Conservation, Science

New publication: Conditioned taste aversion in human-wildlife conflicts

On the 13th of October, our review on an animal behaviour-based conservation intervention appeared online in Frontiers in Conservation Science. In this review, we visually, quantitatively and narratively synthesize the existing (English) evidence-base on the effectiveness of conditioned taste aversion (CTA) in human-wildlife conflict contexts. By evaluating this literature in the view of learning principles we were able to compose a decision-support table to guide future applications of this technique. Working with all coauthors for the first time, this project has taught me a lot about learning theory and the state-of-the-art application of it in conservation.

Modern wildlife management has dual mandates to reduce human-wildlife conflict (HWC) for burgeoning populations of people while supporting conservation of biodiversity and the ecosystem functions it affords. These opposing goals can sometimes be achieved with non-lethal intervention tools that promote coexistence between people and wildlife.

CTA has been applied to a wide range of animal taxa (57 (sub)species, 26 families and 11 orders)

One such tool is conditioned taste aversion (CTA), the application of an evolutionary relevant learning paradigm in which an animal associates a transitory illness to the taste, odor or other characteristic of a particular food item, resulting in a long-term change in its perception of palatability. Despite extensive support for the power of CTA in laboratory studies, field studies have exhibited mixed results, which erodes manager confidence in using this tool.

Application of CTA in various human-wildlife conflict categories across time

In this paper, we review the literature on CTA in the context of wildlife conservation and management and discuss how success could be increased with more use of learning theory related to CTA, particularly selective association, stimulus salience, stimulus generalization, and extinction of behavior. We apply learning theory to the chronological stages of CTA application in the field and illustrate them by synthesizing and reviewing past applications of CTA in HWC situations. Specifically, we discuss (1) when CTA is suitable, (2) how aversion can be most effectively (and safely) established, (3) how generalization of aversion from treated to untreated food can be stimulated and (4) how extinction of aversion can be avoided.

For each question, we offer specific implementation suggestions and methods for achieving them, which we summarize in a decision-support table that might be used by managers to guide their use of CTA across a range of contexts. Additionally, we highlight promising ideas that may further improve the effectiveness of CTA field applications in the future. With this review, we aspire to demonstrate the diverse past applications of CTA as a non-lethal tool in wildlife management and conservation and facilitate greater application and efficacy in the future.

Reference
Snijders, L., Thierij, N. M., Appleby, R., St Clair, C. C., & Tobajas, J. (2021) Conditioned taste aversion as a tool for mitigating human-wildlife conflicts. Frontiers in Conservation Science, 72: 744704

Communication, Conservation

Exploring Conservation Conflicts: New format

For our Exploring Conservation Conflicts blog, we are trying out a new format: personal contributions. We already got two wonderful personal stories tackling very different but important questions in conservation. Check them out!

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges humans have ever faced. This exploration is a personal account of the role that climate change plays in the daily life of researcher Dr Yann Gager. Yann explains to us what individual researchers can (and should?) do to help the fight against climate change. Read more

flatten the curveIn conservation, often a choice has to be made for the lesser of two evils. How can conservationists cope with such situations of seemingly inevitable loss? Here, we share a personal contribution from Dr Chelsea Batavia, in which she takes us along in the background story of her recent publication The moral residue of conservation, addressing exactly this issue. Read more

Conservation, Science

Green vs Green dilemma

Tanja and I recently published our fifth Conservation Conflict Exploration. We asked experts from a wildlife ecology and a human dimensions background to share their perspectives on wind turbines and wildlife with us.

The development of wind turbines in Germany is a controversial topic. While wind turbines promise to contribute to climate conservation goals in this century, the ongoing negative impact of wind turbines on airborne wildlife such as bats and birds is undeniable. Hence, the situation around wind turbines is labelled by some as a green versus green dilemma. In this exploration, we asked two experts, Marcus Fritze, a wildlife biologist, and Sophia Kochalski, a conservation social scientist, the following three questions:

  • In your own words, could you briefly describe the situation to us?
  • Why do you think is it so difficult to find consensus among stakeholders?
  • Considering your expertise, what could be one approach to mitigate this conflict?

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Marcus Fritze (c) RBB

I think that it is possible to run wind turbines bird- and bat-friendly and economically acceptable at the same time. The difficulty is greed. – Marcus Fritze

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Sophia Kochalski

Compromises can be made by both sides when planning wind farms. – Sophia Kochalski

Interested in how these expert’s views on this ‘wicked problem’ and their solutions? Then check out the blog post here. And while you’re at it, have a look at our twitter account.

Conservation, Science

New publication: Elephant rewilding

Recently, I received the honourable request to comment on an article about the rewilding of captive Asian elephants. It’s not a topic I am very familiar with, so writing this commentary actually became a wonderful learning experience for me.

Several strong commentaries from cultural, ethical and psychological perspectives were already written. Here I tried to also add a relevant ecological & evolutionary perspective, focussing on the behavioural ecology of Asian elephants and their functional role in the ecosystem.

Abstract: Baker & Winkler make a thought-provoking contribution to the discussion of what role captive animals could play in nature conservation and how we could get there through rewilding. There certainly is potential for captive Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, to become targets of conservation efforts, but there are also many questions: (1) How much do (behavioural) traits of captive-origin animals differ from their free conspecifics? (2) What predicts the likelihood and strength of social reintegration of captive animals into free populations? (3) How much of an Asian elephant’s functional role in the environment can captive animals still fulfil and how may this influence the evolutionary dynamics of Asian elephant populations? These questions are challenging, but also an opportunity to gain crucial knowledge and insight into the elephant’s ecological role, as well as our own.

If you are interested in reading the complete commentary (approx. 1000 words) see here.

Reference
Snijders L (2020) Ecological and evolutionary dynamics of elephant rewilding. Animal Sentience 28(6): 1-4.