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      What is conservation physiology? Perspectives on an increasingly integrated and essential science


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          The definition of ‘conservation physiology’ is refined to be more inclusive, with an emphasis on characterizing diversity, understanding and predicting responses to environmental change and stressors, and generating solutions. The integrative discipline is focused on mechanisms and uses physiological tools, concepts, and knowledge to advance conservation and resource management.


          Globally, ecosystems and their constituent flora and fauna face the localized and broad-scale influence of human activities. Conservation practitioners and environmental managers struggle to identify and mitigate threats, reverse species declines, restore degraded ecosystems, and manage natural resources sustainably. Scientific research and evidence are increasingly regarded as the foundation for new regulations, conservation actions, and management interventions. Conservation biologists and managers have traditionally focused on the characteristics (e.g. abundance, structure, trends) of populations, species, communities, and ecosystems, and simple indicators of the responses to environmental perturbations and other human activities. However, an understanding of the specific mechanisms underlying conservation problems is becoming increasingly important for decision-making, in part because physiological tools and knowledge are especially useful for developing cause-and-effect relationships, and for identifying the optimal range of habitats and stressor thresholds for different organisms. When physiological knowledge is incorporated into ecological models, it can improve predictions of organism responses to environmental change and provide tools to support management decisions. Without such knowledge, we may be left with simple associations. ‘Conservation physiology’ has been defined previously with a focus on vertebrates, but here we redefine the concept universally, for application to the diversity of taxa from microbes to plants, to animals, and to natural resources. We also consider ‘physiology’ in the broadest possible terms; i.e. how an organism functions, and any associated mechanisms, from development to bioenergetics, to environmental interactions, through to fitness. Moreover, we consider conservation physiology to include a wide range of applications beyond assisting imperiled populations, and include, for example, the eradication of invasive species, refinement of resource management strategies to minimize impacts, and evaluation of restoration plans. This concept of conservation physiology emphasizes the basis, importance, and ecological relevance of physiological diversity at a variety of scales. Real advances in conservation and resource management require integration and inter-disciplinarity. Conservation physiology and its suite of tools and concepts is a key part of the evidence base needed to address pressing environmental challenges.

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          Most cited references173

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          Ecology. Physiology and climate change.

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            The need for evidence-based conservation.

            Much of current conservation practice is based upon anecdote and myth rather than upon the systematic appraisal of the evidence, including experience of others who have tackled the same problem. We suggest that this is a major problem for conservationists and requires a rethinking of the manner in which conservation operates. There is an urgent need for mechanisms that review available information and make recommendations to practitioners. We suggest a format for web-based databases that could provide the required information in accessible form.
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              How does climate warming affect plant-pollinator interactions?

              Climate warming affects the phenology, local abundance and large-scale distribution of plants and pollinators. Despite this, there is still limited knowledge of how elevated temperatures affect plant-pollinator mutualisms and how changed availability of mutualistic partners influences the persistence of interacting species. Here we review the evidence of climate warming effects on plants and pollinators and discuss how their interactions may be affected by increased temperatures. The onset of flowering in plants and first appearance dates of pollinators in several cases appear to advance linearly in response to recent temperature increases. Phenological responses to climate warming may therefore occur at parallel magnitudes in plants and pollinators, although considerable variation in responses across species should be expected. Despite the overall similarities in responses, a few studies have shown that climate warming may generate temporal mismatches among the mutualistic partners. Mismatches in pollination interactions are still rarely explored and their demographic consequences are largely unknown. Studies on multi-species plant-pollinator assemblages indicate that the overall structure of pollination networks probably are robust against perturbations caused by climate warming. We suggest potential ways of studying warming-caused mismatches and their consequences for plant-pollinator interactions, and highlight the strengths and limitations of such approaches.

                Author and article information

                Conserv Physiol
                Conserv Physiol
                Conservation Physiology
                Oxford University Press
                13 March 2013
                : 1
                : 1
                : cot001
                [1 ]Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental Science, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6
                [2 ]Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of California Los Angeles, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
                [3 ]School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
                [4 ]Department of Zoology and Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
                [5 ]School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia
                [6 ]Max Plank Institute of Ornithology, D-78315 Radolfzell, Germany
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author: Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental Science, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6. Tel: +1 613 867 6711. Email: steven_cooke@ 123456carleton.ca

                Inaugural paper for Conservation Physiology.

                © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Experimental Biology.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 11 January 2013
                : 28 January 2013
                Page count
                Pages: 23

                conservation physiology,conservation science,environment,mechanisms,resource management


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