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Posted on May 5th, 2015

Back to School – Mexican Amphibians

Ochoa-Ochoa, L.M., Bazaury-Creel, J.E., Vazquez, L.B. and Flores-Villela, O. (2011). Choosing the survivors? A GIS-based triage support tool for micro-endemics: Application to data for Mexican Amphibians. Biological Conservation, 144, 2710-2718.

Because of the rate of land use (and abuse), we cannot expect to save every species. The authors of this paper undertook a study to evaluate the habitat and potential for future survival of 145 micro-endemic Mexican amphibian species. The study’s purpose was to assess potential threat abatement responses and to develop broad conservation strategies. They found that over half of the species they investigated were in need of urgent action to ward off any future population collapses, and nearly a quarter need intensive field investigations for population density evaluation and habitat assessment.

In their exploration, the authors found that the protection of micro-endemic species and their habitats had an “umbrella” effect in that it provided shelter and sustenance for other species that lived in the same region. Using systematic conservation planning to assess the protected areas, it is common to the field to protect larger areas and more species that fall inside the critical habitat zone of threatened and endangered species. By limiting the impacts of human intrusion, species are able to prosper with greater success rates when left to their natural environment unencumbered by artificial interruption.

The Universum, better known as el Museo de las Ciencias de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and opened in 1992, is one of the first science museums of its type in Latin America. It houses 13 halls devoted to various elements of wonder such as “the Brain,” “Evolution, Life and Time” and “Sexuality.” Hmm, those all seem related in some way… 50-cm color image captured by WorldView-2 on January 13, 2015 and comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

Using a museum database approach to establish species distribution ranges, the researchers relied on collected data to make the most efficient estimations of the crises levels of the species. While this may involve some omission of more recently collected data, the methodology was chosen as it would give the best understanding of how things have changed over a longer period of study. The largest impetus to proceed in this manner was that the authors did not want to assume that any species was extinct in the event they could not locate any within their study period. Additionally, this study could be used as the basis for a follow-up that would include original collection and further dissection of the region based on current conclusions.

Threat levels for each species were established using several stress factors, such as human population density and growth rate, land use and road density. Priority intervention levels were established through comparisons of threat status levels and expected responses from climatic and human-made induced changes in the environment.

The authors concluded that the use of their tool, in tandem with others to ensure the fullest consideration of future success, will be integral to not only choosing which species have the best odds for improvement, and thus where precious resources should be allocated, but that it could help to assess areas which are too devastated to be redeemed. And while they don’t advocate for the extinction of any species or its habitat, focusing on areas that are beyond repair wastes precious time and resources that could actually be used to reinvigorate and stimulate life in other areas more likely to rebound and flourish.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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