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Summer Travels:
Population ecology projects lead Bruce Kendall to Brisbane, Australia

Bruce Kendall

August found Bren School associate professor Bruce Kendall spending ten days in Brisbane, Australia, working on a pair of research projects.

For the first, a continuation of work he began while on sabbatical during the 2008-09 academic year, he collaborated with Bren alumna Carissa Klein (MESM 2006) and Professor Hugh Possingham, both of whom are at the the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland.

Together, they developed strategies for designing-reserve networks to protect the many land and marine species about which little is known in terms of habitat needs or spatial distribution. They submitted a paper on the study, titled "Ignorant conservation: designing protected area systems to conserve the known unknowns," to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper emphasized several points:

  • It is important to minimize both the mean and variability of distances between reserves.
  • It is important to avoid spatial biases, such as those that arise when trying to accommodate socioeconomic values.
  • Actual conservation outcomes are less than might be expected just by looking at total reserve area. For example, for many species, putting 20 percent of land in reserves guarantees coverage of only about 10 percent of the species' range).

Questions asked in the study were originally motivated by Klein's 2006 Group Project (Kendall was the faculty advisor), which deveoped strategies for placing marine protected areas along the California coast, as mandated by the Marine Life Protected Act. While the paper is theoretical at the moment, Kendall says the researchers hope that the principles they identified will be incorporated into conservation planning practice.

The second project involved analyzing patterns and causes of long-term declines in migratory shorebirds, such as sandpipers, curlews, whimbrels, etc. in Australia.

"These birds breed in the Arctic — mostly Siberia and some in Alaska — and then migrate south along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which crosses the Yellow Sea and Southeast Asia to Australia and New Zealand," Kenndall explains. "We are analyzing forty years of volunteer-collected data on shorebird abundances from across Australia, as well as Landsat [satellite] data showing changes in the amount of area in the flyway that is covered by mudflats." The goal is to address two questions:

  1. Which species have shown consistent patterns of long-term decline?
  2. For those species, are the declines primarily caused by degradation of the breeding habitat, loss of feeding areas in the flyway (e.g., from coastal development in China and southeast Asia), or habitat loss and degradation in Australia?

Kendall is a co-principal investigator on the project, which has been under way for a year and has funding for two more years from the Australian Research Council. So far, he says, most of the work has focused on assembling and cleaning up the data.

"The main purposes of my trip were to meet the students and postdocs who are working on the project, to do some preliminary analyses on the data, and to have intensive discussions about strategies and approaches for the project, now that we know something about the strengths and weaknesses of the data. We developed a clear analysis plan for addressing question 1 [above], and a set of testable hypotheses for addressing question 2."

The next year will involve intensive data analysis and modeling, to be followed by oral and written presentations of the results to decision makers and scientific audiences.

"The countries along the flyway have signed multilateral agreements to protect migratory species, as well as making commitments about wetlands in general, via the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands," Kendall says, "so our results will be important inputs into those international conservation processes."

The primary collaborator on this is Dr. Rich Fuller, a lecturer in conservation and biodiversity at the University of Queensland. Find out more on the project website.