Tigers and Wolves: The Reigning Cats and Dogs in Conservation?
By John R. Platt
Do the species most in need of conservation also receive the most scientific research?
To answer that question, a new study examined the past five years' worth of research into felids and canids—better known as wild felines and canines—and found some interesting patterns, as well as some notable omissions.
Of 4,351 published studies of the felid and canid families, 359 were devoted to tigers (Panthera tigris), and 579 examined gray wolves (Canis lupus). That's more than 21 percent of all felid and canid studies focused on just two species.
On the other side of the spectrum, some species were rarely, if ever, studied. The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) received just one study between 2013 and 2017, while no published studies examined the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) or side-striped jackal (Canis adustus).
The results indicate a potential research bias toward large, charismatic predators that sit at the top of the food chain, at the expense of their smaller, less dynamic relatives.
Beyond simple counts by species, other potential biases emerged: Studies of felids mainly focused on conservation and wildlife management, while canid research tended to address diseases and other health issues.
The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, was conducted by Laura Tensen, a postdoctoral research fellow in wildlife genetics at the University of Johannesburg. Tensen's own research focuses on lions, leopard and African wild dogs, so she went into the study concerned about her own approaches. "The species that I have studied are in fact charismatic, which was part of the reason I wrote this article—perhaps to self-reflect my own research bias," she said.
Two other observations inspired the paper: Tensen had found a lack of scientific information on some species, while others had a number of seemingly repetitive studies. "I noticed a lot of redundancy in science, where certain topics have been studied repeatedly," she said. For example, her paper found that most conservation studies focused on population estimates and human-wildlife conflict, while only 1 percent of all studies tackled climate change or the illegal wildlife trade.
Crunching the numbers didn't result in any real surprises—Tensen cites earlier studies that came to similar conclusions—but she hopes putting the results into clear statistics and graphs will have an impact on how future research is conducted. Researchers might, for example, decide to focus their work on species that are understudied, taxonomically unique, endangered or which live in small geographic ranges.
"Ideally, researchers should take these factors into consideration and challenge themselves to broaden their horizon," Tensen said. "In reality, however, it is more difficult to get funding for elusive and endangered species that are not commonly known by the bigger audience."
Toward that point, Luke Hunter, chief conservation officer at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, said the main value of Tensen's paper is that it illustrates which species are not getting studied, notably small carnivores such as the rusty-spotted cat.
"I think there is terrific value in launching new research on such unknown species," Hunter said. "It provides the fundamental data that helps better understand how to conserve them, but they also represent a great opportunity to do basic science. One would think that prospect, with the possibility of writing seminal papers on previously unknown carnivores, would be a massive beacon to researchers—especially those in academia, who are the main audience for Tensen's paper."
Tensen said she's making that switch a bit herself. "I would personally very much like to move to the 'underdogs,' and I have recently started projects with black-backed jackals, caracals and black-footed cats," she said. "However, I can't deny that large carnivores fascinate me and I would never turn such projects down."
In fact, Tensen acknowledges, the appeal of large carnivores such as tigers and wolves—which her paper points out are often studied specifically because of their important ecological roles—helps research to get funded and therefore helps broader conservation issues. "Large and charismatic species are often targeted by conservation initiatives, which motivates research as well," she said. "This doesn't have to be a bad thing, because at least it helps to conserve nature."
Hunter added that we can study both types of creatures. "It's not a zero-sum game," he said. "We need more conservation-focused science on many of the well-studied larger species in decline, such as African wild dogs, lions and tigers. These charismatic and endangered species will always attract researchers, and so they should. My hope is that we see a growth in research, especially in applied work that helps design effective conservation actions, on all carnivores."
Meanwhile, researchers aren't the only ones with biases. I asked Tensen if I should feel guilty knowing that The Revelator's own home page frequent features charismatic species such as wolves and tigers.
"Don't feel bad at all," Tensen replied. "My desk is covered with wild dog and tiger pictures, so that makes me as guilty."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.