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track2KBA: An R package for identifying important sites for biodiversity from tracking data

Identifying important sites for biodiversity is vital for conservation and management. However, there is a lack of accessible, easily-applied tools that enable practitioners to delineate important sites for highly mobile species using established criteria. We introduce the R package ‘track2KBA’, a tool to identify important sites at the population level using tracking data from individual animals based on three key steps: (1) identifying individual core areas, (2) assessing population-level representativeness of the sample, and (3) quantifying spatial overlap among individuals and scaling up to the population. We describe package functionality and exemplify its application using tracking data from three taxa in contrasting environments: a seal, a marine turtle, and a migratory land bird. This tool facilitates the delineation of sites of ecological relevance for diverse taxa and provides output useful for assessing their importance to a population or species, as in the Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) Standard. As such, ‘track2KBA’ can contribute directly to conservation planning at global and regional levels.

Date
07 September 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Beal, Martin Oppel, Steffen Handley, Jonathan Pearmain, Elizabeth J Morera‐Pujol, Virginia Carneiro, Ana PB Davies, Tammy E Phillips, Richard A Taylor, Philip R Miller, Mark GR
Published in
Methods in Ecology and Evolution
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The potential contribution of terrestrial nature-based solutions to a national ‘net zero’ climate target

Many national governments have incorporated nature-based solutions (NbS) in their plans to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. However, uncertainties persist regarding both feasibility and consequences of major NbS deployment. Using the United Kingdom as a national-level case study, we examined the potential contribution of three terrestrial NbS: peatland restoration, saltmarsh creation and woodland creation.

While there is substantial political and societal interest in these three NbS, they also have strong potential for competition with other land uses, which will be a critical barrier to substantial deployment. We conducted a national mapping exercise to assess the potential area available for woodland creation. We then assessed the combined climate change mitigation potential to 2100 for the three NbS options under a range of ambition levels.

In line with the most ambitious targets examined, 2 Mha of land is potentially available for new woodland. However, climate change mitigation benefits of woodland are strongly dependent on management choices. By 2100, scenarios with a greater proportion of broadleaved woodlands outsequester non-native conifer plantations, which are limited by regular timber harvesting.

Peatland restoration offers the greatest mitigation per unit area, whilst the contribution from saltmarsh creation is limited by the small areas involved. Overall, the contribution of these NbS to the United Kingdom’s net zero emissions target is relatively modest. Even with the most ambitious targets considered here, by 2100, the total cumulative mitigation from the three NbS is equivalent to only 3 years' worth of UK emissions at current levels.

Policy implications. Major deployment of nature-based solutions (NbS) is possible in the United Kingdom but reaching ‘net zero’ primarily requires substantial and sustained reductions in fossil fuel use. However, facilitating these NbS at the national scale could offer many additional benefits for people and biodiversity. This demands that policy-makers commit to a UK-wide strategic approach that prioritises the ‘nature’ aspect of NbS. In the push to reach ‘net zero’, climate change mitigation should not be used to justify land management practices that threaten biodiversity ambitions.

Date
06 September 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Tom Finch, Dr Richard Bradbury, Dr Graeme Buchanan, Dr Rob Field
Authors
Bradfer‐Lawrence, Tom Finch, Tom Bradbury, Richard B Buchanan, Graeme M Midgley, Andrew Field, Rob H
Published in
Journal of Applied Ecology
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Connecting the data landscape of long‐term ecological studies: the SPI‐Birds data hub

The integration and synthesis of the data in different areas of science is drastically slowed and hindered by a lack of standards and networking programmes. Long-term studies of individually marked animals are not an exception. These studies are especially important as instrumental for understanding evolutionary and ecological processes in the wild. Furthermore, their number and global distribution provides a unique opportunity to assess the generality of patterns and to address broad-scale global issues (e.g. climate change).
To solve data integration issues and enable a new scale of ecological and evolutionary research based on long-term studies of birds, we have created the SPI-Birds Network and Database (www.spibirds.org)—a large-scale initiative that connects data from, and researchers working on, studies of wild populations of individually recognizable (usually ringed) birds. Within year and a half since the establishment, SPI-Birds has recruited over 120 members, and currently hosts data on almost 1.5 million individual birds collected in 80 populations over 2,000 cumulative years, and counting.
SPI-Birds acts as a data hub and a catalogue of studied populations. It prevents data loss, secures easy data finding, use and integration and thus facilitates collaboration and synthesis. We provide community-derived data and meta-data standards and improve data integrity guided by the principles of Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR), and aligned with the existing metadata languages (e.g. ecological meta-data language).
The encouraging community involvement stems from SPI-Bird's decentralized approach: research groups retain full control over data use and their way of data management, while SPI-Birds creates tailored pipelines to convert each unique data format into a standard format. We outline the lessons learned, so that other communities (e.g. those working on other taxa) can adapt our successful model. Creating community-specific hubs (such as ours, COMADRE for animal demography, etc.) will aid much-needed large-scale ecological data integration

Date
01 September 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Malcolm Burgess
Authors
Culina, Antica Adriaensen, Frank Bailey, Liam D Burgess, Malcolm D Charmantier, Anne Cole, Ella F Eeva, Tapio Matthysen, Erik Nater, Chloé R Sheldon, Ben C
Published in
Journal of Animal Ecology
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Timing, staging, speed and destination of migrant Wood Sandpipers Tringa glareola breeding in Scotland

Apart from ringing recoveries and data on changes in mass at staging sites, little is known in detail about the migrations of the Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola, an Afro-Palearctic migrant whose numbers are declining. To obtain data on the timing and speed of migration, staging periods and locations, and their wintering grounds, we fitted geolocators to breeding Wood Sandpipers in Highland Scotland. The median last date on the breeding grounds was 25 June (range 18 Jun–2 Jul) for three birds over five southward migrations. Tracked birds staged for a median total of 15 days (range 11–17 days) at one or more sites in Scotland, Wales, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Mauritania before continuing south to Senegambia (i.e., Senegal and The Gambia), where the median first date was 14 July (range 3–23 Jul). The southward migration of ca. 5,000 km from Scotland took a median of 18 days (range 14–20.5 days), plus an estimated 1–3 days for the initial accumulation of fuel on the breeding grounds, thereby giving an average speed of migration of ca. 250 km per day. The wind direction and speed appeared to have no adverse effect on the southward migration. Tracked individuals spent the non-breeding season in Senegambia or Senegambia and southern Mauritania. The median last date in West Africa was 8 April (range 29 Mar–15 Apr). The birds staged for a median total of 18.5 days on the northward migration at one or more sites in Algeria, Morocco, Spain, France and England. Strong westerly winds are believed to have caused eastward drift over the Sahara during two northward migrations. The median first date back on the breeding grounds was 4 May (range 1–4 May). The northward migration took a median of 23.5 days (range 18.5–36 days) plus an estimated 8-day period for the initial fuelling in West Africa in order to cross the Sahara, so the average speed of migration (ca. 160 km per day) was slower than the southward migration.

Date
01 August 2021
RSPB Authors
Ian Cleasby
Authors
Summers, Ron Etheridge, Brian Christian, Nick Elkins, Norman Cleasby, Ian
Published in
Wader Study
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Population reinforcement and demographic changes needed to stabilise the population of a migratory vulture

One approach to stabilise small and declining populations is to breed individuals in captivity and release them into the wild to reinforce existing populations while working to reduce threats. Population reinforcement programmes require long-term commitments to be successful and can divert limited resources from other conservation measures. A rigorous evaluation whether reinforcement can stabilise a population is therefore essential to justify investments.

Many migratory species incur high mortality during their first migration, and releasing captive-bred birds at an older age may therefore benefit reinforcement programmes for migratory birds. We examine whether a small and declining population of a long-distance migratory raptor—the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus—can be stabilised using population reinforcement that reduces mortality during the first migration. We used an integrated population model to evaluate realistic reinforcement and survival improvement scenarios to estimate how many captive-bred birds would need to be released to stabilise the population.

Survival probability of wild juveniles during their first year (0.296; 95% CI 0.234–0.384) was too low for a stable population (population growth rate 0.949; 95% CI 0.940–0.956), but captive-bred juveniles released in their second calendar year had improved survival (0.566; 95% CI 0.265–0.862) during their first year in the wild.

Reinforcement of 15 birds per year for 30 years was insufficient to achieve a neutral or positive population growth rate. However, reinforcement reduced the probability of extinction by 2049 from 48% without reinforcement to <1% if 12 or more birds were released every year for 30 years. A 6% increase in annual survival probability would likely lead to a stable population without any reinforcement.

Synthesis and applications. Although releasing captive-bred birds can reduce high juvenile mortality during first migration and assist in postponing local extinction, further improvements of survival in the wild are required to safeguard a migratory population where threats in the wild will persist for decades despite management.

Date
25 July 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Saravia, Victoria Bounas, Anastasios Arkumarev, Volen Kret, Elzbieta Dobrev, Vladimir Dobrev, Dobromir Kordopatis, Panagiotis Skartsi, Theodora Velevski, Metodija
Published in
Journal of Applied Ecology 90 (5): 1228-1238
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Making more effective use of human behavioural science in conservation interventions

Conservation is predominantly an exercise in trying to change human behaviour – whether that of consumers whose choices drive unsustainable resource use, of land managers clearing natural habitats, or of policymakers failing to deliver on environmental commitments. Yet conservation research and practice have made only limited use of recent advances in behavioural science, including more novel behaviour change interventions. Instead conservationists mostly still rely on traditional behaviour change interventions – education, regulation and material incentivisation – largely without applying recent insights from behavioural science about how to improve such approaches. This paper explores how behavioural science could be more widely and powerfully applied in biodiversity conservation. We consider the diverse cast of actors involved in conservation problems and the resulting breadth of behaviour change that conservationists might want to achieve. Drawing on health research, we present a catalogue of types of interventions for changing behaviour, considering both novel, standalone interventions and the enhancement of more traditional conservation interventions. We outline a framework for setting priorities among interventions based on their likely impact, using ideas developed for climate change mitigation. We caution that, despite its promise, behavioural science is not a silver bullet for conservation. The effects of interventions aimed at changing behaviour can be modest, temporary, and context-dependent in ways that are as-yet poorly understood. We therefore close with a call for interventions to be tested and the findings widely disseminated to enable researchers and practitioners to build a much-needed evidence base on the effectiveness and limitations of these tools.

Date
23 July 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Richard Bradbury
Authors
Balmford, Andrew Bradbury, Richard B Bauer, Jan M Broad, Steven Burgess, Gayle Burgman, Mark Byerly, Hilary Clayton, Susan Espelosin, Dulce Ferraro, Paul J
Published in
Biological Conservation
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Hunting pressure a key contributor to the impending extinction of Bornean wild cattle

Widespread and unregulated hunting of ungulates in Southeast Asia is resulting in population declines and localised extinctions. Increased access to previously remote tropical forest following logging and changes in land-use facilitates hunting of elusive wild cattle in Borneo, which preferentially select secluded habitat. We collated the first population parameters for the Endangered Bornean banteng Bos javanicus lowi and developed population models to simulate the effect of different hunting offtake rates on survival and the recovery of the population using reintroduced captive-bred individuals. Our findings suggest that the banteng population in Sabah is geographically divided into 4 management units based on connectivity: the Northeast, Sipitang (West), Central and Southeast, which all require active management to prevent further population decline and local extinction. With only 1% offtake, population growth ceased in the Northeast and Sipitang. In the Southeast and Central units, growth ceased at 2 and 4% offtake, respectively. Extinction was estimated at 21-39 yr when offtake was 5%, occurring first in Sipitang and last in the Central unit. Supplementing the population with captive-bred individuals suggested that inbreeding was likely to limit population growth if using ≤20 founder individuals. Translocating 2 individuals for a 10 yr period, starting after 20 yr of captive breeding resulted in a faster population recovery over 100 yr and a lower extinction probability. Our results suggest that shielding the population against further losses from hunting will be key to their survival in the wild, provided that active management in the form of captive breeding is developed in the interim.

Date
15 July 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Penny Gardner
Authors
Gardner, Penny C Goossens, Benoît Bakar, Soffian Bin Abu Bruford, Michael W
Published in
Endangered Species Research
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Direct evidence of a prey depletion “halo” surrounding a pelagic predator colony

Colonially breeding birds and mammals form some of the largest gatherings of apex predators in the natural world and have provided model systems for studying mechanisms of population regulation in animals. According to one influential hypothesis, intense competition for food among large numbers of spatially constrained foragers should result in a zone of prey depletion surrounding such colonies, ultimately limiting their size. However, while indirect and theoretical support for this phenomenon, known as “Ashmole’s halo,” has steadily accumulated, direct evidence remains exceptionally scarce. Using a combination of vessel-based surveys and Global Positioning System tracking, we show that pelagic seabirds breeding at the tropical island that first inspired Ashmole’s hypothesis do indeed deplete their primary prey species (flying fish; Exocoetidae spp.) over a considerable area, with reduced prey density detectable >150 km from the colony. The observed prey gradient was mirrored by an opposing trend in seabird foraging effort, could not be explained by confounding environmental variability, and can be approximated using a mechanistic consumption–dispersion model, incorporating realistic rates of seabird predation and random prey dispersal. Our results provide a rare view of the resource footprint of a pelagic seabird colony and reveal how aggregations of these central-place foraging, marine top predators profoundly influence the oceans that surround them.

Date
06 July 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Bolton, Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Weber, Sam B Richardson, Andrew J Brown, Judith Bolton, Mark Clark, Bethany L Godley, Brendan J Leat, Eliza Oppel, Steffen Shearer, Laura Soetaert, Karline ER
Published in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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When speed matters: The importance of flight speed in an avian collision risk model

Renewable energy continues to grow globally, and the number of offshore wind farms is set to increase. Whilst wind energy developments provide energy security and reduced carbon budgets, they may impact bird populations through collision mortality, habitat modification and avoidance. To date, avian collision mortality has received the most attention and collision risk models have been developed to estimate the potential mortality caused by wind turbines. The utility of these models relies not only on their underlying assumptions but also on the data available to ensure the predictions are informative. Using a stochastic collision risk model (sCRM; based on the Band collision risk model) as an example, we explore the importance of bird flight speed and consider how the assumptions of the model influence the sensitivity to flight speed. Furthermore we explore the consequences of using site-specific GPS-derived flight speed rather than a standard generic value, with Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus as an example, and consider how this generic value is currently used. We found that the model was most sensitive to the parameters of bird density, non-avoidance rate and percentage of birds at collision risk height, as well as bird flight speed. Using site-specific flight speed data derived from GPS tags rather than a standard value reduced the predicted number of collisions. We highlight that within the model, both the estimation of the probability of collision (PColl) and the flux of birds are sensitive to the bird flight speed; this sensitivity acts in opposite directions but the two do not necessarily balance out. Therefore, when the sCRM is used as generally done, there is little difference in collision estimates if airspeeds (bird flight speed relative to air through which it is moving) are used rather than groundspeeds (bird flight speed relative to ground). Estimates of seabird collision rates in relation to offshore wind farms are impacting future offshore wind development. By using site specific flight speed estimates and, accounting for different speeds in relation to wind direction, we demonstrate that cumulative collision estimates can be affected, highlighting the need for more representative flight speed data and where possible site-specific data.

Date
04 June 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Aly McCluskie
Authors
Masden, Elizabeth A Cook, Aonghais SCP McCluskie, Aly Bouten, Willem Burton, Niall HK Thaxter, Chris B
Published in
Environmental Impact Assessment Review
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Effectively integrating experiments into conservation practice

Making effective decisions in conservation requires a broad and robust evidence base describing the likely outcomes of potential actions to draw on. Such evidence is typically generated from experiments or trials that evaluate the effectiveness of actions, but for many actions evidence is missing or incomplete.
We discuss how evidence can be generated by incorporating experiments into conservation practice. This is likely to be most efficient if opportunities for carrying out informative, well-designed experiments are identified at an early stage during conservation management planning.
We consider how to navigate a way between the stringent requirements of statistical textbooks and the complexities of carrying out ecological experiments in the real world by considering practical approaches to the key issues of replication, controls and randomization.
We suggest that routinely sharing the results of experiments could increase both the value for money and effectiveness of conservation practice.
We argue that with early planning and a small additional input of effort, important new learning can be gained during the implementation of many conservation actions.

Date
24 May 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Ockendon, Nancy Amano, Tatsuya Cadotte, Marc Downey, Harriet Hancock, Mark H Thornton, Ann Tinsley‐Marshall, Paul Sutherland, William J
Published in
Ecological Solutions and Evidence
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