In-Situ Conservation

Have you ever walked through a national park or wildlife sanctuary? 

In-Situ Conservation In-Situ Conservation

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    Then you might have seen in-situ conservation taking place, but without realizing it!

    A lot of us want to be able to see Earth's species in their natural habitats and capture their intricate interactions with one another on a camera. Let's discover together which species are holding strong in the wild and which may need a tiny bit of extra help with conservation.

    In-Situ Conservation of Biodiversity (definition)

    As we know already, the conservation of biodiversity refers to the protection, maintenance and study of living organisms and the way in which they interact with their surroundings. The focus falls on preventing their extinction, or on preventing the loss of their quality of life.

    Pair "in situ" (meaning on-site) with "biodiversity conservation" and you get in-situ conservation, which gives species a protected status to allow them to interact with and be shaped by the natural world's complex processes.

    In-situ conservation is the conservation of wild animals in their natural habitats.

    Evolutionary processes that in-situ conservation allow include the free choice of mate, food and territory selection.

    Another conservation style is called ex-situ (translated as "outside the site"). There, the species are placed in pre-selected enclosures and usually mated with selected individuals, as well as fed by humans.

    In-situ biodiversity conservation is sparked by the vulnerability status of a species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the largest independent body responsible for keeping records on animal species and deciding their protection and vulnerability statuses. IUCN often helps with biodiversity conservation efforts and provides guidelines for species reintroduction in their natural environments.1

    In-Situ Conservation Examples

    The in-situ conservation of biodiversity can be said to have been practiced since ancient times.

    The Edicts of Ashoka are 2200-year-old pillar inscriptions ordered by the emperor Ashoka, which survive to this day as archaeological monuments preserved across the Indian subcontinent. He banned the hunting and slaughtering of certain wild species such as Indian rhinoceroses, bats, iguanas and tortoises, instituted no-logging or burning forest laws, built watering holes and established some veterinary facilities.2

    In-situ wildlife conservation goes hand in hand with habitat conservation!

    Some of the most important instruments for large in-situ biodiversity conservation are protocols and legislation.

    Environmental crime (e.g. ivory, timber, eel or raptor trade) is the 4th largest criminal activity in the world.3

    One of the most important parts of any laws and legislation is how they are enforced, and what official body or bodies are responsible for that. This approach is needed because in-situ conservation usually covers large areas that are not easily accessible or easy to monitor.

    Environmental Agencies, called EA in the UK for instance, or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the USA, are responsible for "enforcing environmental and human health regulations through civil and criminal enforcement action."3

    Sometimes, in-situ biodiversity conservation can be maintained or achieved through sustainable practices passed down as cultural heritage by individuals and communities.

    Some North-American tribes (e.g. Hidatsa) hunted bison for at least two millenniums, but the plain bison's rapid decline only started to occur after the arrival of settlers and the development of large-scale economic activities in the 19th century.4

    In the UK, there are a number of designated habitats that are meant to protect both wildlife and the environment in which they live. These are covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

    There are over 10 types of protected habitats in the UK, which include:

    • SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest)
    • ASSI (Areas of Special Scientific Interest) in Northern Ireland
    • NNRs (National Nature Reserves), MCZs (Marine Conservation Zones), Ramsar sites

    In-Situ Conservation Methods

    Three main ways through which the conservation of habitats and wildlife takes place are land ownership, designated protected areas, and habitat creation and management.

    Land Ownership

    Land ownership refers to conservationists and organizations purchasing land to preserve its natural features and biodiversity. Because of the private nature of this action, owners can also use the purchased areas for economical needs. This may affect the land's conservation qualities.

    Designated Protected Areas

    Establishing designated protected areas means that the protected status has to be respected and followed - depending on legislation and on the communities living within the site.

    In countries like England, farmers may be able to carry out animal rearing activities in National Parks, such as the Peak District, whereas in other parts of the world, such as Thailand's Khao Yai National Park, or Australia's Great Barrier Reef, animal rearing activities are prohibited.

    In the Peak District, hikers can see mountain hares with conservation status, and in Australia's reef barrier, divers can spot protected leatherback sea turtles! Were they not protected, this would have not been possible.

    Conserving a habitat or a protected area also means understanding its evolution in time (annual, biannual) and space (naturally shrinking, expanding).

    River channelization is a process in which a river is dredged, straightened and has its curves removed bypassing much of the floodplain. This has disadvantages due to the fact rivers undergo many natural modifications depending on how much water they receive from rain and effluents. When the river channel is altered, there may be a greater risk of flooding lower down stream as the water will be carried there faster. Rivers need to have a floodplain for this reason.

    The sand dune system at Morfa Harlech in North Wales is of international importance, supporting a range of plant communities from the naturally sparse vegetation of the shifting dunes, to species rich mature dune grasslands. Maintaining this mosaic of habitats involves managing the process of succession to stop scrub encroachment in certain areas.5

    Habitat creation and management

    Habitat creation and management can be achieved in a few different ways. Agri-environmental schemes, organic farming, or rotational grazing are such methods.

    In agri-environmental schemes, land owners receive subsidies to restore habitats or support wildlife on the perimeter of a farm.

    UK's Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) ran until 2020 and provided monetary subsidies to landowners to restore habitats and plant forest species.

    Organic farming, involving the use of non-industrial composts and fertilizers and biological pest controls, and rotational grazing, where animals only graze in a designated spot for a season and then are moved somewhere else, are methods used to preserve biodiversity

    On-farm habitat features for wildlife conservation include hedgerows and stone walls instead of wired fences, insect and reptile basking spots and banks, wildflower meadows, etc.

    The intentional creation of habitats for in-situ conservation further involves the careful management of the biotic and abiotic factors.

    An ideal habitat design may need to be connected to other habitats through biological corridors to allow for dispersal (seeds), water, light and shelter material availability. Other abiotic factors include pH of soils and water, mineral nutrients or salinity. Biotic management can include predation control, or invasive species control (e.g. Himalayan balsam), as well as immunization programs against viruses or pathogens that would endanger wildlife.

    Old trees typically display special relationships with other species - such as mosses, lichens, fungi, or even other trees. A sycamore tree in the UK may become a phorophyte to a rowan tree, in other words, it may become a host to the rowan tree, allowing it to grow in a crevice somewhere on it! Some of these relationships are mostly possible with in-situ conservation. This is because captive propagation may shield trees away from species that they can become epiphytic with. Captive breeding may also shield trees from the biotic and abiotic factors that aid the process, such as from rowan seed dispersal by birds.

    In-Situ Conservation Benefits

    You will be noticing some juxtapositions here with other articles written as part of the topic Captive breeding and release programmes (CBR). This is because in-situ conservation is usually deemed cheaper and more efficient than ex-situ conservation... unless the habitats have been so irreversibly altered, that the animal has no chances of surviving the natural or man-made pressures!

    In-situ conservation ensures that:

    • The various relationships in nature (e.g. symbiotic) are maintained between different species.

    Amazonian poisonous frogs from the Dendrobatidae family have been observed to not secrete poison while in captivity due to not being fed the poisonous arthropods they eat in the wild, such as ants and centipedes.

    Ex-situ conservation breaks the predatory relationship between poison dart frogs and Amazonian arthropods. In-situ preserves it.

    • Natural areas remain reservoirs of plants and animals that people can use for therapeutic, medicinal, and other similar purposes. When a species' numbers are stable, people can harvest them without worrying about extinction events.

    • Preserve quality genetic material, as long as a viable breeding population exists in-situ. Species reintroductions or relocations can make sure there are enough breeding adults at a site.

    • Large sharks, whales, cheetahs or other species that have problems breeding or surviving in captivity, can still survive by reproducing in the wild.

    Sometimes there simply aren't second options, and the original habitat is the best habitat for a species' survival!

    In-Situ Conservation Disadvantages

    If the in-situ habitat is affected in some way, such as by fragmentation or an altered climate (e.g. spring coming earlier), it may become harder for a population to survive.

    High fragmentation may provide little shelter against one type of disease. This is because different animals will have to use the same corridors and passageways to move from one area to another, due to a lack of other "roads". All species using the same "common highways" allow parasites to spread quicker, for example, fleas (external), as well as internal parasites through contact with each others' faeces.

    The species are less safe in large areas that are hard to control and monitor, especially if they are of poaching interest. Animals of poaching interest include tigers, snow leopards, elephants and pearl mussels. These species require large areas of dispersal.

    Veterinary aid cannot typically be given unless a sickly individual is visually identified. Sometimes, not giving veterinary aid is for the better, as it allows for natural selection, but at other times, veterinary aid may be needed because of anthropogenic pressures. No veterinary care leads to a lower overall life expectancy in the wild.

    In-situ conservation management can be difficult where there are overlapping communities competing for the same resources. Human territories also overlap with wild species'!

    Habitats and wildlife protection laws may sometimes infringe on indigenous people's rights. They can be prohibited them from accessing the wildlife resources they need to survive, such as in places like South America and Thailand.6

    In-situ conservation - Key takeaways

    • In-situ conservation is a preferred method of conservation employed around the world to ensure species can have more freedom in selecting territories, food or mating pairs, and maintain genetic diversity.
    • In-situ biodiversity conservation is complex as it needs to be backed by enforced environmental laws that ensure the quality of the living environment and what ends up in it (e.g. pollution levels).
    • Conservation may refer to maintaining the same features alive, but it also has to consider dynamic landscapes that change such as sand dunes and floodplains, as well as the need for plagioclimax communities.
    • Both voluntary and compulsory wildlife conservation schemes help maintain biodiversity in sensitive areas where human settlements and activities are still allowed.
    • In-situ conservation covers large areas and making sure all processes remain intact is not always simple. The advantages usually override the disadvantages.

    References

    1. Guidelines for Protected Areas Legislation, B. Lausche, 2011, https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/documents/eplp-081.pdf. Accessed 06.09.22
    2. An English Reading of the Edicts of King Ashoka, V. Dhammika, 2001, http://public-library.uk/ebooks/12/12.pdf. Accessed 06.09.22
    3. How the EU fights environmental crime, consilium europa, 2022, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/infographics/eu-fight-environmental-crime-2018-2021/. Accessed 06.09.22
    4. Indigenous peoples defend Earth's biodiversity—but they're in danger, national geographic, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-. Accessed 06.09.22
    5. In-situ conservation management, field studies council, 2022, https://www.field-studies-council.org/resources/16-18-biology/sustainability/conservation-management/in-situ/. Accessed 06.09.22
    6. Thai villagers face greater threat under new national parks law, reuters, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-landrights-lawmaking-idUSKCN1T80W4. Accessed 06.09.22
    Frequently Asked Questions about In-Situ Conservation

    What is in-situ Conservation, with examples?

    In-situ conservation is the conservation of wild animals in their natural habitats. For example, The conservation of Mountain hares in Peak District, or of Leatherback sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef.

    Is a botanical garden in-situ conservation?

    A botanical garden is not in-situ, but ex-situ. 

    Why is in-situ conservation important?

    In-situ conservation is important because it can help preserve diverse genetic material, preserve natural habitats and species relationships, and remain as reservoirs of various resources for humans.

    What does in-situ conservation involve?

    In-situ conservation involves the establishment of rules, laws or regulations, setting aside habitats specifically for wildlife activities, ensuring ideal biotic and abiotic factors, and adequate monitoring.

    How do zoos help with in-situ conservation?

    Captive individual breeding in Zoos or their offspring can be released into the wild to supplement wild populations with healthy individuals.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following IS NOT an advantage of in-situ conservation, when compared to ex-situ?

    Which of the following IS NOT a disadvantage of in-situ conservation, when compared to ex-situ?

    Is a Zoo a method of in-situ conservation?

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