Nav: Home

When it comes to conservation, ditch the 'canary in the coal mine'

February 25, 2020

With habitat loss threatening the extinction of an ever-growing number of species around the world, many wildlife advocates and conservation professionals rely on the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine'--monitoring and protecting a single representative species--to maintain healthy wildlife biodiversity.

But new research from UBC's Okanagan campus suggests that habitats are better served if conservation efforts focus on a collection of species rather than a single 'canary.'

"Efforts around the world are going into countering a decline in biodiversity," says Adam Ford, study author and Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology at UBC Okanagan. "While we would love to be able to protect all habitats for all species, organizations tend to focus their efforts on a few species and not everyone shares the same priorities."

That, he says, is where the idea of surrogate species--or the canary in the coal mine--comes into play. But it's not without its drawbacks.

"The problem with surrogate species is that people rarely agree on which species that should be," says Ford. "And there is a tendency to favour charismatic species like grizzly bears and wolves, over lesser-known but equally-important species. These preferences are deeply rooted in cultural norms."

To address that imbalance in selecting surrogate species, Ford and his team began looking at how to group species together to present a more objective and representative sample of the habitats that need protecting.

By combing through a public dataset of over 1,000 species and 64 habitats in British Columbia, they were able to compare the surrogacy value of each species--a numerical score based on the association of two species through their use of shared habitats.

They found that a mixture of five to 10 game and non-game species offered the best value as surrogates for biodiversity conservation.

"We discovered what we called an 'all-star' team of species for each of the province's nine wildlife management units, as well as an all-star team for the province as a whole," says Sarah Falconer, graduate student at Laurentian University and study co-author. "Our findings suggest that if we commit to preserving these collections of species rather than just the charismatic megafauna, we're likely to achieve much better conservation outcomes."

Ford is quick to point out that the mixture of game and non-game species in their all-star teams mean that seemingly disparate groups, ranging from hunters to bird-watchers to hikers, have a vested interest in working together to protect each of their species for the benefit of all.

"Perhaps we should not be focusing on figuring out which species is the best conservation surrogate, but which groups of species bring the most people together to protect the most biodiversity," he says.
-end-
The study was published recently in the Journal of Zoology with funding from Canada Foundation for Innovation, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canada Research Chairs program.

University of British Columbia Okanagan campus

Related Biodiversity Articles:

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.
Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.
Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.
Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.
Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.
Mapping global biodiversity change
A new study, published in Science, which focuses on mapping biodiversity change in marine and land ecosystems shows that loss of biodiversity is most prevalent in the tropic, with changes in marine ecosystems outpacing those on land.
What if we paid countries to protect biodiversity?
Researchers from Sweden, Germany, Brazil and the USA have developed a financial mechanism to support the protection of the world's natural heritage.
Grassland biodiversity is blowing in the wind
Temperate grasslands are the most endangered but least protected ecosystems on Earth.
The loss of biodiversity comes at a price
A University of Cordoba research team ran the numbers on the impact of forest fires on emblematic species using the fires in Spain's Doñana National Park and Segura mountains in 2017 as examples
More Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.