The use of new technologies and innovative applications to address conservation issues is increasing. From eDNA to remote sensing, a wide range of scientific analytical methods are now available to support wildlife management and law enforcement around the world. Driven by conservation needs, such technologies have the potential to deliver novel information to practitioners. ECOS partners operate at the cutting edge of Innovative Conservation delivering scientific solutions to practical problems.
See below for examples of technology supporting conservation, or contact us with questions relating to specific techniques or challenges.
In the genomic era, DNA information can be generated on a massive scale, bringing genomics into conservation science. Access to whole genome reference sequences is increasing our understanding of biological diversity and starting to inform management decisions for species of conservation importance. ECOS partners are currently working on comparative population genomics of golden eagles, scimitar-horned oryx and manta rays that will provide the framework for interpreting differences observed between populations throughout their ranges.
eDNA – Environmental DNA
Recovery and analysis of DNA from the environment now provides a wealth of information regarding species distributions in soil, freshwater and marine environments. eDNA analysis is now being used to detect invasive species, monitor endangered species and examine community composition. eDNA is now being used across ECOS partners, particularly SNH, to deliver scientific data to conservation managers.
The conservation community is increasingly faced with illegal activity threatening the sustainability of wild populations. Wildlife crime investigations often rely on forensic science to provide evidence concerning the identity or origin of seized animals, plants and their products. The development of novel wildlife forensic science methods by ECOS partners provides an alternative example of applied conservation science in action.
Big cat biogeography
The lion and tiger are the world’s biggest cats and their future survival is threatened by human activities as habitats are lost and direct hunting and persecution continue. Conservation of these cats will depend increasingly on their management in the wild and captivity, so it is essential to understand better how today’s populations have arisen. Up to nine subspecies of tiger and 11 subspecies of lion are recognised, but there is a lack of consensus as to how many there are, which has important implications for conservation management. Mixing distinct populations compromises local adaptations to environments, whereas artificially separating populations results in inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity, compromising long-term survival. With possibilities of genetic transfer between the wild and captivity to reinforce populations, this has never been more important. Genetic studies have focussed on today’s populations and may be biased by poor sampling and recent population changes, which may give an incomplete view of the variation between and within populations over time.
Members of ECoS are developing biogeographical models of past and current distribution that will explore the connectivity between populations over time and space. A NERC-funded graduate student has already developed these dynamic biogeographical models for the tiger over the last 20,000 years, which confirm the latest genetic and morphological study that there are two distinct tiger subspecies on the Sunda Islands and the mainland of Asia, respectively. The group is currently modelling lion distributions since the peak of the last glaciation to detect patterns of population separation and connectivity over the last 20,000 years. A better understanding of changes in deeper time through dynamic biogeography is a powerful tool that we are developing to support conservation management of endangered species.