Conservation, Science

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.

Communication, Conservation, Science

The case of cats and conservation

Tanja and I explored another conservation conflict on our Medium blog.

When a potential response to an urgent situation is either unlikely to work at all or unlikely to address the bulk of the problem, under what conditions should we try it anyway?

In this exploration, we wanted to share perspectives on the controversial case of cats in Australia, also by some called the ‘war against cats’. In 2015, the Australian Government launched the threatened species strategy to kill 2 Mio cats in Australia by 2020 with the aim to protect endemic wildlife. Four years after the strategy was launched, Australian researchers in Conservation Letters questioned the motives (conservation or politically driven) and the science behind the decision.

Just how much of a sensitive topic this particular case study is, we noticed by how difficult it was for us to find contributors. Luckily we found two experts from Moral Philosophy that shared their insight with us:

Carlos Gray Santana is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the University of Utah. Dr Santana’s uses ethics to shed light on complicated issues such as the environment and human cognition. William S. Lynn is a Research Scientist in the George Perkins Marsh Institute at Clark University. The focus of Bill’s work is the ethics and politics of animal protection and sustainability.

For optional guidance, we asked the experts the following questions:

  • Why is the matter of cats and wildlife so controversial?
  • Why do you think politicians focus on culling cats rather than on habitat loss (as suggested in Doherty et al. 2019) and could open discussions be fostered to move beyond culling?
  • How do you think the public would respond when culling of cats turns out not to be effective in halting endemic species decline?

Curious about what they had to say? Read our blog post here.
And you can also follow us on Twitter!

Photo credits: Pacto Visual on Unsplash

Science

New preprint: Don’t forget about your friends

Remember those friends you never saw anymore after they got hitched? Not in geese.

In our recently published preprint we show that barnacle geese keep hanging out with there favourite early-life social companions also after they pair up. Females show a break during the breeding season but display their social preferences again in the following winter. Males keep their prefered companions throughout the breeding and wintering season and these companionships were predicted by familiarity and genetic relatedness.

We also show that especially males were aggressive during the breeding season towards both males and females and this possibly hampered their female partners to hang out with their own ‘friends’ during breeding but not winter.

In summary, our study reveals the robustness of social bonds formed early in life, carrying over across pair formation, even after extended temporal disruptions. Our findings thus highlight how the early-life social environment can have life-long consequences on individuals’ social life, even in monogamous species.

Reference
RHJM Kurvers, L Prox, DR Farine, C Jongeling, L Snijders (2019)

 

Communication, Conservation

The return of the ‘beast’?

We (Tanja and I) just published a new conservation conflict exploration on our Medium blog!

We asked three experts from the fields of Human Dimensions, Wildlife Research and Moral Philosophy to share their perspectives with us on a particular case study:

Germany relaxes rules on shooting wolves

“After a emotional debate pitting environmental against farming concerns, the government decided that wolves can now be shot if they cause “serious damage” to livestock farmers.

In cases of repeated attacks against sheep flocks or cattle herds, individuals can be hunted down even if it is unclear which animal in a pack was responsible.”

We asked the experts:

  1. Why do people struggle so much with the return of wolves?
  2. Should killing of wolves in Germany be allowed/legal?
  3. What would be the best first step(s) to address this conflict in Germany or other countries in similar situations?

Curious about what they had to say? Read our blog post here!
You can also follow us on Twitter.

Photo credits: Jana Malin; mythos-wolf.de

Science

New publication: Repeatability of signalling traits in the avian dawn chorus

Our newest open access paper on repeatability of avian signalling (song)  traits just came online in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

Repeatability, consistent individual differences, in signalling behaviour is interesting because it means that those receiving the signal (i.e. listening to the song) could reliably learn something about how the individual singer compares to other singers/competitors.

We repeatedly recorded the dawn song of great tit males throughout the breeding season and show that start time of dawn song and repertoire size are individually repeatable both before and during the egg-laying stage of the mate (when she is fertile). Surprisingly the time a male started singing appeared to be more repeatable (consistent) than repertoire size, despite that the start time was also influenced by variable overnight temperatures. Start time was also more repeatable before than during egg-laying and we suggest that this is related to the behaviour of the (assumingly) intended receivers of the song, the females.

For a subset of the singers, we also explored a potential link between the absolute song trait values, the repeatability of these values and personality. We did not find a link but follow-up studies with a larger sample size, and including additional song traits, will be needed to confirm the true absence of such a link.

Reference
Naguib M, Diehl J, van Oers K, Snijders L (2019). Repeatability of signalling traits in the avian dawn chorus. Frontiers in Zoology 16: 1-11.
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12983-019-0328-7 

Conservation, Science

New publication: Effectiveness of animal conditioning interventions

Our systematic map protocol, outlining the background and methods of our approach to map and review the effectiveness of animal conditioning interventions in reducing human-wildlife conflict, is now online.

SysMap_print

This map is part of a special initiative of a team of behavioural ecologists, who all committed to systematically map and/or review a topic in conservation behaviour. Read more about our plans and the protocols of the other team members here.

SysMap_print2

 

Reference
Snijders L, Greggor A.L., Hilderink F., Doran C. (2019) Effectiveness of animal conditioning interventions in reducing human-wildlife conflict: a systematic map protocol. Environmental Evidence 8: 1-10
https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-019-0153-7