Campus News

UGA ecologists work on conservation strategies study

A new study of almost 20,000 species, published recently in Nature, may determine more effective conservation strategies by dispelling myths concerning rare and threatened species.

The international team of ecologists who published the study included senior author, John Gittleman, director of UGA’s Institute of Ecology; Richard Grenyer, lead author and University of Virginia postdoctoral fellow; and Jonathan Davies, Institute of Ecology postdoctoral fellow.

“Areas of the world with the highest numbers of endangered bird species are not the same as the areas of the world with the most threatened mammals nor the most threatened amphibians,” said Grenyer.

“The same is true for the areas with the rarest species.”

This result also raises the issue of scale. Most species maps are very coarse, with grids the size of individual states across the U.S.

“We looked at areas as small as half of Rhode Island and as large as Texas,” said Gittleman. “Larger maps indicated unrealistically high levels of congruence between total species richness and threatened species. Therefore, it is very important to use maps on a more accurate scale.

“This research is so important because several conservation agencies, including the World Wildlife Fund are striving to measure and monitor species distribution on a smaller and more accurate scale,” he added.

“Now, we are able to identify where threatened or rare species are found in order to learn more about why they are declining. Clearly, amphibians, birds and mammals each have different sources of threat.”

What we traditionally consider animals aren’t the only ones affected.

“Being that there is one species-human-that is dominant on the planet, we are increasingly responsible for dramatically changing the environment,” said Gittleman.

“When animals and plants are affected, so are humans. Therefore, it is essential that we are accurately studying species at risk around the globe.”