TT Newsletter Series 3

Happy sixth week! We have a lot this week to get excited about including a documentary about a conservation success story, an essay competition to get involved in and Tuesday was World Peatland Day!

~ The OUNCS Committee


Keep an eye out on social media for #BlackBirdersWeek, organised by @BlackAFinSTEM. The idea is to highlight black nature enthusiasts and scientists in a field that is largely white, and comes after a video went viral of a woman calling the police when Christian Cooper, a keen birdwatcher on the board of directors of the New York chapter of the Audubon society, asked her to put her dog on its leash in an area of Central Park where this is the rule.Sheridan Alford, who studies participation in bird-watching by African American people and is one of the people behind the campaign says “we think that it’s very important to highlight the work that people are actually doing and kind of drive that conversation to, yes, look at us, and please acknowledge the hardship we go through — but as you acknowledge those hardships, also look at what we’ve been doing in our research, or what we’ve been doing in our communities to better the climate as a whole.” Events include through the week include #AskABlackBirder and #BirdingWhileBlack

Article Spotlight: Quantifying Biodiversity With eDNA

As animals move around within their environment, traces of their existence- shed skin cells, hair, excrement etc- are left behind, and by collecting environmental samples which contain these traces in some form, it is possible to extract their DNA. This is termed environmental DNA (eDNA), and analysis of it is an rapidly emerging technique which could enable us to detect and quantify biodiversity in ways which are less labour-intensive, less time-consuming and less intrusive than traditional methods, and as a result, the use of eDNA could be revolutionary in understanding biodiversity and conservation.The process involves first the collection of eDNA, by taking environmental samples such as from soil or water. The samples are filtered to collect the traces and, in the lab, DNA can be isolated, amplified and sequenced to identify the species that it is from.A paper published recently in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation reviews the significance of this process, including both its prospects as well as potential problems.The analysis of eDNA appears to be a technique invaluable for the detection of rare species, monitoring of species abundance and also for identifying spawning sites for aquatic organisms for example. All of these are important for determining the management of habitats and implementation of conservation strategies, and the use of eDNA here reduces both the time and the intrusiveness of studying these (the repetition of traditional surveying methods to collect sufficient data may cause damage itself), as well as increasing the likelihood of detection.However, as these techniques are applied more frequently, it is important to consider the limitations so that these can be considered also in analysis. In terms of conservation, one important problem is that eDNA can remain in different environments for different amounts of time and it is not easy to distinguish between the DNA of animals that are alive or dead. This means that abundance or even presence of organisms in an environment estimated using eDNA could result in false representation of the number of living individuals. Also, while eDNA appears to have been most successful in monitoring aquatic species (such as great crested newts), its potential to monitor terrestrial species may require further investigation.You can find the article here.

Article Spotlights are brought to you by Ayla Webb

Nature From Your Sofa: Recovery of a Wildlife Reserve

Even though we’re still stuck at home, there’s plenty of online content about the wildlife across the world that’s perfect if you’re looking for a little escapism. In this short documentary from National Geographic, listen to a park ranger from Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve describe how the wildlife has recovered from the effects of poaching and is now flourishing following reintroductions of iconic animals including lions, giraffes, and cheetahs.

You can watch the documentary here.  

Brought to you by Philip Fernandes

Book Recommendation: Gaia by James Lovelock

Despite being short, Gaia is very dense. Lovelock writes as a scientist positing a theory which is the culmination of his working life’s research. Therefore, expect plenty of graphs, statistics and technical language. That being said, Gaia is an important book, earning it’s spot as an Oxford Landmark Science publication, alongside Richard Dawkin’s formidable The Selfish Gene. As with The Selfish Gene theory, The Gaia hypothesis is famous for its controversy, providing a radical explanation for the seeming connectedness of all living things. It is worth persevering with Gaia and it will leave you debating with yourself about how the natural world works many days after you close the final page. 

Book recommendations are brought to you by Hannah King

Habitat Conservation: Happy World Peatland Day!

Yesterday’s world peatlands day and re-peat’s 24hour festival the day before are celebrations of peatlands (if you missed it, they are putting up recordings of the events soon.) But why should we celebrate peatlands? This week I wanted to go into a bit more detail about why restoration of peatlands is so very important and why we should celebrate them rather than dismiss them.Peatlands lock away carbon in large part because of Sphagnum moss. Several properties of Sphagnum make it very good at this. A large proportion of Sphagnum is made up of dead cells comprised of many pores, supported by a spiral thickening around them. This means they can absorb and reabsorb a huge amount of water. The high water content in peatlands is absolutely key – because microorganisms which would normally degrade the plant matter do not have much oxygen at all and so are far less effective. The anaerobic conditions in the water are also ideal for methane-producing microorganisms, another greenhouse gas. When this is taken into account, healthy peatlands are roughly climate neutral. Degraded peatlands on the other hand are massive carbon sources.The main form of degradation is drainage, which reduces the anaerobic conditions exposing the peat moss to normal decomposition, thus releasing all of that carbon locked away back into the atmosphere. Globally, peatland draining releases more than 2 gigatons of CO2 every year. In other words, 0.4% of land produces 5% of global emissions. In the agricultural sector, 30% of all emissions are through peatland drainage.As well as contributing to climate change, drainage also causes the land-level to fall (subsidence), with some areas in the UK falling 4m since 1870. In tropical peatland areas this process is 5x faster and will severely compound the effects of rising sea-levels. Tropical peatlands are also affected by catastrophic fires caused by peatland drainage, with the dry peat acting as a deadly fuel: 100’000 people died in the Indonesian fires of 2015.Add to this the fact that almost 70% of our drinking water comes from peat-dominated areas and the ability of peatlands to mitigate the effects of flooding in many areas, and we can see that we need to change the paradigm around peatlands. We must rewet, not drain; we must celebrate, not dismiss. Over the next few weeks I will suggest some ways we can start doing both of these things. (Check out this webinar at 13.00 today in the meantime.) But it all begins with realising how significant peatlands are to the planet.

Habitat conservation news and views are brought to you by Jamie Walker

Get Involved: Essay Competition Time!

If you’re bored sitting at home thinking about something to do or busy procrastinating from doing your uni work, then this might be for you. The British Association of Nature Conservationists (commonly known as BANC) have just opened their 2020 student article competition for entries. They’re looking for articles from both undergraduates and postgraduate students on any area of nature conservation from wildlife issues to environmental perceptions and education. There are also prizes! The winning entry will receive a £100 monetary prize and will be published in the organisation’s open-access scientific journal- ECOS.

Click here to get more details about the competition and its terms

Ways to get involved in conservation are brought to you by Taras Bains

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