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onsdag 14 oktober 2009

End of Migration Course - Panel discussion on Conservation and Migration

It is time to say Thank You and Good Bye to all visitors, participants and lecturers, contributing to the 2009 version of the Ecology of Animal Migration course. It has been a great adventure to be coordinator of the course this year, as we have been a great team working with the course and had unusually many participants as well as local helpers. It has indeed been a very inspiring and exciting time! Thank You All! New for the course this year was the day covering conservation and migration, a very important issue and one which we also covered in a panel discussion in the end of the day. Miriam Liedvogel, our brave and dedicated CAnMove postdoc, met the challenge to summarize the discussion and has produced a document which is attached. You will also find more information on conservation issues in previous blogs and hopefully during upcoming discussions at the Course Facebook page, that has been set up by Cecilia Nilsson. You may consult Cecilia Nilsson (https://webmail.lu.se/owa/redir.aspx?C=13e312059ace4a71be8c83cbea1f06e2&URL=mailto%3aCecilia.nilsson%40zooekol.lu.se) or Keith Larson (https://webmail.lu.se/owa/redir.aspx?C=13e312059ace4a71be8c83cbea1f06e2&URL=mailto%3aKeith.larson%40zooekol.lu.se) to get access to the Course Facebook page, if of interest for you.
I found the end of the panel discussion especially hopeful, as some of the participants stressed the importance to look into what we as scientists can do locally in our own environment, to stimulate and educate the younger generation and a wider audience about fascinating adaptations as well as threats of migrating (moving) animals. I see that this topic is especially timely today, as we have heard a discussion about engagement in popular science communication by PhD students, as well as junior and senior scientists employed at the universities, in which Erik Svensson has been strongly engaged. I agree with Erik, and I cannot enough stress the importance to spread the interest and understanding of our study systems and organisms to a wider audience also for the importance to act on conserving some of the animals under threat. Communication is and will be crucial to tackle the conservation issues, but it will also inspire people to become engaged and to learn more and I think in the long run to want to protect the environment. We can all take part in popular science communication. And it is great fun!


Graduate student course: Ecology of Animal Migration organized by the Centre for Animal Movement Research (CAnMove) and Department of Animal Ecology at Lund University, Sweden, 29 Sept-9 Oct 2009

Panel discussion Thursday 8 Oct 2009: 15.30-16.30 in the Blue Lecture Hall
Conservation and migration research: what can be done?
Discussion panel: Brendan Godley, Henrik Smith, John Fryxell, Ronny Merkel, Zhjun Ma, Jenny Matthison
Moderator: Susanne Åkesson
Notes: Miriam Liedvogel

This year's course “Ecology of Animal Migration” was hosting a panel discussion about conservation of migrating animals. This format is new to the course and was added to raise awareness and provide a platform for discussion on questions conservation issues in migration research, encourage all course participants to become aware of the problem, but also to see possibilities, encouraging examples of successful management, and hope for future strategies and approaches. Key focus of the discussion was on the identification and understanding of important threats of moving animals in general, but also on the role of scientific research and its implementation in conservation management plans. It became very clear throughout the discussion that precise definition and strong focus on clear objectives is most crucial for successful communication between the informing (i.e. researchers) and deciding (i.e. policy makers) bodies.

Both participating students and leading scientists working in the field of conservation of migrating animals presented their view on conservation and animal migration and dispersal. Lectures of the Migration Ecology course that Prof. Henrik Smith, Lund University (pollinating insects in the agricultural landscape), Dr. Brendan Godley, University of Exeter (worldwide view on seaturtles), Prof. Zhjun Ma Fudan University, China (habitat loss in the Yellow Sea region, a crucial stopover site for migrating shorebirds), and Prof. John Fryxell (large mammal migration in the Serengeti).
The discussion started out with a presentation by Prof. Zhjun Ma, sketching the situation in the Yellow Sea region as a case example of conservation concern. The Yellow Sea region is a crucial stopover site for birds migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), where reclamation of coastal wetlands for agricultural use has caused a rapid loss and degradation of stopover habitats (~ 40% of the tidal flats were lost between 1980 and 2000). But the exact contribution of the Yellow Sea region to declining numbers of shorebirds is currently not fully understood. Further research is needed to understand the contribution of the Yellow Sea region to the generally observed decreasing numbers of shorebirds in Asia/Australia-Future conservation strategies in this area should integrate species, habitat and ecosystem based conservation efforts.
During the presentation and subsequent discussion it became clear that it is important to realize that the Yellow Sea not only is an important stopover site for birds on the EAAF, but also for humans, living in this area (i.e. 20 Mio people living in Shanghai, ~ ¼ of the GDP of China is produced in the Yellow Sea region). How is it possible to manage various interests of economy and conservation in this area? How can we point out the importance of the stopover area from the conservation point perspective without enhancing the conflict? What could be a strategy that aims for coordination between different interest groups rather than uncompromisingly stating the point of view and aims of different perspectives resulting in irresolvable conflict? The key seems to be to raise awareness of the conservation concerns of this area. One main strategy to achieve this is to communicate the importance of the stopover areas for migrating birds and the ecosystem itself. How is this realized in the Yellow Sea region?
One quite successful strategy along these lines has been to launch local birdwatcher groups. These became more and more popular after a field bird guide was published in 2000. The local birdwatcher groups established societies and are involved in environmental education schemes to raise awareness of the problem in the wider public. On a more global scale, several international agreements have been signed, i.e. China and Australia have signed a Migrating Bird Agreement already in 1988, and other agreements have followed. Non-governmental organizations (i.e. WWF, Wetland International) are also active in the area. To date, six sites in the Yellow Sea region have been declared as Ramsar sites of (according to the Ramsar convention for the conservation of wetlands of international importance); hunting prohibition zones have been established. But there is hope – one positive example that has already benefitted from recent efforts to protect the important stopover sites is the Black-faced spoonbill, which shows increasing numbers due to the combined efforts of local birdwatcher societies and site protection conventions.
As birds do not know of or care about borders between countries, conservation issues often require communication and coordination of action plans between different countries, a fact that very often complicates global actions and decisions being taken. How do China, Korea, Russia and Australia share their concern about the necessity to protect the migratory system in the Yellow Sea? According to Zhjun Ma, the interaction of the involved neighboring countries is working fine, and in this case between-country/political system communication do not seems to be a bottleneck preventing necessary action from being taken.

The issue of conservation on a more global scale: Many international conventions have clearly defined goals (i.e. no more loss in biodiversity after 2010). These conventions are all we currently have but do not mirror strong conventions, but rather reflect general guidelines – not legally binding and not including any penalty.

The following questions were raised and discussed subsequently, mainly questioning if publishing scientific results in international journals is really the best way in order to integrate these findings into management plans. What is its contribution to management plans in conservation? How much can scientific studies influence policy decisions, are they considered at all? Is there a common "missing link" in terms of communication, and what can be improved in integrating scientific study results into applied management plans? What are alternative and maybe much more efficient strategies to pass this knowledge to management consultancies and policy makers in order to optimally integrate the knowledge gained by scientific studies in conservation strategies. One suggestion in this context was, to make scientific results publically available and concentrate on web-based publication of the results, rather than publishing the results in peer reviewed journals, where many of the management agencies might not have access to. This strategy might provide a more efficient way of spreading newly gained information on a particular conservation concern, and thus enhance their implacability into conservation management concepts.

One hurdle that quite frequently prohibits scientific facts being communicated on a wider scale is the lack of plausible definite explanation and understanding of the current situation. In the scientific community it is key to separate opinions from facts and this paradigm might sometimes hamper preliminary findings or observed trends from being taken into account in future management plans. In this context the question was raised if we are running risk of underselling scientific results because we focus too much on the missing links and aim for sophisticated results on a high rather than basic level. One important definition pointed out here was that we as well as policy makers should be aware of their role: we as scientists do not make decision, but our role and responsibility is to adequately inform politicians to make their decisions based on the best of knowledge available. It is also the responsibility of the scientific community to approach and communicate with neighboring disciplines in order to allow for conclusions being drawn on an integrated scale. We have to work on improving connectivity, communication and integration between i.e. agricultural, climate and ecological research, which are all focusing on the same problem of e.g. climate change, but approaching the problem from different perspectives, focusing on various aspects. There was a clear call for the necessity of large scale models also integrating social systems.

The most important role of scientists and research results should be seen as catalysts, communicating findings and ideas – with all limitations of the data included and clearly considered in conclusions being drawn. Often communication of uncertainties may be equally important than communicating final facts – but we should also talk about what we know, also if it is only part of the whole story. It is important to limit the discussion to our area of expertise, it is not helpful to bundle everything together. In order to make our findings heard and considered in future management plans one key element is to constrain our objectives to the most powerful arguments. This will help preserve the key aspects not to be lost. In order to being heard it is important to focus on key arguments and explain why and what we are concerned about. As conservationists we have to be careful not to find tragedy in everything, but rather limit our efforts to highlighting key aspects with as strong arguments as possible.

Bundling efforts requires a clear picture of aims and focus. As we are living in a rapidly changing world, which often requires refined definitions. We are currently experiencing the highest rate of extinction and loss of biodiversity, which makes it especially important to be precise and define clear priorities. It is crucial to define the problem and agree on this – ideally between sub disciplines and managing bodies. Is it the migratory species or the ecological processes carried out by meta-populations that should be our major concern? We have to be precise in our terminology, i.e. extinction and alteration of migration are terms that are often mixed and used interchangeably, but both phenomena are not necessarily synonyms. As an example, the bison still exists as a species, though the migratory system of bisons changed dramatically.

One key step in this direction is to communicate our value system: where should conservation management plans focus on? Should we prioritize ecosystem services, i.e. species important to agricultural success (and: where are the most important ecological services provided)? As a consensus we agreed that the question "species versus processes" is one of the key management questions. We need any management system to integrate humans in conservation and combine conservation ecosystem services with conservation, which is economically beneficial at the same time. It is crucial to allocate the limited (financial) resources most efficiently – (where) are we currently going wrong in allocating resources?

Market values of any management plan are hard to predict and absolute values cannot be estimated, so during the discussion it was argued that the value of ecosystem services has to be integrated into our management systems. But if we want to focus on the "system of migration" – what ecosystem services are offered by migrating systems (other than salmon)? One possibility here might be an extended focus on ecotourism.

Not only economical and ecological values have to be taken into account, ethical emphasis is also needed in the debate. Where do we see possibilities and hope? What can be done starting now and in the future?

We are living in a constantly growing population with disproportional consumption and we all contribute to this human footprint – this is not "them", but "us".

But there is hope – right here! We are a highly international PhD student course with participants from more than 20 different countries – let us all take the issue of conservation and migration research home to our own countries, schools and local societies. It is on us to change our lifestyle. It is on us to educate and raise interest and awareness in conservation issue in the younger generation. We all can contribute.

Some references from a recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research, which might be of interest to you as follow up reading after the Panel Discussion:

Robinson RA, Crick HQP, Learmonth JA, Maclean IMD, Thomas CD, Bairlein F, Forchhammer MC, Francis CM, Gill JA, Godley BJ, Harwood J, Hays GC, Huntley B, Hutson AM, Pierce GJ,

Rehfisch MM, Sims DW, Santos BM, Sparks TH, Stroud DA, Visser ME (2009) Travelling through a warming world: climate change and migratory species. ESR 7:87-99

Newson SE, Mendes S, Crick HQP, Dulvy N, Houghton JDR, Hays GC, Hutson AM, Macleod CD, Pierce GJ, Robinson RA (2009) Indicators of the impact of climate change on migratory species. ESR 7: 101-113.

Isaac JL (2009) Effects of climate change on life history: implications for extinction risk in mammals. ESR 7: 115-123.

MacLeod CD (2009) Global climate change, range changes and potential implications for the conservation of marine cetaceans: a review and synthesis. ESR 7: 135-136.

Hawkes LA, Broderick AC, Godfrey MH, Godley BJ (2009) Climate change and marine turtles. ESR 7: 137-154.

Harris G, Thirgood S, Hopcraft JGC, Cromsigt JPGM, Berger J (2009) Global decline in aggregated migrations of large terrestrial mammals. ESR 7: 55-76.

For more information please visit: www.canmove.ekol.lu.se/

Thanks to all participants for your valuable contributions!

Susanne Åkesson and Miriam Liedvogel

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