News Archive

posted 07/15/04

From Bumblebees in San Francisco's Urban Parks to Living With Leopards In The Himalayas — The 2004 Meeting of The Society For Conservation Biology Focuses on Conservation in an Urbanizing World

NEW YORK, NY --- Freeway-hopping bobcats and urban forest restoration will be among the many topics discussed at the 2004 annual meeting of the Society of Conservation Biology held in New York City from July 30 to August 2nd. The meeting, hosted by the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, will bring together more than 1,700 scientists, conservation biology practitioners, and students from around the world to focus on this year’s theme “Conservation in the Urbanizing World.”

The United Nations projects that almost all the world’s population growth will occur in cities over the next 30 years. It’s expected that as early as 2007, more than half the world’s population will live in urban areas. This fast-paced urbanization is expected to pose significant challenges to conserving ecosystems and species while meeting human needs both inside and far beyond city boundaries.

Media are invited to attend the 4 day conference, held on the Columbia University campus at 116th and Broadway, New York City. Below are a few of the hundreds of planned presentations of local, national, and international interest that touch on urban challenges:

Environmental Citizen Suits - Help or Hindrance?

Citizen suits have been a bulwark of successful environmental activism in the U.S. for the past 30 years. With larger numbers of citizen suits being filed each year, agency funds that would otherwise be spent on implementing environmental laws are being diverted to pay for legal defense. Researchers report on the consequences of growing numbers of citizen suits and whether more litigation necessarily leads to better environmental outcomes.

The Status of Conservation Biology and Science in Iraq

Representatives from Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. State Department will discuss their efforts to address the biological, legal, and political aspects of environmental problems in Iraq, including environmental contamination due to warfare, the draining of the southern marshes, and the inventorying and monitoring of existing and threatened species.

A Housing Boom on the Urban Fringes - Can Design Help?

The number of houses in rural and wild areas in many Western states grew by as much as 15 to 30 percent through the 1990’s, expanding the area where human development and wild ecosystems collide, according to an analysis of census and vegetation data to be presented by researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the U.S. Forest Service. This “wildland-urban interface” is where human-wildlife conflicts, exotic species invasions, and forest treatments to reduce the risk of wildfire are concentrated. Some planners hope a new type of clustered housing development that maximizes open space can benefit plant and wildlife, but findings from a recent study of housing in Boulder, CO, suggests the effect is minimal.

Native Plants in New York City, Past and Future

Over 1,300 native plants have been collected in the five boroughs since 1850, though less than 60 percent survive in the city today, concludes an analysis by three researchers from the City University of New York, UC Davis, and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Staten Island has the most and Queens the least native species, but numbers continue to dwindle, even inside protected areas like parks. A separate presentation by the Natural Resources Group of the city parks department will show signs of progress on an ongoing effort to restore native habitat to the former site of a cement plant on the Bronx River, now a city park.

The Cat from the Wrong Side of the Freeway

Major highways limit the migration of large predators and put a major damper on their sex life, according to radio-tracking and genetic study results presented here. Although some individuals do make it across the road to mate, bobcats and coyotes on either side of a large freeway in southern California have formed genetically distinct sub-populations, suggesting that little mixing occurs.

With Climate Change, Will Species Leave Parks Behind?

A number of presentations will address the future of national parks and other protected areas as animals and plants migrate in response to future climate change. An international group using projections of species distribution in 2050 under a mid-range warming scenario concludes that between 18 and 35 percent of all species are at risk of extinction globally. A different projection focusing solely on 25 diversity hotspots over the next 100 years pegs the extinction rate as high as 12 percent. A study modeling the migration of mammals in 8 large national parks in the United States foresees species losses within the parks as high as 20 percent and drastic influxes of new species.

The Tortoise and the Dog

Dogs are helping conservation scientists to track federally threatened desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert. A team from the University of Redlands and the Desert Research Institute in Reno, NV, will outline results from successful field trials.

When Earthworms Invade

Although a boon to gardeners, droves of non-native earthworms can cripple hardwood forests and make urban forest restoration more difficult by disrupting nutrient cycles, increasing soil compaction, and consuming needed leaf litter. A study out of Philadelphia describes what can happen when earthworms invade and the most effective soil treatments for flushing them out.

After Seismic Surveys, Not All Arctic Habitat Recovers

A pair of University of Alberta researchers spent two years comparing the species composition of different low arctic ecosystems along the site of a recent and 33-year-old seismic exploration. Their results suggest that different communities respond uniquely to the disturbance and that complete recovery of natural vegetation communities is unlikely in some cases.

Managing Large Predators in Populated Protected Areas

Two separate presentations will outline strategies developed by scientists based in Laos and India after careful study of their regions specific predator conflicts. Along the Laos-Vietnam border, tigers are attacking livestock from villages in and around a nationally protected area at a higher rate. In the Pauri Garhwal district of the Indian Himalayas, leopard attacks on humans have increased due to habitat fragmentation and decline in wild prey.

Getting the Most from International Youth Environmental Education, A Lesson from Venezuela

Environmental education is frequently recommended as a way to change local attitudes towards an endangered species or ecosystem, but little is known about what approaches are most efficient in the face of limited resources. A team of Venezuelan researchers will present the results from surveys of pre-teens taken before and after two different interventions – a short play and a week-long environmental camp, both aimed at showing the impact of local poaching on a critically endangered blue-headed parakeet.

The Society for Conservation Biology 2004 annual meeting will address these and other emerging topics through plenary sessions, symposia, workshops, organized discussions, and poster sessions. Awards will be presented for outstanding research and service to the field. Field trips to restoration and conservation sites in and around New York City will highlight a wide range of activities that enable the natural world to thrive in a heavily urbanizing region.

More information, including how to register for the conference, is available at the SCB 2004 Annual Meeting web site: CERC, the meeting host, is a consortium of New York environmental and educational institutions: Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Trust.

The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and the host of the 2004 SCB conference, is a consortium of five leading New York City science and education institutions - Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society and Wildlife Trust—which trains the next generation of environmental leaders to address the challenges of conserving the Earth's biological diversity.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.