Conservation Biology

Conservation & the EGI

Visayan Wrinked Hornbill is critically endangeredThe EGI has made a variety of contributions to conservation research in recent decades, including studies of lead poisoning in aquatic systems and the decline of woodland and farmland birds. The findings have informed UK policy on matters of agricultural policy and the use of recreational sites. Current work, led by Joe Tobias, is focused more broadly on understanding the challenges and opportunities for biodiversity conservation worldwide, particularly in the tropics.

Defining conservation units

How biodiversity is defined and measured is a fundamental question for conservationists and ecologists alike. To address this issue, we are developing quantitative techniques for biodiversity assessment and species delimitation based on genetic and phenotypic data. We are currently applying and developing these methods in a study of Asian hornbills, and a review of species limits in Neotropical birds. The latter suggests that Amazonian diversity is seriously underestimated, and we are investigating the implications for protected area coverage and conservation priorities.

The conservation of tropical ecosystems

From every perspective the tropical zone is the key to the future of biodiversity. It is home to over 85% of species, including the vast majority of threatened taxa. It is also where land-use change and the destruction of natural habitats is occurring most rapidly. And, because of rising temperatures in tropical mountains, it is by far the most likely setting for mass extinctions by climate change.

Kosnipati RidgeWe are tackling some topics raised by these issues, including:

  • The role of climate and competition in determining range limits in Andean birds and butterflies
  • The impact of land-use change on seed dispersal by rainforest frugivores
  • Investigating the interaction between dispersal ability, habitat choice and habitat connectivity in determining the impact of land-use change on rainforest taxa
  • Exploring the extent to which tropical vertebrate communities are structured by neutral and niche-based processes, using inferences from phylogenetic community structure
  • Developing software for birdsong identification with a view to automated long-term monitoring of tropical bird communities

Disseminating information to support global conservation

Conservation strategies often rely on accurate ecological data. To address this need, we have published baseline information on the distribution, status and natural history of poorly known threatened species such as the Subdesert Mesite (Monias benschi) (1), Long-tailed Ground-roller (Uratelornis chimaera ) (2), Blue-headed Macaw (Primolius couloni) (3), and Rufous Twistwing (Cnipodectes superrufus) (4). Other more general outputs have included spatial analyses of the impact of habitat loss on biodiversity in Madagascar (5) and Brazil (6), regional reviews of data deficient species (7) (8), census techniques for terrestrial birds (9), discussions of IUCN Red Listing criteria (10) and the importance of birds as biodiversity indicators (11). We have also compiled detailed Red Data books (many texts available online), plus conservation strategies at regional (12) and continental (13) scales.

Outreach & education

Environmental workshops at sites for threatened macaws in BoliviaOne of the main obstacles to conservation in the tropics is the shortage of local knowledge and expertise in developing nations. We are producing local and national identification guides and education materials in Peru, Bolivia and the Philippines, three countries which rank amongst the richest in biodiversity (e.g. Hummingbirds; Antbirds; Bolivian birds). We are also collaborating with Centro de OrnitologĂ­a y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI) and The Wetlands Trust to establish a national bird-ringing scheme in Peru, including permanent in-country databases and training programmes. These will support a range of field-based projects, including long-term data-collection at our sites in the Peruvian Andes and Amazonia.