Projects and Case Sudies
Nature Heritage works for a range of organisations including universities, charities and private clients. Some of our work, especially for private clients, focusses on hands-on practical solutions on the ground without publishing, the majority of the knowledge we have produced and the data we have analysed has been published in peer-reviewed journals and in books, open to the critical scrutiny of everybody. We strongly believe in evidence-based conservation, spurring us to publish even as a small consultancy.
Broad-scale priority setting for conservation
Biodiversity is vital for all humans. Despite a multitude of international agreements, local and global activism, academic debate and vast sums dedicated to conservation, the future of earth’s natural capital remains uncertain. After all, none of the internationally agreed Aichi Biodiversity Targets, to be achieved by 2020, has actually been achieved. Financial resources are highly limited and human pressure on land is every accelerating. Thus, ensuring the efficient allocation of resources for area selection, and thus maximum conservation impact, remains essential.
The reality is that there are too many areas and too many species requiring urgent conservation action. To be successful, we must set strategic priorities and focus all our actions and resources to places and species where we can realistically achieve the greatest gains. In reality, we must – unfortunately- make hard decisions. Which of the burning structures in a burning village should be saved by the overwhelmed fire brigade?
Ecoregions are geographic regions of the world that indicate the distribution of ecosystems and plant and animal communities. Ecoregion TopSpots are the most important areas for conservation containing the most unique and the most vulnerable ecoregions of the world. We published two papers on the prioritisation of ecoregions. Our innovative high-level investigation has identified a new world map, that will allow conservation organisations to join forces and work together on protecting crucial natural areas of the world.
Effective protection of the about 19 000 IUCN-listed threatened species has never been more pressing. Ensuring the survival of the most vulnerable and irreplaceable taxa and places, such as those identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species and their associated sites (AZEs&s), is an excellent opportunity to achieve the Aichi 2020 Targets T11 (protected areas) and T12 (preventing species extinctions).
We argue that the Alliance, whose initial main aim was to identify AZEs&s, must be followed up by a second-generation initiative that directs and co-ordinates AZE conservation activities on the ground.
Conservation and ecology
Nature Heritage has been involved in several projects in general conservation and ecology.
The Encyclopedia comprehensively addresses the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an integrated way. Each of 17 volumes addresses one of the 17 SDGs. This volume Life on Land addresses SDG 15, namely “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss“. We have contributed two chapters: Biodiversity Loss and Countermeasures, and Ecoregions: Mapping Ecosystems to Protect Biodiversity.
For Biomes and Ecosystems: An Encyclopedia we present baseline information on two highly endangered ecoregions of Chile. These ecoregions are characterized by extraordinary levels of endemism because Chile is a biogeographical island, bordering the sea to the West and isolated from the rest of South America by the Andes mountains to the East. Read More
Per definition, mining is not sustainable because mineral deposits are being removed and are thus not available any longer. Therefore, sustainability in mining refers either to business sustainability or to sustainable development albeit both aspects are intrinsically interwoven. Using Chile, where mining is highly important for the economy, as an example, we shed light on the emerging discrepancy between the increasing efforts to reduce the environmental footprint and to better include socio-environmental aspects in mining policies and procedures on the one hand, and the rising number of social conflicts on the other hand
In southern Africa, the widespread black-backed jackal can transmit canine diseases – some of them fatal such as Canine distemper virus (CDV) – to endangered carnivore species such as seals and lions. Thus, black-backed jackals can act as a conduit transferring deceases from domestic dogs to endangered carnivores. However, much of the ecology of the species remains unknown. We have worked in two different environments in Namibia, the coast and the Namib desert.
Diseases and parasites
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/21 and the Ebola outbreaks over the last years remind us poignantly about the impact of disease on human health and livelihoods. These diseases were triggered by spill-over events of pathogens from wildlife to humans. But the same issue arises when pathogens cross species boundaries between wildlife species. Especially, when cross-over into threatened species occur, it can become a serious conservation issue as these threatened species are typically small and immunological naive. For example, many species of frogs are thought to have become recently extinct because of the parasitic fungal disease, chytridiomycosis.
We have investigated the impact of some microparasites (which include viruses, bacteria, fungi, and most protozoa, such as malaria) and macroparasites (mostly parasitic worms and parasitic arthropods such as mites) on humans and wildlife.
COVID-19 has apparently had an overall surprisingly low prevalence and mortality in Africa. In a FORUM contribution to EcoHealth, the journal of the EcoHealth Alliance, we argue that Pygmy communities may be silently ravaged by the disease yet there is a lack of policies or initiatives to monitor their health systematically throughout the Congo Basin. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on these forest-dependent peoples has never been more important to develop ways of helping them.
We report high infection rates (75%) of an ear mite in two distant insular endangered fox populations in Chile: in the Darwin’s fox from Chiloé Island, and the Fuegian culpeo fox in Tierra del Fuego. Our findings are a typical example of spill-over events of parasites from widespread species (here: domestic and wild cats and dogs) into small, threatened species, with – in this case – possible, but unknown negative effects on the threatened species. In another study, we confirm the presence of a dog biting louse in the Darwin’s fox.
Ebola virus disease (EVD), is a rare but severe, often fatal illness in humans. Transmission can occur between humans, but the origin is from wildlife and transmission has been linked with wild meat. We investigated human attitudes of customers in Nigerian wild meat markets to disease risk and how EVD impacted the sale of wild meat. We show that purchasing behaviour of consumers changed and education campaigns were effective in reducing the trade of bats and primates, animal groups likely to be implicated in the transmission of Ebola.
Canine distemper virus (CDV) is highly contagious virus and has been responsible for severe population declines in both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. Of particular concern are spill-over events of CDV from domestic dogs to threatened populations because such events have led to mass mortalities in lions and pinniped, for example. We investigated the origin of a CDV epidemic in black-backed jackals in Namibia.
Molecular genetic tools for conservation
Molecular genetic techniques have become essential for the study of biodiversity and nature conservation. These tools allow to make the invisible visible. They allow to reconstruct the history of species and populations. Going back in time, processes such as population expansion, decline, historic dispersal patterns and inter- and intra-specific gene flow can be reconstructed, thus allowing to identify evolutionary processes. For current populations, they can reveal the dispersal patterns of plants and animals, relations between species and populations, population size or parentage assignment to name but a few applications. Non-invasive methods by extracting and analysing DNA from hair, faeces or other other remains that can be found in the field, allows the analysis and monitoring of population status of elusive and rare species. Most endangered species are difficult to study with traditional ecological methods and molecular tools represent the most powerful approach to understand their populations and plan for their conservation.
Molecular genetic techniques have evolved very fast over the last three decades. This is normally the quest of universities and research laboratories. But sometimes, genetic markers need to be identified for specific applied projects, such as in the case of red foxes. We also had to test the reliability of a particularly large data set. The problems of large genetic data sets are relatively new as the technological advances of genetic screening together with decreasing costs has only recently allowed to compile large data sets. We faced the problem whilst analysing the population structure and gene flow of domestic horses from across the world.
We have worked on a broad array of topics ranging from taxonomy to applied conservation management:
- Hispaniolan solenodon, a highly threatened Caribbean ‘relict’ mammal
- translocation of Bojer’s skink in Mauritius
- history of indigenous horse breeds in Croatia
- conservation genetics of the Ethiopian wolf
- genetic description of a possibly new Salanoia mongoose species in Madagascar
- population genetic history of a Salangid icefish in China
- genetic differentiation golden brown mouse lemur populations in Madagascar
- phylogeography the critically endangered golden monkey in China
- phylogeography of the endemic St. Lucia whiptail lizard
Working with and for communities
The average human behaviour strives for economic growth, fuels by the use of natural resources and ecosystem services. There is no doubt that the capitalist economic system, now dominant all over the world, is unsustainable. We have already breached several ecological boundaries in relation to climate change, biodiversity loss and nutrient enrichment. This system not only endangered humanity long-term, but it leads to increased inequality of marginalised people and communities, such as many indigenous communities. If we want to to change this trajectory into an unsustainable and ever increasing inequity, we must start to change human behaviour alongside conservation actions. Nature Heritage contributes to change human behaviour by,
- first, helping to document sustainable practices of indigenous people (e.g. assessment of the use of non-timber forest products in Cameroon),
- second, helping marginalised communities to improve their health (e.g., Baka Pygmy People in Cameroon) and
- third, conducting education campaigns promoting conservation and behavioural change (e.g., campaigns in the Dominican Republic)
As part of the environmental education campaign, we produced a series of short videos about the hutia and the solenodon, the last mammal survivors of their evolutionary lineages on the Island of Hispaniola, now Dominican Republic and Haiti.Read More
Traditional orchards used to be widespread throughout Europe but have mostly disappeared. In the Channel Islands, the National Trust for Jersey has successfully revived the old tradition of Black Butter making. This engages people and is an opportunity to save and expand remaining orchards by facilitating public support. We have documented Black Butter making.
Recent analyses of Internet search behaviour conclude that the public’s interest in environmental issues is falling. These analyses were focused on the English-speaking world. We challenge them by evaluating Internet searches of English and non-English speaking users.
We conducted two ethnobotanical surveys in 2019 in four villages of Baka People in dense rainforests in south-eastern Cameroon to document the use of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in general and wild edible plants (WEP) in particular.Read More
Baka Pygmy People suffer from poorer health than sympatric peoples because of greater poverty and insufficient health care. Read More
We use anthropometric and health data to estimate stunting, wasting, and obesity frequencies for a large sample of Baka Pygmy children living in southeastern Cameroon. We monitored the body mass index (BMI) of adult Baka and compared it with their Bantu neighbours.
Wild meat – bushmeat use
For millennia, terrestrial wildlife has been the primary source of protein and a major contributor to local livelihoods for millions of tropical forest inhabitants worldwide. Although humans have always used wildlife as a source of food and materials, the scale of current harvest is unprecedented, rapidly accelerating and mostly unsustainable. Harvest of wild meat, also called bushmeat, has profound impacts on hunted species on a global scale and particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Nature Heritage has been involved in several projects on the ecology of wild meat harvesting.
We gathered information on bushmeat consumption, income, material assets, and hunter perception of the state of wildlife in communities adjacent to the Odzala Kokoua National Park. Our results highlight the possible importance of PAs and adjacent areas as reservoirs of wildlife and in maintaining wild meat resources used by the surrounding human populations.
Baka Pygmies are hunter-gatherers of the tropical forest in West Africa. As a result of sedentarisation many Baka have changed their mobility patterns away from nomadic lifestyles to living in roadside villages but still rely on forest resources. We analysed wild meat use for the Darwin Initiative project “Enabling Baka attain food security, improved health and sustain biodiversity” from 2017 to 2020.
The trade of bushmeat from rural areas to supply burgeoning cities is a major conservation and livelihood concern. Using a whole-city sampling strategy we mapped the distribution and numbers of meat outlets in the Kinshasa–Brazzaville metropolitan area, the two neighbouring capital cities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, respectively, in Central Africa.
The hunting of great apes and gibbons for their meat and parts is and ever increasing problem for wildlife conservation. In this chapter for the latest book in the book series State of the Apes by the Arcus Foundation, we review wild meat hunting, specifically the scale of the problem for great apes, biological consequences of hunting for meat and parts, drivers of wild meat hunting, drivers of hunting of great apes, and barriers and potential solutions.