Monday, 27 October 2014

Falling involvement in nature-based activities

Came across this article by Pergams and Zaradic (2008) titled ‘Evidence for a Fundamental and Pervasive Shift Away from Nature-Based Recreation’ and felt that the interesting results warranted sharing. The authors found, based on records in the U.S., Japan and Spain, that the number of visitors to national parks in these studied countries have fallen. They then extrapolated this to conclude that fewer people now participate in nature related activities. In the U.S.’s case, although the number of hikers and trekkers increased, this was offset by a drop in participation in activities such as hunting and fishing. This is contrary to what I believed as I thought such activities would instead become more common as affluence increased.

Fortunately, Singapore has not seen such a decline in visitors to her nature reserves yet (Auger, 2013). However, with Bukit Timah Nature Reserve’s recent closure, it would be interesting to see if people spread out to the other nature reserves or stop going altogether. If the latter occurs, it would be a pity as I feel even the other nature reserves and parks do have a lot to offer to visitors.

Here are some pictures from various nature areas in Singapore:

Collared kingfisher at Clementi Woods.

A spider that mimics bird droppings at Admiralty Park.

A scorpion under UV light at Lower Peirce Reservoir.

Tiger beetle at Dairy Farm.

So why is this a concern? Well, studies have shown that participation in nature-based activities during childhood does have an impact on environmental behaviours when they are older (Nancy M. Wells and Lekies, 2006). They found that consumptive and appreciative nature activities during childhood to be good indicators of environmental attitudes later on. Meanwhile, participation in environmental education programmes did not seem to have an effect. With nature-based activities participation rate currently falling, this might have an impact on the conservation movement in the years to come.

AUGER, T. 2013. Living in a Garden: The Greening of Singapore, Editions Didier Millet.
NANCY M. WELLS & LEKIES, K. S. 2006. Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism. Children Youth and Environments, 16, 1-24.

PERGAMS, O. R. W. & ZARADIC, P. A. 2008. Evidence for a Fundamental and Pervasive Shift Away from Nature-Based Recreation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105, 2295-2300.

Monday, 20 October 2014

How should we portray animals?

I came across this article titled The Meaning of Animal Portraiture in a Museum Setting: Implications for Conservation and it stood out as an interesting article to discuss. Basically, it is about the impacts that an animal portrait photo exhibition can have on the visitors.

The article starts by looking at the effectiveness of zoos and aquariums and concludes that people tend to be more interested in the animal itself than conservation efforts or the welfare of the animals. Conservation information came behind these two points (Kalof, Zammit-Lucia, & Kelly, 2011). Thus, such animal attraction organisations face an uphill task in encouraging conservation to the public. However, its popularity means that it remains an important way for conservationists to influence the public’s attitudes.

Are zoos really effective in encouraging conservation? Or are they just another attraction?

The article then moves on to the portrayal of animals in other media such as television and film, before moving on to the main focus: how does the way an animal is portrayed in a photograph in a museum affect the viewer’s opinion of animals? The photos from this exhibit were by the photographer Joe Zammit-Lucia and were done in a studio portrait style.

By exploring how the visitors felt about the word “Animal” before and after viewing the exhibit, they arrived at an interesting result. There was a large increase in the number of people who felt that animals, like humans, had unique personalities. Words such as “wild”, “violent” and “nature” associated less to “Animals” after the exhibition.

So what does this mean for conservation efforts?

This study shows that the way we represent animals in photos can have a large impact on the viewer’s attitudes towards animals. Hence, I believe more attention has to be paid to how we want to portray the animals. Usually, most photos try to romanticise nature by showing everything in a wild state. The animals are shown to be in their natural environment, doing natural things such as hunting. However, this raises the possibility that it reinforces the view that animals are violent and humans are now separate from nature. Instead, by showing that each animal is unique and has human-like characteristics, it might help the viewers to forge a bond with the animals. Which method would bring about a better outcome for conservation efforts? While it is not explored in this article, it sounds like a very interesting topic to read about.

One shortcoming of this article was that the sample size of 50 is small. Furthermore it was conducted at a natural history museum which would cater towards people who are already interested in nature. It will be intriguing to see if there would be any difference if the study was conducted at other types of venues such as an arts museum.  

Kalof, L., Zammit-Lucia, J., & Kelly, J. R. (2011). The Meaning of Animal Portraiture in a Museum Setting: Implications for Conservation. Organization & Environment, 1086026611412081.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Project Noah

Some time back I learnt of this website called Project Noah. Basically, users can upload photographs of organisms and people will help to identify them. There are categories for animals, plants and even fungi. One of the aims of the project is to reconnect people with nature and at the same time use this opportunity of citizen science to aid research. To make it even more convenient, it is also available as an app for Android and IOS. Using the app, the location datawill be included to aid in identification. I personally have not tried the app yet as it’s not in the Windows Store but I think this website is a great blend between photography, science and outreach. If it is used well, the public can learn a lot from it and maybe gain an interest in conservation issues.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Book Review: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

I just finished reading this book about a week ago and felt that it was quite a good and informative read so I decided to dedicate a post to it.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert is a collection of essays with myriad themes. Most of the book is written based on interviews with scientists and their findings. These themes range from the Chytrid fungus affecting frogs to the megafauna extinction to the ammonites and graptolites. However, they all centre on the common topic of conservation and extinctions. She asserts that, based on the estimated current rate of extinction, we are in the midst of a mass extinction event. This is done by looking into the historical extinctions and how extinctions and mass extinctions eventually got accepted into science. Most of the book revolves around the impacts of humans on the environment such as the introduction of rats and the white-nose syndrome causing fungus in bats and hunting of megafauna around the world. While on the whole, the book is rather gloomy, it is also strangely comforting to read about the rather extreme steps some people have taken unto themselves to save the critically endangered species.

Without going too much into the details of the book, I found it really interesting and easy to read. It was clearly written with the general public in mind as the underlying science is explained in layman terms. While I acknowledge that it is a short book, I feel that certain issues were oversimplified. For instance, in the chapters on ocean acidification, she shows the impacts that it can have on the marine ecosystem. What is lacking (to me) is how we can do something to alleviate the problem. Another example would be when she showed the extreme steps humans have taken to save highly endangered species like the California condor. It once again lacks the action that laypeople can take. However, this does not detract from her argument about the current rate of extinction.
Overall, I believe that this book can serve as a gateway for greater environmental/conservation awareness in the general public and encouraging them to play a more active role in conservation.

On a related note: I find it a little funny that the cover of the edition I read has what I believe is a yellow banded poison dart frog which is currently listed as Least Concern under the IUCN Red List.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Roles of a flagship species

In this week’s post, I will be exploring the roles that flagship species can play in conservation. These are well-known, charismatic species that appeals to the public to promotes conservation efforts and for funds (Heywood, 1995). Examples would include elephants, gorillas and the giant panda. Frequently, these species are also umbrella species as conservation of these animals would also help in the conservation of lesser-known surrounding species. The reason I chose this topic is because eco-tourism is currently one of the fastest growing areas of the tourism industry. And what better way to encourage tourists than by attracting them with chances to meet these flag-ship species. Photography, being a major part of eco-tourism would inadvertently be more focused on these flagship species.

The main role of a flagship species is to be able to reach out to the public by acting as an ambassador. Most of the attention has been focused on large, “cute”, terrestrial megafauna. One prominent example would be the WWF’s logo which has a giant panda. By doing so, it appeals to the public to support the conservation efforts and for funding. For instance, the River Safari just had its Panda Party for Kai Kai and Jia Jia’s first anniversary in Singapore. While the use of such flagship species would undoubtedly increase donations, it does not benefit all species equally resulting in lower levels of concern in other ecosystems. For example, McClenachan et al. (2012) found that many of the charismatic marine fishes and invertebrates analysed were threatened by overexploitation. However, little conservation research has been done on them.

Meanwhile, large amounts of money, research and time goes into protecting the popular flagship species such as pandas. The giant panda has become a symbol for China and was even used as the mascot for the Beijing Olympics. Pandas are also occasionally used as diplomatic gifts between China and other countries, a practice termed “panda diplomacy”. For zoos, pandas are rented from China for a price. The Edinburgh zoo pays about US$1 million to rent a pair of pandas from the Chinese government (Vidal, 2014). Additional money would have to be spent to support the pandas for its upkeep and enclosure. While the large large sum does contribute to conservation efforts back in China, I would argue that it can be better spent on perhaps lesser known but threatened species. Furthermore, the new countries hosting the pandas might not be optimal for their health if the keepers lack experience. The use of panda as gifts also runs the risk of commoditising them. Outside of zoos, preliminary findings by Caro et al. (2004) found that the use of flagship species to demarcate the boundaries of protected areas did not help to increase biodiversity in those areas. Hence, the use of a flagship species might not help in conserving other wildlife.

On the outreach aspect, while flagship species do have a role, I feel that organisations should try to educate the public of the dangers to the whole ecosystem instead of focusing on only one or two species. This would help the public to gain a deeper understanding of how the whole ecosystem functions. After all, the ecosystem would not work if there are only flagship species left.

Any thoughts on the issue? I’d love to hear it. J

Caro, T., Engilis, A., Fitzherbert, E., & Gardner, T. (2004). Preliminary assessment of the flagship species concept at a small scale. Animal Conservation, 7(1), 63-70. doi: 10.1017/S136794300300115X
Heywood, V. H. (1995). Global biodiversity assessment: Cambridge University Press.
McClenachan, L., Cooper, A. B., Carpenter, K. E., & Dulvy, N. K. (2012). Extinction risk and bottlenecks in the conservation of charismatic marine species. Conservation Letters, 5(1), 73-80.

Vidal, J. (2014). Zoos weigh up the costs of China's 'pandanomics'. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Serious Beesiness

I was browsing around Youtube when I came across an interesting video by Sam Droege. It describes how to preserve invertebrate in, of all things, hand sanitizer. While not exactly a scientific method, it allows the specimens to be handled more roughly, a good characteristic when showing it to the public. The past two times I preserved specimens at home was with alcohol and thus, I’m really looking forward to trying this. Now all I need is to find a nice dead bug.

I went on to explore his channel and realised that he is the head of the bee inventory and monitoring program at the U.S. Geological Survey. After preserving the bees, he takes photographs of them and started a photo catalogue of the different bee specimens. By taking hi-resolution shots of bees and its specific body parts, it allows researches from far away to identify the species they have. I think having a photo catalogue together with a traditional identification key will be really useful in helping both scientists and the public to identify bee species. Bees play a very important role in the ecosystem by acting as pollinators. Many agricultural crops depend on bees for pollination. According a study, Gallai et al. (2008) estimated that insects, of which bees are the main pollinators, contributed to about €153 billion of food production. With the Colony Collapse Disorder in the United States and in Europe, this easily available source of information might be useful in solving it. Here are a few images taken by him:

Photos courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab


GALLAI, N., SALLES, J.-M., SETTELE, J. & VAISSIÈRE, B. E. 2009. Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological economics, 68, 810-821.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Short trip to Admiralty Park

So, I recently went to Admiralty Park for a little shooting. It’s one of my favourite places for macrophotography due to the wide variety of species present (and there are not too many mosquitoes). Here are some photos from the trip:

Tortoise Beetle stack
A tortoise beetle. I believe it’s the black spotted yellow tortoise beetle (Aspidomorpha miliaris).

A different tortoise beetle. Might be Laccoptera nepalensis.

An excited dragonfly. He was really patient with me.

I did not take much photos as it was a short trip most of which was spent finding a green tortoise beetle. I still lack a good shot of those due to its small size and metallic shell which makes it challenging. Besides insects, I managed to spot a white-breasted waterhen leading a few chicks around a tiny pool in the undergrowth but they swam away too quickly for me to get a shot.