Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why Does the World Need IPBES?

by Kai Chan (disclosure: I'm not unbiased re: IPBES; I'm involved, as explained below) Edited for public consumption 2017.11.27
IPBES (the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is operating on a shoestring budget to provide a critical service to humanity. But the funding will need to be renewed in 2020 and there is great uncertainty regarding the commitments nations will make given the current geopolitical context. So it’s worth pondering, why—after all—does the world need IPBES?
The usual argument against IPBES being an essential global institution is that problems of nature and its benefits to people (biodiversity and ecosystem services) are local or regional problems, unlike climate change. Without global dynamics, goes this argument, there’s no need for a global institution. Personally, I have wondered whether this is true. Even as late as mid-September, I wasn't sure if IPBES really was needed.
But problems of nature are global problems, in three key ways.
Male peacock spider: not only vertebrates are cool (Wiki).
Check out this amazing video of a courtship dance.
First, our responsibility for nature is global. Our grandchildren will thank us for saving wildlife and wild spaces wherever they occur. Correspondingly, if we fail to prioritize this, they will surely blame us for it, whether the extinguished flora and fauna are tropical rainforests, Arctic tundra, coral reefs, peacock spiders, tigers or emperor penguins—regardless of whether these wonders fall within our national borders.
Second, what happens elsewhere affects us here. ‘Telecoupling’ is real: when Indonesian forest fires associated with industrial agriculture choked much of Equatorial Asia with smoke and smog, over 100,000 people likely died prematurely in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia (NYTimes, ERL). 
Smoke from Indonesian forest fires, courtesy of NASA
 When expanding deserts in China—due to overgrazing, ‘bad cultivation’ and deforestation—allowed winds to pick up thousands of tons of fine sediment, people halfway across the world experienced yellow dust. This dust, which has been found in New Zealand and the French Alps, is estimated to cost Korea and Japan billions of dollars each year (Conversation). And the ongoing improper handling of plastics in many nations has resulted in a massive gyre of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean and our seafood being laced with plastic nodules—such that seafood eaters are likely consuming many thousands of pieces every year (Telegraph, Scientific Reports). Similarly, industrial processes have resulted in high levels of mercury, PCBs, and dioxins in many fish species, especially predators like swordfish, salmon, tuna, and mackerel. All that is just a handful of the ways that what happens far away matters locally.
Ocean plastics in Hawai'i (NOAA)
Third, what we do here drives what happens there. Have you eaten a candy bar recently? Some other processed food (much of which contains palm oil, whose production fuels the aforementioned land-use change and fires in Indonesia)? Then you’re complicit in the Indonesian fires. Do you eat imported meat and rice? If so, you’re partly responsible for the dust storms from Asia, as global markets spread our demand across distant sites of production. Do you use plastic products or anything with plastic production? Then you, like me, are complicit in the mass plasticization of the oceans.
Nature problems are global problems, so we need a concerted global effort to synthesize and advance the understanding of these problems—and their ultimate causes. By doing this, IPBES can enable appropriate responses among governments, NGOs, and the private sector. And when responses aren’t appropriate, this rigorously synthesized global information will enable other actors to hold their feet to the fire. Governments: keep funding IPBES. In fact, double your contribution, or more.

Clearly, IPBES can't solve these problems alone--and if you know me and CoSphere you know I think there are solutions to all these problems--but IPBES has a crucial role to play, as I'll explain in subsequent blog posts.

Readers: if you see the benefits of IPBES given the global nature of these problems, please like and share this page with the #fundIPBES hashtag. As a coordinating lead author of IPBES's Global Assessment and with other IPBES authors, I will use your support to convey the public support for continued and enhanced funding for IPBES to governments around the world.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Do wild salmon subsidize the aquaculture industry in BC?

AdultLepeophtheirus salmonis infesting juvenile pink salmon, Oncorhynchus gorbuscha.If these little guys don't survive, the sea lice on farms could evolve resistance faster.(photo: Alexandra Morton)
In our recent paper, just out in Conservation Letters, we make a case that wild salmon in the North Pacific might be effectively subsidizing pest control costs for the salmon aquaculture industry along the BC coast. How would wild salmon make a difference for pest control on farms? Usually we hear about the negative effects that farms have on wild salmon, but not about interactions in the other direction. This story has to do with the evolutionary dynamics of sea lice, small parasites that live on both farmed and wild salmon.

The idea for this paper started from a conversation with John Driscoll, my fellow PhD student in the lab. Because I have a bit of background in evolutionary biology, he was trying to get me to work on an idea he had. Basically, John said, BC is the only major salmon aquaculture region where sea lice had not evolved resistance to the chemical parasiticides used on fish farms to control them. BC is also the only place that still has large wild salmon populations compared to other major salmon farming regions where wild salmon either never existed, or have been nearly fished out. John's idea was that these two facts were connected: sea lice living on wild salmon comprise a susceptible pool which periodically mixes with populations of lice on farms (mature wild salmon migrating past net pens on their way back to their breeding rivers). The dilution of alleles under intense selection for resistance (on the farms) with alleles that aren't (from the oceanic pool) would change the predictions for the spread and fixation of the resistance genotype in the population as a whole, reducing the level of resistance on farms. Could this be the reason that farms in BC hadn't had problems with sea lice resistance?

We decided to reach out to Marty Krkosek's group, who are experts in quantitative ecology of sea lice and salmon in BC, to scope out the idea. It turned out that John wasn't the only person who had though about this. A current post-doc in the group, Andrew Bateman, and a former MSc student in Mark Lewis's group, Jaime Ashander, had worked on the same idea, and Jaime had already developed a genetic/demographic model for the mixing farmed and wild sea lice that showed the delay or preclusion of resistance evolution under various conditions. In addition to Jaime's model, there were a couple other models already published that also looked at the mixing of alleles between wild and domesticated sea lice but had not made connections to the ecosystem services and management implications of these evolutionary dynamics.

Life history of sea lice and salmon: when wild adult salmon migrate past salmon farms in late summer or fall they bring immigrant homozygous susceptible lice (blue) to farms. In winter, the farm population of lice is isolated and subjected to selection for EB resistant sea lice (orange). Migrating wild juveniles move past farms in spring, receiving sea lice infection from farms that cause wild salmon population declines, indicated by juveniles with an X.
After one editorial rejection at another journal and several iterations for Conservation Letters, the paper that came out of this collaboration is an interesting hybrid. It's a combination of a review of previous theoretical work, original modelling by Jaime, and global observational data on wild salmon populations and the occurrence of resistance. We end with conservation-focused implications for both wild salmon and sea lice management through an ecosystem services lens (though we stopped short of actually evaluating the dollar value saved by the aquaculture industry in BC - after a valiant effort).

If this process of seasonal allele mixing between wild and domesticated populations of sea lice is in fact happening, it is a case where the salmon aquaculture industry is both the direct beneficiary of, and a direct source of impact on, the resistance-mitigation service provided by wild salmon. The impacts of aquaculture on nearby wild salmon populations are well documented. In part, these impacts are due to the infection of young wild salmon fry that are heading out to sea with farm-origin sea lice at a life stage that they would not normally be exposed to them, causing higher morbidity and mortality than the normal situation where adult salmon are exposed to parasites out in the open ocean (see photo). By causing the population decline or local extinctions of connective salmon populations, aquaculture operations are not only causing harm to an important natural resource, they could also be cutting themselves off from the oceanic pool of susceptible sea lice that allow them to remain resistance-free. In the paper, we suggest several measures that would maintain this service, including reducing the infection rate of young wild salmon from farm-origin sea lice by correctly timing paraciticide treatments. Another idea is a payments for ecosystem services scheme that supports watershed protection/restoration around vulnerable populations. This sort of program could help reverse the decline of wild salmon populations near salmon farms, thereby serving a conservation purpose and benefiting the aquaculture industry at the same time.

This paper is the first well-theorized example of evolution generating an ecosystem service, in this case, resistance mitigation. This evosystem service involving wild salmon and their sea lice pests offers a pretty juicy counter-narrative to the conflict-ridden relationship between aquaculture and wild catch industries, maybe providing additional motivation for cross-scale conservation and management efforts.