Monthly Archives: October 2009

Global Warming Cycles Threaten Endangered Primate Species

PRESS RELEASE – SCIENCE DAILY

Two Penn State University researchers have carried out one of the first-ever analyses of the effects of global warming on endangered primates. This innovative work by Graduate Student Ruscena Wiederholt and Associate Professor of Biology Eric Post examined how El Niño warming affected the abundance of four New World monkeys over decades.

Wiederholt and Post decided to concentrate on the way the oscillating weather patterns directly and indirectly influence plants and animals in the tropics. Until the research by Wiederholt and Post, this intricate network of interacting factors had rarely been analyzed as a single system. “We know very little about how climate change and global warming are affecting primate species,” explains Wiederholt. “Up to one third of primates species are threatened with extinction, so it is really crucial to understand how these changes in climate may be affecting their populations.”

The research will be published on 28 October 2009 in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, a fast-track journal of the Royal Society of London.

The scientists focused on the large-bodied monkeys of South America, which are highly threatened. Choosing one species from each of the four genera of Atelines, Wiederholt and Post examined abundance trends and dynamics in populations of the muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus, formerly B. arachnoides) of Brazil, the woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha) in Colombia, Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), which was studied on Barro Colorado Island in Panama, and the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) in Venezuela.

For each species, long-term research projects carried out by other teams over decades have documented the abundance and feeding patterns of these primates. By studying the different species, Wiederholt and Post hoped to highlight the importance of the response to changing climate conditions of the trees that provide the dietary resources for the monkeys. All the species live in social groups and spend most of their time in the trees of tropical forests, using their limbs and prehensile tails to move around or to suspend themselves from branches. The monkeys differ in the proportions of fruit, flowers, and leaves in their diets. Woolly monkeys and spider monkeys predominantly eat fruit, howler monkeys specialize in leaf-eating, and muriquis also eat leaves but consume more fruit than howlers. “Long-term studies like those we derived data from are incredibly valuable for illuminating effects of global warming,” Post said. “Unfortunately for endangered species, such studies also are incredibly rare. We hope our results bring attention to the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring efforts.”

The team hypothesized that the trees’ response to the warming events might provide a crucial link between changes in climate and monkey abundance. To test their hypothesis, Wiederholt and Post needed to compare information on the monkey populations with data on fluctuations in food resources such as leaves, seeds, and fruits. Then, using statistical models, they investigated how food and abundance information related to annual temperature and rainfall information.

Detailed ecological information was not available on each of the forests in which the target species live, so the team used information from Barro Colorado Island — a lowland, moist, tropical forest where Geoffroy’s spider monkey was studied — as a general indicator of what happened over time in each of the habitats. From Barro Colorado, the scientists knew the number of tree species that were fruiting and flowering each month during the years between 1987 and 2004. They also looked at the annual values of flower and seed production for 44 specific tree species with seeds that are spread by mammals.

To examine these factors on a regional and local scale, Wiederholt and Post used information on mean annual temperature, rainfall, and the length of the wet and dry seasons for the years between 1960 and 1990 in Venezuela, Brazil, Barro Colorado Island, and Colombiaavailable. They obtained these data from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and from the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware. “We expected to find a strong relationship between the large-scale climate and the population dynamics of these species,” explains Wiederholt. “We also wanted to tease out which measures of vegetation-response to climatic conditions were most influential.”

The scientists obtained large-scale climate data from the southern oscillation index (SOI), the El Niño-Southern Oscillation indices (ENSO3, 34, 4, and 12), and the Southern Hemisphere temperature-anomaly index, which are available from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean provided a rainfall anomaly index. The El Niño and La Niña phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO — often called simply “El Niño”) are the cycles of warm/dry and cool/wet periods in oceanic and atmospheric temperatures in the tropical Pacific region. These cycles often are associated with disruptive events in to central and northern South America, such as floods, droughts, or disturbances in fishing or agriculture.

The results of the team’s analyses were spectacular. All four monkey species showed drops in abundance relating to large-scale climate fluctuations. Even though the monkey populations were separated by large distances, the three fruit-eating species had synchronous responses to large-scale warming. During El Niño warming events, trees produced more fruit than usual. Then, during the subsequent La Niña cooling events, the trees produced much less fruit, resulting in a local scarcity or even famine.

Some ecologists have speculated that high production of fruit during El Niño events may have been triggered by the increase in solar radiation, despite lower-than-usual rainfall. However, high productivity during an El Niño event might also use up the stored reserves of the trees, which would have difficulty recovering during the subsequent La Niña events, when weather was wet, cloudy, and cool. This mechanism would explain why the fruit-eating monkeys showed a delayed response to the El Niño events after a lag of one or two years.

Howler monkeys also showed declines with warm and dry El Niño events, but their population fall was out of sync with that of the fruit-eating species. The mechanism is not yet clear, but Wiederholt has some ideas. She notes, “Primate researchers have seen elevated adult female mortality and lowered birthrates among red howlers in drought years. Since leaf flush often occurs at the start of the wet season, a prolonged dry season might delay the availability of this resource for the howlers and perhaps cause them nutritional stress.”

Warmer temperatures also may cause leaves — the howlers’ primary food — to mature faster, which would accelerate the leaves’ acquisition of toxins and other chemical defenses against monkeys. The factor that the scientists found was most influenced by changes in climate was the monthly maximum number of tree species that were fruiting. Climate changes also were highly correlated with the monthly maximum number of species that were flowering and with annual seed production. The length of the dry season also was highly correlated with annual flower production. Thus, vegetation responses to climatic conditions substantially altered the food resources available to primates, which in turn influenced the decline or rise in monkey abundance.

Global warming already has produced a rise of 0.74 degrees over the last century, and an additional increase of 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius is anticipated over the next century. “El Niño events are expected to increase in frequency with global warming,” explains Post. “This study suggests that the consequences of such intensification of ENSO could be devastating for several species of New World monkeys.”

The researchers say that now, more than ever, quantitative studies that delineate the complex ecological links between climate, vegetation, and animal survival are urgently needed.

This study was funded by Penn State’s Graduate Fellowship Program in a grant to Ruscena Wiederholt.

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World’s tigers ‘on edge of extinction’

IRELAND ONLINE

The world’s tiger population is on the verge of extinction, Nepal’s forest secretary has warned a conference of experts.

Delegates from 20 countries, including 13 where tigers are still found in the wild, are discussing strategies for conservation of the animal as well as challenges such as poaching, illegal trade in tiger parts and man-animal conflicts.

Yuvaraj Bhusal, secretary of forest and soil conservation, said: “We are assembled here to save tigers that are on the verge of extinction,” adding that participants are aiming to make policy makers in the top ranks of their respective governments aware of the tiger’s flagging status.

Delegates attending the meet in the capital Kathmandu include representatives from the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund.

The country’s prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal blamed poaching and the loss of habitat as primary threats to the world’s tiger population.

“Despite our efforts in the last three decades, tigers still face threats of survival. The primary threat is from poaching and habitat loss,” Mr Nepal said.

“Global and regional solidarity and corrective measures are more necessary now than ever to face these challenges,” he added.

The tiger population has fallen from more than about 100,000 at the start of the 20th century to an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 in recent years.

Wild tigers are still found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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Countries Propose Bans On Trade Of Endangered Species

REDORBIT

Environmental groups and international agencies are submitting their proposals to ban trade of certain products derived from endangered species.

The proposals have been issued to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prior to its triennial meeting in Qatar next year.

Tanzania and Zambia have requested to lift a trade embargo on ivory in order to control the amount of elephant tusks being traded internationally.

Another primary concern in Qatar is expected to be the consumption of sharks’ fins, which are considered to be a culinary delicacy in China.

Additionally, the EU and the US has proposed limits on international trade of certain shark species, while Monaco has issued a proposal to ban trade in tuna.

“Unsustainable target fisheries for Lamna nasus in parts of its range have been driven by international trade demand for its high value meat,” the EU said in its proposal.

“This could be the turning point for sharks. If countries join together now we can promote the sustainable trade of sharks worldwide,” Courtney Sakai, senior campaign director for environmental group Oceana, told AFP.

Monaco has proposed a ban in bluefish tuna trade, citing information to show that tuna spawning stock in the Mediterranean has dropped by more than 74 percent from 1957 to 2007.

“This is the last chance for fisheries managers to show they are competent to manage these magnificent and valuable fish. If they fail, Asia may see its supply cut off, perhaps for years,” said Michael Hirshfield, Oceana’s chief scientist.

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Academic warns against bird extinction rates in Turkey

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

A senior Turkish academic from Aegean University has warned that flamingos and Dalmatian pelicans face a risk of extinction in the bird national park in the western city of İzmir because of inadequate preservation measures.

“The flamingos are becoming extinct in this national park that has harbored 245 species of birds and where 68 species of birds have incubated,” said Professor Mehmet Sıkı, of the biology department within the Faculty of Science.

Sıkı said reproduction islands have been eroding every year because of destruction by waves in the Izmir bird paradise, which is the second station for the birds’ reproduction. “An island where flamingos used to reproduce two decades ago has disappeared today,” he said.

Sıkı drew attention to constant reductions in the number of flamingos’ nests at the bird paradise. “This year, a mid-island is housing 2,340 flamingo nests whereas it harbored 2,945 nests in 2008. So, there is a 20 percent reduction in the number of flamingo nests in the two consecutive years,” he said.

“If this destruction continues as badly as it is now, no flamingo couple will incubate in the bird paradise after five years,” he said.

Sıkı also said homeless dogs are threatening the reproduction of Dalmatian pelicans and flamingos in the national park.

“Homeless dogs have damaged colonial reproduction because they can swim out to incubation islands better than foxes can. They have adversely affected the incubation efforts of these birds because they have eaten baby birds and eggs,” he said.

Sıkı called for an immediate solution to secure the flamingos’ reproduction. “Izmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu, who is also the chairman of the Bird Paradise Conversation and Development Union, held joint meetings with bird experts and scientists seeking a solution to prevent extinction. A report was submitted to build a 6,000-square-meter island to secure the reproduction efforts of 18,000 to 24,000 flamingos but there has been no progress in this initiative, Sıkı said.

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Protection Sought for 83 Coral Species as Coral Heads for Worldwide Extinction

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release, October 20, 2009

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 436-9682 x 308, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org

Protection Sought for 83 Coral Species as Coral Heads for Worldwide Extinction

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal petition seeking to protect 83 imperiled coral species under the Endangered Species Act. These corals, all of which occur in U.S. waters ranging from Florida and Hawaii to U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, face a growing threat of extinction due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming, and the related threat of ocean acidification.

Scientists have warned that coral reefs are likely to be the first worldwide ecosystem to collapse due to global warming; all the world’s reefs could be destroyed by 2050.

“Coral reefs are the world’s most endangered ecosystems and provide an early warning of impacts to come from our thirst for fossil fuels,” said Miyoko Sakashita oceans director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Within a few decades, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to completely unravel magnificent coral reefs that took millions of years to build.”

Corals are among the species most imperiled by climate change. When corals are stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they experience bleaching — which means they expel the colorful algae upon which they rely for energy and growth. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching. Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.

Not only is greenhouse gas pollution causing corals to bleach and die, but it also makes it difficult for corals to grow and rebuild their colonies. Ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, is already impairing the ability of corals to build their protective skeletons. At CO2 levels of 450 ppm, scientists predict that reef erosion will eclipse the ability of corals to grow.  Moreover, ocean acidification and global warming render corals even more susceptible to other threats that have led to the present degraded state of our reefs, including destructive fishing, agriculture runoff, storms, sea-level rise, pollution, abrasion, predation, and disease.

Leading coral biologist Charles Veron warned in a recent scientific paper that at current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere (387 ppm) most of the world’s coral reefs are committed to an irreversible decline. Other scientists have warned that CO2 concentrations must be reduced to levels below 350 ppm to protect corals and avoid mass extinctions on land and sea. The CO2 reductions proposed in the climate bill now making its way through Congress are unlikely to result in an atmospheric concentration below 450 ppm, much less 350 ppm.

“The coral conservation crisis is already so severe that preventing the extinction of coral reefs and the marine life that depends upon them is an enormous undertaking. The Endangered Species Act has an important role to play in that effort,” added Sakashita. “But without rapid CO2 reductions, the fate of the world’s coral reefs will be sealed.”

In 2006, elkhorn and staghorn corals, which occur in Florida and the Caribbean, became the first, and to date only, coral species protected under the Endangered Species Act. The listing of staghorn and elkhorn corals as threatened, which also came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, marked the first time the U.S. government acknowledged global warming as a primary threat to the survival of a species. As documented in today’s petition, many other corals are also at risk.

Protection under the Endangered Species Act would open the door to greater opportunities for coral reef conservation, as activities ranging from fishing, dumping, dredging, and offshore oil development, all of which hurt corals, would be subject to stricter regulatory scrutiny. Additionally, the Endangered Species Act would require federal agencies to ensure that that their actions do not harm the coral species, which could result in agencies approving projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions to consider and minimize such impacts on vulnerable coral species.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must respond to the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to list 83 species of coral within 90 days and determine whether listing is warranted for each of the coral species within one year.

For more information about the Center’s coral conservation campaign, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/coral_conservation/index.html.

Coming this Thursday, many of the petitioned-for corals will also be featured in 350 Reasons We Need to Get to 350 – the Center for Biological Diversity’s photo installation of 350 species we may lose to global warming if we don’t act soon.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Rare condors endangered by lead in carrion

UPI

SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Rare California condors living in Arizona and Utah are at risk due to lead bullets found inside the carrion the birds feed upon, wildlife officials say.

Kathy Sullivan of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said the 75 condors living in northern Arizona and southern Utah have begun feeding on the remains of deer and elk killed during hunting season, The Salt Lake Tribune said Sunday.

The lead bullets used to kill the animals have resulted in the deaths of at least 12 of the birds due to lead poisoning during recent years, she said.

“They key in on fall hunting season because they know there will be gut piles in the field from these deer hunts,” Sullivan said.

To help protect the rare condors, wildlife officials are attempting to urge hunters to use non-lead ammunition, which is more costly and has different shooting characteristics.

Bob Hasenyager of the non-profit foundation Utah Wildlife in Need, told the Tribune that Arizona has had some success pushing for the use of non-lead ammunition by hunters.

“It is our goal to duplicate that success and for Utah to take a greater role in the recovery of these magnificent birds,” Hasenyager said.

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Conservation: Minimum Population Size Targets Too Low To Prevent Extinction?

SCIENCE DAILY – PRESS RELEASE

That’s according to a new study by University of Adelaide and Macquarie University scientists which has shown that populations of endangered species are unlikely to persist in the face of global climate change and habitat loss unless they number around 5000 mature individuals or more.

The findings have been published online in the journal Biological Conservation.

“Conservation biologists routinely underestimate or ignore the number of animals or plants required to prevent extinction,” says lead author Dr Lochran Traill, from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

“Often, they aim to maintain tens or hundreds of individuals, when thousands are actually needed. Our review found that populations smaller than about 5000 had unacceptably high extinction rates. This suggests that many targets for conservation recovery are simply too small to do much good in the long run.”

A long-standing idea in species restoration programs is the so-called ’50/500′ rule. This states that at least 50 adults are required to avoid the damaging effects of inbreeding, and 500 to avoid extinctions due to the inability to evolve to cope with environmental change.

“Our research suggests that the 50/500 rule is at least an order of magnitude too small to effectively stave off extinction,” says Dr Traill. “This does not necessarily imply that populations smaller than 5000 are doomed. But it does highlight the challenge that small populations face in adapting to a rapidly changing world.”

Team member Professor Richard Frankham, from Macquarie University’s Department of Biological Sciences, says: “Genetic diversity within populations allows them to evolve to cope with environmental change, and genetic loss equates to fragility in the face of such changes.”

Conservation biologists worldwide are battling to prevent a mass extinction event in the face of a growing human population and its associated impact on the planet.

“The conservation management bar needs to be a lot higher,” says Dr Traill. “However, we shouldn’t necessarily give up on critically endangered species numbering a few hundred of individuals in the wild. Acceptance that more needs to be done if we are to stop ‘managing for extinction’ should force decision makers to be more explicit about what they are aiming for, and what they are willing to trade off, when allocating conservation funds.”

Journal reference:

  1. Traill et al. Pragmatic population viability targets in a rapidly changing world. Biological Conservation, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2009.09.001

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