News this Week

Science  10 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5997, pp. 1266
  1. High-Energy Physics

    Higgs or Bust? Fermilab Weighs Adding 3 Years to Tevatron Run

    1. Adrian Cho

    Scientists at the last remaining U.S. particle physics lab have a shot at a major discovery. But pursuing that prize means delaying other projects that could enhance the lab's long-term viability. Should they still go for the glory?

    That's the question facing Pier Oddone, director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois. Last week, an independent advisory committee urged him to run the lab's 25-year-old atom smasher, the Tevatron collider, for an additional 3 years through 2014. The extension would give Fermilab researchers a chance to beat their European rivals in spotting the most prized particle in physics, the Higgs boson. That chance, the panel concluded, is worth potential disruption in the schedules of other projects. Unfortunately for Oddone, however, it could also cause problems for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which funds the lab, and jeopardize the lab's future.

    On the spot.

    Fermilab Director Pier Oddone faces tough budget choices if he doesn't shut down the Tevatron next year.

    GRAPH SOURCE: JEFFREY APPEL/FERMI NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LABORATORY: REIDAR HAHN/FERMILAB

    The Higgs boson is the lynchpin to physicists' explanation of how all particles get their mass. And Fermilab researchers have a chance to see it first because the more-powerful Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, is running years behind schedule. In February, CERN announced that the collider will shut down for extensive repairs for at least 15 months beginning in 2012. At that point, the LHC won't have produced enough data to surpass the Tevatron in the race for the Higgs.

    “This opportunity just dropped into our laps, and it's too good to pass up,” says JoAnne Hewett, a theorist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, and a member of Fermilab's Physics Advisory Committee. The 15-person committee felt so strongly that it urged Oddone to extend the Tevatron's run past the scheduled September 2011 shutdown even if the lab doesn't receive extra money to pay for it.

    Plenty of other prominent physicists would like to see Fermilab go for it. “The best long-range plan for Fermilab is to find the Higgs boson,” says John Marburger, vice president for research at Stony Brook University in New York state. Marburger was science adviser to President George W. Bush after serving as director of DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

    Other observers, however, say the committee's advice ignores fiscal realities. “You often get one of these [recommendations] where you say, ‘Thank you very much, but there's nothing I can do with this,’” says William Madia, vice president for SLAC at Stanford University. Madia, a former head of two DOE national labs, says lab directors often have to take a committee's advice “with a grain of salt.”

    The recommendation to continue the Tevatron does not enjoy universal support even at Fermilab, which would risk losing ground to competitors if it slowed work on other projects. “We're not thrilled about it,” says Mark Messier, an experimenter at Fermilab and co-spokesperson for a $260 million experiment currently under construction called NOνA. NOνA, which aims to start taking data in earnest in 2013, will study particles called neutrinos. Physicists generate the neutrinos by firing protons into a carbon target, and running the Tevatron would drain away 40% of those protons. If the Tevatron keeps running, Messier says, then “when other experiments that are competitive with NOνA come online, we'll have [only] half of the planned data set.”

    DOE officials may not be eager to change course, either. Anticipating that the LHC would soon eclipse the Tevatron as the world's highest-energy collider, Fermilab officials sought support for a multibillion-dollar particle smasher called the International Linear Collider (ILC) that would complement the LHC. But in February 2007, DOE warned U.S. physicists that the ILC could not be built until the mid-2020s and asked the community for alternatives. The consensus was to redirect Fermilab from the “energy frontier,” where scientists search for massive new particles like the Higgs, to the “intensity frontier,” where they use high-intensity proton beams like NOνA's to study neutrinos and other familiar particles in great detail.

    Observers say that any change in direction now would be tricky for Dennis Kovar, DOE's associate director for high-energy physics, who argued for a half-dozen projects in Fermilab's new plan. In fact, the NOνA project received $55 million last year in the $787 billion federal stimulus package, which backed “shovel ready” projects of surpassing scientific importance. “If [Oddone] goes ahead and says, ‘I'll run the Tevatron longer,’ he's saying this [future] program isn't as interesting as he thought,” says Nicholas Samios, who served as Brookhaven's director from 1982 to 1997. “And that's where Kovar may have a problem.”

    Money is also a problem. Running the Tevatron for three more years would cost $150 million. Scrounging that much cash from DOE's $810 million annual high-energy physics budget would be tough. Taking it from other programs funded by DOE's $4.9 billion science budget could be tougher. Still, the proposal has a chance. “We're taking it very seriously and considering all our options,” says William Brinkman, director of DOE's Office of Science. Where the money might come from is “totally uncertain at this point,” he says.

    Even the scientific argument for continuing the Tevatron's run is subtle. If the Tevatron runs through 2014, physicists working with the two big experiments it feeds would collect enough data to see strong signs of the Higgs but not enough to clinch a definite discovery. Nevertheless, 38 leading theorists, including four Nobel laureates, found that prospect so tantalizing that on 28 July they sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, himself a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, urging him to push for the extension.

    Unfortunately for Oddone, that letter didn't come with a check. “If there is no additional funding, then it could very well be that, in the end, my decision will be not to proceed with running the Tevatron,” he warns. A decision should come within weeks. DOE and other federal agencies will soon be sending their 2012 budget requests to the White House for the fiscal year that begins in October 2011. And lab officials say that budget mavens will probably insist that the fate of the Tevatron be spelled out as part of DOE's submission.

  2. Planetary Science

    Phoenix Lander Revealing a Younger, Livelier Mars

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Brave little Phoenix keeps on giving. Although the ice of a deeply frigid martian winter wrecked the lander last year, data it returned in 2008 are yielding signs that Mars has been surprisingly lively these past few billion years, at least in a geochemical sort of way. Phoenix's measurements of the isotopic composition of atmospheric carbon dioxide are pointing to an atmosphere rejuvenated by volcanic outpourings, possibly up to the very recent geologic past. Moreover, despite what looks like eons of frigid dryness, the atmosphere may have been chemically interacting with liquid water recently. And where there's liquid water, of course, there could be life.

    The new isotopic analyses “may be one of the most profound results from Phoenix,” says planetary scientist Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is not on the Phoenix team. He does warn, however, that controversy will dog these Phoenix results.

    In this week's issue of Science (p. 1334), planetary scientist Paul Niles of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues report atmospheric isotopic measurements by Phoenix's mass spectrometer. The measurements have uncertainties that are one-tenth those of the only other such measurements, those from the two Viking landers in the 1970s. To the scientists' surprise, the sharper picture reveals that the isotopic composition of the carbon dioxide on a cold, dry, volcanically quiescent planet is quite similar to that of carbon dioxide on warm, wet Earth, where volcanoes erupt every day. One way or another, “Mars is a much more active planet than previously thought,” says Niles.

    Target Mars CO2.

    A Phoenix lander instrument (inset) measured isotopes in CO2, which freezes across the north pole in winter.

    CREDITS (LEFT TO RIGHT): NASA/JPL/UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA/TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY; NASA/JPL/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS

    Niles and his colleagues can read martian history in the proportion of heavy isotope to light isotope in both the carbon and the oxygen of carbon dioxide because various geochemical processes leave their mark on carbon dioxide's isotopic composition. For example, back in Mars's early days when the then-fierce solar wind ate away at the atmosphere, it preferentially removed the lighter, more easily eroded carbon isotope—carbon-12—and left heavier carbon-13 behind. But the Phoenix measurements show that current atmospheric carbon is lighter than expected.

    The implication, says Niles, is that “the last billion to 500 million years, Mars had active degassing of volcanic carbon dioxide.” Erupting volcanoes would contribute carbon dioxide from the rocky interior whose carbon is isotopically lighter. No currently active volcanoes are known on Mars, but geologists have seen lava fields dating from as recently as the past 100 million years or so.

    However, Niles and his colleagues did not see a volcanic signal in Phoenix's oxygen isotopic composition, so they infer that carbon dioxide has been interacting with liquid water on Mars. If the atmosphere were to react with water and rock to form carbonate minerals, atmospheric oxygen would become lighter because the heavier isotope reacts more readily. That would preferentially remove the heavier oxygen isotope from the atmosphere and negate the volcanic signal.

    Interaction with liquid water could be “happening on modern Mars or in the fairly recent geologic past,” says Niles. Supporting evidence comes from meteorites blasted off Mars that landed on Earth. The carbonates in these meteorites have similar isotopic compositions to those of the modern martian atmosphere. One problem: There's plenty of water ice, but no liquid water is known on Mars today. Niles says the culprit could have been meltwater that might form every 100,000 years or so during martian warm spells, water that has briefly gushed down crater walls to form gullies in the geologically recent past, or even thin films of water or brine on dust particles or in martian soil today. Any of these could be at least a temporary abode for life.

    The Phoenix atmospheric isotopes will generate some controversy, says Jakosky. “Their conclusion about the importance of [volcanic] outgassing is probably correct,” he says, but atmospheric interaction with liquid water “is a plausible interpretation, not a unique one. The problem is there are many components in the [isotopic] system. On the basis of limited data, it's hard to point to one as the driving process.”

    Geochemist John Eiler of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena agrees about the complexity and adds that carbonates in martian meteorites aren't good for comparison; some probably formed on Earth, not Mars, he says. But help is on the way. The Mars Science Laboratory, now dubbed Curiosity, is scheduled to land on Mars in 2012 with a mass spectrometer to determine both atmospheric and mineral isotopes.

  3. ScienceNOW.org

    From Science's Online Daily News Site

    CREDIT: ROB LAVINSKY/IROCKS.COM/WIKIMEDIA

    Solid Gold, Thanks to Bacteria Treasure hunters may have an unexpected ally in bacteria. The secret lies in a thin layer of microbes, known as a biofilm, that researchers found enveloping gold grains in a Queensland mine. The biofilm dissolves the gold on contact, creating toxic gold ions that can break down the bacteria's cell walls. But the bacteria fight back by transforming the ions into metallic gold nanoparticles that later coalesce into lacelike crystals across the surface. This form of gold is much purer than the original gold grains, which also contain silver and mercury, and is thus much more attractive to miners, the team reports in Geology. The researchers speculate that if they could genetically modify the bacteria to fluoresce when they purify the gold, the bugs could become something even more important: microbial metal detectors.

    Eek! An Ant! A nose full of biting ants can really spoil your appetite. Especially if your nose is 3 meters long. A new study reveals that African bush elephants avoid acacia trees that house swarming ant colonies—and preserve the surrounding landscape in the process.

    Whistling thorn trees bristle with the 5-centimeter-long thorns typical of many acacias, but some of the spikes also swell into hollow bulbs the size of Ping-Pong balls. Crematogaster ants colonize the empty thorns and feed on nectar secreted from the plant's leaves. Ecologists Todd Palmer of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and Jacob Goheen of the University of Wyoming in Laramie found that elephants avoided eating the branches from these trees, or any other branches that the researchers placed the ants on.

    The aversion has a visible effect on the entire African savanna. On sandy soil, where whistling thorn trees can't grow, elephants devastate trees, just as ecologists always expected. But on clay soils, where whistling thorn thrives, satellite images show that the trees flourish whether elephants are present or not, the team reports in Current Biology. “These little tiny ants are making a difference we can see from outer space,” Goheen says.

    How Fish Oil Fights Inflammation Pass the bass, please. Omega-3 fatty acids, a main component of fish oil, have a reputation as potent anti-inflammatory agents. Now researchers think they know how the acids block this immune response.

    Jerrold Olefsky, an endocrinologist at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues found that a cellular receptor known as GPR120 seemed to bind omega-3s and was present on immune cells involved in inflammation. When the team doused GPR120-containing mouse immune cells (pictured) with omega-3 fatty acids, that “shut down almost all of the inflammatory pathways,” Olefsky says.

    CREDIT: OH ET AL. CELL 142 (3 SEPTEMBER 2010)

    What's more, mice fed a high-fat diet became obese and developed diabetes (which has been linked to inflammation), but when the researchers added omega-3s to the diet, the mice experienced fewer diabetic symptoms. In fact, the supplemented diet worked as well to combat insulin resistance as the common diabetes drug Avandia. Mice lacking the GPR120 receptor remained diabetic regardless of how many omega-3s they consumed, the team reports in Cell. Still, Olefsky's not recommending that anyone take fish oil pills to stave off inflammation or diabetes until more research is done.

    Read the full postings, comments, and more at news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow.

  4. Biodiversity

    Joint Expedition Discovers Deep-Sea Biodiversity, New Volcanoes

    1. Dennis Normile
    Secret Indonesian world.

    A brittle star, stony coral, 10-armed sea star, and swimming sea cucumber (left to right) were among the creatures sighted by a deep-sea rover.

    PHOTO CREDITS: COURTESY OF NOAA OKEANOS EXPLORER PROGRAM

    The shallow water reefs of the Coral Triangle, which stretches across Indonesia and north through the Philippines, host the world's greatest diversity of corals, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and marine plant species. Now preliminary results from a joint Indonesian–U.S. marine survey indicate that the biodiversity runs deep. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has captured stunning images of massive corals, as well as unusual crustaceans and fish living at depths never before surveyed, thousands of meters below the surface. And mapping of that sea floor has turned up a huge, previously unknown volcano.

    “I've done [marine surveys] for almost 20 years, all around the world, and I haven't seen things like this before,” says Timothy Shank, an evolutionary biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Indonesian and American researchers will be presenting preliminary results from the 24 June to 7 August two-ship expedition at the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

    Stephen Hammond, chief scientist for ocean exploration at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says researchers have long wanted to explore the deeper waters of the Coral Triangle, but gaining permission for foreign research ships to enter territorial waters proved a stumbling block. The Obama Administration made research cooperation with developing countries a priority and found a willing partner in Indonesia (Science, 11 June, p. 1339). Subsequent discussions between scientists from the two countries led to a plan for joint, annual expeditions over the next 5 years by NOAA's Okeanos Explorer, a former naval surveillance ship converted for exploration in 2008, and Indonesia's Baruna Jaya IV, a marine survey vessel. The Baruna Jaya IV handles mapping and sampling down to 2000 meters, whereas the Okeanos Explorer probes more deeply: It uses a new sonar for mapping and Little Hercules, an ROV capable of diving to 4000 meters, for imaging.

    For the first trip, the team visited sites in the Sulawesi and Molucca seas off Sulawesi Island. “We've had few opportunities to explore these waters,” says Sugiarta Wirasantosa, an earth scientist at Indonesia's Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research.

    The Okeanos Explorer and its ROV are equipped with state-of-the-art high-definition cameras and broadband communications links that allowed scientists at command centers in Jakarta and Seattle, and elsewhere, to view the sea-floor images and direct operations in real time. With this technology, “we have the opportunity to engage more scientists,” Wirasantosa says. Shank says that at one point while in a hotel room in South Carolina, “I was leading the dive through my laptop, conversing through Skype, and getting a video feed from the sea floor.”

    One of the main objectives was mapping. It was known that geologic processes had produced “lots of ups and very deep downs,” says Hammond. Beneath the Molucca Sea is a rare double subduction zone where tectonic plates encroaching from east and west are like a vise, squeezing a sliver of Earth's crust known as the Molucca Sea Plate. They are forcing the plate down into the mantle. A pair of nearly parallel, active volcanic ridges run north to south near the colliding edges of the plates, where there are also many earthquakes.

    What the scientists saw was jaw-dropping. The new sonar on the Okeanos Explorer captured the topography in much greater detail than previous mapping efforts. One of the highlights was mapping in detail a little-known underwater active volcano along the west ridge. Rising 3800 meters from the sea floor, it's almost as tall as any of Indonesia's terrestrial volcanoes, yet its peak is still 1855 meters below the sea surface.

    The tectonic activity also produces hydrothermal vents and other features that support marine life. Shank conservatively estimates that they saw 40 new deep-sea coral species. One “humongous” branching coral, a meter wide and a meter tall, “could be upwards of 6000 years old,” he says. It is whitish because it does not host the colorful algae that give shallow-water corals their pastel hues. The corals and vents were home to an estimated 60 new species of shrimps, crabs, barnacles, and sea cucumbers, many of which probably evolved to exploit niche habitats. “For an evolutionary biologist, it's really cool,” he adds.

    Sea peak.

    A new sonar system and an ROV called Little Hercules (inset) led to the mapping of this underwater volcano.

    CREDITS: COURTESY OF NOAA OKEANOS EXPLORER PROGRAM

    Although the ROV cannot collect samples or measure temperatures, Shank says the high-resolution images capture anatomical details that make them confident they are looking at new species. But he concedes that they probably need samples and DNA analyses before they can add the new creatures to official lists.

    Hammond says a new ROV able to measure temperatures and collect fauna, rock, and water samples could be available as early as next year. But it's doubtful the researchers will go back and try to capture the creatures they saw this year. Their objective is exploration rather than research, he says. So they are more likely to go in search of new volcanoes and new deep-sea denizens. The deep ocean “is hugely unexplored,” he says. “Our mission is to try to make a dent in that.”

    “I can't wait to see the results” from a cruise “to the most exciting part of the ocean,” says Meryl Williams, a former director general of The WorldFish Center in Penang, Malaysia, and a member of the Census of Marine Life steering committee. She also favors additional expeditions, noting that large swaths of the oceans “haven't been touched yet.”

  5. Biodiversity

    Brazil Says Rate of Deforestation in Amazon Continues to Plunge

    1. Antonio Regalado*

    SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Large-scale deforestation in the Amazon has declined by 47.5% over the past 12 months, according to a preliminary survey by the Brazilian Ministry of Environment using a low-resolution satellite. The figure is one of the largest declines since measurements began 20 years ago. If confirmed by a second set of satellite measurements due out later this year, it would mean more than an 80% drop in forest loss since a 2004 peak.

    Green data.

    The amount of land being deforested annually has dropped sharply since a 2004 peak.

    GRAPH SOURCE: PRODES/INPE

    “I think the results are pretty strong for a big additional decrease in deforestation,” says Greg Asner, a satellite expert with the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. “I am really pleased to see it. I do not doubt that the trend is real.”

    Brazil's remote-sensing agency, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE), said last week that large fires burned half as much ground between August 2009 and July 2010 as during the preceding 12-month period. Clearing was concentrated in the agricultural states of Pará and Mato Grosso.

    The release of the data has political overtones 1 month before the presidential election. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira called the figures the “lowest of the low” and credited government enforcement efforts, including cutting off loans to those clearing large amounts of forest for cultivation. Greenpeace in Brazil, however, says the government's use of such preliminary figures is “propaganda.” Adalberto Veríssimo, senior researcher at Imazon, a nonprofit in Belém that analyzes satellite data, says a further drop would be impressive, especially in an election year when enforcement is typically lax. “I was expecting the numbers to go up.”

    Researchers say the data come with several asterisks. The low-resolution system, known as the Real-time Deforestation Detection System, detects only fires covering more than 25 hectares. Indeed, Gilberto Câmara, general director of INPE, said that farmers may now be employing smaller conflagrations to escape detection, and the agency reported a large increase in the number of fires last month. He believes a more accurate survey known as Prodes, due out in November, will show a smaller decline. “We are seeing a process of consolidation in the Amazon, with no new frontiers, fewer large-scale cuts, and more small fires to expand existing farms,” he says.

    Daniel Nepstad, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, says that recent decisions by large food processors and supermarkets not to buy soybeans and beef from newly deforested areas has helped to slow the rate of deforestation. Some landholders may also be conserving forests in hope of receiving carbon credits.

    But Nepstad worries that the picture could change for the worse if prices for agricultural products, depressed because of a sluggish economy, begin to rebound. “I think the bigger question is, ‘When the prices come up, will Brazil's government be able to hold the line?’”

    • * Antonio Regalado is a writer in São Paulo, Brazil.

  6. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who has directed excavations at Turkey's Çatalhöyük since 1993, has told the heads of the dig's specialty labs that they will be asked to step down beginning in 2012. One team member called it “the night of the long knives,” but Hodder says that he's simply looking for “new energy” as he continues exploring the 9500-year-old site famed for its art and symbolism at the dawn of agriculture.

    A new report to President Barack Obama from his science advisers urges the federal government to improve science and math education in U.S. schools by both leading the way and rooting from the sidelines. The report backs more special science schools, a network of master teachers, and better use of technology in the schools.

    Catherine DeAngelis, the outspoken editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, is stepping down after a 10-year tenure. DeAngelis, a pediatrician who was the first female editor of the journal, says that “all good things must come to an end.” She'll be returning to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

    The Obama Administration plans to pare down the list of export-controlled items and improve coordination between the different agencies responsible for granting export licenses. The academic community applauded news of the new list, which will be tiered by risk. A significant percentage of items are likely to be removed from lists altogether.

    Two British software engineers have unveiled a project they hope will make climate change science more transparent. The project, called the Climate Code Foundation, offers a simplified version of software used by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. The pair also hopes to expand a movement to make computer codes more user-friendly and open-sourced.

    For more science policy news, visit news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider.

  7. Despite Progress, Biodiversity Declines

    1. Erik Stokstad

    After failing to meet its major conservation goal, the Convention on Biological Diversity is setting new targets for stemming the loss of species.

    In 2002, scientists with WWF published a map of 238 ecoregions selected to represent the range of Earth's ecosystems. The ecoregions include areas with particularly rich biodiversity or unusual ecology or evolutionary phenomena, such as the radiation of Galápagos finches. Many of these areas face dire threats, whereas others are better protected. The color coding groups the terrestrial regions into 14 biomes.

    CREDIT: WWF'S GLOBAL 200 ECOREGIONS; D. OLSON AND E. DINERSTEIN, ANN. MISSOURI BOT. GARD. 89, 199 (2002)

    2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, celebrates Earth's glorious variety of species and ecosystems. This special News Focus section and a Review on page 1298 take a broad look at the global status of biodiversity and conservation. Unfortunately, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has failed to meet its lofty goal of a significant slowdown in biodiversity loss by 2010. Next month, CBD will meet to adopt a new strategic plan. * The draft revises several of the 21 previous subtargets, such as controlling invasive species and creating more nature reserves. In this informational graphic, Science examines the major modifications proposed for six central targets. For each, we include a recent example of an advance or setback, as well as the assessment of progress by CBD's Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. The charts show the change over time of key parameters; however, these global trends mask large regional variation.

    Degradation of Habitat

    CREDITS: THINKSTOCK; ADAPTED FROM CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (2010) GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY OUTLOOK 3

    2010 goal: Decrease the rate of loss and degradation of natural habitats.

    Progress: “Some.” Many regions rich in biodiversity, such as Indonesia, continue to lose habitat. In the Amazon and a few other places, conservation action or economic recession has slowed the loss. Sustainable forestry is expanding but remains small.

    Good news: In May, Canada's largest timber companies agreed to caribou protection and ecosystem-based management of 72 million hectares of boreal forest.

    2020 goal: Halve or nearly eliminate the rate of loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat.

    Conservation Status of Species

    CREDIT: WIKIPEDIA; ADAPTED FROM CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (2010) GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY OUTLOOK 3

    2010 goal: Restore, maintain, or reduce the decline of populations of species of selected taxonomic groups.

    Progress: “Some.” In some countries, conservation efforts have helped species recover. Yet overall, more and more are in trouble. (A value of 1.0 on IUCN's Red List Index means no extinctions are likely in the near future.)

    Bad news: The golden toad (Incilius periglenes) of the cloud forests in Costa Rica was declared extinct in 2008. Global warming, pollution, and disease contributed.

    2020 goal: Prevent the decline and extinction of known threatened species; improve the conservation status of at least 10% of these species.

    Funding for Conservation

    CREDIT: THINKSTOCK; SOURCE: UNEP, GEF

    2010 goal: To transfer new financial resources to developing country CBD participants.

    Progress: “Some.” From 2005 to 2007, official aid increased from about $3.1 billion to nearly $3.9 billion, but the emphasis is shifting to fighting climate change. Even rich countries spend just a tiny fraction of their national budgets on biodiversity.

    Good news: New money being invested to prevent climate emissions from deforestation will help save biodiversity. In 2008, Norway contributed $1 billion to Brazil's Amazon Fund.

    2020 goal: Increase 10-fold the human resources and financing for implementing the convention.

    Consumption of Biological Resources

    CREDIT: THINKSTOCK; ADAPTED FROM CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (2010) GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY OUTLOOK 3

    2010 goal: Reduce unsustainable consumption of biological resources or other consumption that harms biodiversity.

    Progress: “None.” The goal has not been met globally and is a major reason for biodiversity loss.

    Bad news: Prized for sushi, the northern bluefin tuna is considered critically endangered. In March, conservation groups failed in their attempt to get an international ban on trade.

    2020 goal: Continue to reduce consumption, with a new goal to end overfishing and destructive fishing practices, such as using dynamite or poison.

    Protected Areas

    CREDIT: GETTY; ADAPTED FROM CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (2010) GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY OUTLOOK 3

    2010 goal: Effectively conserve at least 10% of each of the world's ecological regions.

    Progress: “Significant.” The target has been achieved for more than half of the terrestrial ecoregions. Overall, 12% of all land is protected, but less than 0.5% of the oceans.

    Good news: In May, the United Kingdom designated the Chagos Archipelago as the largest marine reserve in the world, setting aside 544,000 square kilometers.

    2020 goal: Protect 15% to 20% of land. CBD has not proposed a figure for coastal and marine ecosystems. The draft target emphasizes that protected areas should be interconnected and well-managed.

    Invasive Species

    CREDIT: THINKSTOCK; ADAPTED FROM S. BUTCHART ET AL., SCIENCE 328, 1164 (2010)

    2010 goals: Establish management plans and control the pathways for major potential invasive species.

    Progress: “Some.” Global trade and travel continue to spread alien species, some of which become invasive. Most countries don't have management plans.

    Bad news: The voracious snakehead fish (Channa striata) of tropical Asia has spread around the world. Around 2007, it arrived in southern Papua New Guinea and is eating native fishes.

    2020 goal: Prioritize control efforts. The target outlines the steps to be taken.

  8. Tending the Global Garden

    1. Elizabeth Pennisi

    By sorting out plant names and growing threatened species, botanic gardens are trying to do their part for plant conservation.

    Planting seeds.

    At the Oman Botanic Garden, students learn how plants keep nature in balance.

    CREDIT: OMAN BOTANIC GARDEN

    In 2008, Gustavo Martinelli was worried. Six years earlier, his country, Brazil, had signed onto an international plant conservation initiative, and the first order of business was to develop a comprehensive list of the nation's plants by 2010. The last such list of Brazil's flora, completed in 1906, took 60 years to put together. But less than 2 years from the deadline, work on the new tally hadn't even started, recalls Martinelli, a taxonomist at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden. And if this initial task fell behind schedule, it would push back other key goals of the conservation initiative, such as figuring out which plants were threatened and safeguarding a certain percentage of those at risk. “There will never be a good endangered species list if we can't have a list of the flora,” Martinelli says.

    So Martinelli and botanical garden colleague Rafaela Forzza rallied 413 taxonomists from Brazil and elsewhere for what seemed at first like an impossible push. In a matter of months, they were to check through the names gathered from regional plant lists, picking out the correct names for each species and sorting out all synonyms, to come up with a master record. The due date was the end of 2009, and over the Christmas holiday, the Web site where people were submitting their responses was abuzz with activity. “It was very amazing to see everyone trying to do their part,” says Martinelli.

    Thanks to that effort, Brazil is now one of the few countries that can boast of having an online database where researchers, conservationists, and the public can examine the distribution and other information about each plant, some 41,000 species. Brazil's taxonomists aren't the only ones who have been hustling. As part of the same initiative—the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation—that motivated Martinelli, botanists and computer experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom and the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis are striving to finalize a list of the known plant species in the world before the year's end.

    The rush is because 2010 looms large as the deadline for this and many other goals set forth in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty on the conservation of flora and fauna worldwide (Science, 14 January 2005, p. 212). Conservationists are now taking stock of their successes and failures at protecting biodiversity as the convention promised (see p. 1272). In addition to leading efforts to tally the world's plants, botanic gardens have made progress in setting up seed banks and native plant collections. In some cases, they have even reintroduced endangered species back into native habitats.

    For some plant aficionados, however, too little has been accomplished. Botanic gardens and other organizations have struggled to identify which plants are threatened. Moreover, despite some progress, the gardens are far from achieving the collections and restoration goals incorporated into CBD. “It doesn't look like we've made significant progress,” says W. John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, who worries that the ongoing destruction of plant habitats, compounded by climate change, dwarfs any plant conservation advances made by having these targets.

    But others say the very process of establishing goals has had an impact. “Without those targets, an awful lot less plant conservation would have been achieved,” asserts Peter Wyse Jackson, who just became president of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

    A new purpose for botanic gardens

    Plant conservation hasn't always been part of the mission of botanic gardens. They got their start in the 16th and 17th centuries as homes to medicinal plants and later as places to cultivate newly discovered species brought back from worldwide explorations. Until recently, the key scientific activity for many botanic gardens was merely collecting and labeling seeds and plants. The idea that such gardens should look beyond their walls and fences to help preserve plants in their native habitats emerged slowly. “Traditionally, many botanic gardens have been somewhat resistant to [having] conservation as a main activity,” says Peter Raven, retired president of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

    That has now changed. Botanic gardens have come to play a pivotal role in standing up for plants, in part because few other organizations were willing to devote time and money to plant protection. “There's been a fundamental shift in botanic garden policies over the last 2 decades,” says Wyse Jackson. Many, though not all, gardens now place a much greater emphasis on conservation, plant genetics, and educating the public about the importance of preserving plant biodiversity. More gardens are also adding collections of native plants to complement their exotic species.

    A turning point came in 1999, at the International Botanical Congress in St. Louis. There, Raven appealed to the broader botanical community and was cheered when he called for a global initiative to save plants. By 2002, botanists, policymakers, and other interested parties had come up with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation: 16 specific targets or goals ranging from a worldwide list of plants to conserving plants and educating the public. That same year, national delegates approved incorporating the strategy as part of CBD.

    This conservation initiative “brought everyone into a common framework” around which efforts could be organized, says Sara Oldfield, secretary general for Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), an umbrella organization of the gardens, based in Richmond, United Kingdom. And for the first time, CBD had concrete goals—with a 2010 deadline.

    Reaching those goals, in the time allotted, would be a tall order, everyone realized. “We knew they were all very challenging targets that went well beyond what could be achieved by business as usual,” says Wyse Jackson. Botanic gardens were not in a position to work on all the targets; they had no control over whether agricultural lands were managed sustainably, for example. But they saw themselves as key players in developing a list of all known plants, assessing the conservation status of plants, establishing so-called ex situ collections and recovery programs, and education.

    Cold storage.

    The Millennium Seed Bank hopes to have 25% of the known plants preserved by 2020.

    CREDIT: RBG KEW

    Making lists

    The first order of business, coming up with a catalog of the world's plants, is harder than it sounds. The same plant may wind up with multiple genus and species names as people in different places, or at different times, describe it without realizing they're documenting something already named. As a result, there are about a million names on record for an estimated 370,000 or so plants.

    Sorting out these synonyms is tedious work, and not glamorous enough to attract much funding. But without knowing all of a particular plant's synonyms, conservationists would be unable to determine the full range of a species or whether it is truly rare. And that leads to poor conservation planning, says Kew bioinformatician Robert Allkin. For example, a Kew conservation project has taken a close look at the plants named on Botswana's official Red List of Threatened Species. It found that 40% of the names had problems, ranging from spelling errors to a plant that looked to be endangered but, when all its synonyms were taken into consideration, was really quite common in the African country.

    Over the decades, Kew taxonomists had been going through their records and the botanical literature, plant family by plant family, trying to come up with a master list of plants with their synonyms sorted out. But it was slow going, and little additional funding turned up to do the work. By 2007, “it was obvious that going at the pace we were going, we wouldn't get there,” recalls Kew taxonomist and public policy expert Eimear Nic Lughadha.

    Then Chuck Miller, a bioinformatics expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, had an idea: Let computers figure out the conflicting names. The taxonomists “started off thinking there was no way you could do this,” he recalls. But Miller gradually convinced them that a computer-generated list of plants, while imperfect, would provide a “good enough” starting point for conservationists, one that could be improved upon over time by in-person evaluations.

    The plan was to pool and compare existing digitized plant lists, including a world checklist that Kew had been pulling together, and Tropicos, a database started at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1982. The researchers also made use of the International Plant Names Index, which for more than a century has collected all plant names.

    These various lists contain multiple names for many species, each designating a main name and synonyms. When the project's computer program spots inconsistencies between the lists as to which name is the primary one versus a synonym, it uses predetermined rules to decide which one is correct. For example, the program considers more recent information better than older data, because newer publications likely took into account the older literature. It also favors names that have wider geographic distributions or that come from a monograph, the traditional way botanists introduce a new species, as opposed to another type of article.

    Global coverage.

    The Oman Botanic Garden, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan Province, China, and Royal Botanic Garden in Jordan (top to bottom) are just a few of some 2600 botanic gardens, many of which have conservation as a goal.

    CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM): OMAN BOTANIC GARDEN; PETER WYSE JACKSON (2)

    Before Miller and his colleagues fired up their software, taxonomists had taken years to show that some 267,000 plant names represented just 174,500 species. But there were still roughly 450,000 names left to evaluate.

    In June, at the Fourth Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Dublin, Miller and Allkin unveiled a new version of the world plant list that had been aided by computational name resolution. The software had settled on 255,000 plant names, designating 430,500 others as synonyms. There were 95,977 additional names still unresolved because adequate data were lacking. The hardest plants to sort out were those from Southeast Asia, where few computerized lists exist, says Nic Lughadha. The analysis presented in Dublin hadn't yet included databases for the legumes; composites, the group that includes daisies; and grasses. These contain 264,000 names but only an estimated 59,000 species and will be incorporated and resolved by October.

    While Miller and colleagues acknowledge that the global list of plant names won't be perfect by the end of the year, they believe it will be good enough to help achieve other conservation goals. One such goal, the second target of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, is to assess how endangered each known plant is.

    Meeting that goal has been even more of a struggle than compiling the list of names. Although the global strategy doesn't specify how the conservation status of a plant should be determined, the criteria by which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) determines its “Red List” of threatened species has become the de facto standard. Yet although IUCN's Red Lists have been around since the 1980s, they traditionally focused on animals. Not until 1997 did a major compilation of threatened plants appear. It concluded that 34,000 of the 75,000 evaluated were under some sort of threat.

    Even as botanists were laboring away on the 1997 plant Red List, however, IUCN was changing its criteria, standardizing how potential listees were evaluated. So the 1997 plant effort was outdated before it was even completed. A mere 12,189 plants have been assessed to date using the new IUCN criteria, and of those, about 9000 were judged to be in trouble to some degree. “It takes quite a lot of experience and time to gather that data,” says BGCI's Suzanne Sharrock.

    It also takes money, and no global organization, environmental group, or other funder has committed resources to a worldwide assessment of individual plant species. “Plant conservation is just not a popular cause,” says Oldfield. “It has failed to capture the popular and political imagination.”

    There has been progress with other types of conservation assessments. Kew, for example, has developed a computer program that enables its taxonomists to sift through their data on a species and readily determine the range, distribution, and other conservation parameters of a species as a first pass on its conservation status. Individual countries are tackling the issue as well, many of them using their own criteria to create national plant Red Lists: South Africa, for example, just finished assessing its 20,000 plant species, concluding that 5000 are threatened.

    Still, a global Red List of threatened plants won't be available by 2010. “We haven't done very well,” acknowledges IUCN's Craig Hilton-Taylor.

    Digging in for conservation

    Botanic gardens and other institutions have been working hard to save those plants already identified as in jeopardy. For 2010, the global strategy called for 60% of threatened plants to be conserved outside their natural habitats. These ex situ collections could comprise live plants, seed banks, or even tissue collections. In addition, by this year, 10% of threatened species were supposed to have programs promoting their recovery and restoration. There's been modest progress toward both goals. In 2002, just an estimated 15% of threatened plant species had been incorporated into in these ex situ collections, with only 2% in recovery projects. By 2007, the numbers were 35% and 5%, respectively, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity Plant Conservation Report assessing progress on the initiative. But Wyse Jackson points out that the lack of a global Red List for plants makes it difficult to know how accurate these numbers are.

    Back from the brink.

    After conservationists discovered a supposedly extinct fern, Anogramma ascensionis (right), they collected spores for cultivation in a botanic garden before reintroduction into the wild.

    CREDITS: ASCENSION ISLAND GOVERMENT CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT

    No new figures on either of these goals were released at the Dublin meeting, but Kew continues to spearhead the Millennium Seed Bank project, a 50-country effort that has already gathered and stored seeds from 24,000 species—an estimated 10% of the wild species—and aims to cover 25% by 2020. New botanic gardens in Oman and Jordan are also specializing in collecting arid land plants from their respective regions. And places such as the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have expanded efforts to cultivate and restore the native flora within their country's borders.

    A similar push is ongoing in China, where some 160 botanic gardens exist, about a dozen of which are organized into a network run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. China has an estimated 33,000 native plant species, some 19,000 of which are currently growing in its botanic gardens. And in the next 5 years, says Huang Hongwen of the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou, that number should increase to almost 25,000, with many species represented in multiple places as an added precaution. One garden alone, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, rapidly expanded its ex situ collections, from 4000 species in 2002 to 10,000 in 2005.

    For China, progress on conserving species and meeting the ex situ conservation target is mired in red tape. On the one hand, all 388 plant species on the Chinese government's 1992 Red List—the last time one was compiled—are now growing in botanic gardens. But, says Huang, 4404 species are now being considered for red-listing. The government's delay in approving this new Red List has slowed decisions on spending money to place some species in ex situ collections. “It's a problem,” says Huang.

    Still, the South China Botanical Garden is pushing ahead with some recovery and restoration efforts. The garden set up the country's first nature reserve in 1959 and now uses its experience to help guide many of the more than 3000 in China today. There are now more than 40 plant species in recovery programs across the country. One medicinal plant, Myricaria laxiflora, lost its entire habitat with the building of the Three Gorges Dam. It was kept alive in gardens for more than a decade and has recently been replanted in a new habitat, says Huang.

    Many other botanical gardens have select plants that they have worked hard to save from extinction and now plan on reintroducing. The Tooro Botanic Garden in Uganda has been cultivating 94 tree species, many of them rare and endangered, and now has 40,000 saplings from those species almost ready to be transplanted into natural habitat. Kew is nurturing a fern to reintroduce onto Ascension Island; it was thought to be extinct, but a few specimens were recently found and spores were sent to Kew for cultivation.

    Yet finding an appropriate home for plants may become tougher as climate change and pollution—two factors barely considered when the CBD plant goals were set in 2002—increasingly alter the world. In Ireland, “our best estimate is that at least 20% of the native flora will likely become extinct due to climate change this century,” says Wyse Jackson.

    That the native habitats of many plants are becoming unsuitable homes has made ex situ collection a higher priority, say conservation scientists. They are therefore updating their global plant conservation strategy and have proposed a 2020 goal of having 75%, instead of 60%, of endangered plants in protective programs, and 20%, not 10%, targeted for recovery and restoration, says Wyse Jackson.

    Like the plants they're trying to save, botanic gardens face a myriad of threats themselves. In the developing world, where botanic gardens struggle to get any funding, “many governments are beginning to focus in on one priority, poverty,” says Stella Simiyu of BGCI. She argues that to stay relevant and survive, botanic gardens in such places will need to focus on facilitating the sustainable use of plants, particularly of medicinal plants, which are in high demand and have dwindling numbers. They will need to partner with government and nongovernmental agencies to coordinate education programs that help promote judicious use or protection of rare resources. “Typically, botanic gardens don't work like that,” says Simiyu.

    For all botanic gardens, funding will continue to be an issue. To date, “what has been achieved has been primarily through internal reprioritization,” says Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. But, notes Wyse Jackson, “if we are to achieve the targets for 2020, then new resources must be found.”

    Yet at many botanic gardens, funding may get tighter as countries struggle to lift themselves out of the worldwide recession. Kew, for example, is apprehensively waiting to hear how it will fare in the new British government's austerity push. Nic Lughadha worries that funding woes and the resulting reduced travel by botanic gardens staff members could lead to a conservation retreat, wherein researchers simply mind existing collections and cease to reach out to communities that were the sources of the plants. That would be a big mistake, says Blackmore, because “we must scale up in situ conservation,” he explains. “We're doing it, but we are not doing it on a big enough scale. Biodiversity is losing out despite our best efforts.”

  9. Saving Forests to Save Biodiversity

    1. Dennis Normile

    A hot spot for undiscovered flora and fauna, Indonesia is beginning to take steps to preserve its forests and its biological heritage.

    On guard.

    Patrols to thwart illegal logging support efforts to restore an ecologically precious forest.

    CREDIT: CLARE KENDALL/RSPB

    In a dozen or so field trips to Borneo over the past 5 or 6 years, Daisy Wowor rarely went home without a new species. A freshwater crustacean specialist, she has described eight already, and a 2-week field trip earlier this summer has likely netted two new crabs and, possibly, a new prawn. Finding undiscovered nuggets of biodiversity “is quite exciting, I can tell you,” says Wowor, a staff scientist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences in Bogor.

    Wowor is not the only one experiencing that excitement. Over the past decade, scientists on Borneo have found insects, plants, fish, and even a bird that are new to science at the rate of about three per month. Heok Hui Tan, a freshwater fish expert at the National University of Singapore, has identified more than two dozen new species. “And we have another 40 or 50 specimens that could be new species awaiting study,” Tan says.

    This hidden diversity is not just on Borneo. On New Guinea, which Indonesia shares with Papua New Guinea, recent expeditions to the remote Foja Mountains on the island's northern edge have also produced bumper crops of novel organisms. “We have not explored our country properly, so the chance to [find] new species is quite big,” Wowor says.

    Yet even as scientists are documenting Indonesia's biodiversity (see also p. 1270), it is increasingly threatened. The list of endangered plants and animals is long. And Indonesia may have the world's highest rate of deforestation. Wowor recalls pulling a couple of new crustaceans from a bend in a river in Borneo's East Kalimantan province in 2008. She went back to the site a year later and found that trees were being chopped down and that the bend in the river was dry, cut off by a stream-straightening project that also left the formerly clear water muddied and acidic. Given the pace of environmental destruction, “I have to work fast,” she notes.

    But she may be able to slow down a little. In the past 5 years, Indonesia has reduced illegal logging. There are new initiatives to restore degraded areas and protect the remaining forests, particularly a whopping $1 billion deal with Norway earlier this year to set aside large amounts of forest. And there is a new attitude among the public and Indonesia's political leaders. “The importance of these natural forests is being recognized more than before,” says Agus Utomo, executive director of the conservation organization Burung Indonesia.

    These developments are winning plaudits from conservationists, but although “there is progress, we cannot say it is sufficient,” Utomo cautions. Meeting last month on Indonesia's Bali island, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) commended Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his conservation efforts but also urged him to do more to protect forests. The resolution's praise and constructive criticism “are both important to encourage attention and action from the national government,” says Mochamad Indrawan, a conservation biologist at the University of Indonesia in Depok, who chairs ATBC's Asia-Pacific chapter.

    Biodiversity hot spot

    Indonesia's 17,000 islands straddle the equator and stretch over three time zones. The western islands were once connected to the Asian mainland; the eastern, to Australia, giving the country a double dose of flora and fauna. Indonesia contains 10% of the world's flowering plants, 12% of the world's mammals, and 17% of the world's reptiles, amphibians, and birds. And it hosts the largest populations of some of the signature species of Southeast Asia—the Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros, the Asian pygmy elephant, the Sumatran tiger, and several species of orangutan. Alfred Russel Wallace's studies of specimens collected in Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia led him to describe concepts such as survival of the fittest and natural selection in an 1858 paper presented even while Charles Darwin was writing On the Origin of Species.

    Among these biodiversity treasure islands are two particular gems: the world's second-largest island, New Guinea, and the third-largest island, Borneo, shared among Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. On both islands, rugged terrain historically limited human settlement. The population of Borneo is still just 20 million and New Guinea, 7.5 million. Both populations are concentrated on the coastal fringes and along rivers. Neither island has experienced the human population pressures and agricultural development seen on Java, peninsular Malaysia, or through much of the Philippines. As a result, both are still reservoirs of as-yet-to-be-discovered biodiversity.

    Fruitful fieldwork.

    Biologist Daisy Wowor finds new crustaceans every time she surveys Borneo's rivers.

    CREDIT: RENNY K. HADIATY

    Borneo is considered to be in a class of its own. It has coastal mangroves, lowland rainforest, and mountains ranging up to the 4095-meter Mount Kinabalu. And over geologic time, Borneo remained along the equator while tectonics moved other islands north and south.

    Geological processes and Borneo's varied terrain combined to make the island a hot-house of evolution. Borneo has 15,000 species of flowering plants, a diversity three times that of neighboring Java. And 34% of those flowering plants are found nowhere else. It also has 155 tree species, 44 mammal species, and 37 bird species that are endemic. And more are being discovered every year.

    But Indonesia has been a poor steward of its biodiversity. By the end of the 1990s, logging and clearing land for agriculture had decimated the forests of Java and Sumatra, and the destruction was spreading to Borneo. Through the 1990s, forest fires, most started intentionally despite laws against the practice, spread a haze of smoke over much of Southeast Asia. The fires that raged in 1997 and 1998 alone burned 6.5 million hectares, primarily on Sumatra and Borneo, and probably killed hundreds if not thousands of orangutans. Logging has endangered prized timber species, and habitat loss and illegal wildlife trading are threatening an increasing number of fauna. The International Union for Conservation of Nature found that Indonesia ranks fourth globally in the total number of species on its 2008 Red List of Threatened Species. Thus, while Indonesia can boast of the greatest number of mammal species, 670, in the world, it also has the most, 183, that are threatened. And Indonesia was second to Brazil in the number of birds on the Red List: 115, of which 67 are found only in Indonesia.

    Conservation and discovery.

    Indonesia is trying different approaches to protect and preserve natural habitat in the Heart of Borneo, Harapan Rainforest, and Foja Mountains.

    CREDIT: ADAPTED FROM WWF, CIA

    Saving forests

    Through the 1980s and '90s, Indonesia's poor environmental record was blamed on the lack of interest and cronyism of the Administration of President Suharto, who ruled the country for 32 years. But after he resigned in 1998 and the country took its first steps toward democracy, the situation initially took a turn for the worse. Political power, long centralized in Jakarta, was dispersed to local authorities. Rogue timber companies took advantage of the chaotic transition by logging without permits, even taking trees in national parks. In 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected president, partly on a platform of combating corruption. Shortly after taking office, he ordered the national police to lead a coordinated crackdown on illegal loggers and corrupt officials. The result has been a 75% reduction in illegal logging in Indonesia since 2000, according to Chatham House, a London-based think tank. The bad news is that the report estimates that 40% to 61% of the total timber harvest in Indonesia is still outside the law.

    Sam Lawson, who has monitored logging in Indonesia since the 1990s and was the lead author of the study, says the Yudhoyono Administration targeted the most blatant transgressors: gangs logging without permits or obviously outside designated lumbering areas, called concessions. He says that in response to tightened enforcement, “they're a bit more cunning, illegally obtaining licenses” through bribery or falsified applications. What's needed are good timber-tracking systems and proper procedures for allocating harvest rights, Lawson adds.

    Indonesia's turn to democracy has also made room for nongovernmental environmental organizations to be more influential. Working with the Ministry of Forestry, Burung Indonesia, founded in 2002, has helped establish a national ecosystem-restoration plan, which should be complementary to the national parks system. With international partners and support, Burung is restoring 98,000 hectares of a heavily logged area in central Sumatra known as the Harapan Rainforest. It also intends to promote sustainable use—though not commercial logging—by local communities.

    Saving logged forests recently received a scientific endorsement in a paper published online on 4 August in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. David Edwards, a biologist at the University of Leeds in the U.K., and colleagues compared species diversity in pristine, once-logged, and twice-logged forests in Malaysian Borneo. They focused on birds and dung beetles as indicators of broader biodiversity. Not surprisingly, the authors found that 30% of bird species and half of the dung beetle species either disappeared or were significantly reduced in number after one round of logging. The second round had little further effect. Ultimately, however, more than 75% of the bird and dung beetle species found in the pristine area took up residence in the twice-logged forest, including a large number of threatened birds. The authors say their findings indicate that Indonesia and Malaysia should rethink current policies that favor turning degraded forests into oil palm plantations, which harbor just a fifth of the bird species found in primary forest and few if any species of conservation concern. “Preventing these degraded forests from being converted to oil palm should be a priority of policy-makers and conservationists,” the authors wrote.

    On the brink.

    Indonesia's endangered species include (clockwise from top right) the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan, Bawean deer, Nepenthes aristolochioides (a pitcher plant), Celebes crested macaque, and Western Long-beaked Echidna (center).

    CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM): THINKSTOCK (2); WIKIPEDIA (4)

    Burung, employing local villagers, has begun planting 5 million trees, starting in the most degraded areas. They are also guarding against illegal logging. Utomo says there is now evidence that a family of critically endangered Sumatran tigers with three cubs is in the area. “It's a good sign that the forest can be viable for big mammals,” he says.

    The efforts of another conservation organization, WWF, have also borne fruit. In the early 2000s, WWF became alarmed by the rapid loss of Borneo's forests. Studies indicated logging, fires, and clearing for plantations had cut forest cover from 74% of the island's total area in 1985 to 50% in 2005. The largest remaining contiguous tract of forest stretched over the borders of the three countries that share Borneo, and only about half of it was protected. Working at the level of national parks “was really missing something in terms of larger scale biodiversity conservation,” recalls Adam Tomasek, WWF team leader for conserving this large tract.

    WWF proposed the establishment of the transnational Heart of Borneo conservation area, an idea that found receptive ears. “The highlands of Borneo [hold] the last remaining intact forest, and it needs to be preserved,” says Samedi, deputy director for protected area management in Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry, who like many Indonesians uses one name. Loosely following the example of the 10-country Congo Basin Forest Partnership, in 2007 the three nations jointly agreed to conserve and manage a 220,000-square-kilometer area sprawling over the center of the island (Science, 13 July 2007, p. 192).

    About half of the Heart of Borneo was already protected. Indonesia is now drawing up special land-use regulations and guidelines that will require production forests, plantations, mines, and other commercial interests in the region to adopt sustainable management practices.

    A third conservation initiative grew out of President Yudhoyono's promise to reduce Indonesia's carbon dioxide emissions by 26%. In 2009, he pledged to invest in renewable energy and to curb deforestation and land conversion, which account for 80% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. But Yudhoyono went further, saying Indonesia would up the ante on emission reduction to 41% if there were international support.

    Earlier this year, Norway accepted that challenge with a proposal that could pay Indonesia $1 billion over the next 7 to 8 years for verified emissions reductions through forest preservation. Under the 26 May agreement between the two governments, starting next January, Indonesia will issue no new logging permits for 2 years. By 2013, the country should have a strategic plan to reduce deforestation, one that has been tested in one or more pilot projects; an agency to execute it; and an institution to monitor and verify progress. In return Norway, and possibly other donors, will put some money on the table early to help start the process, but the bulk of the contribution will be delivered only when Indonesia succeeds in reducing deforestation-related emissions, and the sum will depend on how well it succeeds. The agreement runs through 2016 but could be extended.

    Conservationists are generally impressed with this plan but want to see the details worked out and executed. “There is a potential for significant improvements” in managing the country's forests, says William Laurance, a tropical ecologist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. Nonetheless, “deforestation could continue for a long time, just under existing concessions,” he adds.

    Still, Laurance says it took “a certain level of courage” on the part of Yudhoyono to enter into the agreement with Norway. “The fact that the president was willing to enter into this very ambitious international agreement and to acknowledge the extent of the illegal logging is huge,” Laurance says. But given the daunting challenges, it is risky. “There could be significant benefits from success but also significant [consequences] of failure both for Indonesia and for international efforts to conserve forests,” he says.

    One consequence of failure would be fewer opportunities for Wowor and her colleagues to experience the excitement of finding new species.

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