Friday, 27 November 2015

Elephants Of Antiquity

Elephants, members of the group proboscidea, are beloved by everyone; they are big, charismatic, and essential keystone species throughout their native range, even in the places where they are now extinct. Once one of the most widely distributed groups of large herbivorous mammals on the planet, they are now confined to tropical Asia and Africa, and even then just barely in many places. I have mentioned them before when talking about some of the regions which they once inhabited, but never in great detail. That changes now, and in this post I hope to cover pretty much the entire native range of proboscideans on all continents, focusing mostly on those now extinct. Just to clarify briefly what I mean when I say "native", while the term has no true agreed upon meaning, for the sake of this post I will define it as any animal which is currently or would still have been present in an area, if not for human activity. Another fact that must be mentioned is that the terms "proboscidean" and "elephant" do not mean the same. All elephants are proboscideans, but not all proboscideans are elephants. The proboscidean family tree is typically divided into two main groups, the elephants and the mastodons, which split early on in their history. So, with that settled, let us begin with the two places where elephants are still present.

Proboscidean cladogram, by Vladimir Nikolov

Monday, 9 November 2015

Exploring the natural land cover of Europe

How would Europe have looked if we had never come along? This subject has been covered before, specifically as goes the fauna, but today I will be tackling a different side of this, namely how the landscape itself would have looked. Traditionally imagined as a dense, continent-wide closed canopy forest, this view now seems unlikely, but precisely how it looked is difficult to assess, simply due to our lack of clear evidence. Despite this, enough data is available to give us a general picture of roughly how it may have looked, even if a large amount of educated guesses and inferences are required. The importance of discussing this subject must not be understated, as it is absolutely vital to conservation and habitat restoration. As has been covered here, trying to protect and restore the wrong habitats can have a devastating effect on wildlife, as demonstrated by the stark decline in many species caused by the intensive management of heaths throughout much of the continent. To understand how best to protect species we must first know what their natural habitats were, and in what conditions they once thrived. In this post, I will be covering the continent in general, but again with a stronger focus on western Europe, as this is where most attempted habitat restoration is currently taking place and where data is most plentiful.

Old-growth beech forest in Slovakia, often but mistakenly used as a model for all pristine European habitats

Thursday, 5 November 2015

For All To See: Overgrazing apologists and regressive conservation

I have talked about the British highlands before, discussing its depleted state, and how it came to be this way. In that article I also devoted a substantial quantity of words to how conservationists have, for a long time, been helping preserve this depleted landscape. None of this has radically changed in the few months since I wrote that post, nor is the subject of today any more relevant now than it was then. It is also not any less relevant however. What I will be talking about here is the issue of those conservationists who have not moved on, who still cling to the old and outdated notions of what is and is not good for nature. They are unfortunately still large in number, and often fill some of the most powerful positions in conservation, controlling the majority of nature reserves. Change is coming, but as with all upheavals, there will be resistance, and much of it at that. Still, there is something uncannily disturbing about a conservationist, supposedly bolstered and driven by science, trumpeting blatantly and demonstrably false statements, so heavily contradicted by evidence, much of which they must be aware of, to border on outright lying. This post is both a rebuttal to the arguments made by these people, and also a reflection on just why they are acting the way they are, and how we may perhaps be able to change it in time.

A picture of the desolate Scottish highlands, one of many in this post, with sheep in the foreground