Adopt a garden dormouse! It may not mean too much to you, but in the Netherlands, we have a mouse species that, unfortunately, enjoys great unfamiliarity. I am talking about the garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus), also called garden sleeper or fruit thief. And, if that is not bad enough: from the family of the 'dormouses' (dormir means to sleep in French). Three very different names that indicate different traits of this fine animal. That must be said. It is a proud resident of South Limburg and neighbouring areas in Germany and Belgium. Unfortunately, also a species that occurs on the Red List in the Netherlands. Namely as 'critically endangered' and even the most endangered mammal species in the Netherlands. And that, of course, is not good. I promised to pay attention to this, just like everyone else at a symposium. Now you also know the garden dormouse.
At the beginning of November, I attended the symposium on Conservation Biology, organized by GaiaZoo in Kerkrade, the Netherlands. An interesting meeting in which field biology, conservation biology and genetics studies were presented, and the information was shared by young researchers in this field. There were stories about, indeed, the fruit thief, but also about sun parakeets in South America (Aratinga solstitialis, also endangered according to the Red List) and eagle owls (Bubo bubo, in the Netherlands on the Red List). Speaking of those garden dormice: this year the mammal society attached a transmitter to twenty individuals. By following the animals, the investigators have learned a lot: it is now known that they do not like neat, tidy areas. We should all cut down on it a bit because these dormice like to crawl away from danger. Open fields and monotonous fields are a drama for this beautiful creature (think of the increasing number of birds of prey that hover above those open areas). And that applies to many more animal species.
The sun parakeet is a different story. It is a beautiful bird and endangered as well. Hundreds of thousands are traded annually for their beautiful feathers. Add to that the decrease in habitat and it becomes clear that this species is having a hard time. GaiaZoo studies the bird species on location in South America (Guyana) and manages an international breeding program to ensure that it does not disappear and remains genetically diverse and therefore healthy within the program. Speaking of endangered species: a trip to the internet page of the Red List is not particularly cheerful: in October, for example, it was announced that a third of European hoverflies are threatened with extinction. Conservation biology has learned here that, for example, we must maintain older trees because of the cavities, fallen branches, sap flows and other 'microhabitats', i.e., places where these insects like to stay and feed. Hoverflies are extremely important for the pollination of plants and, of course, for biodiversity.
In these days of climate problems, we all know that biodiversity is declining. We don't even know exactly what is disappearing, but we do know that it is a lot. It is the reason that zoos do conservation biology: species are saved from extinction, and we also learn a lot from the animals that we protect in this way. Scientific journals and popular scientific articles in this field are widely read. For the journals Conservation Biology and Biological Conservation, we have seen an almost doubling of the 'impact factor' since 2016. This impact factor indicates how important a journal is regarded in science. And these journals are no longer less popular than widely read journals in medical science.
Students of the Biology and Medical Laboratory Research program at Leiden University of Applied Sciences are currently working on a project in collaboration with GaiaZoo. By means of molecular-biology techniques they try to determine whether we are dealing with a wild form or a domesticated form in a certain bird species, the swan goose (Anser cygnoides). This species is listed on the Red List as 'vulnerable'. The research involves techniques like DNA isolation, PCR, and DNA sequencing. It is a nice biology-research project for third-year students, and these techniques are also widely used in medical biology. For example, students working on relevant problems with a biological question can easily start working, after completion of their degree in biology, in a medical field. Consider for instance DNA is isolated from a patient's blood and from which a genetic abnormality is determined. The underlying techniques are similar. The swan goose project will be completed in January.
Ivo Horn (Picamed, 2022)