Lack of Scientific Knowledge
Scientific literature reviews conducted to associate SGCN with threats and landscape features found that a lack of thorough life-history information posed a high threat to more than 25% of the SGCN. No life-history information was available for several species. For others, such as the federally endangered Hungerford's crawling water beetle, distribution and habitat information is available, but much basic life-history information is lacking and relative severity of threats to the species is unknown. Without a thorough understanding of the needs of wildlife species and their responses to changes in ecological processes (e.g., fire and natural flow regimes), it is impossible to plan and implement conservation actions to aid them and the landscapes they use.
Many taxonomic groups have historically received little attention from scientists, researchers and managers due to a lack of resources. These groups tend to include smaller or less charismatic species, but many of these organisms perform critical ecosystem functions (Franklin 1993). For some of these species (e.g., non-sport fish, amphibians and reptiles, mussels, some terrestrial insects, and many small mammals, including bats), basic natural-history information is available, but knowledge about trends in their populations, their responses to threats, specifics of their life cycles, or their relationships with the landscape is lacking. For other groups (e.g., aquatic insects, land and aquatic snails, grasshoppers, crayfish, beetles, moths), limited information is available for specific members, but is lacking for most. And finally, information is so limited for some taxonomic groups (freshwater sponges, jellyfish, shrimp, roundworms, flatworms, spiders, bees, wasps, ants, and many more), that their consideration during action plan development was not possible. Many of these species will benefit greatly from conservation of the full diversity of landscape features and may not require any specific efforts, but others may require individual attention. Ideally, all species should be conserved to assure the long-term health and functioning of Michigan's ecosystems.
Important relationships between species and the landscapes they use continue to be discovered, expanding our knowledge base and ability to make informed conservation decisions. For example, even though birds are a relatively well-studied taxonomic group, recent investigations have revealed a relationship between shoreline cedar swamps on the northern Lake Huron shoreline, midge hatches, and timing of bird migrations; in this region, midge hatches provide an important energy source for birds, while the cedar lowlands, not typically used by these species, provide cover (Ewert and Hamas 1995).
Where species are known to use a particular landscape feature, the functional utility of that feature to the persistence of the species is sometimes in question, particularly for heavily human-influenced or intensively managed features. Landscape features can sometimes act as population sinks, or areas where mortality exceeds recruitment (Pulliam 1988, Brawn and Robinson 1996). Inappropriate management decisions can result from a lack of understanding of the relative wildlife value of many landscape features.
Many of the ways disturbance regimes and other ecological processes influence ecological communities and species remain inadequately understood (Pess et al. 2003). This lack of understanding makes it difficult to identify management goals and conservation actions. Information on historic conditions and natural ranges of variation, which are also useful in determining management goals, are often incomplete or inadequate. Further uncertainty comes from recognition that as many ecological systems are spatially diverse. They are maintained by different ecological processes and influenced by different threats across a region (Ghazoul 2001, Pess et al. 2003). They also have different species assemblages that result in different biological interactions across a region. Therefore, understanding a particular system in one part of the State does not necessarily provide complete knowledge of the same type of system in another part of the State.
Conservation Needs to Address Lack of Scientific Knowledge Threats:
Land, Water & Species Management
- Incorporate added knowledge into management decisions
Law & Policy
- Incorporate added knowledge into species protection
- Identify funding sources and individuals with expertise to expand the knowledge base for species that are not well studied
Research, Surveys & Monitoring
- Develop a comprehensive summary of significant knowledge gaps for SGCN, landscape features and ecological processes and prioritize research, survey and monitoring needs to fill the gaps
- Implement research and survey actions to collect needed data
- Coordinate collection, storage and distribution of existing and new species information
- Diversify management actions and monitor outcomes to develop best management practices
- Test rare or indicator species responses to management practices
- Use landscape feature-level research efforts as an opportunity to collect additional information on SGCN
- Conduct research to determine whether human-created landscape features act as population sinks
- Conduct research to determine whether human-created features (e.g., rights-of-way) act as effective surrogates when natural landscape features are lacking
- Conduct research to determine whether regenerating forests fill the same wildlife needs as shrublands
- Conduct research to examine which characteristics of landscape features (e.g., vegetation composition, disturbance patterns) determine their value to wildlife
- Conduct research to examine how timing and extent of disturbance in agricultural landscape features affect their use by wildlife
- Conduct research to determine how abundance, distribution and species of mast crops affect wildlife diversity and abundance
- Conduct basic inventories to catalog associations between landscape features and the species that depend on them