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

Monday, November 6, 2023

European wildcats avoided introduced domestic cats for 2000 years

A wildcat which is part of the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release program which conducted the first release of wildcats to the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland in 2023
Photo Credit: Saving Wildcats

Domestic cats introduced from the Near East and wildcats native to Europe did not mix until the 1960s, despite being exposed to each other for two thousand years.

Two studies published today in Current Biology involving new archaeological and genetic evidence rewrites the history of cats in Europe.

The international team of researchers sequenced and analyzed both wildcats and domestic cats including 48 modern individuals and 258 ancient samples excavated from 85 archaeological sites over the last 8,500 years. They then assessed the patterns of hybridization (or interbreeding) after domestic cats were introduced to Europe over 2,000 years ago, and came into contact with native European wildcats.

The results of the studies demonstrate that, since their introduction, domestic cats and European wildcats generally avoided mating with each other. About 50 years ago in Scotland, however, that all changed and rates of interbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats rose rapidly. This may have happened as a result of dwindling wildcat populations and a lack of opportunity to mate with other wildcats.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Native waterfall-climbing fish threatened by climate change, human activity

ʻOʻopu nākea is a type of goby fish found only in Hawaiʻi.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi

New research out of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is highlighting the importance of the ma uka (mountain) to ma kai (ocean) approach to the stewardship of Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources.

The research focused on ʻoʻopu nākea, a type of goby fish found only in Hawaiʻi. ʻOʻopu nākea spends the larval part of its life in the ocean before returning to the freshwater streams to complete adulthood. It is also one of five freshwater fishes endemic to Hawaiʻi with fused pelvic fins that act as a suction cup to help climb waterfalls as they migrate upstream.

Unfortunately, like so many endemic species to Hawaiʻi, ʻoʻopu nākea are under threat from climate change and human activity and previous research indicated the species no longer needed to reach the ocean to complete their life cycle.

The UH Mānoa-led team utilized the latest microchemistry methods and found that 100% of ʻoʻopu nākea are still using the ocean as an important part of larval development. The study, “Understanding Amphidromy in Hawaiʻi: ʻOʻopu nākea (Awaous stamineus),” was published in the Journal of Fish Biology, and although the findings were positive, they still highlight the importance of preserving Hawaiʻi’s freshwater streams and bodies of water.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Endangered whales live in area earmarked for gas exploration

Risso's dolphins.
Photo Credit Leonidas Karantzas/Greenpeace

Endangered whales and dolphins live year-round in an area of the Mediterranean earmarked for oil and gas exploration, new research shows.

Various cetacean species are known to inhabit the Hellenic Trench off Greece in the summer, but until now little has been known about their winter whereabouts.

This lack of information has been used to justify seismic surveys (which may harm whales and dolphins) in winter.

The new study found that at least four species – including the regionally endangered sperm whale – live in the deep waters of the Hellenic Trench in both summer and winter.

The research was carried out in 2021-22 by the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, Greenpeace Greece and the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute.

“The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas on the planet, and whales and dolphins are already threatened by ship strikes, overfishing, bycatch (accidental catching), pollution with chemicals and plastics, and climate change,” said Dr Kirsten Thompson.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Killer whales’ diet more important than location for pollutant exposure

Photo Credit: Thomas Lipke

Both elegant and fierce, killer whales are some of the oceans’ top predators, but even they can be exposed to environmental pollution. Now, in the largest study to date on North Atlantic killer whales, researchers in the American Chemical Society’ Environmental Science & Technology report the levels of legacy and emerging pollutants in 162 individuals’ blubber. The animals’ diet, rather than location, greatly impacted contaminant levels and potential health risks — information that’s helpful to conservation efforts.

As the largest member of the dolphin family, killer whales, also known as orcas, are found worldwide. Marine vessel traffic can disturb the hunting and communication of these black-and-white marine mammals. But they face another type of human threat — legacy and emerging persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in their environments. POPs include chlorinated hydrocarbons and flame retardants, and can accumulate in animals’ fat stores as the contaminants move up the food chain though a process called biomagnification.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Cut emissions and improve farming to protect wilderness

Photo Credit: Dave Willhite

Humanity must cut carbon emissions and use farmland more efficiently to protect our planet’s remaining wilderness, new research shows.

Climate change is making some wilderness areas more suitable for crop growing, heightening the risk of agricultural expansion, especially in northern areas including Canada, Scandinavia and Russia.

By assessing “future climate suitability” for more than 1,700 crop varieties, the study projects 2.7 million square kilometers of wilderness will become newly suitable for agriculture over the next 40 years.

This is 7% of the world’s total remaining wilderness outside Antarctica.

The study, by the University of Exeter, also projects that the variety of crops that can be grown will decrease on 72% of currently cultivable land worldwide – further driving pressure to expand farming into wilderness.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Marine mammals in zoos and aquariums now live 2-3 times longer than in the wild

Photo Credit: Los Muertos Crew

A new study provides compelling evidence that animal care and management practices at zoos and aquariums have significantly improved over time. The study, led by Species360 and University of Southern Denmark Research Scientist Dr. Morgane Tidière in collaboration with 41 co-authors from academic, governmental, and zoological institutions around the world, is the first to examine life expectancy and lifespan equality together as a proxy of population welfare in marine mammal species.

The study also found that marine mammal species live longer in zoological institutions than in the wild as a result of advances in animal care practices centered on animal welfare. The results have been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

From SDU the following researchers contributed: Fernando Colchero, Johanna Staerk, Ditte H. Andersen, Kirstin Anderson Hansen and Dalia A. Conde.

The animals in the study
The four species in this study (harbor seal, sea lion, polar bear and bottlenose dolphin) were selected because they represent 63,4% of all marine mammals, registered in the global Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).

Critical step made for managing brushtail possums

Researchers say mapping the genetic code of the brushtail possum will benefit those working to both conserve and control the animal.

In a five-year long study, just published in Nature Communications, an international group of researchers led by the University of Otago, has assembled the entire genetic code of the marsupial mammal.

The work also uncovered where and when their genes are expressed, and revealed surprising details about their population diversity, reproduction, and origins.

Study lead Associate Professor Tim Hore, of Otago’s Department of Anatomy, describes possums as “a fascinating animal that is loved in one country and a cause of concern in another”.

“They are hunted in Aotearoa New Zealand for their fur, and controlled for conservation, but treasured and protected in Australia. Having their full genetic code is important for both countries as efforts to manage their respective populations are being held back by the lack of this knowledge,” he says.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

How to help save plants from extinction

California lilac, a species whose critical limits were obtained for this project
Photo Credit: Karen Udy Chang/Wikimedia Commons

Now is the time to identify the conditions that cause plants to die. Doing so will allow us to better protect plants by choosing conservation targets more strategically, UC Riverside botanists argue in a new paper. 

Published in the Oxford Academic journal Conservation Physiology, the paper demonstrates how scientists can learn the limits past which plants’ vital functions shut down, and makes the case that not doing so is a mistake in this era of increasing drought and wildfires.

“We can measure the amount of water loss plants can tolerate before they start to wilt, and we can learn the temperature at which photosynthesis stops for different kinds of plants,” said Louis Santiago, UCR botany professor and corresponding author of the paper. 

“It is so important to measure the critical limits of when things will fail, and not just how they’re doing now,” he said.

The UCR team believes understanding the current physiological status of a plant species during stress — which so many are experiencing more often with hotter, drier temperatures in many places — can be very useful for showing how close some plants are to local extinction already. Combined with critical limit data, limited conservation funds could be even more wisely spent, revealing plants’ warning signs before they become visible.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Genomic analysis in snakes shows link between neutral, functional genetic diversity

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
Photo Credit: Scott Martin

In the world of threatened and endangered species conservation, the genomic revolution has raised some complicated questions: How can scientists justify assessing species genetic diversity without consulting entire genomes now that they can be sequenced? But then again, how can scientists justify the time and expense of genome sequencing when age-old measures of neutral genetic diversity are much cheaper and easier to obtain?

A new study suggests making a transition from “old school” genetics to “new school” genomics for species conservation purposes probably isn’t necessary in all cases.

Researchers found the functional genetic diversity they detected by analyzing gene variations in fully sequenced genomes of 90 Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes correlated nicely with the neutral genetic diversity seen across broad sections of those same genomes containing no protein-coding genes – similar to the type of genetic material historically used to assess genetic diversity. 

“If we’re worried about the genetic health of populations, neutral diversity can give us a pretty good answer, as has long been argued. We have directly tested that for this species,” said H. Lisle Gibbs, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. 

Study indicates majority of endangered greater glider habitat in QLD unprotected

Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) in a Eucalypt taken by Sam Horton in South East Queensland for the Wildlife Queensland and the Glider Network
Photo Credit: Samrhorton

Researchers at Griffith University have discovered that the majority of critical habitat and movement pathways for southern greater gliders in Queensland lie outside of protected areas.

Dr Patrick Norman and Professor Brendan Mackey used cutting-edge technology to map mature forests to identify potential habitat and corridors that were essential for the survival of the endangered species. It is only these 200+-year-old forests in which tree hollows large enough to support the cat-sized gliders occurred.

Worryingly, the researchers discovered that most of the important remaining glider habitat in the state occurred within privately owned, lease owned land and state forest, leaving it vulnerable to logging, clearing and other threats.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Whaling wiped out far more fin whales than previously thought

The study found current conservation efforts should be enough to help the Eastern North Pacific fin whale population rebound without becoming inbred.
Photo Credit: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid
(CC BY 4.0 DEED)

A new genomic study by UCLA biologists shows that whaling in the 20th century destroyed 99% of the Eastern North Pacific fin whale breeding, or “effective,” population — 29% more than previously thought.

But there is also some good news: Genes among members of this endangered species are still diverse enough that current conservation measures should be be enough to help the population rebound without becoming inbred. The study also found that the health of this group is essential for the survival of highly isolated, genetically distinct fin whales in the Gulf of California.

The study, published in Nature Communications, is among the first to use whole genome information to get a picture of the size and genetic diversity of today’s population. Previous studies had to rely on whaling records or mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, providing limited genetic information.

In the 19th century, whaling decimated most whale species around the world but left the largest ones — blue and fin whales — largely untouched. That changed with the advent of industrial whaling in the 20th century. By midcentury, close to a million fin whales worldwide had been slaughtered, at least 75,000 of these in the Eastern North Pacific.

Boom in “ice ivory” trade of mammoth tusks presents new threat to elephants and environment

A new study warns the close similarities between the tusks of elephants and mammoths poses threats to conservation and environment efforts

Conservationists fear a rise in the buying and selling of mammoth tusks, known as the “ice ivory” trade, poses a new threat to elephants.

A UK-wide ban on the sale of ivory came into force in 2018, following a University of Portsmouth led investigation into the British antiques trade of the material.

Earlier this year, it was announced the Ivory Act would be extended to protect five more endangered CITES-listed species, including the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, orca and sperm whale.

However, a new study has warned that the sale of mammoth tusks is an unregulated aspect of the ivory trade that needs to be addressed. The species falls outside of the regulation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); a multi-government agreement set up to ensure the survival of animals and plant species.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Tens of thousands of endangered sharks and rays caught off Congo

Shark catch from one boat after a week at sea.
Photo Credit: Phil Doherty

Tens of thousands of endangered sharks and rays are caught by small-scale fisheries off the Republic of the Congo each year, new research shows.

Scientists surveyed fish brought ashore at Songolo, which is home to more than 60% of the country’s “artisanal” fishers (small boats, small engines, hand-hauled lines and nets).

In three years, the team – led by the University of Exeter in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Congo Program and the Republic of the Congo’s fisheries department – recorded more than 73,000 sharks and rays landed.

Most were juveniles, and 98% of individuals were of species listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The researchers highlighted good news from the study: it shows the area is rich in sharks and rays, including two species previously thought to be locally absent – the African wedgefish and the smoothback angelshark.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Killing remains a threat to Bornean orangutans

Photo Credit: Simone Millward

University of Queensland research has found despite considerable conservation efforts, the illegal killing of critically endangered orangutans on Borneo may be an ongoing threat to the species.  

PhD candidate Emily Massingham from UQ’s Faculty of Science managed a team of researchers which visited 79 villages across the Bornean orangutan range in Kalimantan, conducting face to face interviews with 431 people.

“Our study builds on previous research which indicated killing was one of the key reasons for orangutan population decline, alongside habitat loss,” Ms. Massingham said.

“The aim of our project was to understand whether orangutans have been killed in recent times, to look at whether conservation projects are effectively preventing killing, and to gain insights into community perceptions and the motivations behind it.

“It has been almost 15 years since the previous study, and we did not find a clear decrease in killings despite Indonesia’s commendable efforts to reduce habitat loss.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Reducing fishing gear could save whales with low impacts to California’s crab fishermen

 Less gear in the water means fewer chances for Whales to become entangled.
Photo Credit E. Lyman/ NOAA Sanctuaries

Sometimes simple solutions are better. It all depends on the nature of the problem. For humpback whales, the problem is the rope connecting a crab trap on the seafloor to the buoy on the surface. And for fishermen, it’s fishery closures caused by whale entanglements.

Managing this issue is currently a major item on California’s agenda, and it appears less fishing gear may be the optimal solution. So says a team of researchers led by Christopher Free, at UC Santa Barbara, after modeling the benefits and impacts that several management strategies would have on whales and fishermen. Their results, published in the journal Biological Conservation, find that simply reducing the amount of gear in the water is more effective than dynamic approaches involving real-time monitoring of whale populations. There may even be solutions on the horizon that provide these benefits with fewer drawbacks.

“We were trying to figure out what types of management strategies would work best at reducing whale entanglements in the Dungeness crab fishery while also minimizing impacts to fishing,” said first author Free, a researcher at the university’s Marine Science Institute. “And what we found is that some of the simpler strategies, such as just reducing the amount of gear allocated to the fishermen, outperformed a lot of the more complex management strategies.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Bird species changing faster than expected in protected areas

The study compared bird communities during the breeding season inside and outside protected areas in Canada between 1997 and 2019. The results indicated that protected areas remain important for the conservation of northern bird species such as the Lapland longspur, which breeds in Finland as well. However, during the 22-year period, bird communities inside the protected areas began to resemble those outside them in terms of climate requirements. This poses additional challenges for ensuring the continued vitality of species under a warming climate. Communities with similar climate requirements consist of an equal proportion of cold- and warm-dwelling species.

“Protected areas are more effective in helping cold-dwelling northern bird species, but it was surprising to discover that southern species increased faster in abundance inside than outside protected areas,” explains Doctoral Researcher Leena Hintsanen of the Finnish Museum of Natural History (Luomus) under the University of Helsinki.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Good news for the world’s rarest marine dolphin?

Māui dolphins.
Photo Credit: University of Auckland/Department of Conservation

The tiny population – only about 54 Māui dolphins remain – lives off the west coast of the North Island.

Once seen from Cook Strait to north of Kaipara, the dolphins’ range is now considerably smaller, with most sightings between Muriwai and Raglan.

The creatures' median age dropped by about a year over the course of a decade, according to research from the University of Auckland – Waipapa Taumata Rau, Oregon State University and University of California Los Angeles.

It could be good news: a population with younger dolphins will produce more calves than an older population, ultimately increasing the population size, which is vital for the dolphins' future.

“The population may be getting younger because individuals born after 2008, the year a marine sanctuary was introduced off the west coast of the North Island, have better chances of survival, since they are less likely to be accidentally caught in fishing nets,” suggests Professor Rochelle Constantine.

However, it’s also possible that older dolphins aren’t living to expected maximum ages of about 20 years.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Atlantic walrus more vulnerable than ever to Artic warming

Photo Credit: Rod Long

Past cycles of climate change, along with human exploitation, have led to only small and isolated stocks of Atlantic walrus remaining. The current population is at high risk of the same issues affecting them severely, according to a new study led by Lund University in Sweden.

Today, the last remaining stocks of Atlantic walrus are more at danger than ever, due to a combination of Arctic warming and a long history of devastating human exploitation. Rising global temperatures are significantly impacting Arctic marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. However, little is known about exactly how this combination of stress factors will impact Arctic species.

Now, researchers have examined how walrus coped with past cycles of climate change. Using breakthroughs in ancient genomics, the team was able to extract, sequence and interpret ancient genetic information contained in teeth and bone that survive well in the Arctic’s frozen archaeological sites. These DNA results were integrated with modern genetic samples, enabling them to reconstruct how the genetic diversity of Atlantic walrus had changed under earlier cycles of global warming.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.
Photo Credit: Conservation Biology Group, University of Barcelona

If urban landfills disappear under the new European regulation, some endangered birds such as the Egyptian vulture will need alternatives to their feeding patterns in order to survive in the future. This is one of the main conclusions of a study published in the journal Movement Ecology, led by Professor Joan Real, director of the UB Conservation Biology Group (EBC-UB) of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona. The study includes the collaboration of teams from the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) and the University of Seville.

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the smallest vultures and a threatened bird of prey worldwide, which is included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List as an Endangered Species. In the Iberian Peninsula, this species has been in regression for years, with the exception of some areas such as Catalonia, where there has been a progressive increase in its populations.

This Trans-Saharan migratory species spends the winter in Mali, Senegal and Mauritania and returns to the Iberian Peninsula during spring and summer to breed. It usually feeds on small carrion and dead animals found in the countryside, especially extensive livestock dead animals as well as wildlife. Therefore, it is an indicator species of the environmental status and it helps to eliminate organic remains from our ecosystems.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Light pollution confuses coastal woodlouse

A woodlouse underwater.
Photo Credit: Martin Stjernstedt

Artificial night-time light confuses a color-changing coastal woodlouse, new research shows.

The sea slater is an inch-long woodlouse that lives around the high-tide line and is common in the UK and Europe.

Sea slaters forage at night and can change color to blend in and conceal themselves from predators.

The new study, by the University of Exeter, tested the effects of a single-point light source (which casts clear shadows) and “diffuse” light (similar to “skyglow” found near towns and cities).

While the single light did not interfere with the sea slaters’ camouflage, diffuse light caused them to turn paler while hiding on a dark background – making them more visible.

“With night skies getting brighter worldwide, it’s important to understand how this will affect the natural world,” said Kathryn Bullough, who led the study as part of her masters at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“We know artificial light causes all sorts of negative effects for animals and plants, but our results show that shadow-casting light can have very different impacts to diffuse skyglow, even when both have the same overall brightness.

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