The most recent Living Planet Report was released last year, which showed that vertebrate populations around the world have declined by 68% on average. At the time, Brian McGill wrote a post at Dynamic Ecology expressing his scepticism over these large declines. His doubts stemmed from severalrelatedpapers, which all showed that vertebrate populations tended to be quite stable on average. While some populations have declined, most have remained stable and others have actually increased.
My understanding of Brian’s message (and the messages of the publishedpapers supporting him) was that while humans do affect vertebrate populations, these effects are not consistently negative. Instead, some species benefit from human actions, so human’s ultimate legacy will be rearranging relative population structure, rather than causing wholesale declines.
While I agree with this interpretation, I worry that it is causing unwarranted mistrust of the Living Planet Index. I was reminded of this last week by a passing comment by Mark Vellend:
“If biodiversity seems intractable, then just think about recent discussions of the Living Planet Index, which is based on pretty simple underlying data.”
I don’t believe the Living Planet Index exaggerates population declines. However, I also recognise that populations are stable on average. This probably seems contradictory, so I’ll use the rest of this post to explain why it isn’t.
Multidisciplinary knowledge focuses on traditional academic disciplines, like ecology, law, economics, governance, ethics and sociology. It emphasises T-shaped knowledge, where a deep understanding of a narrower sub-discipline (the vertical line of the T) is married to a more general appreciation of a wider range of topics (the horizontal line of the T).
Practical skills refer to the ability to actually get things done. This includes skills like effective communication, risk assessment, conflict resolution or project management.
Finally, personal aptitudes are those – often intangible – personality traits that make people good to work with. These aptitudes include things like patience, humility, trustworthiness, leadership, punctuality, reliability etc. Continue reading →
The Theory of Island Biogeography is remarkable because it suggests that patterns of species co-existence are the consequence of chance, history and random dispersal. Before its publication, community ecologists generally assumed that species co-existence was due to deterministic niche-assembly, where the number and relative abundance of species were a result of ecological niches and the functional roles of each species.
Like the theory itself, MacArthur and Wilson have also reached cult-like status. Perhaps a most telling way of illustrating this fact is not by listing the prizes awarded to these two men (and there were many), but rather by listing the academic prizes named after them! The Ecological Society of America, for instance, awards the ‘Robert H. MacArthur Award‘ to eminent mid-career ecologists and the American Society of Naturalists grants the ‘Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award‘ to mid-career researchers who make significant contributions to a particular ecosystem of group of organisms. Similarly, the International Biogeography Society has the ‘MacArthur & Wilson Award‘ for notable contributions to the field of biogeography. Needless to say, MacArthur and Wilson are very influential and well-respected by contemporary ecologists (well, in most cases…).
The funny thing is that their paradigm shifting idea was actually proposed two decades earlier, by the less well-known lepidopterist Eugene Munroe. Continue reading →
Should we conserve nature at the expense of the economy? Specifically, should we risk the collapse of major industrial sectors to save species?
We’ve created modern buzzwords like “sustainable development” and “new conservation” to explain multiple-objective conservation programs because many argue that conservation is only sustainable when it aligns with other economic, social and political goals. I’ve even argued this point-of-view in the past. Society is petrified of putting an end to the exploitation of nature because we worry about the terrible consequences of dismantling the modern-day economy. Should we worry about the impending threat of unemployment, debt and unpaid mortgages if we were to choose conservation instead of consumption?
The short answer: No! Well, at least not if the past is any predictor of the future. Continue reading →
It examines mythology, its effect on ethics, and how that relates to sustainability. The novel uses a style of Socratic dialogue to deconstruct the notion that humans are the pinnacle of biological evolution. It posits that human supremacy is a cultural myth, and asserts that modern civilization is enacting that myth with dangerous consequences.
I am currently re-reading this book after four years and I find it as thought-provoking and well-written as I did when reading it with fresh eyes. Continue reading →