Roads to ruin: The most environmentally destructive highways in Southeast Asia

From ALERT–the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers logging-truck-bike_2246385k

Roads scare the bejeezus out of many scientists because they often open a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems — such as unleashing illegal deforestation, logging, hunting, mining, and land speculation.

For that reason it’s crucial not to put roads in the wrong places — such as wilderness areas, places with vital environmental values, or locales with lots of endangered or endemic species.

ALERT member Gopalasamy Reuben Clements and colleagues (including ALERT director Bill Laurance) have just published a major analysis of the environmentally most damaging roads in Southeast Asia — one of the most imperiled and biologically important areas of the planet.

This analysis — which you can download for free here — identifies the worst roads in Southeast Asia, especially those likely to endanger native mammals and imperil surviving forests.

In total, 16 existing roads and another 8 planned roads were identified as serious ‘nature killers’.

These roads would imperil more than a fifth of all the endangered mammal species in the region, mainly by promoting forest destruction and illegal hunting and wildlife trade.

A key element of the paper is 10 recommendations to limit road impacts in Southeast Asia.

Far too often, roads are the first step toward ecological Armageddon.  We all have to do more to educate the world about the crucial role that roads play in endangering nature.

The paper led by Gopalasamy Reuben Clements is an important step in the right direction.

Free Book on the Biological Diversity of Monteverde, Costa Rica

One year ago, Nalini Nadkarni and Nathaniel Wheelwright launched their Kickstarter campaign to update and translate into Spanish their book on the ecology and conservation of Monteverde’s cloud forests and to make it available free online to Spanish-speaking educators, students, guides, decision-makers, naturalists and ecotourists around the world.
We’re thrilled to announce that
Monteverde: ecología y conservación de un bosque nuboso tropical, Wheelwright, N.T., and Nadkarni, N.M., editors, 2014, has just been published as Book 3 in the Bowdoin’s Scholars’ Bookshelf. The English version of the book is also now available free online.

Football fields of deforestation. But what does that mean?

A recent newspaper article stated that Indonesia lost 4.6 million ha of forest between 2009 and 2013. This was equated to an area of three football fields ever minute.

I understand what journalists are trying to do with their frequent reference to football fields. Presumably it makes that obscure, ivory tower world of weird units like hectares and square kilometers more visible by comparing it to something everyone is apparently familiar with through their weekend television shows: 22 football (soccer) players running up and down those revered green pitches.

But how helpful is this comparison, especially when it is so inaccurate?

I searched the internet for football field – deforestation comparisons over the past few years and found that Indonesia is being deforested at a rate of: 1) 300 football fields every hour (=300 fields/hr); 2) 12 football fields every day (=0.5 field/hr); 3) 10 football fields every minute (=600 fields/hr); 4) 6 football fields a minute (=360 fields/hr); 5) 7 American football fields every minute; while also 6) Indonesia loses 300 football fields of forest every hour to palm oil alone (=300 fields/hr because of oil palm).

Based on the above statements and the variation in the size of European and American football fields, deforestation rates in Indonesia vary from 0.2 ha per hour at the lowest to 648 ha per hour at the highest. Or in the more usual measurements, between 1752 and 5.7 million ha per year. That’s a 3,000-fold difference! And at least one source ascribes most of that deforestation to oil palm.

The size of football pitches in the English Premier League already varies quite a bit with the largest, Manchester City’s, being 16% larger than the smallest (West Ham). And American football fields are 25% smaller than their soccer cousins.

Humans took the wise decision to standardize their length and area measurements to get rid of the bewildering variety of Rijnland Inches, four-inch hands, and mornings (the amount of land tillable by one man behind an ox in the morning hours of a day).

Can we just stop dumbing down the public and provide people with proper scientific measurements and units?

Deforestation is a serious enough issue affecting everyone in this world. Reducing clarity about its magnitude is unhelpful.
(Photo : Reuters)

European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2015

EGUEuropean Geosciences Union
General Assembly 2015
Vienna | Austria | 12 – 17 April 2015

New Session on “Biogeochemistry and ecohydrology in the terrestrial tropics”

Abstract submissions for the EGU General Assembly 2015 are now open and we would like to bring to your attention the following session which we hope – with sufficient interest – may become an annual event. Some young scientist support may be available (see

Title: “Biogeochemistry and ecohydrology in the terrestrial tropics”

Conveners: Jonathan Lloyd (Imperial College London), Gustavo Saiz (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)  Elmar Veenendaal (University of Waginingen)  Sarah Batterman(Princeton University)

Outline: A strong diversity in climate and soils across the tropics is associated with a wide range of vegetation types varying from sparse shrubland to high forest. Yet, how the current myriad of different vegetation types will be affected by future changes in climate remains virtually unknown. This is because, even for the most intensively studied systems, we have an only fundamental understanding of the way that carbon, nutrients and water interact with soil physical conditions and disturbances such as fire to influence tropical vegetation structure and function.
With an emphasis on comparative studies, the session will present synthesis and the reporting of new results investigating the integration of biogeochemical, ecological, and hydrological processes across the terrestrial lands. Contributions are welcome from a wide range of relevant scales from organelle to region with joint observational-modelling studies of both natural and managed ecosystems especially encouraged.

To submit an abstract:

Detailed information on how to submit an abstract can be found at:

The deadline for the receipt of Abstracts is 07 Jan 2015, 13:00 CET.

Further information about the EGU General Assembly 2015 can be found at:


How is the world’s greatest rainforest faring? It very much depends where you look…

In the Brazilian Amazon, the rate of forest destruction has plummeted to historic lows. For example, last year the deforestation rate was only about a quarter of what it was in the 1990s and early-mid 2000s, when 2-3 million hectares of forest were being felled each year — comparable to a country the size of Belgium.

And this year the news is even better. The current rate of deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia is 18% lower than it was last year.

Long-term Amazon watchers can scarcely believe it. The falling deforestation rate in Brazil is being chalked up to better enforcement of environmental laws, new protected areas, a moratorium on forest clearing for soy, and an important role for indigenous lands in limiting forest loss.

International carbon funds — led by Norway’s contribution of up to $1 billion to Brazil — have also helped.

Read more…


Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore new Asian School
of the Environment seeks two full professor level positions in ecology
as part of a terrestrial and marine initiative in Southeast Asia. The Asian
School of the Environment, a new interdisciplinary School, focuses on
Asian environmental challenges. The school integrates Earth systems,
environmental life sciences, ecology, engineering, humanities, and the
social sciences to address key issues of the environment and sustainability.

[PDF of Advertisement]


(Re-post from ALERT)

Working in Peninsular Malaysia, Jie-Sheng Tan Soo and colleagues have found strong evidence that areas with more native rainforest are less prone to damaging floods in the wet season.

Specifically, the authors found that conversion of native rainforest to oil palm or rubber plantations increased the number of days of downstream flooding in 31 different areas.

Collectively, these findings are important because they provide another key economic justification for conserving native forests — including pristine forests and those that have been selectively logged but still retain much of their original tree cover.

Read more…

Ashton Award for Student Research


The Ashton Award for Student Research supports investigations by graduate and advanced undergraduate students working on Asian tropical forest biology.

Awards of up to $2,000 are granted to support student research expenses.

Application Information

Awards are granted through a competitive review process. Selection of recipient(s) will be based on the educational background of the student and their readiness to conduct the proposed research; the quality of the proposed research; and the relevance of the proposed research to the mission of the Arnold Arboretum.

To be considered for an award, online applications should include the following:

  • Cover letter.
  • Research statement. The statement should be 1 to 2-pages and describes your research project and how additional funding via the Ashton Award would further your research aims. Include the names of other collaborators (in addition to your advisor). References should be included but do not count as part of the page limit.
  • Research budget. Applicants should submit a simple, 1-page budget that itemizes the research and travel costs associated with the proposed project.
  • Project time-line. Applicants should submit a time-line of the project and anticipated start and end dates.
  • Curriculum vitae.
  • Two letters of recommendation. As part of the online submission, you must send a request to the two referees to submit a letter of recommendation (via the request section). The referee will be automatically sent an email with a link to an online submission form where they will upload a letter of recommendation. It is highly recommended that you contact your referee prior to sending the request. Please inform the referee to expect an email from with instructions for submitting a recommendation letter. Each referee must upload his/her letter of recommendation via the link by February 1.

Special Eligibility Requirements

Award available to advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

Additional Information

For questions about the award, Arboretum resources, research proposal or submission process, contact the selection committee (Email).

The Ashton Award for Student Research is made possible by the generosity of Professor Peter Ashton and his wife Mary Ashton through the Peter and Mary Ashton Training Fund.

Submit Application

Earth Expeditions graduate courses and Master’s Program from Miami University


Miami University’s Project Dragonfly is accepting applications for its master’s degrees and graduate courses that take place at conservation sites internationally and at U.S. zoos. The deadline to apply to the Global Field Program is January 28, and the deadline to apply to the zoo-based Advanced Inquiry Program is February 28. Learn more at

Earth Expeditions international graduate courses, which are discounted because of support from Miami University, can be taken for stand-alone credit or apply to a master’s degree. Applicants may reside anywhere in the world, regardless of U.S. state or country of residence. Course sites for 2015 include the Amazon, Australia, Baja, Belize, Borneo, Costa Rica, Guyana, Hawai‘i, India, Kenya, Mongolia, Namibia, and Thailand. Learn more at


(Re-post from ALERT)

The world is struggling to protect its most crucial natural areas.  Poorer countries are faring the worst, but even a wealthy nation like Australia isn’t doing very well.

In total, 156 sites on the World Heritage List are recognized for their outstanding biodiversity values — they protect parts of 31 of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots, and a portion of all of its high-biodiversity wilderness areas.

But the first World Heritage Outlook Report — released last week at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia — found that many of these sites are struggling.  Nearly a tenth (8%) are in critical condition, and nearly a third (29%) of ‘significant concern’.

Read more…