Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cornering endangered species




Date: March 28, 2017
Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

As certain species decline in number, the geographic areas they inhabit also shrink. Still, even with less space to occupy, these decreasing populations manage to remain locally abundant.

However, in the places where these species can still be found, they remain easy, affordable targets for hunters and fishermen. This in turn can drive the animals to extinction.

So found a group of UC Santa Barbara scientists whose research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We often think of species like elephants and bluefin tunas as being overharvested because of their high market value," said lead author Matt Burgess, a postdoctoral researcher in UCSB's Sustainable Fisheries Group. "Our results suggest that we should also be paying attention to their range contractions. In fact, range contraction can put a species at risk of overharvesting regardless of how high its market value is."

In order to determine which species are affected by this phenomenon, Burgess and his co-authors used a mathematical model to derive conditions under which it would be possible to profitably harvest a species to extinction.

Reviewing relevant literature to identify harvested ocean and land animals so impacted, the investigators found several endangered species -- Bengal tigers, Asian elephants and Atlantic and Pacific bluefin tunas -- whose geographic ranges have shrunk faster than their population sizes have declined. This kind of range contraction makes species especially susceptible to extinction.

"To date, humans have destroyed a much higher fraction of terrestrial habitats than marine habitats, so it's not surprising that we have seen more range contractions on land," says co-author Steve Gaines, dean of UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

The study also found schooling behavior -- the tendency for animals to aggregate in large groups -- to be an important risk factor for range contraction in declining fish populations. "It's ironic that the very behaviors, such as schooling, that protected species from predators now make them more susceptible to extinction by humans," says co-author David Tilman, a professor at UCSB's Bren School and Regents' Professor at the University of Minnesota.

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