Interesting conservation work being done around the world: notes from the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress

Corrugated cardboard stools, seating, partitions, podium, and stage at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress. Carpet colors were coordinated with "pavilion" themes (e.g., blue carpet for the Water Pavilion area) and served to define distinct areas within the large convention hall.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is happening right now, held for the first time ever in the U.S. The quadrennial conference reportedly has drawn some 9000 participants from all over the world. President Obama, Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and E. O. Wilson were just a few of the noteworthy speakers. There were over 300 sessions scheduled per day over the weekend and over 1300 sessions planned in total over the ten day time frame. A good portion of those sessions were free to attend. Among those, here's a recap of some of the fascinating work presented.

Japanese tea production

Using grasses sourced from local grasslands as mulch for Japanese tea production in satoyama landscapes produces high quality tea and helps to preserve the grasslands. Watch a video about this farming method here. Link to IUCN workshop:

Banking endemic Hawaiian seeds

There's an effort on the island of Kauai in Hawaii to bank seeds from three endemic canopy tree species. Banking seeds conserves genetic diversity, facilitates breeding work, and supports the supply of saplings to the landscaping industry and others. Link to IUCN poster:

Conference reception lobby.

NRCS EQIP Landscape Initiatives

The NRCS EQIP program provides funding to landowners for conservation projects. There are several landscape scale efforts described here.

Why people use parks: psycho-social-spiritual benefits of NYC parks

There will be a new study published next month in the Journal of Ethnobiology that investigates the psycho-social-spiritual benefits of New York City parks (43 parks included in study, excluding Central Park and Prospect Park because of their unique management). Link to IUCN poster:

Potted plants define a listening booth where visitors can don some pretty nice noise cancelling headphones that immerse the listener into the sound of several primary tropical rainforests around the world.

3D tropical primary forest soundscapes

There's an ongoing effort to record three dimensional sound of tropical (+/- 5 degrees from the equator) primary forest landscapes. There are many reasons why this is a useful undertaking, one of which is that the recordings provide a historical point of reference. As local (e.g., oil drilling, as in the case of Yasunì, Ecuador, one of the recording locations) and global (e.g., climate change) influences effect these ecosystems, this work serves as a kind of aural version of HALS documentation for rainforests. What's neat is that you can see how different species utilize different frequencies or timing in the data, and how every sound niche seems to be occupied. Apparently the "sound imprint" of primary forest looks much different than that of more disturbed ecosystems. In the listening booth pictured above, sounds are spatially fixed such that if you move, the source of the sound relative to you does not. The recently patented Eco-acoustic Theatre is like a theater inside a geodesic dome which, as I understand it, would allow you to hear these rainforests as though you were actually standing within them. Link to IUCN poster:

Orchid-gami handout. You can punch out the shapes and assemble them to create various orchid species out of paper, and learn a little about each one in the process. The finished product is shown in the top right corner of the left paper.

International orchid conservation

Here are a few interesting points from the talk about orchid conservation:
  • Orchids eat fungi.
  • Search for a specific North American orchid species or learn more about them on the Go Orchid website.
  • There are about 3000 botanical gardens worldwide.
  • Naples Botanical Garden is adjacent to natural habitat of the ghost orchid, one of the hardest orchids to grow.
Link to IUCN session page: Direct link to video about orchid conservation:

The globe image displayed across the nine screens of NASA's Hyperwall rotates to show fires (red), dust (orange), sulfates (white), sea salt (royal blue), and atmospheric carbon (green). The Web Fire Mapper and Worldview tools accessible online are an interesting way to view data on the global scale. Link to IUCN session page:

3D printed seascape (right) and 3D virtual coral reef movie viewing using special goggles (left).

3D imaging of coral reefs using drones

Have you ever looked down at a water feature with a bunch of pennies in the bottom and the shapes of the pennies are distorted from the movement on the surface of the water and the water itself? There's a pretty cool NASA project that has figured out how to exploit these distortions to eliminate them from imagery using algorithms in a process called "fluid lensing".

Another problem with aerial photography of water is how light refracts. Have you ever swam in a pool and noticed a pattern of tiny bands of light that are shaped kind of like the spots on a giraffe? These are called caustics, and this project has also figured out how to take advantage of these discrete lighting conditions to provide visibility of underwater coral features at greater depths.

You can view before and after images and video on the presenter's website, and listen to an HPR interview here.

Drones are flown over coral reef to capture the imagery and biologists conducted field surveys for validation. Aside from potentially getting some incredible images, algorithms have been developed to distinguish between living (organic) vs. non-living (inorganic) matter and branching vs. mounding coral, and the technology could also be used to identify specific species in an area. Somehow it is also possible to generate a 3D model of the underwater coral reef seascape (pictured above).

If you're attending the conference, there are two more presentations tomorrow (9/7/16) about this work. UPDATE: The evening presentation was cancelled as of about noon, 9/7/16.

How to save endemic Hawaiian birds

Hawaii is a biodiversity hotspot. There are 142 known bird species, 95 of which are extinct. Of the surviving endemic species, most are listed as either threatened or endangered. The good news is a lot of work is being done to save them. The strategies discussed in this session included:
  • Ungulate management: mammals like feral pigs and deer eat trees that birds rely on for survival; controlling them either through hunting or fencing (exclusion) has been helpful.
  • Revegetation (tree planting) to create habitat. 
  • Translocation (moving a population from one location to another): millerbirds were successfully moved from Nihoa Island to Laysan Island, an example of restoration (on Laysan - the Nihoa millerbird is an analog for the Laysan millerbird).
  • Predator mammal proof fencing: erecting specially designed fencing and removing all predators from within the fenced areas create safe haven "islands" for birds; shearwater birds imprint on the night sky they first see when they leave their burrows for the first time so it is thought that exposing hatchlings to the sky within the enclosure will result in them considering the enclosure "home".
Also, some interesting historical notes: albatross eggs were collected on Laysan Island for their albumin which was used in photography, and the birds were once killed for their feathers, which were used to make mattresses. More on the history of albatross in the Pacific in this presentation PDF. Link to IUCN session page (where more presentation PDFs are available):

New US Forest Service apps

There are several online applications the US Forest Service just released this year:
  • Forest Atlas of the US: see the extent of tree canopy cover across the continental US, the ranges of different tree species, view historical fires spatially by year and size across the US, and more.
  • My City's Trees app: visualize landscape scale data on land cover type, city extent, watershed extent, and ecoregion extent by city.
  • Native Plants Finder: find native plants and butterfly and moth species by zipcode and make a plant list for your landscaping or gardening project.
  • Visitor Map 2.0: an interactive online visitor map that integrates Twitter and Yonder data to help visitors plan their trips and locate trails, campsites, and other points of interest.
Link to IUCN session page:

Landscape scale conservation with the LCCN

The Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network consists of 22 public-private partnerships that work to address conservation issues in 22 regions. Read more about their projects here. Link to IUCN session page:

New books related to cultural landscapes

One of the speakers was a co-editor of two newly published books related to cultural landscapes:
  • A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks (2016), and
  • Conserving Cultural Landscapes (2015)
Related IUCN page:

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