The biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate variability of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean are major components of the whole Earth system. Antarctic ecosystems are driven more strongly by the physical environment than many other marine and terrestrial ecosystems. As a consequence, to understand ecological functioning, cross-disciplinary studies are especially important in Antarctic research. The conceptual study presented here is based on a workshop initiated by the Research Programme Antarctic Thresholds – Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which focussed on challenges in identifying and applying cross-disciplinary approaches in the Antarctic. Novel ideas and first steps in their implementation were clustered into eight themes. These ranged from scale problems, through risk maps, and organism/ecosystem responses to multiple environmental changes and evolutionary processes. Scaling models and data across different spatial and temporal scales were identified as an overarching challenge. Approaches to bridge gaps in Antarctic research programmes included multi-disciplinary monitoring, linking biomolecular findings and simulated physical environments, as well as integrative ecological modelling. The results of advanced cross-disciplinary approaches can contribute significantly to our knowledge of Antarctic and global ecosystem functioning, the consequences of climate change, and to global assessments that ultimately benefit humankind.
Food for Thought
Jellyfish and other pelagic gelatinous organisms (“gelata”) are increasingly perceived as an important component of marine food webs but remain poorly understood. Their importance as prey in the oceans is extremely difficult to quantify due in part to methodological challenges in verifying predation on gelatinous structures. Miniaturized animal-borne video data loggers now enable feeding events to be monitored from a predator's perspective. We gathered a substantial video dataset (over 350 hours of exploitable footage) from 106 individuals spanning four species of non-gelatinous-specialist predators (penguins), across regions of the southern oceans (areas south of 30°S). We documented nearly 200 cases of targeted attacks on carnivorous gelata by all four species, at all seven studied localities. Our findings emphasize that gelatinous organisms actually represent a widespread but currently under-represented trophic link across the southern oceans, even for endothermic predators, which have high energetic demands. The use of modern technological tools, such as animal-borne video data loggers, will help to correctly identify the ecological niche of gelata.
Many conservationists undertake environmentally harmful activities in their private lives such as flying and eating meat, while calling for people as a whole to reduce such behaviors. To quantify the extent of our hypocrisy and put our actions into context, we conducted a questionnaire-based survey of 300 conservationists and compared their personal (rather than professional) behavior, across 10 domains, with that of 207 economists and 227 medics. We also explored two related issues: the role of environmental knowledge in promoting pro-environmental behavior, and the extent to which different elements of people's footprint co-vary across behavioral domains. The conservationists we sampled have a slightly lower overall environmental footprint than economists or medics, but this varies across behaviors. Conservationists take fewer personal flights, do more to lower domestic energy use, recycle more, and eat less meat - but don't differ in how they travel to work, and own more pets than do economists or medics. Interestingly, conservationists also score no better than economists on environmental knowledge and knowledge of pro-environmental actions. Overall footprint scores are higher for males, US nationals, economists, and people with higher degrees and larger incomes, but (as has been reported in other studies) are unrelated to environmental knowledge. Last, we found different elements of individuals' footprints are generally not intercorrelated, and show divergent demographic patterns. These findings suggest three conclusions. First, lowering people's footprints may be most effectively achieved via tailored interventions targeting higher-impact behaviors (such as meat consumption, flying and family size). Second, as in health matters, education about environmental issues or pro-environmental actions may have little impact on behavior. Last, while conservationists perform better on certain measures than other groups, we could (and we would argue, must) do far more to reduce our footprint.
There is increasing evidence that science & engineering PhD students lose interest in an academic career over the course of graduate training. It is not clear, however, whether this decline reflects students being discouraged from pursuing an academic career by the challenges of obtaining a faculty job or whether it reflects more fundamental changes in students’ career goals for reasons other than the academic labor market. We examine this question using a longitudinal survey that follows a cohort of PhD students from 39 U.S. research universities over the course of graduate training to document changes in career preferences and to explore potential drivers of such changes. We report two main results. First, although the vast majority of students start the PhD interested in an academic research career, over time 55% of all students remain interested while 25% lose interest entirely. In addition, 15% of all students were never interested in an academic career during their PhD program, while 5% become more interested. Thus, the declining interest in an academic career is not a general phenomenon across all PhD students, but rather reflects a divergence between those students who remain highly interested in an academic career and other students who are no longer interested in one. Second, we show that the decline we observe is not driven by expectations of academic job availability, nor by related factors such as postdoctoral requirements or the availability of research funding. Instead, the decline appears partly due to the misalignment between students’ changing preferences for specific job attributes on the one hand, and the nature of the academic research career itself on the other. Changes in students’ perceptions of their own research ability also play a role, while publications do not. We discuss implications for scientific labor markets, PhD career development programs, and science policy.
What exactly does “doing conservation” or “incorporating conservation” into ocean science mean? Although today it is often coupled with the sustainable use of natural resources, by definition, conservation traditionally involves the preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment or natural ecosystems (Soulé and Wilcox, 1980). In other words, if the conservation intervention is successful then the ecosystem should reflect a better (or perhaps, more commonly, a “less worse”) state as a result. In this context, is simply conducting science conservation? Are outreach and advocacy conservation—whether through old school print and TV/radio broadcasts or through social media such as blogs or building a Twitter following? The field of modern marine conservation is an interdisciplinary one (e.g., van Dyke, 2008; Parsons and MacPherson, 2016) with a landscape that is populated with individuals engaged in science, education, social marketing, economics, resource management, and policy.
But how are we measuring our impact considering this diverse field? How do we know that the ecosystems toward which we direct our conservation efforts are “better” or at least “less worse” than they would be without them? Conservation needs to be more than just “being busy” or “feeling” that we are having an impact. And shouldn't we strive to ensure that conservation is not just conversation? How do we connect our actions to ecosystem responses in meaningful time frames?
This paper summarizes the results of a focus group discussion session on this topic held at the 2016 International Marine Conservation Congress, St John's, Newfoundland. It aims to assess ways to measure positive effects of marine conservation efforts beyond the “feel good” aspect to demonstrable impact.
Scientists are increasingly dissatisfied with funding systems that rely on peer assessment and, accordingly, have suggested several proposals for reform. One of these proposals is to distribute available funds equally among all qualified researchers, with no interference from peer review. Despite its numerous benefits, such egalitarian sharing faces the objection, among others, that it would lead to an unacceptable dilution of resources. The aim of the present paper is to assess this particular objection. We estimate (for the Netherlands, the U.S. and the U.K.) how much researchers would receive were they to get an equal share of the government budgets that are currently allocated through competitive peer assessment. For the Netherlands, we furthermore estimate what researchers would receive were we to differentiate between researchers working in low-cost, intermediate-cost and high-cost disciplines. Given these estimates, we then determine what researchers could afford in terms of PhD students, Postdocs, travel and equipment. According to our results, researchers could, on average, maintain current PhD student and Postdoc employment levels, and still have at their disposal a moderate (the U.K.) to considerable (the Netherlands, U.S.) budget for travel and equipment. This suggests that the worry that egalitarian sharing leads to unacceptable dilution of resources is unjustified. Indeed, our results strongly suggest that there is room for far more egalitarian distribution of funds than happens in the highly competitive funding schemes so prevalent today.
- Virtual reality (VR) is defined as the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. Other related technologies include augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).
- Virtual reality has the potential to be an effective tool that marine educators and conservationists can use to motivate an interest in and empathy for marine conservation and education at a global level.
- However, the various differing systems that are currently available, many with different but vaguely similar names, can make this groundbreaking technology particularly daunting for newcomers.
- Understanding the differences among VR, AR, and MR is key to understanding how best to use this technology for the promotion of marine conservation and global education.
- There are some potential legal and health-related impacts on users of VR technology that need to be addressed before VR can truly be effective on a global scale.
- Infinite Scuba is a video game developed by Cascade Game Foundry (CGF) that enables players to explore the ocean virtually with Mission Blue founder, Dr Sylvia Earle.
- Cascade Game Foundry (CGF) recently introduced a VR version of Infinite Scuba and made some discoveries that should be encouraging to those engaged in the global marine conservation effort.
- Virtual reality technology has the potential to play a key role in mobilizing knowledge and conservation action in the future.
A proposed nationwide ban on the sale of shark fins within the United States would undermine sustainable shark fisheries, would have little effect on global shark mortality, and would perpetuate the misconception that the shark fin trade is the only threat facing sharks. Instead, placing a priority on policies focusing on sustainable shark fisheries management is preferred for meeting the goals of shark conservation.
This thematic study focuses on the contribution the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO 1972), commonly known as the World Heritage Convention (“the Convention”), can make to wilderness conservation around the world.
Chapter 1 first reviews the definition of the term “wilderness” and summarizes the reasons why wilderness conservation is a critical conservation objective. Chapter 1 then provides a brief discussion of some of the key aspects of the World Heritage Convention, and suggests that an even more systematic wilderness approach would be important to further some of the Convention’s key objectives, including maintaining the integrity of existing sites in the face of rapid global change, promoting the goal of a credible and representative World Heritage List (UNESCO 2011a, UNESCO 2015), and achieving better integration of natural and cultural heritage.
Chapter 2 highlights the fact that wilderness areas and large landscapes and seascapes are often home to Indigenous Peoples whose survival and cultural integrity are closely linked to these areas. Chapter 2 assesses the important leadership role the Convention can play in shifting conservation thinking and practice with respect to ensuring biocultural integrity and social equity, and in particular recognizing Indigenous Peoples not just as stakeholders but also as rights holders. Chapter 2 also notes the on-going efforts by IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM to connect practice and build the capacity of heritage practitioners as a crucial contribution towards creating the space and the tools for integrated and equitable conservation approaches.
Chapter 3 reviews Statements of Outstanding Universal Value (SoOUV) for the numerous natural and mixed World Heritage sites that have been inscribed on the World Heritage List for their wilderness values or where wilderness is key to the conditions of integrity that lead to a site’s Outstanding Universal Value. This chapter reviews the types of sites that the Convention has already recognized as wilderness at a protected area scale, providing a crucial guide for what might qualify for inscription in the future.
Chapter 4 reviews the extent to which natural and mixed World Heritage sites overlap with global-scale terrestrial and marine wilderness. This analysis makes it possible to assess broad gaps in coverage of global-scale wilderness areas on the World Heritage List, which in turn makes it possible to identify regions where wilderness sites with potential Outstanding Universal Value might be found in the future. Chapter 5 summarizes the activities that are necessary for implementing a wilderness and large landscape and seascapes approach under the Convention. These include two broad categories of activities. The first category involves assessing existing World Heritage sites to gauge whether they are sufficiently large and/or connected to other protected areas to maintain their integrity into the future, or with a view to expanding sites to better recognize nature-culture linkages. The second category includes nominating new wilderness World Heritage sites to fill gaps in wilderness coverage, while ensuring that these new sites are also sufficiently large and/or connected to other protected areas to maintain their values. Chapter 5 also reviews the tools that are available under the Convention to facilitate these activities and suggests policy innovations that could further facilitate a wilderness and large landscapes and seascapes approach.
Finally, we conclude with five case studies describing indigenous and community relationships with wilderness and large landscapes and seascapes that are partially or completely covered by World Heritage sites. The four sites are the Golden Mountains of Altai in the Russian Federation, Kakadu National Park in Australia, Manú National Park in Peru, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Papahānaumokuākea in the United States. The purpose of these case studies is to give voice on complex issues relating to biocultural landscapes, World Heritage and protected areas to Indigenous Peoples and communities themselves. A second purpose is to express the profound personal dimension of protecting wild nature: the need for an individual (i.e. not just societal) ethical commitment to conserving wild places, the need for reciprocity between human beings and wild landscapes and seascapes and the profound spiritual dimension of this relationship.
Areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) lie outside the 200 nautical mile limits of national sovereignty and cover 58% of the ocean surface. Global conservation agreements recognize biodiversity loss in ABNJ and aim to protect ≥10% of oceans in marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. However, limited mechanisms to create MPAs in ABNJ currently exist, and existing management is widely regarded as inadequate to safeguard biodiversity. Negotiations are therefore underway for an “internationally legally binding instrument” (ILBI) to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to enable biodiversity conservation beyond national jurisdiction. While this agreement will, hopefully, establish a mechanism to create MPAs in ABNJ, discussions to date highlight a further problem: namely, defining what to protect. We have a good framework for terrestrial and coastal habitats, however habitats in ABNJ, particularly the open ocean, are less understood and poorly defined. Often, predictable broad oceanographic features are used to define open ocean habitats. But what exactly, constitutes the habitat—the water, or the species that live there? Complicating matters, species in the open sea are often highly mobile. Here, we argue that mobile marine organisms provide the structure-forming biomass and constitute “habitat” in the open ocean. For an ABNJ ILBI to offer effective protection to marine biodiversity it must consider habitats a function of their inhabitants and represent all marine life within its scope. Only by enabling strong protection for every element of biodiversity can we hope to be fully successful in conserving it.