (PhD)
Full support (stipend, tuition, and medical benefits) provided for 4 years.
Last Date to Apply
After an 80-year absence, the gray wolf is naturally recolonizing the Pacific Northwest of the United States, dispersing from populations in the Rocky Mountains and British Columbia. This process has raised questions about how wolves might interact with other predators and prey as well as the their economic impacts in managed landscapes where logging, cattle ranching and hunting are permitted. One interesting scenario is that wolves could alter the behavior of the region’s other top predator, the cougar, and as a result modify patterns of predation on native ungulate populations. Our goal is to explore this possibility using a natural experiment that compares movements and foraging behavior of cougars before and after wolf recolonization.
We seek a highly motivated doctoral student who will have the opportunity to 1) capture, handle, and deploy GPS collars on cougars; 2) inspect cougar kill sites to quantify prey selection and kill rates; 3) undertake spatial and statistical analyses of cougar behavior prior to and after the arrival of wolves; and 4) collaborate with a diverse group of researchers.
This project falls under the umbrella of a larger study led by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) whose overarching goal is to understand whether and how the return of wolves is affecting native ecosystem dynamics and, in particular, ungulate populations. Thus, the student will work closely with WDFW and collaborate with other researchers exploring ungulate behavior and demography while completing a Ph.D. in Environmental and Forest Sciences (http://www.sefs.washington.edu/) at the University of Washington under the co-supervision of Associate Professor Aaron Wirsing (University of Washington), Dr Thomas Newsome (Deakin University / University of Sydney / Oregon State University), and Dr Brian Kertson (WDFW). The student will conduct field research at sites in Washington State where data on cougar movements and foraging were collected by WDFW prior to the return of wolves. The fieldwork will involve travel in large trucks with trailers, use of snowmobiles, extensive hiking, capturing of cougars with the assistance of hounds or via the use of cage traps, anesthetizing cougars for GPS collaring, and tree climbing. The doctoral student will also be responsible for training and supervising field technicians and volunteers.
Applicants must have a M.S. degree in wildlife science or a closely related discipline. Preference will be given to those who have experience 1) capturing, handling, and collaring cougars, or other large carnivores; 2) inspecting kill sites; 3) working with and analyzing large data sets; 4) analyzing GPS and kill site data; 5) using resource selection/utilization analysis tools; and 6) working in remote locations under sometimes challenging conditions. Given that this project is part of a larger multi-species effort, we will also prioritize applicants who are interested in both predator-predator and predator-prey interactions. A current valid (U.S.) motor vehicle license is required for this position, as is a driving record that will merit approval to operate State government vehicles.
Full financial support (stipend, tuition, and benefits) will be provided for 4 years. The student will be expected to secure teaching assistantships to cover the remainder of their tenure if it extends beyond this time frame.
To apply for this position please send a 1-page cover letter that outlines your experience undertaking large carnivore research and analyzing large datasets, as well as your long-term career goals. Please also include a CV (maximum of 2 pages) that includes 1) GPA and GRE scores; 2) publications, awards and grants; 3) work and research experience; and 4) current contacts for 3 professional or academic references.
Please submit your application as a single PDF document named with the following format: Lastname_Firstname.
Please note that the student must be willing to start the project by 09/28/2016 (the beginning of the autumn quarter at UW). Only those who have been shortlisted (up to five people) will be contacted. The shortlisted candidates may be required to conduct Skype and/or face-to-face interviews.
Review of applications will commence on 04/16/2016.
An ongoing issue in the United States is that endangered wolves are often mistaken as coyotes and illegally shot by hunters. Yesterday, with two other co-authors, I published a commentary article in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation highlighting this issue. See below for a copy of the abstract and link to the paper.
Abstract The recovery of wolf populations in the United States (U.S.) is hampered by ongoing human-wolf conflicts. In particular, the illegal killing of grey wolves (Canis lupus), red wolves (Canis rufus), and Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi) protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has contributed to relatively high mortality rates in some areas. One issue is that wolves are often mistaken as coyotes (Canis latrans) and illegally shot by hunters. To minimise cases of mistaken identity, stricter regulation of coyote hunting is being adopted in some areas where endangered wolves exist. Here we argue that such management should be adopted more widely, and especially in areas where wolves are at low densities or recolonising new areas. Such a proposal may face opposition, particularly where coyote hunting is common, or where coyotes are perceived as a threat to human enterprises such as livestock ranching. Appropriate education and training is needed to ensure that the public is aware that (i) wolves and coyotes are difficult to distinguish from a distance and (ii) coyotes are far too resilient to be affected by most periodic eradication programs, let alone from derbies or recreational hunting. We conclude that recreational hunting of coyotes could restrict wolf recolonisation while providing little benefit to animal agriculture. Consideration of new management strategies is therefore required to assist with wolf restoration efforts and to minimise ongoing human-wildlife conflicts.
Link to paper in Biodiversity and Conservation.
By the way, the canid in the figure is a coyote. Were you correct or was it a case of mistaken identity?
Press Release: Hunting by humans as big a threat as habitat change in ‘emptying the landscape’ of large herbivores
The decline or likely extinction of large herbivores such as rhinoceroses, hippos, zebras, camels and elephants threaten to create ‘empty landscapes’ in some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
“We are facing the prospect that in 20 years some of these large herbivores will have virtually disappeared from many of the world’s grasslands, savannah, deserts and forests, especially in India, Southeast Asia and Africa,” said Dr Thomas Newsome, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney.
Dr Newsome is a contributing author to the research findings published in Science Advances on 2 May.
An international team of wildlife ecologists led by Professor William Ripple, from Oregon State University, conducted an analysis of 74 of the world’s largest herbivores, defined as animals over 100 kilograms who consume vegetation to survive.
As a group, herbivores encompass about 4,000 known species and live in many types of ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.
The researchers looked at key threats, the likelihood of extinction and the ecological consequences of decline.
The twin threat for herbivores is habitat change and hunting by humans. Hunting is for meat consumption, with an estimated 1 billion humans relying on wild meat, and for the global trade in animal parts.
“Australia’s large herbivores including giant kangaroos and hippopotamus-sized marsupials went extinct about 40,000 years ago, soon after people colonised the continent,” said Dr Newsome.
“Overhunting by people, climate change and altered fire regimes are the most likely causes, and the loss of these large herbivores resulted in dramatic changes to Australia’s vegetation.”
“The widespread loss of herbivores alive today will have a similarly incalculable impact. It would include less food being available for large carnivores such as lions and tigers and more frequent and intense wildfires because herbivores won’t be controlling the vegetation through grazing.
“They also won’t be fulfilling their role of helping to disperse seed as they graze and travel which will lead to much less diversity in the landscape including loss of habitat for many smaller species.”
In 1992 researcher Kent Redford from the University of Florida coined the term ‘empty forest’ to discuss the decline of animals in tropical forests. The new term ‘empty landscape’ recognises that the threat of species loss extends well beyond that habitat.
The report notes that 25 of the largest wild herbivores now occupy an average of only 19 percent of their historical ranges. Competition from livestock production, which has tripled globally since 1980, has reduced access to land, forage and water and raised the risk of the spread of disease.
The researchers call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries and the essential involvement of local people in managing protected areas.
The paper is open access and can be viewed HERE
Source: The University of Sydney
CORVALLIS, Ore. – The decline of the world’s large herbivores, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, is raising the specter of an “empty landscape” in some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Many populations of animals such as rhinoceroses, zebras, camels, elephants and tapirs are diminishing or threatened with extinction in grasslands, savannahs, deserts and forests, scientists say.
An international team of wildlife ecologists led by William Ripple, Oregon State University distinguished professor in the College of Forestry, conducted a comprehensive analysis of data on the world’s largest herbivores (over 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, on average), including endangerment status, key threats and ecological consequences of decline. They published their observations today in the journal Science Advances.
The authors focused on 74 large herbivore species — animals that subsist on vegetation — and conclude that “without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”
Ripple initiated the study after conducting a global analysis of large-carnivore decline, which goes hand-in-hand, he said, with the loss of their prey. “I expected that habitat change would be the main factor causing the endangerment of large herbivores,” he said. “But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”
The scientists refer to an analysis of the decline of animals in tropical forests published in the journal BioScience in 1992. The author, Kent H. Redford, then a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, first used the term “empty forest.” While soaring trees and other vegetation may exist, he wrote, the loss of forest fauna posed a long-term threat to those ecosystems.
Ripple and his colleagues went a step further. “Our analysis shows that it goes well beyond forest landscapes,” he said, “to savannahs and grasslands and deserts. So we coin a new term, the empty landscape.” As a group, herbivores encompass about 4,000 known species and live in many types of ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.
The highest numbers of threatened large herbivores live in developing countries, especially Southeast Asia, India and Africa, the scientists report. Only one endangered large herbivore lives in Europe (the European bison), and none are in North America, which, the authors add, have “already lost most of its large mammals” through prehistoric hunting and habitat changes.
The authors note that 25 of the largest wild herbivores now occupy an average of only 19 percent of their historical ranges. Competition from livestock production, which has tripled globally since 1980, has reduced herbivore access to land, forage and water and raised disease transmission risks, they add.
Meanwhile, herbivore hunting occurs for two major purposes, the authors note: meat consumption and the global trade in animal parts. An estimated 1 billion humans subsist on wild meat, they write. “The market for medicinal uses can be very strong for some body parts, such as rhino horn,” said Ripple. “Horn sells for more by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine.” Africa’s western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011.
“The causes of the decline of some large herbivores are difficult to remedy in a world with increasing human populations and consumption,” said co-author Taal Levi, assistant professor in Oregon State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “But it’s inconceivable that we allow demand for horns and tusks to drive the extirpation of large herbivores from otherwise suitable habitat. We need to intensify the reduction of demand for such items.”
The loss of large herbivores suggests that other parts of wild ecosystems will diminish, the authors write. The likely consequences include: reduction in food for large carnivores such as lions and tigers; diminished seed dispersal for plants; more frequent and intense wildfires; slower cycling of nutrients from vegetation to the soil; reductions in habitat for smaller animals including fish, birds and amphibians.
“We hope this report increases appreciation for the importance of large herbivores in these ecosystems,” said Ripple. “And we hope that policymakers take action to conserve these species.”
To understand the consequences of large herbivore decline, the authors call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries. In addition, solutions to the decline of large herbivores need to involve local people. “It is essential that local people be involved in and benefit from the management of protected areas,” they write. “Local community participation in the management of protected areas is highly correlated with protected area policy compliance.”
In addition to Ripple and Levi, co-authors include Christopher Wolf and Luke Painter of Oregon State; Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University; Thomas M. Newsome of The University of Sydney in Australia; Kristoffer T. Everatt and Graham I.H. Kerley of Nelson Mandela University in South Africa; Mauro Galetti of the Universisade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Matt W. Hayward of Nelson Mandela University and Bangor University in the United Kingdom; Peter A. Lindsey of Panthera (nonprofit organization) and the University of Pretoria in South Africa; David W. MacDonald, Yavinder Malhi and Christopher J. Sandom of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; John Terborgh of Duke University; Blaire Van Valkenburgh of UCLA.
The paper is open access and can be viewed HERE
Source: Oregon State University
To view a feature article by Wild Magazine on dingoes and our latest research ideas click HERE
You can download and listen to my radio interview on ABC Rural below:
For the full story click HERE
You can download and listen to my radio interview on RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas below: