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Amphibians are declining globally at unprecedented rates. To direct conservation efforts, global amphibian assessments are being conducted to characterize biodiversity and evolutionary relationships among species, as well as amphibian population and species' health. Modern molecular methods are facilitating such characterization, and we highlight techniques for rapidly increasing the availability of data for making taxonomic distinctions. When diversity is characterized, and populations and the species most vulnerable to declines or extinctions are identified, it is then critical to understand factors causing declines to develop mitigation strategies. We discuss molecular approaches and their applications for addressing some of the leading hypotheses for amphibian declines, including habitat loss, emerging infectious diseases, chemical contaminants, and global climate change.
Today, decisions regarding the management and conservation of populations are often informed to some degree by population genetics. A fundamental measure sought by decisionmakers is the degree of connectivity between populations, which, when approached from a genetic perspective, may be influenced by many factors, making it difficult to generalize across taxa, habitats, or life histories. In the case of freshwater-limited fauna, the shared constraint of habitat structure (e.g., a dendritic stream network) imposed on all species in the system simplifies the task. A number of models have been proposed that predict how populations of taxa with different life-history traits and dispersal capabilities interact within structured freshwater habitats of this kind. In this article, we summarize these models and illustrate the general patterns of phylogeographic structure expected to occur under different scenarios of freshwater population connectivity. Additionally, we describe how the genetic structure of stream inhabitants can reflect historical changes in the physical structure of streams and thus open a window on past patterns of connectivity. A greater understanding of these concepts will contribute to an improved multidisciplinary approach to managing freshwater ecosystems.
Field stations worldwide are valuable resources for the discovery of natural phenomena, education and enlightenment of students, and training of the next generation of field scientists. Field stations face the pressures of human population expansion, habitat and biodiversity loss, and changing environmental conditions, and hence are sentinels of the state of our precarious Earth. We demonstrate the importance of field stations by describing developments supported by field stations and by examining recent literature. Eleven percent of papers published in Conservation Biology and 26% of those published in Ecology were supported in some way by a field station. We review data supplied by field stations over the last 20 years about stations' ecology, dominant discipline, personnel, and infrastructure. Communication among international field stations is difficult and could be improved by the formation of more regional networks. An international network would help elevate the recognition of the importance of field stations.
Ecologists, biogeographers, and paleobotanists have long thought that climate and soils controlled the distribution of ecosystems, with the role of fire getting only limited appreciation. Here we review evidence from different disciplines demonstrating that wildfire appeared concomitant with the origin of terrestrial plants and played an important role throughout the history of life. The importance of fire has waxed and waned in association with changes in climate and paleoatmospheric conditions. Well before the emergence of humans on Earth, fire played a key role in the origins of plant adaptations as well as in the distribution of ecosystems. Humans initiated a new stage in ecosystem fire, using it to make the Earth more suited to their lifestyle. However, as human populations have expanded their use of fire, their actions have come to dominate some ecosystems and change natural processes in ways that threaten the sustainability of some landscapes.
Mangrove ecosystems are found globally along tropical and subtropical coastlines. They exhibit a steep environmental gradient between inland and marine systems, providing a unique, selective environment that shapes local morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations. In the first global assessment of terrestrial vertebrate species that are restricted to mangrove ecosystems, we found 48 bird, 14 reptile, 1 amphibian, and 6 mammal species endemic to mangroves, the majority of which are found in Asia and Australia. We also found that more than 40% of assessed mangrove-endemic vertebrates are globally threatened. Clearly, additional research is needed to better understand mangrove-endemic vertebrates in order to conserve them. Future research should focus on global inventories, intercontinental comparative work, and the ecology of mangrove-endemic vertebrates.
The increasing availability of massive volumes of scientific data requires new synthetic analysis techniques to explore and identify interesting patterns that are otherwise not apparent. For biodiversity studies, a “data-driven” approach is necessary because of the complexity of ecological systems, particularly when viewed at large spatial and temporal scales. Data-intensive science organizes large volumes of data from multiple sources and fields and then analyzes them using techniques tailored to the discovery of complex patterns in high-dimensional data through visualizations, simulations, and various types of model building. Through interpreting and analyzing these models, truly novel and surprising patterns that are “born from the data” can be discovered. These patterns provide valuable insight for concrete hypotheses about the underlying ecological processes that created the observed data. Data-intensive science allows scientists to analyze bigger and more complex systems efficiently, and complements more traditional scientific processes of hypothesis generation and experimental testing to refine our understanding of the natural world.
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