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Posts from the ‘Conservation’ Category

Rocky outcrops as ecological refuges – new paper in Biological Conservation

In joint work with the University of the Free State, we study how isolated mountains and rocky outcrops can help to preserve biodiversity. As study region we work  in the grassland biome of the Eastern Free State Province in South Africa.  In a first paper, now out in Biological Conservation, we present data on the butterflies present in this region.

We found that butterflies in the landscape matrix between the mountains were a nested subset of species from the mountains and outcrops, and there was little evidence that species with certain traits were limited to either habitat. This suggests that species can retreat to mountain refuges during harsh conditions and recolonise the surrounding matrix once conditions improve.

Ecological refuges such as these mountains and rocky outcrops  can unify land-sharing and land-sparing because their targeted protection would support the persistence of species throughout wider landscapes.

Workshop: Uncoupling a meaningful life from the destruction of nature

Workshop picture

In a joint VUB Global Minds project between VUB and the University of the Free State, South Africa, we generated course material that can be used to organize workshops for university students (both in developing and in developed nations) to tackle the important question of whether it is possible to lead a meaningful life without destroying nature.  Participants fill out standardized scientific questionnaires that test:

1. Meaning in life (how meaningful do you find your life?)

2. Ecocentricity (how is your life connected to nature?)

3. Ecological footprint (to what extent does your life style impact nature?)

By correlating the scores of participants on these different tests our aim is to raise awareness to what extent these life traits are correlated. What is more, if applied to a large number of participants from different backgrounds and cultures it can also allow to generate more generic insights in how these concepts are connected globally. A first work shop took place at VUB on December 4th.

 The supporting electronic course material can be downloaded  here

and here

Below are some photos from the event 

Figuring out why species are threatened

In a new paper, Falko Buschke tried to test whether  vertebrates that differ in conservation status differ in to what extent their ranges can be predicted by spatial and environmental gradients. It turns out there are no strong differences. Instead, models to predict the ranges of the most threatened species perform much worse than models for least concern species. Also, response to broad environmental gradients could not distinguish endangered, threatened or least concern species.  This suggests that we may underestimate extinction risk of species if we would try to assess this based on reliance on specific environmental conditions.

The paper is out in Biodiversity & Conservation

Joining the Inselberg Research Initiative


I visited the University of Rostock to consult with some of the world’s leading experts on the ecology of isolated mountain habitats known as inselbergs. We’ll be joining forces for a number of future projects combining insights from plants and animals to better understand how these enigmatic landscape features survived through the ages and how their biota interact with the landscape matrix around them.

NEW PAPER: Exploring the link between ecology and biogeography in African vertebrates

In a new paper out in the journal Ecography, Falko Buschke tried to explain the distribution patterns of all terrestrial vertebrates that occur in sub Sahara Africa using environmental variables and spatial dispersal related variables.

He found that when you map Africa based on how much variation is explained by dispersal based processes vs. environmental niche based filtering, you can see the contours of the biogeographic regions. This suggests that community structuring processes differ among regions within biogeographic realms.

He also showed that corrections for range size are necessary to extract ecologically meaningful patterns from variation partitioning results.

Finally, he found that unexplained variation was highest in species with small distributions… which is worrying from a conservation perspective as these are often threatened. While we can quite accurately predict distributions of widespread animals, we don’t know very well why certain rarer species are range restricted.


An African Black Rhino. One of the species in Falko’s database.

NEW PAPER: Handling cumulative impacts during the environmental decision-making process

In a side-project of his PhD Falko Buschke  published a new paper in Journal of Nature Conservation on how different decision making strategies affect the exploitation of natural habitat. He shows that taking into account cumulative costs (e.g. earlier developments of an area and associated costs in terms of habitat loss) in different ways (not at all/ higher cost for additional developments / equal-division of costs among early and late developers) will have profound effects on how much habitat will be destroyed in the end. But this is just a start…

Falko explains the story behind the paper and the consequences of his findings in detail on his blog: The Solitary Ecologist

Expedition to the Australian outback 2013


Sunset at our campsite at Walga Rock


Where we are going we don’t need roads

During the 2013 expedition we sampled a total of 600 rock pools from 50 inselbergs in Western Australia. The dataset wil be used to get more insight in the drivers of diversity patterns across spatial scales.


Sampling a rock pool community on Baladgie Rock overlooking a salt lake


A typical example of a West Australian inselberg in the Cue area in Western Australia