by Matt Lee
The common thresher (Alopias vulpinus) is a widely dispersed species of shark that inhabits oceans all around the globe. However, because of the species’s high value as a marketable commodity, populations of the common thresher are currently being exploited to irreversible levels. The key obstacle to preventing exploitation is the dearth of quantitative knowledge of shark population numbers, which is the result of unreported target and bycatch fishing of the animal. As an apex predator, the common thresher plays a key regulatory role in countless marine ecosystems, and its removal could produce negative consequences worldwide. More research must be performed to establish the actual extent to which commercial fisheries effect population numbers. With such research completed, scientists and policy makers could better establish conservation goals and manage resources to better protect the species, which is already on the path to extinction.
The issue of cheetah conservation is one that has plagued researchers for years. With the species suffering from a weak genetic pool, grave habitat loss, and illegal poaching it’s no wonder the population is only 10% of what it was a mere decade ago. Although at this stage of conservation the greatest hindrance toward the recovery of the cheetah may not be the threats to the species health, but our ability to attain an accurate census of its population. The current census methods are far too inconsistent and inaccurate. In addition, the secretive nature of the cheetah makes them an even more difficult species to census than usual. This leads to the question of how to accurately and effectively census and track the cheetah population. One of the more unexplored possibilities is the use of search dogs, whose expertise in tracking could counteract the elusive nature of the cheetah. This technique has great potential because certain dog breeds have proven to be effective in the management of cheetahs as well as the tracking of other animals.
Found in all tropical and warm-temperate seas worldwide, the whale shark is known as the largest fish in the world, yet it is also one of the least-known shark species. This biologically unique species is declining in numbers due to its vulnerability to exploitation because of its large size, slow growth, and late maturation. Moreover, disturbances to their ecosystems are impacting their migration, feeding, and mating patterns. Nevertheless, current information (reliable scientific data) on their migration routs is insufficient for conservation policies to be created and most research methods are limited. This is why I am proposing to use a satellite transmitter tagging method to study the migration patterns and correlated genetic variability within whale sharks. This will be done by tagging and extracting skin tissue from the same specimen in order to follow their migration tracks via satellite data and analyzing their DNA. After analyzing and interpreting my data I expect to show that whale sharks are able to travel long ranges through multiple political jurisdictions, thus confirming the need to manage the populations on an international level.
Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), a species endemic to the waters of New Zealand, is on the road to extinction due to gillnet bycatch. This has resulted in much conflict between fishery interests and wildlife advocacy groups, not to mention the loss of a species. Currently, the government has designated sanctuaries for the protection of the dolphins. However, the sanctuaries limit fishermen, not the dolphins from leaving, so bycatch still occurs. The four populations of dolphins are separated, which contributes to genetic invariability and inbreeding because of less migration. To combat these issues, bycatch reduction devices (BRD’s) should be researched in order to change the design of gillnets. Such modifications have been implemented with fyke nets and have shown considerable success. Implementing BRD’s would limit bycatch as well as decrease genetic invariability through an artificial “baiting” method. With the success of a critically endangered species, the BRD’s can be expanded to other bycatch issues in other waters, helping the fishing economy in the process as well.
Aquatic herbivores are more important to marine environments than most people think. The Dugong is a rare marine mammal that feeds on sea grasses off coastal waters. It is also a species that is on the verge of becoming an endangered species because of its habitat loss. The feeding grounds of sea grasses are the most affected portions of Dugong habitat. This research proposal looks to examine the feeding grounds and migratory patterns of the Dugong to find the best areas of habitat to protect. Since the Dugong moves around constantly, it follows where its food grows. By studying the relationship between where it travels and where much of its food grows, a good habitat conservation plan can be created to protect those areas.
Abstract: Since American colonization, Grizzly Bears populations in the lower 48 states have been reduced to less than 2% of their historic range. This decline can be attributed to a combination of factors, not the least of which is the abundance of human-induced deaths. Because Grizzly Bears are known to be so aggressive, they are often found in compromising situations in which they must be put down to ensure the safety of the humans involved. The most effective way to fix this is to prevent these altercations from happening in the first place. By utilizing the Grizzly’s tendency to adapt by avoidance through classical conditioning techniques and by educating hunters on good hunting practices, the number of human-induced Grizzly Bear deaths can be significantly reduced. Research into these two areas will prove extremely beneficial in sustaining current Grizzly Bear populations, and, if successful, these tools can be applied to other species as well.
The beluga sturgeon is an ancient fish that is famous for its black, pearl-like caviar, which is valued to be the best of the best by connoisseurs. Although the beluga sturgeon has survived the disappearance of the dinosaurs, human overconsumption and habitat degradation have caused the species to decline over 90% in the past 20 years. Now listed as critically endangered, the beluga sturgeon is still harvested in many countries under a lax quota system. To make matters worse, illegal fishing is rampant because of the high prices that the caviar can fetch.
The predominant conservation measure is hatchery supplementation. However, several studies have shown that this method is ineffective and will prove harmful to the species in the long run because of the diminish in genetic diversity. Thus, I propose that hatchery supplementation needs to be reduced and eventually eliminated. Instead, the root of the problem needs to be eradicated. Because the biology and the life cycles of this species are not well known, satellite tagging and harmless tissue samples can be used to provide this critical information. From this, migration paths, interspecies interactions, population size, sex ratio variation, and allelic diversity can be determined and can be used to guide habitat conservation through the removal of threats along key waterways.
Epidemics can cause detrimental population losses to threatened or endangered species. With modern medicines and technology, most epidemics can be contained or eradicated. However, this is not the case with devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). DFTD is an infectious cancer that, in ten years, has killed 50% of the Tasmanian devil population and contaminated 60% of its range. Despite the monumental threat the disease poses, nothing is currently being done because nothing is known about the disease. Scientists know very little because it is a unique virus with characteristics never observed before. Researchers have warned that, if not dealt with, the disease could drive the devil to extinction in 25 years. Therefore, scientists should dedicate their time and research to the solution with the best foundation, a vaccine. Recent studies have confirmed that a vaccine would be effective in curbing the disease, but its discovery is still years away. Its discovery will require moving researchers from the field to the lab but the greater the manpower put towards its discovery, the greater the probability a vaccine will be discovered that saves the Tasmanian devil.
The white rhinoceros used to be a self-sustaining population that roamed free throughout Africa. Unfortunately, civil war and unrest have left them a defenseless target to poachers who are looking to cash in on their valuable horns. A dwindling population has forced conservationists to turn to captive breeding in order to reverse the declining population trend. However, the white rhinoceros exhibits several unusual physiological effects in captivity, thus complicating the reproductive process. Therefore, it is imperative that we study the ideal conditions needed to promote successful reproduction in captive breeding groups. Furthermore, new developments in hormones that reverse infertility caused by captivity should also be at the forefront. Without the success of captive breeding groups, the rhino population will continue to plummet from the threat of poachers, and we will lose an integral part of our ecosystem. Furthermore, much valuable research will be conducted that will contribute to the success of captive breeding groups for years to come.
Species-centric conservation plans can have disastrous effects on the ecosystem surrounding their target species. With all of the endangered species listed today the countless other candidate species for listing, conservation conflicts are inevitable. Therefore, we must develop ecosystem-centric conservation plans.
This effect is especially apparent in island ecosystems due to their unique, delicate nature. For example, when the San Clemente loggerhead shrike was listed as endangered in the California Channel Islands, its conservation plan called for the removal of the bird’s predators. As predators, island foxes were removed by euthanasia and experienced a 40-60% drop in their total population and are currently critically endangered.
The Channel Islands’ ecosystems have been subject to further degradation by the introduction of non-native golden eagles and feral pigs. The eagles prey on island foxes, further decreasing their already strained populations. Feral pigs supplement the eagles as a prey animal and have made it possible for them to colonize the islands.
If the Channel Islands lose their top natural predator, their ecosystems will never be able to return to their natural states. Therefore, an ecosystem-centric recovery plan must be applied to the Islands to provide for the removal of non-native species and the recovery of the island fox.