Friday, April 23, 2010

Animal poo could hold the key to reducing threat to World’s largest wetland

Animal poo could hold the key to reducing threat to World’s largest wetland

Researchers funded by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the charity that owns Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, are creating a unique poo identification database. The work, in collaboration with EMBRAPA Pantanal (the Brazilian government agricultural research agency) is designed to help Brazilian farmers manage their land in a more sustainable and efficient way.

Capybara Poo
Poo from the capybara species is analysed as part of a project to help farmers manage their land sustainably.

By evaluating the botanical composition of faeces from wild and domestic herbivores, researchers are able to identify the preferred plant grazing materials, foraging strategies and nutritional requirements of the animals. This information is used to recommend and help landowners adopt sound land management strategies that will benefit both cattle and wildlife as well as improve their profitability. The ultimate aim of the project is to lessen the impact of intensive cattle grazing on the pristine Pantanal region in Brazil.

Dr Arnaud Desbiez
RZSS researcher, Dr Arnaud Desbiez, often goes on horseback to collect samples during the rainy season.

Speaking on a brief visit to Edinburgh to share the latest findings with his colleagues, Dr Arnaud Desbiez, Researcher for RZSS’s Pantanal Conservation Initiative based in Brazil, said:

“The Pantanal region is a unique ecosystem with areas of forest, wetland and savannah and is recognised by several international conservation protection designations. Ninety-five percent of the area is owned by private landowners and we must work with them in order to safeguard this amazing place. Until recently, it was a pristine environment benefiting from large scale ranches, low human density and little active management. But now as intensive farming practices overtake traditional methods, this ecosystem is increasingly threatened.

The capybara is the largest living rodent in the world and can weigh as much as a man.

The Pantanal Conservation Initiative Project funded by RZSS, a critical part of which is analyzing and identifying plants deposited within faecal matter, has helped us to provide practical tools to farmers to choose better ways to manage and use the land.”

Iain Valentine, RZSS’ Director of Animals, Education and Conservation, said:

“RZSS contributes to conservation research on a global scale; from Uganda to Brazil and Morocco to French Polynesia. We work in partnership with scientists in these countries to support practical on-the-ground research that can make a difference to the survival of particular species or to the habitat they may depend on. Combined with this is education and collaboration, and ultimately for farmers such as the ones in Brazil, wildlife conservation has to work alongside local communities and appreciate their needs.”

As the world's largest wetland of any kind, the Pantanal is regularly flooded and is characterized by an astonishing diversity of wildlife with thousands of fascinating species present, many of which are endangered. Over 200 plant species have now been identified, photographed and characterised as part of this research.

All images are from the “RZSS”

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