Posted by Richard Conniff on April 19, 2017
Alive? South Asia’s “extinct” pink-headed duck.
by Richard Conniff/Scientific American
A few years ago at a bar in Reno, graduate student John Zablocki was talking about his research on the rediscovery of lost species—those presumed to have gone extinct only to turn up again alive and well. “The Lord Howe Island stick insect,” someone down the bar remarked, recalling the widely reported 2001 rediscovery of that species on an island in Australia. Then, living his beer glass, he uttered the celebrated line from the 1993 movie Jurassic Park: “Life, uh, finds a way.”
And this is the tantalizing thing when a species thought to be lost comes back, in effect, from the dead. It hints at rebirth in an era otherwise dominated by headlines about climate change and mass extinction. Scientists even refer to these rediscovered organisms as “Lazarus species,” after the man raised from the dead by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
But finding lost species does not take a miracle, according to Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), a small Texas-based nonprofit. GWC is now launching an ambitious “Search for Lost Species” initiative to rediscover 1,200 species in 160 countries that have not been seen in at least 10 years. The first expeditions will launch this fall in pursuit of the 25 “most wanted” species, says GWC herpetologist Robin Moore, who is leading the effort.
Among the top 25: a pink-headed duck last seen in 1949 in India, a tree-climbing freshwater crab last observed in 1955 in the West African forests of Guinea and the world’s largest bee (with a wingspan of 2.5 inches) last sighted in 1981 in Indonesia. “For many of these forgotten species,” Moore says, “this is likely their last
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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: de-extinction, extinction, Lost species, tasmanian tiger | 2 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on November 22, 2016
A cousin of the now-extinct Bramble Cay melomys. (Photo: Luke Leung/University of Queensland)
by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com
Australian scientists were “devastated” in 2014 when they visited the tiny island home of the Bramble Cay melomys, the Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal, and found no one home. They described it as probably “the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change.”
What really hurt was that they were visiting the island on a rescue mission, to find enough individuals for a captive breeding project. The ambition was to rebuild the population and reestablish it in some more hospitable habitat. They were too late: Repeated storm surges had wiped out the plant that was the major food source for the melomys, and the last few members of the species, the product of a million years of evolution, were probably swept out to sea and drowned.
That painful example has many conservationists thinking hard about what they call “assisted colonization.” That is, they are wondering whether and how to move species to places they have never lived before—because that may be their only chance
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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: assisted relocation, Australia, Climate change, extinction, melomys | 1 Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on September 2, 2016
A chambered nautilus off Palau, Micronesia (Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
by Richard Conniff/Takepart.com
Humans have for centuries coveted the chambered nautilus for its elegantly spiraled shell. But too much beauty can be a dangerous gift. We buy nautilus shells in unbelievably huge numbers, with the United States alone importing 789,000 of them during one recent five-year period, mostly to gather dust as knickknacks. As a result, chambered nautilus populations appear to be crashing in their deep-sea Indo-Pacific habitat.
Later this month, a conference in South Africa will take up the question of what to do about it. Four nations, including the United States, have proposed protecting the nautilus under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A CITES II listing would not ban the trade but would sharply limit it, according to Frederick Dooley, an evolutionary physiologist at the University of Washington.
The Center for Biological Diversity has also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the chambered nautilus under the Endangered Species Act, which would completely end imports. (The nautilus is found in American Samoa, a U.S. territory. But its range extends from Indonesia to the Philippines.)
Dooley, coauthor of a recent review of nautilus biology, says he has seen nautilus shells being sold by the basketful in Hawaii tourist shops for as little as $4.99 apiece. If someone has bothered to polish the shells to bring out their pearliness, the price may go up to $9 apiece. “They mostly end up being stuck on
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Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: extinction, nautilus, overfishing, souvenirs | 2 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on July 1, 2016
(Photo: Craig Taylor/Panthera)
by Richard Conniff/The New York Times
THE killing of Zimbabwe’s celebrated Cecil the Lion by a Minnesota dentist, on July 1 of last year unleashed a storm of moral fulmination against trophy hunting. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued an official statement calling for the hunter, Walter J. Palmer, to be hanged, and an odd bedfellow, Newt Gingrich, tweeted that Dr. Palmer and the entire team involved in the killing of Cecil should go to jail. The television personality Sharon Osbourne thought merely losing “his home, his practice and his money” would do, adding, “He has already lost his soul.”
More than one million people signed a petition demanding “justice for Cecil,” and three major American airlines announced that they would no longer transport hunting trophies. A few months later, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed lions from West and Central Africa and also India as endangered, shutting down the major markets for trophies from that region. Australia, France and the Netherlands banned lion trophy imports outright.
Unfortunately, the furor did almost nothing to slow the catastrophic decline in lion populations, down 43 percent over the past two decades. That’s because trophy hunting was never really the main problem. Lions are disappearing in Africa for a reason Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Food & Drink | Tagged: Africa, Bushmeat, Cecil, extinction, hunting, poaching | 3 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on January 16, 2015
A whale killed by our increasing reliance on container ships (Photo: Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
Take a look at Carl Zimmer’s disturbing story in today’s New York Times. Here’s the lead:
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.
“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.
But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.
And here’s an excerpt from further down in the article:
“I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea,” said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved in the study.
There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested, but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely to accelerate as
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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: extinction, marine life, oceans | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Richard Conniff on August 28, 2014
With Labor Day just ahead, people on both coasts and across the Great Plains should be celebrating the start of one of North America’s great migrations. The spectacle of monarch butterflies working their way back to their overwintering sites, across hundreds or thousands of miles, is the longest known insect migration on Earth.
It’s such a popular event, and the monarchs are so beautiful—their brilliant orange wings bordered with a black-polka-dot hem—that seven states have named monarch butterflies their state insect.
But this year the parade is mostly canceled, and instead environmental groups have petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species.
The monarchs have been decimated—populations are down 90 percent from their 20-year average. That’s “a loss so staggering,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, “that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in
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Posted in Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: extinction, milkweed, monarch butterflies, Monsanto | 6 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 20, 2014
Sahamalaza’s blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) in northwest Madagascar. (Photo: Nora Schwitzer)
My latest column for Takepart, the web site of movie company Participant Pictures:
Sahamalaza National Park in northwestern Madagascar is home to the strikingly beautiful blue-eyed black lemur—or to paraphrase its French name, “the lemur with the turquoise eyes.”
It’s a small, tree-dwelling creature, weighing less than four pounds, with a luxuriant tail that can be half as long as its body. It’s svelte and striking enough to appear on the cover of Vogue, and exotic enough for a music video with Lady Gaga. Yet this lemur remains almost unknown to the outside world. As a result, it is not just critically endangered, but one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. With luck, a few thousand individuals may survive in the wild, almost all of them in three or four patches of forest in Sahamalaza National Park.
What’s happening to the blue-eyed black lemur is typical of the plight of the entire family of lemurs, 101 of the most colorful animals on the planet. According to a new study published today in Science, 94 percent of all lemur species are now threatened, and many of them are Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation and Extinction | Tagged: extinction, lemurs, Madagascar | 4 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 17, 2014
The Nature Conservancy’s Peter Kareiva and [UPDATE] Philip Cafaro have sent helpful responses to my recent article “Is Focusing On Human Needs Like Saying ‘Yes’ To Extinctions” I’m putting it up as a separate post because it deserves more attention than it might get as a comment to the previous article. First, here’s what I wrote as an afterthought to the original article:
Kareiva, when I spoke with him, seemed to be much more adept at blowing up conventional conservationist thinking than at pointing out new ways forward. (He was vague about the details on that.) Cafaro, on the other hand, seemed stuck in 1960s outrage, in ways that also don’t advance the way society treats conservation issues. Here’s what I woke up this morning thinking: Instead of wasting their energy in bitter and divisive squabbling, maybe they should be collaborating to play good cop-bad cop with the culprits who are actually causing environmental destruction?
Here’s Cafaro’s response:
Many thanks for taking the time to interview me and Kareiva and write up your take on these matters. You are right that self-interest is a powerful force, but it isn’t everything. Appeals to fair treatment of others, whether human or nonhuman, have proven effective many times in the past, including when deployed by conservationists. It is hardly “pragmatic” to undermine them in the way Kareiva and Marvier do in their articles.
Self-interest is important. But how people define our self-interest will make a big difference in setting the terms for what sort of conservation we are able to achieve in the future. Looking down the line, it is hard to imagine preserving much wild nature in the context of endlessly growing human economies. Hence Primack and my suggestion that conservationists work harder to advocate for genuinely sustainable economies that recognize ecological limits to growth. Karieva and Marvier call this “scolding capitalism” in one of their articles. We call it necessary to the long-term success of conservation–even an anthropocentric conservation that only concerns itself with human well-being.
Here’s Kareiva’s response:
Richard is correct that when he called me I was vague about ideas—I was between sessions at the AMS meetings in Atlanta, trying to find a room for a talk, and distracted. But we have lots of specific ideas.
First check out the Natural Capital Project which has Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Cafaora, community conservation, extinction, Kareiva | 2 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 15, 2014
My latest for Takepart (the web site of the movie company Participant Pictures):
When modern conservationists seem to put human welfare ahead of the needs of wildlife, are they betraying the movement’s central tenets? That’s the argument made by the authors of a new editorial in the journal Biological Conservation. In fact, it’s less an argument and more like an angry accusation, relying heavily on the phrase “great moral wrong.”
The editorial taps into a growing uneasiness among some conservation biologists about the direction of the conservation movement as it struggles to find the most effective role in an era, the so-called Anthropocene, in which human expansion seems to be having a devastating effect on almost every species and landscape on the planet—via habitat destruction, poaching, bush-meat hunting, pollution, and climate change.
Prominent environmental groups—among them The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International—have responded to this change with an increasing emphasis on how deeply human survival depends on the things nature provides: “ecosystem services” like clean water, crop pollination, flood control, putting oxygen into the atmosphere and pulling carbon dioxide out, wildlife habitat, and recreation.
This shift in emphasis means that environmental groups now often work side by side with old adversaries, from indigenous communities crowding around conservation areas to Fortune 500 companies looking to clear-cut, mine, harvest, or otherwise exploit the landscape. The shift to a more human-oriented approach has sometimes resulted, notably at Conservation International, in an exodus of species-oriented biologists.
What gets lost in the process, according to the editorial, is the defining environmental belief that Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: community based conservation, conservation, extinction, Peter Kareiva | 17 Comments »
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 14, 2014
(Photo: Ken Canning / Getty Images)
I’ve been meaning to get to this study for a few days now. But happily, Michelle Nijhuis got there first. Her article originally appeared in OnEarth.org.
About 300 wolves live in the nearly 2-million-acre swath of central Ontario forest known as Algonquin Provincial Park. These wolves are bigger and broader than coyotes, but noticeably smaller than the gray wolves of Yellowstone. So how do they fit into the wolf family tree? Scientists don’t agree on the answer—yet it could now affect the fate of every wolf in the United States.
That’s because last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing gray wolves across most of the country from the endangered species list, a move that would leave the animals vulnerable to hunting. To support its proposal, the agency used a contested scientific paper—published, despite critical peer review, in the agency’s own journal—to argue that gray wolves never existed Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Environmental Issues | Tagged: bad science, extinction, gray wolf, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | 1 Comment »