. Scientific Frontline: Conservation
Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2023

Short-term bang of fireworks has long-term impact on wildlife

Photo Credit: Jill Wellington

Popular fireworks should be replaced with cleaner drone and laser light shows to avoid the “highly damaging” impact on wildlife, domestic pets and the broader environment, new Curtin-led research has found.

The new research, published in Pacific Conservation Biology, examined the environmental toll of firework displays by reviewing the ecological effects of Diwali festivities in India, Fourth of July celebrations across the United States of America, and other events in New Zealand and parts of Europe.

Examples included fireworks in Spanish festivals impacting the breeding success of House Sparrows, July firework displays being implicated in the decline of Brandt’s Cormorant colonies in California, and South American sea lions changing their behavior during breeding season as a result of New Year’s fireworks in Chile.

Lead author Associate Professor Bill Bateman, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said fireworks remained globally popular despite the overwhelming evidence that they negatively impacted wildlife, domestic animals and the environment.

The 'brown food web': dead vegetation plays essential role in desert ecosystems

Researchers from UNSW say these insights could be used by the conservation managers of arid ecosystems in Australia.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Prof. Mike Letnic.

A reduction in decaying vegetation can have significant impacts on the desert food chain, UNSW scientists have found.  

It’s well understood that overgrazing by herbivores like kangaroos can change ecosystems dramatically, but the impact excessive grazing has on the cover of dead vegetation – and cascading effects on small vertebrates like lizards, desert frogs and dunnarts – hasn’t been extensively studied.

Now, scientists at UNSW Sydney have shown that overgrazing can disrupt the desert food webs that exist between dead plant material, termites and animals that rely on termites as their main food source. This latest discovery has important implications for the conservation of biodiversity in arid Australia.

Researchers from the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences carried out field work in the arid region of South Australia and published their findings in the journal Ecosystems

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Wolves eliminate deer on Alaskan Island then quickly shift to eating sea otters

Wolves on an Alaskan island caused a deer population to plummet and switched to primarily eating sea otters in just a few years, a finding scientists at Oregon State University and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game believe is the first case of sea otters becoming the primary food source for a land-based predator.

Using methods such as tracking the wolves with GPS collars and analyzing their scat, the researchers found that in 2015 deer were the primary food of the wolves, representing 75% of their diet, while sea otters comprised 25%. By 2017, wolves transitioned to primarily consuming sea otters (57% of their diet) while the frequency of deer declined to 7%. That pattern held through 2020, the end of the study period.

“Sea otters are this famous predator in the near-shore ecosystem and wolves are one of the most famous apex predators in terrestrial systems,” said Taal Levi, an associate professor at Oregon State. “So, it’s pretty surprising that sea otters have become the most important resource feeding wolves. You have top predators feeding on a top predator.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Environment law fails to protect threatened species

The tiger quoll lost 82 per cent of its total referred habitat to projects considered unlikely to have a significant impact.
Photo Credit: JJ Harrison / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Federal environmental laws are failing to mitigate against Australia’s extinction crisis, according to University of Queensland research.

UQ PhD candidate Natalya Maitz led a collaborative project which analyzed potential habitat loss in Queensland and New South Wales and found the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation 1999 (EPBC) Act is not protecting threatened species.

“The system designed to classify development projects according to their environmental impact is more or less worthless,” Ms. Maitz said.

“There’s no statistically significant difference between the amount of threatened habitat destroyed under projects deemed ‘significant’ or ‘not significant’ by the national biodiversity regulator.”

Under the EPBC Act, individuals or organizations looking to commence projects with a potentially ‘significant impact’ on protected species must seek further federal review and approval.

Parasite common in cats causes abortion in bighorn sheep

Bighorn sheep
Photo Credit: David Mark

A parasite believed to be present in more than 40 million people in the United States and often spread by domestic and wild cats could hamper ongoing conservation efforts in bighorn sheep.

A recent study led by Washington State University researchers at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory found that Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects most species of warm-blooded animals and causes the disease toxoplasmosis, is a cause of abortions, or pregnancy loss, as well as neonatal deaths in the sheep. Researchers documented five cases in bighorn sheep in a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, but additional studies are needed to determine the full scope of its impact, the authors said.

“We have seen Toxoplasma as a cause of fetal and neonate loss pretty commonly in domestic sheep, but we hadn’t seen pregnancy loss due to toxoplasmosis yet in bighorn sheep,” said Elis Fisk, the lead author of the study. “Unfortunately, it does appear to be causing abortions and some level of death in young bighorn lambs.”

Monday, January 23, 2023

Avian flu could decimate Australian black swans

Australian black swan
UQ research shows black swans lack some immune genes which help other wild waterfowl combat avian flu.
Photo Credit: Holger Detje

The unique genetics of the Australian black swan leaves the species vulnerable to viral illnesses such as avian flu, University of Queensland research has revealed.

The UQ-led study has generated a first-ever genome of the black swan which revealed the species lacks some immune genes which help other wild waterfowl combat infectious diseases.

Associate Professor Kirsty Short from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences said the geographic isolation of Australia’s black swans has meant limited exposure to pathogens commonly found in other parts of the world leading to reduced immune diversity.

“Unlike Mallard ducks for example, black swans are extremely sensitive to highly pathogenic avian influenza – HPAI which is often referred to as bird flu - and can die from it within three days,” Dr Short said.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Traded species have distinctive life histories with extended reproductive lifecycles

Invasive species can cause huge environmental problems and monetary costs
Photo Credit: Pierre Bamin

A new study by researchers from Durham University, UK, Queen’s University Belfast, UK, University of Extremadura, Spain and Swansea University, UK have revealed that vertebrate species involved in the live wildlife trade have distinctive life history traits, biological characteristics that determine the frequency and timing of reproduction.

Researchers discovered that traded species produce large numbers of offspring across long reproductive lifespans, an unusual profile that is likely financially advantageous for trades involving captive breeding such as the pet, food and fur/skin trades.

Traded species that have also been introduced into non-native areas have a more extreme version of this same life history profile, suggesting that species most likely to become problematic invaders are at a heightened risk of trade and release.

The study suggests that humans favor species with high reproductive output for trade and release, which are the very species likely to become problematic invaders in future.

Researchers point out that life history traits are therefore potentially useful for predicting future invasions.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Low-impact human recreation changes wildlife behavior

Camera trap images revealed how animals changed their use of areas around hiking trails in Glacier National Park during and after a COVID-19 closure.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Mammal Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab at Washington State University.

Even without hunting rifles, humans appear to have a strong negative influence on the movement of wildlife. A study of Glacier National Park hiking trails during and after a COVID-19 closure adds evidence to the theory that humans can create a “landscape of fear” like other apex predators, changing how species use an area simply with their presence.

Washington State University and National Park Service researchers found that when human hikers were present, 16 out of 22 mammal species, including predators and prey alike, changed where and when they accessed areas. Some completely abandoned places they previously used, others used them less frequently, and some shifted to more nocturnal activities to avoid humans.

“When the park was open to the public, and there were a lot of hikers and recreators using the area, we saw a bunch of changes in how animals were using that same area,” said Daniel Thornton, WSU wildlife ecologist and senior author on the study published in the journal Scientific Reports. “The surprising thing is that there’s no other real human disturbance out there because Glacier is such a highly protected national park, so these responses really are being driven by human presence and human noise.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Major Breakthrough as Scientists Sequence the Genomes of Endangered Sharks

Hammerhead Shark
Photo Credit: David Clode

The first-ever chromosome-level genome sequences completed for great hammerhead and shortfin mako sharks have shown that both species have experienced major population declines over a 250,000-year history. Low genetic diversity and signs of inbreeding add a layer of concern to the management of Critically Endangered great hammerhead sharks, whose populations have been in freefall recently due to overfishing for their highly valued fins. In contrast, with a larger effective population size (the ideal breeding population size) in the past and higher genetic diversity, shortfin mako sharks appear equipped to be more resilient to rapid environmental change: that is, if the current fishing pressure on them is substantially reduced.

“With their whole genomes deciphered at high resolution we have a much better window into the evolutionary history of these endangered species,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., professor at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Halmos College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute.

It’s a startling image that describes a milestone in conservation science for sharks. Shivji, Michael Stanhope, Ph.D., from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and their collaborators have glanced back in history by sequencing to chromosome level the genomes (entire genetic blueprint) of great hammerhead and shortfin mako sharks. Their DNA timeline shows that their populations have declined substantially over 250,000 years. What the scientists have also found is worrying: great hammerhead sharks have low genetic variation, which makes them less resilient to adapting to our rapidly changing world. The species also shows signs of inbreeding, an issue that can lower the ability of its populations to survive.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Learning from habitat ‘haves’ to help save a threatened rattlesnake

The study suggests that a collection of six relatively closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could grow their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges.
Photo Credit: Scott Martin

Comparing the genetics and relocation patterns of habitat “haves” and “have-nots” among two populations of threatened rattlesnakes has produced a new way to use scientific landscape data to guide conservation planning that would give the “have-nots” a better chance of surviving.

The study suggests that a collection of six relatively closely situated but isolated populations of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in northeast Ohio could grow their numbers if strategic alterations were made to stretches of land between their home ranges. The findings contributed to the successful application for federal funding of property purchases to make some of these proposed landscape changes happen.

Reconnecting these populations could not only help restore Eastern massasaugas to unthreatened status, but establish a thriving habitat for other prey and predator species facing threats to their survival – satisfying two big-picture conservation concerns, researchers say.

“We aren’t just protecting massasaugas – we’re protecting everything else that’s there,” said H. Lisle Gibbs, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “Even though we are focused on this species, protection of the habitat has all these collateral benefits.”

Monday, December 12, 2022

All West Coast Abalones at Risk of Extinction on the IUCN Red List

A red abalone is surrounded by a barren of purple sea urchins.
Photo Credit: Katie Sowul/California Department of Fish and Wildlife

All seven of the United States’ abalone species that live on the West Coast are now listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species. These listings were based on a West Coast abalones assessment led by Laura-Rogers Bennett of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or CDFW, and University of California, Davis.

Six species — red, white, black, green, pink and flat abalone — are listed by IUCN as critically endangered. The northern abalone, also known as threaded or pinto abalone, is listed as endangered.

The IUCN Red List is considered the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species. While the listing does not carry a legal requirement to aid imperiled species, it helps guide and inform global conservation and funding priorities.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Important discovery could help extinguish disease threat to koalas

Retrovirus is more prevalent in New South Wales and Queensland koalas, compared to animals in Victoria and South Australia.
Photo Credit: Jordan Whitt

University of Queensland virologists are a step closer to understanding a mysterious AIDS-like virus that is impacting koala populations differently across state lines.

Dr Michaela Blyton and Associate Professor Keith Chappell from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) and School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, have uncovered another piece of the puzzle in their quest to halt the koala retrovirus known as KoRV - a condition strongly associated with diseases that cause infertility and blindness.

“We’ve learned that the retrovirus is far more prevalent in New South Wales and Queensland koalas, compared to the southern populations in Victoria and South Australia,” Dr Blyton said.

“Uncovering crucial patterns like these helps us learn how the disease is evolving, how it’s spreading, and how we can contain the damage through anti-viral medication or koala breeding programs.”

Koala numbers have fallen rapidly over the past decade due to widespread land clearing, climate change induced weather events, and disease.

Dr Blyton’s research has already established the link between KoRV and chlamydia, cystitis and conjunctivitis, which suggests the virus weakens the animal’s immune system.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Research shows ‘danger zones’ for wandering albatrosses

A pair of wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) courting at Bird Island, South Georgia.
Source/Credit: British Antarctic Survey | NERC

Over half of wandering albatrosses breeding on Bird Island, in the sub-Antarctic, encounter fishing vessels when feeding, putting them at risk of being accidentally caught or killed in fishing gear, according to new research led by British Antarctic Survey and Birdlife International. The results will help conservation efforts for a species that is in decline.

In the study funded by the Darwin Plus scheme and published this month (November 2022) in Biological Conservation, researchers tracked the movements of wandering albatrosses using radar-GPS devices to study their interactions with fishing vessels. By cross-referencing the birds’ movements with the locations of fishing vessels, they found that, of the 251 birds that were tracked, 55% went within 30km of a fishing vessel, and 43% within 5km. Birds traveling to the Patagonian Shelf break were particularly at risk of an interaction.

This study is one of the most comprehensive studies of bycatch risk for any seabird species to date, and combines precise locations of fishing vessels from Global Fishing Watch, another collaborator of the study, with those of wandering albatrosses of different ages and breeding stages.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Amphibian Population Decreased Rapidly in the Last Three Years

Lake frogs are among the largest modern amphibians.
Photo Credit: Ilya Safarov

Biologists have recorded severe simultaneous drops in the numbers of three different species of frogs and newts - rare and widespread. The largest population declines occurred among juveniles, but the scientists noted that adults and egg clutches were also affected. The description and results of the study are published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.

"We believe that a wide range of anthropogenic adverse factors combined with natural fluctuations are responsible for the population decline. Among the causes are global warming, pathogenic infections, habitat loss and exposure to agro-industrial chemicals. But the main reason is drought: reduced precipitation led to a shortage of water in reservoirs and increased water temperature, which ultimately affected the amphibian population," explains Vladimir Vershinin, co-author of the work, Head of the Department of Biodiversity and Bioecology of Ural Federal University, Head of the Laboratory of Functional Ecology of Terrestrial Animals of the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Science.

Friday, November 18, 2022

‘Lost’ pigeon found after more than a century

Video Credit: Jason Gregg, American Bird Conservancy

A September expedition to Papua New Guinea confirmed via video the existence of the black-naped pheasant pigeon, a critically endangered species that has not been reported for 140 years.

“For much of the trip, it seemed like we had no chance of finding this bird,” said Jordan Boersma, co-leader of the expedition and a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We were just two days away from the end of our time on Fergusson Island in Papua New Guinea when one of our remote cameras recorded the bird walking around and fanning its tail.”

The group captured the first-ever video and still photos of the bird, a large ground-dwelling species with a rust-colored back, a black head and body, and a bobbing pheasant-like tail. It may only exist far inland on Fergusson Island in hot, extremely rugged geothermal terrain laced with twisty rivers and dense with biting insects and leeches.

“After a month of searching, seeing those first photos of the pheasant pigeon felt like finding a unicorn,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of the Search for Lost Birds project at American Bird Conservancy and a core member of the expedition team. “It’s the kind of moment you dream about your entire life as a conservationist and birdwatcher.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Birds of a feather flock together?

Maria Castaño uses a spectrophotometer to analyze tanager feathers.
Photo Credit: University of Rochester | J. Adam Fenster

A biology PhD student analyzes tanager bird feathers to explore how species evolve over time.

Maria Castaño, a third-year PhD student at the University of Rochester in the lab of Al Uy, a professor of biology, studies populations of birds to understand the processes that lead to the creation of new species.

Castaño collects and analyzes DNA sequences and feathers of tanagers from her native Colombia in South America. Her research focuses on two different subspecies of tanagers, which have different colored feathers on their rump areas: one subspecies lives in the lowlands of Colombia and has yellow rump feathers, while another subspecies lives in the mountains and has red rump feathers.

New critical period of sex determination in sea turtles identified

Sea turtles’ sex is determined based on the environment, which makes them especially vulnerable to climate change. An increase in incubation temperatures could jeopardize the production of both sexes.
 Photo credit: Jay Paredes

Unlike humans, turtles, lizards and other reptiles – such as crocodiles – do not have sex chromosomes. Their sex is determined based on the environment, which makes them especially vulnerable to climate change. An increase in incubation temperatures could jeopardize the production of both sexes.

Gauging primary sex ratios in these species is critical because it assesses their vulnerability under both current and future climate change constraints. While there has been great progress in sex ratio prediction, studies have been hampered due to a lack of accurate and representative regional and population sex ratio estimates. As a result, primary sex ratios calculations could be skewed.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University, in collaboration with the Université Paris-Saclay in France, have demonstrated that the timing of key developmental process driven by temperature is vital when it comes to identifying when sex is determined for sea turtle embryos. They also are the first to compare the output of the most widely used sex ratio prediction methods to actual sex ratios from natural clutches in sea turtles.

They have developed a new way to integrate the effect of thermal fluctuations on embryonic sex determination and predict sex ratios with much better accuracy than prior models. This method measures the strength of masculinization or feminization of temperatures using novel parameters that have uncovered how temperature-sensitive sex determination works.

Monday, November 14, 2022

California Academy of Sciences researchers produce first-ever ‘family tree’ for aquarium-bred corals

Two-year-old corals sampled for this study in the Academy's Coral Spawning Lab.
Photo Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Corals bred in public aquaria provide novel research opportunities and a healthy stock for outplanting into the wild, essential components of a thriving future for coral reef ecosystems, which support around 25% of all life in Earth’s oceans. But the long-term success of such efforts hinges in part on maintaining genetic diversity in aquarium-bred corals which leads to increased resilience to threats like ocean warming and acidification. In a study published today in Frontiers in Marine Science, a diverse team of Steinhart Aquarium biologists and researchers from the California Academy of Sciences' Coral Spawning Lab produce the first-ever pedigree, or ‘family tree’, for corals bred in an aquarium and provide a list of best practices to maintain genetic diversity in aquarium-bred corals.

“Genetic diversity is what enables species to adapt to the myriad threats resulting from climate change,” says Academy Curator Rebecca Albright, PhD, who founded the Coral Spawning Lab, one of only a handful of facilities on Earth capable of successfully breeding corals. Albright’s work is an integral part of the Academy’s Hope for Reefs initiative, which is aimed at halting the decline of coral reefs in this generation. “For facilities like ours at the Coral Spawning Lab, ensuring each generation of corals is diverse allows us to conduct more robust experiments, which is a critical element of better understanding how corals can thrive on our changing planet. For organizations that do outplantings, increased genetic diversity translates to a greater chance of survival in the wild.”

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Five times more rangers needed to manage protected areas worldwide by 2030

Ranger in Patagonia National Park, Chile.
Photo Credit: Jan Vincent Kleine, Rewilding Chile

The first study of its kind outlines an urgent need for larger numbers and better-supported protected area staff to ensure the health of life on Earth. In a new scientific paper published in Nature Sustainability, an international team of scientists, including one from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, argue that there are not enough rangers and other staff to manage the current protected areas around the world. This is the first estimate of the global number of protected area personnel since 1999 and the first to specifically include rangers.

The study comes ahead of the global meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Montréal, Canada, December 7–15, which decides new targets for conservation. The authors urge governments, donors, private landowners and non-governmental organizations to increase the numbers of rangers and other staff five-fold in order to meet global biodiversity conservation goals that have economic, cultural and ecosystem benefits.

“Sufficient staffing is fundamental to the success of conservation initiatives,” said Eleanor Sterling, study co-author and director of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). “Protected area personnel have a critical role to play in ensuring implementation of this conservation strategy honors local and national values.”

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Endangered Devils Hole pupfish is one of the most inbred animals known

A curious, captive-raised Devils Hole pupfish at the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility in Nevada. The facility maintains a refuge population of pupfish as a backup to the wild population, which fluctuates over decades and once dipped to a mere 35 individuals.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Olin Feuerbacher/USFWS

As its name implies, the Devil’s Hole pupfish lives in a truly hellish environment.

Confined to a single deep limestone cave in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, 263 of them live in water that hovers around 93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, with food resources so scarce that they are always on the edge of starvation, and with oxygen levels so low that most other fish would die immediately. The pupfish, Cyprinodon diabolis, lives in the smallest habitat of any known vertebrate.

New research now documents the extreme effect that these harsh and isolated conditions have had on this fish’s genetic diversity.

In a paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, University of California, Berkeley, biologists report the first complete genome sequences of eight pupfish species from the American Southwest — 30 individuals in all, including eight Devils Hole pupfish. Astoundingly, the Devils Hole pupfish is so inbred that 58% of the genomes of these eight individuals are identical, on average.

“High levels of inbreeding are associated with a higher risk of extinction, and the inbreeding in the Devils Hole pupfish is equal to or more severe than levels reported so far in other isolated natural populations, such as the Isle Royale wolves in Michigan, mountain gorillas in Africa and Indian tigers,” said lead researcher Christopher Martin, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology and curator of ichthyology in the campus’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. “Although we were not able to directly measure fitness, the increased inbreeding in these pupfish likely results in a substantial reduction in fitness.”

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