UW News

conservation


June 27, 2022

Top predators could ‘trap’ themselves trying to adapt to climate change, study shows

A study led by University of Washington researchers shows that over a 30-year period, African wild dogs shifted their average birthing dates later by 22 days, an adaptation that allowed them to match the birth of new litters with the coolest temperatures in early winter. But as a result of this significant shift, fewer pups survived their most vulnerable period because temperatures during their critical post-birth “denning period” increased over the same time period, threatening the population of this already endangered species. It is the first study to show that large mammalian carnivores are making major changes to their life history in response to a changing climate.


April 22, 2022

Heavens need environmental protection just like Earth, experts say

Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, argues a team of scientists. The scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space should be considered against the damaging environmental impacts posed by an influx of space debris — roughly 60 miles above Earth’s surface — fueled by the rapid growth of so-called satellite mega-constellations. In a paper published April 22 in Nature Astronomy, the authors assert that space is an important environment to preserve on behalf of professional astronomers, amateur stargazers and Indigenous peoples.


February 14, 2022

DNA testing exposes tactics of international criminal networks trafficking elephant ivory

A team led by scientists at the University of Washington and special agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used genetic testing of ivory shipments seized by law enforcement to uncover the international criminal networks behind ivory trafficking out of Africa. The genetic connections across shipments that they’ve uncovered exposes an even higher degree of organization among ivory smuggling networks than previously known. The paper, published Feb. 14 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, incorporates results from DNA testing of more than 4,000 African elephant tusks from 49 different ivory seizures made in 12 African nations over a 17-year period.


January 11, 2022

Researchers find concerns for animals tied to same habitats

Like humans, wild animals often return to the same places to eat, walk on the same paths to travel and use the same places to raise their young. A team led by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Wyoming has reviewed the scientific literature and found that, while “consistent” behavior may be beneficial when environmental conditions don’t change very fast, those benefits may not be realized in the ever-changing world dominated by humans.


January 4, 2022

Mass die-off of Magellanic penguins seen during 2019 heat wave

In 2019, University of Washington researchers witnessed the consequences of an extreme heat event in Argentina at one of the world’s largest breeding colonies for Magellanic penguins. On Jan. 19, temperatures at the site in Punta Tombo, on Argentina’s southern coast, spiked in the shade to 44 C, or 111.2 F. As the team reports in a paper published Jan. 4 in the journal Ornithological Applications, the extreme heat wave killed at least 354 penguins, based on a search for bodies by UW researchers in the days following the record high temperature. Nearly three-quarters of the penguins that died — 264 — were adults, many of which likely died of dehydration, based on postmortem analyses.


August 2, 2021

New DNA study provides critical information on conserving rainforest lizards

Close-up image of a male rough-nosed horned lizard.

A study published June 16 in Biotropica by a team of researchers at the University of Washington, the UW Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, WWF Hong Kong and the University of Colombo has provided an important road map to conserving rough-nosed horned lizards in Sri Lanka.


July 29, 2021

Climate change to fuel increase in human-wildlife conflict, UW biologist says

A herd of African elephants

Climate change is further exacerbating human-wildlife conflicts by straining ecosystems and altering behaviors, both of which can deepen the contacts — and potential competition — between people and animals. In an article published July 30 in the journal Science, Briana Abrahms, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington and its Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, calls for expanding research into the many ways that climate change will impact the complex interplay between human activities and wildlife populations.


May 27, 2021

Seabirds face dire threats from climate change, human activity — especially in Northern Hemisphere

seabird holding a fish

Many seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere are struggling to breed — and in the Southern Hemisphere, they may not be far behind. These are the conclusions of a study, published May 28 in Science, analyzing more than 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species worldwide.


November 24, 2020

Study shows plant extinction is more common than previously realized

A photograph of a museum specimen of a now-extinct plant species.

A new study reveals that 65 plant species have gone extinct in the continental United States and Canada since European settlement, more extinctions than any previous scientific study has ever documented.


September 17, 2020

Watching over whales: Online tool detects whales and ships in California’s Santa Barbara Channel in near real-time

An image of a blue whale tail surfacing near a large cargo ship.

Whale Safe — an online tool launched Sept. 17 by scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Washington and other partner institutions — allows users to detect and better protect these endangered animals in the Santa Barbara Channel. It is a mapping and analysis tool to help prevent ships from running into whales.


February 13, 2019

Parents don’t pick favorites, at least if you’re a Magellanic penguin

A penguin feeding one of its chicks.

Researchers at the University of Washington wanted to know how Magellanic penguin parents in South America balance the dietary demands of multiple chicks. As they report in a paper published Jan. 23 in the journal Animal Behaviour, when a Magellanic penguin parent returns to its nest with fish, the parent tries to feed each of its two chicks equal portions of food, regardless of the youngsters’ differences in age or size.


February 12, 2019

Assessing riverside corridors — the ‘escape routes’ for animals under climate change — in the Northwest

river through brown canyon

A study led by the University of Washington pinpoints which riverside routes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana will be the most important for animals trying to navigate a changing climate.


January 2, 2019

The number of single male Magellanic penguins is rising at this breeding colony. Here’s why.

A curious Magellanic penguin looking into the camera lens

Female Magellanic penguins are more likely to die at sea as juveniles, which has caused a skewed sex ratio of nearly three adult males to every female, as well as population decline of more than 40 percent since 1987 at one of their largest breeding colonies — Punta Tombo in Argentina.


November 27, 2018

Threatened tropical coral reefs form complex, ancient associations with bacteria, researchers say

Fish swimming in a coral reef.

In a comprehensive study of healthy corals published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from the University of Washington Bothell, Pennsylvania State University and Oregon State University report that coral bacteria are a surprisingly diverse bunch — and that different sections of the coral body can host unique communities of bacteria.


November 7, 2018

After a bad winter in the ocean, female Magellanic penguins suffer most, study shows

A view of South America from space.

Researchers from the University of Washington have shown how Magellanic penguins fare during the winter months when they spend months at sea feeding. They have discovered that oceanographic features are more likely to negatively impact the body conditions of Magellanic penguin females, but not males, when the penguins return to their nesting grounds in spring.


October 8, 2018

Awards to UW affiliate professor recognize career of conservation and research on penguins

two people standing on a stage

Pablo García Borboroglu, president of the Global Penguin Society and a UW affiliate associate professor of biology, has won the Whitley Gold Award and the National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, as well as accolades from the Argentine National Congress, for his research and advocacy for penguin conservation.


September 19, 2018

DNA testing of illegal ivory seized by law enforcement links multiple ivory shipments to same dealers

African elephants examining a bone from another elephant

The international trade in elephant ivory has been illegal since 1989, yet African elephant numbers continue to decline. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature cited ivory poaching as a primary reason for a staggering loss of about 111,000 elephants between 2005 and 2015 — leaving their total numbers at an estimated 415,000….


June 27, 2018

To tell the sex of a Galápagos penguin, measure its beak, researchers say

A Galapagos penguin.

In a paper published April 5 in the journal Endangered Species Research, scientists at the University of Washington announced that, for a Galápagos penguin, beak size is nearly a perfect indicator of whether a bird is male or female.


June 29, 2017

Study shows high pregnancy failure in southern resident killer whales; links to nutritional stress and low salmon abundance

A killer whale leaping from the water.

A multi-year survey of the nutritional, physiological and reproductive health of endangered southern resident killer whales suggests that up to two-thirds of pregnancies failed in this population from 2007 to 2014. The study links this orca population’s low reproductive success to stress brought on by low or variable abundance of their most nutrient-rich prey, Chinook salmon.


May 15, 2017

Code of conduct needed for ocean conservation, study says

fishermen in thailand

A diverse group of the world’s leading experts in marine conservation is calling for a Hippocratic Oath for ocean conservation ― not unlike the pledge physicians take to uphold specific ethical standards when practicing medicine.


May 9, 2017

Shrubs, grasses planted through federal program crucial for sage grouse survival in Eastern Washington

closeup of bird

A federal program that pays farmers to plant agricultural land with environmentally beneficial vegetation is probably the reason that sage grouse still live in portions of Washington’s Columbia Basin, according to a new study by UW, state and federal researchers.


November 8, 2016

Clues in poached ivory yield ages and locations of origin

Elephant tusks

More than 90 percent of ivory in large, seized shipments came from elephants that died less than three years before, according to a new study from a team of scientists at the University of Utah, the University of Washington and partner institutions. They combined a new approach to radiocarbon dating of ivory samples with genetic analysis tools developed by UW biology professor Sam Wasser.


October 12, 2016

In new book, UW’s Estella Leopold revisits childhood at the family shack, described in Aldo Leopold’s best-seller ‘A Sand County Almanac’

Cover for "Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited" by Estella Leopold.

Estella Leopold, a University of Washington professor emeritus of biology, has written a new memoir of her formative years, “Stories from the Leopold Shack: Sand County Revisited.” She describes life on the land where her father, Aldo Leopold, practiced the revolutionary conservation philosophy described in his famous book of essays “A Sand County Almanac.”


September 19, 2016

Award for genetic tracking to rein in pangolin poaching

A pangolin in the grass.

A team of conservationists at the University of Washington is among the Grand Prize Winners of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge for a proposal to identify poaching hotspots for pangolins, one of the most trafficked group of mammals in the world.


August 15, 2016

UW research backs up ongoing efforts to protect the enigmatic Nautilus

Nautilus

University of Washington biologist Peter Ward’s body of research has helped policymakers recognize the impact nautiluses have on ocean ecosystems, as well as how they can — and cannot — replenish their numbers in the face of unrestricted, unregulated fishing. At a CITES meeting in September, Ward and his team hope nautiluses will get much-needed protections from trade and harvesting.


April 6, 2016

Marine preserve to help penguins in a ‘predictably unpredictable’ place

A Galapagos penguin.

New regulations by the government of Ecuador to protect the waters around the Galapagos Islands as a marine preserve, including main feeding areas for Galapagos penguins.


February 8, 2016

UW biology professor is a finalist for top conservation prize

Dee Boersma

P. Dee Boersma, a University of Washington professor of biology and Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science, is one of six finalists for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation. Boersma is the first UW faculty member nominated for this prize — the highest honor for animal conservationists — which has been awarded every other year since 2006.


December 15, 2015

UW conservationists celebrate new protected areas for Argentine penguins

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks begging.

On Dec. 3, the legislature for Argentina’s Chubut province established a new marine protected area off Punta Tombo, which would help preserve the feeding grounds for about 500,000 Magellanic penguins that make their home along this rocky stretch of Argentine coast. This is welcome news for the UW scientists who have studied these penguins for decades and advocated for their conservation.


August 25, 2015

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

Nautilus pompilius swimming next to Allonautilus scrobiculatus off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea.

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn’t seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers one of the world’s rarest animals, a remote encounter that may become even more infrequent if illegal fishing…


July 8, 2015

UW’s Conservation magazine snares top writing honors

The UW-based Conservation magazine has won a gold award in a national competition sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE. Conservation shares this top honor with a magazine from Stanford Medicine. The award recognizes magazines produced by universities or colleges for special external constituencies, including publications affiliated with individual colleges…


November 5, 2014

Incorporate more voices to loosen conservation gridlock, scientists urge

Looking down into treetops and dead snags

More diverse voices could help break a deadlock gripping the conservation community, say 238 co-signatories – including a dozen from the University of Washington.