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Evaluating effective conservation strategies to conserve the rare Muscardinus avellanarius
1.1 Identify and describe a question or problem in an area of biology relevant to a visit made or researched
The Muscardinus avellanarius is an endangered species, and "Over the last 100 years dormice have become extinct across half their range in England" - Extract from Peoples trust for endangered species, 2008. It is for this reason that they are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Their distribution throughout the UK has been reduced due to changes in woodland management, loss of hedgerows, and the use of pesticides. Making The Woodland Trust more conscious of the decline and who now actively encouraging people to plant more trees, and create woodland to aid in the conservation of this species.
1.2 Describe the biological methods and processes involved in producing data or solutions to problems or questions relevant to a visit made or issue researched
In October 2013 I visited ‘Trinley Farm' where they had active schemes to conserve the population of Muscardinus avellanarius and other woodland mammals. Their methods of conservation had “shown a significant rise in Muscardinus avellanarius population over the 10 years of their woodland conservation efforts” - Andrew Hughes, Manager of Trinley Estate.
Their conservation method involved fitting 50 Nest boxes to trees in deciduous woodland around Trinley, there use by Muscardinus avellanarius was then monitored monthly between 2000-2004. At the start of the first month in 2000 more than 60% (Around 30-40 Nest boxes) had recorded to have been used by the Muscardinus avellanarius. Compared to results from 2004, the figures showed that the number of Muscardinus avellanarius using the nesting boxes had reduced to 40-55% (20-30 nest boxes). This should be a major concern for conservationists, because in such a small space of time, a species has had its population in the south-west of the UK reduced by 20%, which is a massive portion of the population. Hopefully, this research will make more people will take action to help in the conservation of this species; this is because we now have evidence to prove that the decline in population is actually happening, and also people will become more aware of the population decrease of the Muscardinus avellanarius and will therefore aid or donate to the conservation for their survival. Also, This type of conservation promotes farms to have better biodiversity standards, because as the Muscardinus avellanarius it will lead to a rise in insects which will begin to infest their crops, so hopefully Muscardinus avellanarius could be used as a natural insecticide ( However Insects are not Muscardinus avellanarius’ main diet) in the future, saving the farms money.
The Golden Great Nut Hunt is a country wide celebration, in which thousands of people join in to forage around woodland in search of the ‘Elusive’ Muscardinus avellanarius. This event has been held three times, the first being held in 1993, and all of these Great nut hunts are held to try increase awareness of the Muscardinus avellanarius and collect samples of their diet - These are generally Hazelnuts with distinctive teeth markings. These sample help to calculate the population size of the Muscardinus avellanarius so we can gain accurate percentages any increase or decrease. From the Great Nut Hunt events the PTES has been able to calculate that “Numbers of the once widespread species have fallen by 39% since 1992, making it vulnerable to extinction” - PTES announced this after their last Great Nut hunt. This way of getting more people to acknowledge the endangered species is the best way to ensure its survival, this is because more people will be likely to actively help the population Muscardinus avellanarius. Poul Christensen, acting chairman of the government's conservation body Natural England, said the survey would help ensure the long-term survival of one of the UK's best-loved mammals. He said: "The Great Nut Hunt is the ideal way for people of all ages to have fun discovering more about dormice and how they live, but it can also really make a difference to dormouse conservation."
Captive breeding is also another popular method for conserving the Muscardinus avellanarius population; in “Wildwood Muscardinus avellanarius are housed in outdoor enclosures which are not accessible to the general public. This is to avoid unnecessary disturbance,especially during hibernation. A typical enclosure is 1.8 x 1.8 x 1.8m, constituting a wooden frame covered with mesh….. To prevent attacks on the dormice from external predators” - ‘Captive Breeding and Reintroduction’, Victoria Forder, August 2008.
1.3 Explain how the methods and processes used in the chosen area of biology are appropriate in terms of producing both valid and reliable data or effective solutions to address the problems or questions identified.
Figure 1 - Graph of Muscardinus avellanarius population over 30 years in Europe
Figure 1 shows that over a period of 30 years, the farmland species of Muscardinus avellanarius population have dropped by 63% and the Woodland species of Muscardinus avellanarius population had decreased by 30%. This trend shows that the decrease in population is common in all species of Muscardinus avellanarius throughout Europe, not just in the UK; a possible explanation for this is the habitat that he Muscardinus avellanarius is living in is either under threat by pollutants from farms, or an increase in number of predators. Also, Farmland species in 1998 began to increase and gain an gradient closer to zero - around this time the events of the Great Nut Hunt were being held, so from this graph we can see the effects that raising awareness can help ensure the survival of a species.
Figure 2 - Graph showing the number of woodland planting in the UK from 1970-2010
Figure 2 shows the decrease in Woodland planting in the UK over 40 years. In 2010 the Woodland was at its lowest at 3.8 (k ha) - this has a direct link to the population size of the Muscardinus avellanarius. If you compare Figure 1 and Figure 2 you can see the woodland decreases so does the population of the Muscardinus avellanarius; this shows us that our effect on the woodland is directly reducing the population size of the Muscardinus avellanarius.
The Nest Boxes methods of research are all based on observation. This method, although reliable, could lead to many errors in your final results. For result to be valid, the need for reproducibility requires that observations by different observers can be comparable. Human senses are subjective to individuals, and qualitative making them difficult to record or compare. This means that if two different people try and count, or observe an event or animal at the same time, they will most likely get different views or results. Therefore, It’s hard to prove that results gained from observations are all reliable sources, especially in the case of The Great Nut Hunt, where the same Muscardinus avellanarius could even be counted twice.
Although Trinley have a good conservation effort towards Muscardinus avellanarius, however, the method that they used might not produce statistically valid data or suitable. This is because the research on Muscardinus avellanarius in the area was conducted by workers on the farm. This means that the data collected wasn't collected by an expert on Muscardinus avellanarius - many issues could arise, like an incorrect identification of a mammals that used one of the fifty nesting boxes at Trinley accounting to an incorrect count of Muscardinus avellanarius in the area. Also, the sampling methods weren’t perfect, as not all the Muscardinus avellanarius in the area are going to uses the boxes placed to nest, meaning you will lower number for the species population in the area.
2.1 Identify two implications (ethical, social, environmental or economic) of the applied biology encountered within the context of a visit or issue researched
Ethical - Keeping Muscardinus avellanarius in Captivity.
Muscardinus avellanarius are designed to be nocturnal foragers. “Their nests are about 15 cm in diameter and completely surrounds the individual which occupies it. The nests are usually located about 2 meters off the ground” - Corbet, G., D. Ovenden. 1980. Mammals of Britain and Europe. When you compare this to captivity, you will generally have 4-5 Muscardinus avellanarius sharing the same 15cm nest; therefore it is clear that in captivity not enough space can be provided for the correct living standards to be met. Also, the typical size cage in captivity is “1.8 x 1.8 x 1.8m” ‘Captive Breeding and Reintroduction’, Victoria Forder, August 2008. Compared this to the Muscardinus avellanarius’ natural habitat where they would “establish a home range that is around 1 hectare” - ADW - Juskaitis, R. 1997. ‘Ranging and movement of the common dormouse’. This shows that the standard living conditions for the Muscardinus avellanarius are not being met, which could lead to neurotic behaviour from captivity of the species.
Figure 3 - Outdoor Muscardinus avellanarius enclosure at Wildwood
Economic - Costs
- Their diets must be supplemented and maintained with vitamins and minerals that are expensive;
- The cost of capturing and breeding and the Muscardinus avellanarius and hiring a vet to care and regularly check the health conditions of the Muscardinus avellanarius;
- More health care needed due to the high proximity with other Muscardinus avellanarius and therefore increased susceptibility to diseases and viruses. This could also be caused by inbreeding.
These expenses necessary to carry out ex-situ conservation/breeding programs are extremely high, and with no profit to be made. This means that conservation parks must depend on donations from their visitors, or to Muscardinus avellanarius conservation charities, and rely on money donated by the government. However, many people feel that using the government money for Muscardinus avellanarius conservation is a waste on its resources, and believe that the money should go to human dilemmas that need funding, such as the current financial difficulties we are facing.
3.0 Discuss alternative views or solutions for implications of the biology encountered within the context of the visit or issue.
An alternative solution is to section off woodland, and have it used a natural enclosure. This would allow the Muscardinus avellanarius a natural habitat, and make the species more adapted to their natural environment when you release them from the captive breeding; this means you will have a higher survival rate in the dormice you release would have been exposed to similar stimulants in captivity. This will also have a positive effect on the population as more Muscardinus avellanarius will survive and be able to reproduce successfully, thus decreasing mortality rate in population.
Another alternative solution would be to use IVF (In-vitro fertilisation). Although this is a more expensive solution, it would drastically increase the population of Muscardinus avellanarius and make the species less likely to become extinct. Also, despite the cost, this would abolish the need for conservations as you release the surrogate mother straight into the wildafter you perform the operation. This also reduces the risk of disease being spread around from being in contact with other Muscardinus avellanarius while in cages in captivity.
- ADW, Available at - http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Muscardinus_avellanarius/
Evaluation – I believe that the ‘Animal Diversity Web’ (ADW) is a very reliable source,as its
purpose is to educate and inform about conservation biology of different species. It is a well known database, which has been set up by University of Michigan which have fully qualified experts in conservation that conduct the research, therefore the information given on the website is guaranteed to be valid and reliable. Also, on this websites, it states that “Muscardinus avellanarius, are found throughout Europe, but are found more often in the south western regions of Europe due to significant population decrease” When we compare this to ;http://www.ptes.org/files/122_dormouse_fact_sheet_and_information_small.pdf that states “Hazel dormice used to be more widespread in the UK but they are now rare and vulnerable to extinction in this country” We can see the comments refer to the same trend in population decline, proving this source is giving reliable and valid information.
- Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, Available at - http://www.ptes.org/?page=184
Evaluation - – I believe that the website is a very reliable source, as its
purpose is to educate and inform about many endangered species. It is also well known for holding the ‘Great Nut Hunt’ which is designed to raise awareness for the Muscardinus avellanarius, and has been involved in many experiments, data collection, and research into their population, therefore the
information given on the website is guaranteed to be valid and reliable.
- Trinley Estate, Available at - http://www.trinley.co.uk
- Muscardinus avellanarius information leaflet, Availabe at - http://www.ptes.org/files/122_dormouse_fact_sheet_and_information_small.pdf
[Accessed 02/12/13][Non-Web based source]
- Traces of Muscardinus avellanarius, Available at - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/17/wenlock-edge-dormouse-coppice-hazels
[Accessed 28/11/13][Non-Web based source]
- Corbet, G., D. Ovenden. 1980. Mammals of Britain [Accessed 03/04/14]
- Juskaitis, R. 1997. ‘Ranging and movement of the common dormouse’ [Accessed 03/04/14]
Word count - 1932 (This is excluding titles and references)