Science, Policy, Governance: Biodiversity Asia 2012

Conservation is as much about people–their politics, history, culture, economics, motivations and desires–as it is about biodiversity, ecology and biophysical processes. This is all the more intensely experienced by natural and social scientists in Asia, where the context in conservation and development studies pertains to human dominated ecosystems, subsistence level dependence on natural resources, stark inequities in sharing of resources, and aspirations towards Western goals and standards. Biodiversity Asia 2012, the 2nd Asia Regional Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology, held from 7th to 10th August 2012 in Bengaluru, addressed the peculiarities and challenges of conservation science in Asia. The themes of Science, Policy, Governance, is reflected in the composition of discussants and the nature of discussions in the various symposia, talks, panel discussions and workshops over the five days of this international conference.

400 participants from 23 countries attended the conference, organized by ATREE, SCB and other partners.

Highlights from the conference

“The truth is that we are in trouble, and we in the scientific community have to be truth tellers.”

Prof. David Orr, noted environmentalist and professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College, USA, presented evidence to warn that things were going to get hotter, faster, in more unpredictable ways, in his inaugural lecture on the science of global warming and the challenges before humanity. He emphasized the need to create sustainable models of living with available, off-the-shelf technology, and not talk about sustainability as an abstraction. 7 August 2012.
“People have treasured and guarded our natural heritage and biodiversity and they need to be placed at the centre of development.”

Dr. Madhav Gadgil, author of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report talked about environmental misgovernance and the Western Ghats. “Hope,” he said, “lay in the democratisation and revival of community based environmental governance.” Dr. Gadgil was delivering the 9th TN Khoshoo Memorial Lecture: Western Ghats: Nature, People and Development. 8 August 2012.
“Wild animals know no borders. In India, they cannot afford to because people and their livestock are everywhere.”

Vidya Athreya, on the leopard. Athreya was awarded the 2012 TN Khoshoo Memorial Award for Conservation, Environment and Development for her pioneering work on the dynamics of human-leopard encounters; the ecology and biology of this species; and the politics and socio-cultural elements of these encounters. Athreya is Research Associate with Pune’s Kaati Trust, and Centre for Wildlife Studies and Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, Bengaluru. 8 August 2012.
How have societies and landscapes with a very long history remained livable over centuries and millennia?

Mahesh Rangarajan, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi on Asia at the Crossroads: Nature, Nation, and Science in Times of Change. 8 August 2012.
How does a biocultural perspective influence planning and implementation in conservation?

Plenary session by Dr. Eleanor Sterling, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, USA. 9 August 2012.
Is science on the conservation agenda at all?

Dr. Prahlad Yonzon memorial lecture by Dr. Kashmira Kakati with examples from Northeast India. Kakati drew attention to the fact that the conservationist’s fight is often a lone battle against relentless destruction of rich wildlife habitats and corridors. 10 August 2012.
“Whether science is being heard or not is often a political decision and scientists must reflect on how far science should push to influence policies, especially given that science has limitations.”

Dr. Damayanti Buchori of Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia at panel discussion on ‘Science is from Venus, policy is from Mars – a discussion on the rift that complicates conservation ’. Other participants were Dr. Sharad Lele, Convenor of the Centre for Environment and Development at ATREE; Dr. Thomas Brooks, VP for Science and Chief Scientist at Nature Serve, USA; David Quammen, science writer; Dr. Eleanor Sterling, Director, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York USA. Dr. Kartik Shanker, Scientist at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, moderated this session. 9 August 2012.
Science as story: How to communicate science to a general audience

David Quammen, science writer on the practicalities of science writing.
Book release: Invertebrate diversity and conservation in the Western Ghats

Editors Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, Soubadra Devy, Aravind Madhyastha, Subramanian, K. A., and Seena Narayanan. On diversity, ecology, biogeography, behaviour and conservation of invertebrates of the Western Ghats. Book release by Prof David Orr, environmentalist and professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College, USA; Dr. Raman Sukumar, Director, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science; Dr. Simon C. Nemtzov, President of the Asia Section of the Society for Conservation Biology; Dr. Eleanor Sterling, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, and SCB Co-Chair; and Prof Kamal Bawa, founder president of ATREE. 7 August 2012.
Book release: Common dryland trees of Karnataka

Editors: A. Kavitha, N. Deepthi, R. Ganesan, S. C. Gladwin Joseph
Kannada–English bilingual guide on common farmland tree species, and their place in the semi-arid agricultural-rural landscape of Karnataka.



Poster summaries of research

The conference hosted 26 student posters, 37 student talks and 24 student speed talks.



Workshops

Introduction to open-source GIS and remote sensing for conservation ArcGis and modelling workshop
Workshop on Bayesian models in Conservation Science Rethinking conservation education: Beyond tree planting and painting competitions. The Conservation Education Network, India



Awards

Award in the speed talk category to Roshmi Sharma, 2011 batch PhD student at ATREE, for ‘Do protected areas effectively conserve amphibians of the Western Ghats? Also to Suman Jumani for ‘Determinants of dry season ranging behaviour by Asian elephants in a fragmented landscape’
In the regular talks category, to Sascha Ismail for talk on ‘Identifying conservation priorities for an endangered tropical tree in complex forest agro-ecosystem.’ Also to Hari Shridhar for talk on ‘Identifying ‘keystone’ bird species in a mixed-species flock co-occurrence network in the northern Western Ghats, India.’