Cropping Africa’s wet savannas would bring high environmental costs

DSC_0093Researchers from Princeton University published a paper in Nature Climate Change that examines the environmental costs relative to the potential crop and biofuel production benefits of farming Africa’s higher rainfall savannas.  They found that only 2-11% of these areas qualify as high benefit/low cost in terms of maize and soy yield potential relative to the carbon that would be released from land transformation, while only 1-3% of the land would produce biofuels that meet EU standards for greenhouse gas savings. They also found that this region has mammal and bird diversity similar to that tropical forests.  These findings suggest that African savannas cannot produce commodity crops or biofuel for global export without incurring significant environmental cost, and that new crop production in these areas should be prioritized for meeting the continent’s rapidly growing food demand. The authors emphasize the need for more detailed, country-level analyses to identify the areas where food production can be maximized for the least ecological cost. Please follow this link for more detail.

PhD Studentship on the Role of Symbionts and Pollinating Insects in Plant Speciation Along Altitudinal Gradients

BC LogoWe are seeking a highly motivated postgraduate student to join our international team studying speciation in plants and insects along tropical altitudinal gradients. We are based at the Laboratory for Tropical Ecology at the Institute of Entomology, Biology Centre Academy of Sciences, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic. The successful applicant will have strong background in:

  • Entomology
  • Botany
  • Bioinformatics
  • Molecular ecology
  • Population genetics
  • And/or biostatistics

He/she will be supervised by Simon Segar and expected to develop a research programme on speciation in Ficus, their pollinating wasps and symbiotic microbes of the wasps along a continuously forested altitudinal gradient in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The project will involve field work in PNG and the use of next generation sequencing to study the population genetics of plant/insect/microbe networks. The successful candidate will be expected to work closely with our collaborators at the University of Minnesota (USA) and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at the University of Western Sydney (Australia).

The position is fully funded (tuition, research and living expenses) for EU applicants only (but candidates from all countries are eligible). The duration of the position is four years and a completed MSc degree is required as is the equivalent of a 1st or 2.1 undergraduate degree in biology, ecology or a related field. The successful candidate will have to conduct field work in a tropical forest in often challenging conditions. They will be able to work independently and have experience with the collection and analysis of population genetic data.

For further details of the project please see:

To apply please send a CV, contact details for three references, and cover letter stating qualifications, previous work and motivation to Simon Segar ( The deadline for applications is April 20th 2015, with a preferred start date of June 1st.

‘Sustainable’ corporation blasted for destroying Amazon rainforest

A corporation that aims to be the world’s biggest supplier of ‘sustainable’ cacao — the main ingredient in chocolate — is being accused by scientists from ALERT of destroying large expanses of biodiversity-rich forest in Peru.

ALERT –the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers — issued this press release today.

Rainforest destruction in the Peruvian Amazon...

Rainforest destruction in the Peruvian Amazon…

The Company, United Cacao, previously raised 10 million pounds on the London Stock Exchange, and is now hoping to raise additional funds on the Lima Stock Exchange in Peru to expand its operations in the Peruvian Amazon.

ALERT scientists caution investors that United Cacao’s products may be far from environmentally sustainable, and that they should exercise exceptional caution before investing in the company or its Peruvian subsidiary, Cacao del Peru Norte.

“This company has its roots in Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry, which has been a huge driver of forest destruction,” said ALERT director William Laurance.  Laurance has conducted research in the Amazon region for nearly 20 years.

“World-class scientists at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University and the Amazon Conservation Association have used satellite data and cutting-edge laser technology to show that United Cacao has recently cleared more than 2,000 hectares of mostly old-growth rainforest in Peru,” said ALERT member Thomas Lovejoy, a long-term Amazon expert and former environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents.

A small fraction of the cleared land evidently was farmed in the past, and parts of the forest were likely selectively logged in the 1980s, according to a detailed report in the leading environmental website, based on thorough investigative research by John C. Cannon.

However, the laser technology — known as LIDAR — has shown that the carbon stocks contained in the destroyed forests were among the highest known for the Peruvian Amazon, according to Carnegie researcher Greg Asner.  This clearly indicates that the cleared block was formerly dominated by mature or old-growth rainforest.

“There’s no way you can clear old-growth rainforest and then claim to produce sustainable cacao,” said Lovejoy.

“Not only that,” said Lovejoy, “but the corporation did so very quietly and without conducting an environmental impact study.  That sets a very dangerous precedent.”

“We see a lot of green-washing among corporations today — where firms try to appear sustainable but really aren’t,” said ALERT member Lian Pin Koh, an associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“My fear, based on these recent findings of large-scale forest destruction, is that United Cacao is one of these green-washing corporations,” said Koh.

“The forests of the Peruvian Amazon are just about the biologically richest real estate on the planet,” said Laurance.  “And unfortunately there’s a feeding frenzy happening, with large-scale expansion of oil palm and cacao plantations, as well as a great deal of legal and illegal mining and logging.”

“Investors need to be sure that they’re putting their money into projects and corporations that are truly sustainable,” said Laurance.  “Right now we have a lot of doubts about United Cacao.”

Stanford scientists team with indigenous people to produce detailed carbon calculations of Amazon rainforest

The results from a long-term collaboration between Stanford scientists and indigenous people in Guyana suggests that traditional remote sensing techniques might be undervaluing the region’s carbon storage potential by as much as 40 percent. The work could influence how indigenous people in Guyana and elsewhere manage their forests and lead to greater opportunities for these communities to engage in carbon offset programs.

The project, led by Jose Fragoso, a senior scientist in the Department of Biology at Stanford, grew out of his earlier efforts to engage indigenous peoples to gain a better understanding of ecosystems relatively undisturbed by modern civilization.

[Read more]

The ATBC needs your views and opinions

Dear Tropical Biologist,

The Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) is conducting a survey to allow us to more effectively meet the needs of tropical biologists across the world.

For this purpose, we would greatly appreciate your response to a short survey (5 to 10 minutes) about how the ATBC can and should serve tropical biologists.

The survey is anonymous and your responses will not be linked to your email address.

Here is a link to the survey:

The responses you provide will shape the new ATBC strategy that is currently being developed and which will be presented at the ATBC annual meeting in Hawaii, July 13-16.

Thank you for your time,

Jaboury Ghazoul
President, ATBC

Postdoctoral Fellowship Terrestrial Biodiversity Modeling for Southern Myanmar

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is currently seeking a Postdoctoral Associate to be based at the Smithsonian’s office in Yangon, Myanmar.

Successful candidates will be expected to develop innovative and applied new research to model terrestrial biodiversity for the Tanintharyi region of southern Myanmar.  This will include working with local and international partners to compile existing information on the distribution of terrestrial species, developing new and current assessments of land cover/forest cover change for the Tanintharyi, and integrating species distribution data with land cover change information.  The postdoctoral associate will also be a point person for developing targeted training and capacity building activities to advance the state of biodiversity mapping and planning in Myanmar.

This is a full-time, 1-year initial appointment, renewable for an additional year. The position is mostly based in Yangon, Myanmar (75% of the time), with some time spent at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, VA, to coordinate research and modeling with Smithsonian senior scientists (25% of the time).


The postdoctoral scientist will have extensive experience in the application of spatial analysis and satellite remote sensing to species conservation.  He/she must have a strong background in conservation and spatial ecology, with significant quantitative skills, specifically in:

  1. Using remote sensing to create land cover and land cover change data
  2. Linking environmental data from remote sensing with species location data
  3. Analyzing species distribution data
  4. Developing habitat and distribution models.

The postdoctoral scientist also needs to have advanced knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as well as the use of R for analyzing data and programming.


Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region is a global biodiversity hotspot that provides critical habitat for endangered species and invaluable ecosystem services to people. It is part of one of largest contiguous Asian forest landscapes and includes rare Sundaic lowland evergreen forests as well as strongholds for tiger, elephant, Gurney’s pitta, and other endangered terrestrial species. The region stretches across 400 miles of coastline and encompasses interconnected coastal systems of mangroves, seagrass and mud flats along with fringing coral reefs through the Myeik archipelago and further off shore. Due to years of isolation, Myanmar lacks the latest knowledge and best practices in management and conservation science. Further, the country is facing both internal and external pressure to develop its natural assets for industrial gain. There is an urgent need to develop data and models needed for effective conservation planning.

To apply: submit a cover letter, CV, and the names and contact information for 3 references to by January 31.

ATBC Election Results

Election Results are in!
Congratulations to our new officers:

President Elect:

Dr. Kaoru Kitajima
Professor ,Tropical Forest Resources and Environments
Division of Forest and Biomaterial Science
Graduate School of Agriculture
Kyoto University

Councillors (2015-2018):

Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz
Associate Professor in Tropical Conservation Ecology,
University of Nottingham
Malaysia Campus, Malaysia

Dr. Lisa C. Davenport
Associate in Research
Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation

Dr. Saara J. Dewalt
Associate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Clemson University

Dr. Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht
Professor for Plant Ecology
University of Bayreuth, Germany

Biographical information follows:

KAORU KITAJIMA. Currently: Professor, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Japan; Courtesy Professor, Department of Biology, University of Florida; Research Associate: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute); Financial Committee Member, Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC); Country Representative for Japan, ATBC Asia-Pacific Chapter; Governing Board Member, Japanese Society for Tropical Ecology; Associate Editor, Functional Ecology; Governing Board Member, Kyoto International Student House. Formerly: Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor of Botany and Biology, University of Florida (1997-2013); ATBC Treasurer (2009-2013); ATBC Councilor (2007-2009); Program Chair, the joint ATBC-OTS 50th Anniversary Meeting. Education: B.S. from University of Tokyo (Botany); M.S. and Ph.D from University of Illinois (Botany). She is known for her comparative work of functional traits of seedlings and adult trees in tropical forests, in particular, the first demonstration of the functional basis for growth-survival in tropical tree seedlings. Her work has been conducted mainly in Panama and other Neotropical locations, but after moving to Kyoto University recently, she is actively engaged in new research collaborations and tropical ecology education in East and South East Asia.

Personal Statement: Tropical ecosystems and their biological diversity continue to be threatened under climate change, land-use changes, and overexploitation of natural resources. More than ever, free exchange of solid scientific knowledge, as well as collaborative networks of scientists across disciplinary boundaries, are needed for formulating effective strategies for conservation of the rich tropical biota and for the well being of the people who depend on them. I believe that as an international academic society, ATBC is uniquely positioned to expand its role in networking regional groups of scientists and to catalyze capacity building of young scientists in many tropical countries. In the recent past, I have enjoyed supporting the main missions of ATBC as a councilor, Treasurer, and the 50th Anniversary Meeting Chair. My experience should be useful in building on the legacy of the 50 years of the Association and moving forward. As I am now based in Asia, I am particularly interested in further strengthening the effort of ATBC in networking tropical biologists and ecosystem scientists between the New and Old World tropics.

AHIMSA CAMPOS-ARCEIZ. Associate Professor in Tropical Conservation Ecology, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Malaysia (2011 to present); Director of Mindset, the University of Nottingham’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Tropical Environmental Studies (since 2014); ad-hoc member of SCB-Asia board (since 2014); Chair of the 3rd regional meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, Asia Section (SCBAsia2014, 2014); Principal Investigator of the Management & Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME,; 2011 to present); Research Associate, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA (2011-2014); Post-doc at the National University of Singapore (NUS, 2009-2010); PhD, University of Tokyo (2009). I have reviewed manuscripts for 24 scientific journals and I received an ‘outstanding contributor in reviewing’ award from the journal Biological Conservation; ATBC member since 2006.

Personal statement: I am a conservation ecologist with social science envy; and an optimist, in spite of working in a region with a high rate of tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss. My main research interest lies in the behavior, ecology, and conservation of Asian megafauna, particularly elephants, which I have studied for over 10 years. I study the ecological role of large animals in seed dispersal and work on evidence-based strategies to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. I live and work in Peninsular Malaysia but have also done work in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Japan, Mongolia, and other Asian countries. Although I’m an ecologist by training, my work is increasingly leaning towards the social sciences because I believe that understanding human behavior is the main challenge for conservation scientists in the 21st century. In Malaysia I work closely with the government at local, state, and national level; and I lead initiatives to mainstream interdisciplinary conservation science. I believe that my job is not merely documenting the many bad things happening in Southeast Asian natural ecosystems but rather offering solutions for the future we want – a future in which elephants will continue to disperse the seeds of wild mangoes in primary rainforests of Southeast Asia. I would like to bring a Southeast Asian, optimistic, proactive, and highly interdisciplinary perspective to the ATBC council.

LISA C. DAVENPORT. Associate in Research, Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation (2009 to present); Post-Doc, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Division of Migration Studies, Konstanz, Germany (2008-2009); Consultant, World Bank Africa Technical Department (1994-1995); Research Associate, Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation (1996-2004); BA (physics and African studies) Colorado College (1990); Masters in Environmental Management Duke University (1994); PhD (biology) University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (2008); Co-editor of one multi-authored book, “Making Parks Work” (2002). Professional Societies: Co-founder of Parkswatch, Member of IUCN Otter Specialist Group, ATBC, Association for Animal Behaviour. I have carried out research in Tanzania, Gabon, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia. Research interests: Animal behavior, protected area management, tropical wetlands, alternative states ecology, movement ecology and conservation of migratory animals.

Personal Statement: I have long had a fascination with tropical animals and landscapes, and my favorite research involves observing animals in natural habitats. I am a passionate advocate for conservation of animals and wilderness, and I have worked to both generate scientific information and promote tropical conservation where able. Long interested in African ecology, a portion of my work has been to compare African and Amazonian ecosystems and organisms. Most of my recent professional work, however, has focused on Amazonia in a variety of projects studying both forest and freshwater ecosystems. Since 1997 I have worked annually in the Manu National Park, Peru, studying some of its rarest and most endangered animals such as the Giant Otter and the Orinoco Goose. Currently I am working to expand my study of intra-tropical bird migration that began with the Orinoco Goose to improve our understanding of little-known patterns of intra-tropical migrant bird movements across South America, employing new advances in satellite telemetry technology. As a councilor, I would look for ways to increase the involvement of the Society in tropical Africa. I would also advocate for opportunities for young field researchers from tropical countries where field research still constitutes an important training ground for emerging scientists and conservation practitioners.

SAARA J. DEWALT. Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Clemson University (2012-present); Assistant Professor at Clemson (2005-2012); Huxley Research Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rice University (2003-2005); PhD in Biological Sciences from Louisiana State University (2003); Organization for Tropical Studies “Four Forests” course (Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Brazil; 2001); Fulbright Fellow in Bolivia (1994-1995); AB in Biology from Brown University (1994). Member of the Biotropica Editorial Board (2012-present). I am a plant population and community ecologist, and my research interests include studying exotic, invasive plants in their native and introduced ranges; liana species diversity and distributions; tropical forest succession; and forest dynamics. Much of my work involves a global perspective, and I have conducted research in temperate and tropical forests of North America, South America, and Asia (Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia, China) as well as on islands in the Hawaiian archipelago and the Caribbean.

Personal statement: I think that to understand and conserve tropical systems requires scientific evidence, a global perspective, as well as local involvement. ATBC has promoted science and conservation efforts around the world, and I would continue to support these endeavors as an ATBC Councilor. I would also continue to promote Biotropica as a premier outlet for high-quality research on tropical ecology and conservation and support attendance by students and early-career scientists at the annual meetings, which are key to sharing research and personal experiences that promote a global understanding of tropical systems.

BETTINA M. J. ENGELBRECHT. Professor for Plant Ecology at the University of Bayreuth, Germany (2009 to present), Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama (2003 – present), Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at San Francisco State University (2008 – 2009), Research Scientist in the Botany Department at the University Kaiserslautern, Germany, based at STRI, (2004 – 2007), Post-doc at the University of Utah, based at STRI (1999 – 2003). PhD University of Darmstadt, Germany (1999). Service: Vice-director of the Bayreuth Center for Ecological and Environmental Research (2012 – present), Member of the advisory board of the Tropical Ecology Society (gtoe) (2009 – present), Associate Editor: Trees (2007 – 2012), Journal of Ecology (2007 – 2009), Oecologia (2014 – present). Reviewer for 34 journals, including Biotropica; Research interests: physiological plant ecology, functional ecology, tropical ecology, community ecology

Personal statement: The diversity of tropical forests still awes me. In the face of global change, I believe that we must take on the challenge of understanding why species react differently to environmental conditions and changes in order to understand which of the species, which of the forests and which processes are most at risk. This will improve our understanding of tropical forests under current and future conditions, and inform forest conservation and management. My work is explicitly linking plant physiology with population and community ecology to address some of the pending questions. I am interested in working towards a better integration of tropical biology and conservation with other relevant disciplines of tropical research such as climatology, hydrology, paleontology, and soil sciences as well as social sciences.

Roads to ruin: The most environmentally destructive highways in Southeast Asia

From ALERT–the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers logging-truck-bike_2246385k

Roads scare the bejeezus out of many scientists because they often open a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems — such as unleashing illegal deforestation, logging, hunting, mining, and land speculation.

For that reason it’s crucial not to put roads in the wrong places — such as wilderness areas, places with vital environmental values, or locales with lots of endangered or endemic species.

ALERT member Gopalasamy Reuben Clements and colleagues (including ALERT director Bill Laurance) have just published a major analysis of the environmentally most damaging roads in Southeast Asia — one of the most imperiled and biologically important areas of the planet.

This analysis — which you can download for free here — identifies the worst roads in Southeast Asia, especially those likely to endanger native mammals and imperil surviving forests.

In total, 16 existing roads and another 8 planned roads were identified as serious ‘nature killers’.

These roads would imperil more than a fifth of all the endangered mammal species in the region, mainly by promoting forest destruction and illegal hunting and wildlife trade.

A key element of the paper is 10 recommendations to limit road impacts in Southeast Asia.

Far too often, roads are the first step toward ecological Armageddon.  We all have to do more to educate the world about the crucial role that roads play in endangering nature.

The paper led by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements is an important step in the right direction.

Free Book on the Biological Diversity of Monteverde, Costa Rica

One year ago, Nalini Nadkarni and Nathaniel Wheelwright launched their Kickstarter campaign to update and translate into Spanish their book on the ecology and conservation of Monteverde’s cloud forests and to make it available free online to Spanish-speaking educators, students, guides, decision-makers, naturalists and ecotourists around the world.
We’re thrilled to announce that
Monteverde: ecología y conservación de un bosque nuboso tropical, Wheelwright, N.T., and Nadkarni, N.M., editors, 2014, has just been published as Book 3 in the Bowdoin’s Scholars’ Bookshelf. The English version of the book is also now available free online.