These policies have led to Orwellian "marine protected areas" that host commercial fishing operations, leading one to wonder who's protecting whom. A new study reveals the danger of this approach--showing that exploitation has led to a decline of a seabird species by 80% in the Dutch Wadden Sea--and concludes that it's time to let protection mean protection.
For decades, the Dutch government sanctioned mechanical cockle dredging in three-fourths of the intertidal flats of the Wadden Sea, a natural monument protected under two intergovernmental treaties. Before suction dredging began in the 1960s, an estimated 2,000 tons of cockles were hand-harvested from the reserve each year. In 1989, the high-pressure, motor-driven water pumps used in suction dredging sucked up close to 80,000 tons of cockles. By 2004, the Dutch government decided the environmental costs were too great and stopped the practice. Jan van Gils and colleagues investigated the ecological impacts of commercial cockle dredging on intertidal ecosystems by studying a long-distance migrant shorebird that dines principally on cockles, the red knot (Calidris canutus islandica). Up to 50% of the global red knot population uses the Dutch Wadden Sea at some point during their annual cycle.
Red knots are exquisitely adapted to their lifestyle. They have a pressure-sensitive bill that senses hard objects buried in the sand and a shell-crushing gizzard to accommodate the birds' penchant for swallowing their catch whole. They even have a flexible digestive system that minimizes the energy costs of flying up to 16,000 kilometers between their arctic breeding grounds and winter homes in Europe and the tropics; their gizzard expands and contracts to balance daily food intake and energy needs. To determine the effects of dredging on the birds, the authors sampled prey quality and density over 2,800 Wadden Sea sites during the late summer months (late July to early September) for five years starting in 1998. Dredging occurred each year from September to December, immediately after their sample collections. In undredged areas, cockle densities increased by 2.6% each year, and the quality remained stable. In dredged areas, cockle densities remained stable, and their quality (flesh-to-shell ratio) declined by 11.3% each year--paralleling the decline in the quality of the birds' diet (as measured by droppings). This finding falls in line with evidence that dredging disturbs the silt cockles like to settle in, as well as their feeding conditions, which in turn reduces their quality as a food resource.
Based on prey quality and densities, van Gils et al. predicted the energy intake rate for knots with an average-size gizzard at each site (all sites were pooled into 272 blocks, each with an area of 1 square kilometer), then calculated the percentage of blocks that would not yield sufficient intake rates for knots to avoid starvation. From 1998 to 2002, the percentage of blocks that couldn't sustain knots increased from 66% to 87%--all attributable to dredging in previously suitable sites. Reduced prey density caused some of this degradation, but most stemmed from declines in both cockle density and quality.
The authors caught and color-banded the birds so they could estimate survival rates the following year, and they measured gizzard mass with ultrasonography. As expected, when prey quality declined, birds needed larger gizzards to process the relatively higher proportion of shells in their diet. Their chances of surviving conditions at the Wadden Sea increased as a function of prey quality and gizzard flexibility. Birds that did not return had much smaller gizzards than those that did. Survival rate calculations based on gizzard size and prey quality revealed that if birds could not expand their gizzard and prey quality was low (0.15 grams of flesh per gram of shell), only 47% of arriving birds would avoid starvation. A much greater proportion would survive if their gizzard could expand by at least 1 gram (70% for 1 gram, 88% for 2 grams).
These degraded food conditions, the authors conclude, explains why red knot populations have declined by 80% in the Wadden Sea. And increased mortality in the Wadden Sea, which the authors estimate at 58,000 birds over five years, accounts for the 25% decline of red knots across their entire northwest European wintering grounds. Dredging reduced the quality of red knots' primary food source so drastically that even the birds' extraordinarily adaptable digestive system could not save them. The authors point out that dredging doesn't even provide significant economic benefits--only 11 outfits manage 22 fishing boats--yet is "directly responsible" for the widespread decline of a protected shorebird. These findings put the lie to the notion that commercial exploitation is consistent with conservation and underscore the risks of disturbing critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.
Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine