Mon 10 May 2010: 3pm @ LT20 – William Laurance on “Long-term changes and threats in the world’s tropical protected areas”

“Islands of Survival: Long-term changes and threats in the world’s tropical protected areas”

By William F. Laurance
School of Marine & Tropical Biology,
James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

Mon 10 May 2010: 3pm-4pm
Lecture Theatre 20
(see map)
Block S3/S4, Level 1
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore

Host: Professor Navjot Sodhi.

About the talk – Many of the world’s leading tropical protected areas are now fragments or man-made islands surrounded by drastically modified landscapes. Even some of the historically most-remote sites suffer from hunting and other forms of human encroachment. Will these protected areas function as arks to help conserve tropical biodiversity, or are the arks sinking? Moreover, does each protected area face a unique suite of threats, or do they suffer from common drivers of change?

Using data from >240 expert interviews, I will assess long-term shifts in biodiversity and ecosystem processes and identify their potential drivers in 60 key protected areas across the American, Asia-Pacific and African tropics. These findings have potentially vital implications for the future of tropical biodiversity.

About the speaker – William Laurance is Distinguished Research Professor in the School of Marine & Tropical Biology at James Cook University. Laurance received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989 and then held research positions with the CSIRO and Wet Tropics Management Authority in north Queensland, before joining the Smithsonian Institution where he was , based in Brazil and Panama. After 14 years there, he joined JCU He is also a research associate at Harvard University.

Professor Laurance’s research focuses on the impacts of intensive land-uses, such as habitat fragmentation, logging, and wildfires, on tropical forests and species. He is further interested in climatic change and conservation policy. He works in the Amazon, Africa, Southeast Asia, and tropical Australia, and has published five books and over 300 scientific and popular articles. A leading voice for conservation, Dr Laurance believes that scientists must actively engage policy makers and the general public, as well as other scientists.

He is a fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science and former president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the world’s largest scientific organization devoted to the study and preservation of tropical ecosystems. He has received many scientific honors including the prestigious BBVA Frontiers in Ecology and Conservation Biology Award, regarded by many as the ‘Nobel Prize’ for environmental conservation.

Follow up article on Weiting’s honours project: Threats to the Siglap Civets

Weiting just finished her exams. Before that, however, she presented her poster, submitted her thesis and delivered her first public talk to some 300 people during the during the “Zoological Explorations of Singapore” on 16th April 2010.

Relieved of all that pressure, I am quite sure Weiting looks like this these days:

Of course she’s not done yet. There are debts to pay. One of which is public education. Well, I suppose she has bought some time now, as she has just had some help.

Update (06 May 2010) – Ria Tan has blogged about Weiting’s lovely public talk, see: “Celebrating Singapore’s Biodiversity“.

The Straits Times has followed up on the results of Weiting’s honours year project on the civets of Siglap, which they first reported on last November, (“The great ‘musang’ stakeout“) (30 Nov 2009). Read on…

“‘Musang’ facing threat from annoyed residents,” by Ang Yiying. The Straits Times, 04 May 2010.

WRS photo - civet project
The musang, believed to be the last small wild carnivore in Singapore, has made its home in the east. A study team puts its population in Siglap and Opera estates at between 20 and 30. — PHOTOS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

THE musang, or Asian palm civet, is clinging on as a species in the urban environment of Singapore. It is believed to be the last small wild carnivore here.

A study of its presence in the Siglap and Opera estates shows that the animals are breeding, which bodes well for its preservation. But this delicate balance is being threatened by residents snaring them and possible changes to housing developments.

Weighing about 3.2kg, with grey, coarse shaggy hair and a tail about the same length as its body, the musang, also known as the toddy cat, is common to the region.

While their numbers in Singapore are not available, these nocturnal creatures have been sighted in the east. The Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and National University of Singapore’s biological sciences department put the musang population in the Siglap and Opera estates at between 20 and 30.

The estimates are based on sightings in the area and photographs taken by the study team and remote camera traps that are triggered by motion.

About five offspring were caught on camera, a sign that the musangs are breeding and could be a sustainable population. Their food sources include small birds and fruits.

But residents say more of the musangs are being snared by those who consider them a nuisance. The animals are known to patter on rooftops and eat fruits from trees grown in residents’ gardens.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the number of musangs it received went up from 23 in 2007 to 31 last year. Almost all came from the Siglap and Opera estates. So far this year, seven have been turned over to the agency, all from that area.

Musangs handed to the AVA are released into nature areas. Those that are weaker may be sent to the zoo.

The Night Safari’s acting assistant curator of zoology Abdul Razak Jaffar, who is part of the study team, thinks the musangs should be left alone in their urban stronghold. ‘Right now, we’re not sure how these animals are doing in the nature reserve,’ he said.

‘So, if we keep pushing them there, there may be a point of time when the resources are not enough to sustain the introduced population or they may not adapt well because they are from a different location.’

WRS is looking into organising night walks in the area to allay people’s fears about the harmless wild animal which also eats pests such as rats.

Dr Vilma D’Rozario of environmental group Cicada Tree Eco-Place, which teaches children about local flora and fauna, has another concern.

The musang, which likes to stay under the eaves of old houses, may have nowhere to go as new buildings may have sealed rooftops that they cannot get into. ‘I feel that as old homes get torn down, there won’t be many musangs left,’ said Dr D’Rozario.

Thanks to WildSingapore for the alert – as usual!

Seminar, Mon 03 May 2010: 4pm – Theodore Evans (CSIRO) on “New views on termite biology”

image001.jpg (RGB)

“New views on termite biology: communication and ecosystem services”

Theodore Evans
Division of Entomology,
CSIRO, Australia

Mon 3rd May 2010: 4pm
@ NUS DBS Conference Room
For map, see:

About the talk – This talk will discuss two different aspects of termite biology. The first is more fundamental and behavioural: how do termites gain information and communicate given the constraints of their biology? The second is more applied and environmental: what ecological functions do termites (and ants) have in soil and can humans harness them as ecosystem services?

[1] How do termites gain information and communicate given the constraints of their biology?
Communication and information gathering is essential for cooperative activities of social animals. Much research effort has been expended exploring chemical communication in termites, following the diverse examples observed in ants, yet only one family of pheromones has been found, those for trail following. Given the similarity of complexity of ant and termite social behaviours, clearly an alternative communication method must be used to coordinate termite activity.

One candidate is vibration and acoustical communication given soldier termites communicate warning to workers using vibrational alarm signals; first observed 220 years ago. My work has demonstrated that termites detect food quantity using vibrations generated by their chewing, use these signals to find nestmates, and to discriminate different species.

[2] What ecological functions do termites (and ants) have in soil and can humans harness them as ecosystem services?
Biodiversity provides critical beneficial ecosystem services, such as water purification, soil health and carbon sequestration, yet the ecosystem function underlying these services is poorly understood as they are regulated by small and prosaic organisms, such as ants and termites. Ants and termites regulate key ecological processes such as decomposition, nitrogen fixation, nutrient cycling, herbivory and seed dispersal, and are widely regarded as ‘ecosystem engineers’. However, whether they can be used to garner ecosystem services
remains largely untested.

Most of the small amount of available evidence comes from subsistence agricultural systems, so I tested whether industrial scale agriculture can use such services. I have completed a three year field experiment to measure ecosystem services provided by ants and termites in no-till dryland wheat. Yield was 55% higher and weeds were 50% lower in control plots compared with insect exclusion plots. Yield was higher due to the increased water infiltration and nitrogen availability.