Getting data to do more for biodiversity

Aug 26, 2022

Contact: Kaylie Crowe, University Communications, (563) 451-3976, [email protected]


EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University ecologists have developed a mathematical framework that might assist monitor and protect biodiversity with out breaking the financial institution. 

This framework or mannequin takes low-cost information about comparatively ample species in a group and makes use of it to generate helpful insights on their harder-to-find neighbors. The journal Conservation Biology revealed the analysis as an Early View article on Aug. 25. 

“One of the biggest challenges in monitoring biodiversity is that the species you’re most concerned about tend to be lowest in abundance or they’re the hardest species to observe during data collection,” mentioned Matthew Farr, the lead creator on the brand new report. “This model can be really helpful for those rare and elusive species.” 

Farr, now a postdoctoral researcher on the University of Washington, helped develop the mannequin as a doctoral pupil in Elise Zipkin’s Quantitative Ecology Lab within the College of Natural Science at MSU. 

“There are a lot of species in the world and many of them are data deficient,” mentioned Zipkin, an affiliate professor of integrative biology and director of MSU’s Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program, or EEB. “We’re developing approaches to more quickly estimate what’s going on with biodiversity, which species are in trouble and where, spatially, do we need to focus our conservation efforts.” 

After validating the mannequin with an help from forest-dwelling antelope in Africa, the researchers say it could possibly be utilized to quite a lot of different animals that meet sure standards. 

“The model doesn’t work for all types of species. It’s not a panacea,” Zipkin mentioned. “But when it does work for a community, we can learn a lot more about member species without much data.” 

The ‘magic’ of the mannequin 

For its latest mannequin, Zipkin’s crew targeted on what’s referred to as detection-nondetection information that tracks whether or not or not a given animal is detected in a given habitat.  

“It’s basically the cheapest data and the easiest to collect,” Zipkin mentioned. “You go to a spot, wait and see what animals are there and only need to record which species are seen.” 

Researchers collect this information visually in particular person or with low-cost, motion-detecting digicam traps that snap photographs when triggered by an animal. Researchers then analyze the photographs to document detection-nondetection information over time. 

There are trade-offs, although. Although comparatively low cost and simple to gather, detection-nondetection information doesn’t present as a lot data as researchers and conservationists need. Historically, that has required intensive observational approaches reminiscent of tagging and monitoring animals. 

“That lets us calculate all sorts of things about the animals and their communities, but that data is expensive and hard to get,” Zipkin mentioned. “For certain species, it’s impossible.” 

The MSU crew realized that, for the fitting animals, they might use an understanding of animal habits and statistics to shut the data hole by squeezing extra perception out of detection-nondetection information.  

“For some species, these are the best data you can get,” Farr mentioned. “Now we can get more out of it.” 

That could sound like magic — a few of Zipkin’s colleagues have even mentioned so — however there’s nothing supernatural concerning the mannequin. Like a lot of science, it’s the results of laborious work, collaboration and constructing on earlier efforts within the discipline. 

The story of the brand new mannequin has its roots in 2003 with researchers J. Andrew Royle and James D. Nichols. The duo devised a mathematical hyperlink between the abundance of a species and the likelihood of detecting it.  

At the time, Royle was a researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nichols was with the U.S. Geological Survey. Both are MSU alumni: Royle graduated along with his bachelor’s diploma in 1990 and Nichols earned his doctorate in 1976. 

“It’s interesting,” mentioned Farr, whose present adviser, Sarah Converse, additionally graduated with a bachelor’s diploma from Michigan State earlier than turning into an affiliate professor on the University of Washington. “Wherever you go in this field, people have some connection to Michigan State.” 

After publishing the Royle-Nichols mannequin, Royle joined the USGS, the place he’d work with Zipkin earlier than she joined MSU in 2014. In 2016, Zipkin’s crew advanced the Royle-Nichols mannequin to estimate issues just like the survival and copy charges for a single species utilizing the barred owl as a case examine.  

Working in Zipkin’s lab with assist from the National Science Foundation, Farr took the following step by linking the inhabitants dynamics of various species inside the similar communities. 

“The model lets information from more common species inform what’s happening with the rare and elusive species,” mentioned Farr. “The model relies on the commonalities between species, but still allows for variations.” 

To develop the mannequin, the crew needed to make some assumptions, like that the goal species have been territorial and didn’t journey a lot. The researchers then needed to discover actual species that match these assumptions to validate their mannequin. 

“We knew it would work for certain types of communities, but did those communities exist in real life?” Zipkin mentioned. 

“That’s one of the biggest challenges in model development,” Farr mentioned. “You develop the model in a vacuum with simulations running under perfect conditions. You need to show what it can do in a real-world situation.” 

 “That’s when Tim O’Brien reached out and said, ‘I have your animals,’” Zipkin mentioned. 

The duiker information 

Timothy O’Brien is a retired ecologist in Kenya who labored with the Wildlife Conservation Society, a nongovernmental group or NGO, and an skilled in digicam traps. As a part of what’s often known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring program, or TEAM, he’s helped standardize how digicam traps are used to make their information as highly effective as doable. 

He was aware of Zipkin’s 2016 work and realized that she was increasing the mannequin to incorporate a number of species over a number of seasons. He suspected that forest-dwelling antelopes, notably these often known as duiker, would supply the right take a look at case.  

Not solely did duiker habits match the assumptions of the mannequin, however O’Brien had been serving to monitor the animals for years utilizing digicam traps. Duikers introduced an fascinating and vital conservation case. 

“The duiker that live in rainforests, they are the most sought-after bushmeat in Africa,” O’Brien mentioned. “If duiker populations are in decline, it’s usually because of people hunting for bushmeat.” 

Bushmeat is meat from any wild animal and it’s an vital supply of meals and earnings for a lot of communities. But the looking is loosely regulated and is financially incentivized by markets that promote bushmeat. The mixture could be devastating for duiker populations. 

With MSU’s mannequin and TEAM’s duiker information, the crew assessed the inhabitants dynamics of a complete of 12 antelope species — some extra ample than others — in six nationwide parks in Africa, the place duikers are protected. The information coated time intervals starting from 4 to 11 years. 

“We didn’t see the level of population decline in duiker you expect to see when hunting is an issue,” O’Brien mentioned. “I would say the parks are fulfilling their function as far as duiker are concerned.” 

Overall, the duiker populations have been principally steady, however the researchers did detect inhabitants declines in about 20% of the combos of species and parks that they examined. Again, the declines weren’t so substantial to recommend that the duiker have been being overhunted within the parks, however the researchers nonetheless need to perceive what’s occurring in these instances. 

“We found that’s what causing the changes was more the differences between the parks than between the species,” Zipkin mentioned. “We haven’t pinpointed the exact causes yet, but our results could help us do that.” 

“Matt and Elise have taken this model to a whole new plane,” O’Brien mentioned. “I’ve really enjoyed the collaboration.” 

Charles Yackulic, a analysis statistician with the USGS, was additionally a contributor to the undertaking, which was supported by NSF, WCS, Conservation International, the Smithsonian Institution and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. 

“This project is a great example of a university, government and NGOs working together,” Zipkin mentioned. 

Read on MSUToday.


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