Category Archives: biodiversity

Antimalarial trees in East Africa threatened with extinction

BIOLOGY NEWS NET

Research released in anticipation of World Malaria Day finds that plants in East Africa with promising antimalarial qualities—ones that have treated malaria symptoms in the region’s communities for hundreds of years—are at risk of extinction. Scientists fear that these natural remedial qualities, and thus their potential to become a widespread treatment for malaria, could be lost forever.

A new book by researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Common Antimalarial Trees and Shrubs of East Africa, provides a detailed assessment of 22 of the region’s malaria-fighting trees and shrubs. While over a thousand plant species have been identified by traditional healers as effective in the prevention or treatment of malaria symptoms, the species in the book were assigned by both traditional medicinal practitioners and scientists as those that have potential for further study.

According to researchers, many species of trees in East Africa are at high risk of extinction due to deforestation and over-exploitation for medicinal uses. Scientists in the field have been able to identify at-risk tree species, including those that have antimalarial qualities, by monitoring deforestation in the region and by talking to herbalists and local communities. According to researchers, not all species of antimalarial trees are at risk, particularly those that grow wild in lowland and coastal areas.

ICRAF is doing its part preserving these trees and shrubs by holding samples of most of the species with antimalarial qualities in its genebank and growing these trees in plant nurseries at its headquarters in Nairobi. The ICRAF genebank holds close to 200 species, of which at least 30 are known to have antimalarial properties.

The field data was gathered by ICRAF scientists conducting research across Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where they met with approximately 180 herbalists and 100 malaria patients in 30 separate communities. KEMRI supported the process by supplying the information about each plant’s chemical compound make-up—research that is the result of a sophisticated laboratory process developed by KEMRI for testing natural products.

“We’ve only scratched the surface on the potential value of these plants. Although widely used by farmers and people in rural communities, most of this information has never been collected in a comprehensive way by researchers,” said Dr. Geoffrey Rukunga, Director of KEMRI’s Centre for Traditional Medicine and Drug Research and one of the book’s co-authors. “Going forward, I’d like to see more investment and more research on the power of these plants to fight the scourge of malaria and other diseases.”

One of the drugs most widely used historically to treat malaria, quinine, was derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree in South America. Today, the world’s newest, most-effective therapeutic treatment for malaria also comes from a plant, the Artemisia annua shrub. However, access to malaria therapies based on artemisinin compounds remains low—around 15 percent in most parts of Africa and well below the World Health Organizations’ 80 percent target.

Additionally, the malaria parasite’s ability to resist artemisinin is already beginning to emerge in Southeast Asia. This comes years after the World Health Organization labeled the spreading resistance of malaria to cheap and widely available drugs such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine as a major public health problem. The increasing failure of once-effective malaria drugs has added urgency to the search for promising new targets.

Malaria still kills some 800,000 people per year, the majority of whom are children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. A lack of access to doctors and drugs leaves many communities in Africa with few alternatives other than looking for natural remedies to address symptoms of malaria, including high fever, severe headaches, bone aches, nausea and vomiting.

“We’re not saying that using these medicinal plants is a replacement for common prevention treatments like bed nets or effective medicines like ACT,” said Dr Najma Dharani, a Consultant Research Scientist at the ICRAF in Nairobi, Kenya, who led the field research portion of the study. “But we believe that it’s worth learning from communities that have been treating malaria symptoms with plants for hundreds of years. We need to do more research because one of these plants could prove to be the next Artemisia, and we need to do our best to preserve the plants that are going extinct.”

Indeed, without clear research or proper guidance for their sustainable use, many of the plants with medicinal properties are being over-exploited and are in danger of extinction. One such plant, which is critically endangered in Kenya and threatened in other regions, is Zanthoxylum chalybeum, commonly known as “Knobwood.” It grows in dry woodlands or grasslands of eastern and southern Africa and has been found to have antimalarial properties that need to be further explored. An extraction process from leaves, bark or root is used to effectively treat a malarial fever in many communities. Other uses for the plant include infusing tea with the leaves, making toothbrushes, and using the seeds as beads in traditional garments. The African wild olive (Olea europaea Africana), also threatened in East Africa due to over-exploited for timber, contains organic extracts with significant levels of antimalarial activity, and is used to treat malarial and other fevers. The plant also acts as a natural laxative to expel parasites or tapeworms.

“Throughout my eight years of research in Africa, I have seen that we have an entire pharmacy in our farms and in our forests. We have plants that should be used by scientific companies to develop more options for malaria drugs,” said Dr. Dharan. “And we cannot become complacent and rely on one herb, because we’ve learned that developing resistance is likely.”

Beyond the complicated process to extract and test antimalarial compounds from these trees, scientists have struggled to track or replicate the treatment process as it occurs in communities. Besides the plant itself, there may be other factors contributing to a malaria patient’s recovery. For example, a healer may combine one plant with another that changes its chemical compound and boosts its effectiveness. Unless more is done to understand these processes in the field, scientists in laboratories and researchers at major drug companies will lose that knowledge.

“While we’ve made scientific progress identifying these compounds over the last few years, the fact is that we may lose these important trees before we’ve had a chance to understand their ability to defend us against malaria, a disease that devastates Africa—killing hundreds of thousands of our children and costing us billions of dollars in productivity year after year,” said Dr. Rukunga. “We need to approach this as an opportunity on multiple fronts: to preserve the biodiversity that may hold the next cure, to strengthen the research done on the ground in communities, and to continue our diligent work testing our natural resources in the lab.”

Source : k.langford@cgiar.org

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Mercury on the rise in endangered Pacific seabirds

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-04/hsop-mot041511.php

Public release date: 18-Apr-2011

Contact: Todd Datz
tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-8413
Harvard School of Public Health

Mercury on the rise in endangered Pacific seabirds

Boston, MA – Using 120 years of feathers from natural history museums in the United States, Harvard University researchers have been able to track increases in the neurotoxin methylmercury in the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), an endangered seabird that forages extensively throughout the Pacific.

The study shows that the observed increase in methylmercury levels, most likely from human-generated emissions, can be observed and tracked over broad time periods in organisms that live in the Pacific Ocean.

The study was published in an online early edition on April 18, 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study has important implications for both environmental and public health, say the authors. “The Pacific in particular warrants high conservation concern as more threatened seabird species inhabit this region than any other ocean,” said lead author Anh-Thu Vo, who did her research while an undergraduate at Harvard and is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. “Given both the high levels of methylmercury that we measured in our most recent samples and regional levels of emissions, mercury bioaccumulation and toxicity may undermine reproductive effort in this species and other long-lived, endangered seabirds.”

The researchers collected feathers from black-footed albatross specimens in the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology and the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and analyzed methylmercury in samples from 1880 to 2002. They found increasing levels of methylmercury that were generally consistent with historical global and recent regional increases in anthropogenic mercury emissions.

“Methylmercury has no benefit to animal life and we are starting to find high levels in endangered and sensitive species across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems, indicating that mercury pollution and its subsequent chemical reactions in the environment may be important factors in species population declines,” said study co-author Michael Bank, a research associate in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

“Using these historic bird feathers, in a way, represents the memory of the ocean, and our findings serve as a window to the historic and current conditions of the Pacific, a critical fishery for human populations,” said Bank. Consumption of mercury-tainted fish from the Pacific Ocean is an important source of human exposure to methylmercury in the United States and may lead to adverse neurodevelopment effects in children, he added. “Much of the mercury pollution issue is really about how much society values wild animal populations, yet we are also faced with the tremendous public health challenge of communicating potential risks from mercury exposure to vulnerable adult and child human populations. Although most people have low or no risk from mercury exposure, for the people who are at risk, for example, from excessive fish consumption, the problem can be considerable,” said Bank.

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Study co-authors include James Shine, HSPH Department of Environmental Health, and Scott Edwards, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Support for the study was provided by the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Harvard College Research Program.

“Temporal increase in organic mercury in an endangered pelagic seabird assessed via century-old museum specimens,” Anh-Thu Vo, Michael S. Bank, James P. Shine, Scott V. Edwards, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online April 18, 2011.

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit www.hsph.harvard.edu.

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Lawsuit Filed to Stop Unlawful Killing of Endangered Wolves in Oregon

For Immediate Release, May 3, 2011

Contacts: Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands,             (541) 434-1463
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Greg Dyson, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, (541) 963-3950 x 22
Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild,             (503) 283-6343       x 210

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Unlawful Killing of Endangered Wolves in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation groups today moved to stop the killing of two wolves from the Imnaha Pack in eastern Oregon. They filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has ordered and plans to carry out the killing of two wolves from the pack in response to a late April wolf kill of a calf. Cascadia Wildlands, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild brought the suit on the basis that the Fish and Wildlife Service has not conducted the necessary environmental review to kill wolves in Oregon and that such killing violates the federal Endangered Species Act, which, at least for the time being, still protects Oregon’s wolves.

“Oregon is big enough for people and wolves,” said Greg Dyson with the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is acting too hastily in moving to kill these wolves before exhausting other management options. We were left with no choice but to protect wolves in court.”

Wolves have only begun to recover in Oregon, with fewer than 25 wolves in two packs. Despite their small numbers, Oregon wolves will be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection very soon under a congressional rider attached to the budget bill funding the government for the remainder of 2011.

“Oregon’s struggling wolf population cannot sustain these killings,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The killing of these two wolves highlights why Congress should not meddle in complex scientific decisions over the management of our nation’s endangered species. Oregon wolves are nowhere near recovered and continue to need protection.”

The kill order stems from a wolf depredation of a calf last weekend, another in February, and six cattle depredations in May and June 2010 attributed to the Imnaha Pack. Nonlethal measures to keep wolves away from livestock — including fencing, a range rider, hazing and cleanup of livestock carcasses — are being used and appear to have some success. It is also notable that ranchers are compensated for livestock losses to wolves, which is not the case with the far more common occurrence of other predators taking livestock. In 2005, for example, domestic dogs killed 700 sheep and cows in Oregon, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“There is no basis for concluding that randomly killing two wolves from the pack will have any effect on the likelihood of further livestock depredations,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “Over 60 years ago, we completed a sad chapter in our history by killing the last wolf in Oregon. Today we’re fighting in court to ensure that we do not repeat that history.”

To further challenge wolves in Oregon, a series of bills have been introduced into the legislature that would weaken protections for the animals and make it easier to kill them. Conservation groups have recently testified in opposition to these bills and are working to support a bill that would fairly compensate ranchers for lost livestock attributed to wolves. The bill would also set up a proactive fund to make nonlethal tools available to ranchers to head off wolf-livestock conflict.

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Fox Sees Conspiracy In Effort To Protect Lizard Species

MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA – JOCELYN FONG

In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding the dunes sagebrush lizard — which lives only in New Mexico and West Texas and “faces immediate and significant threats due to oil and gas activities, and herbicide treatments” — to the Endangered Species List.

Fox has predictably seized on the issue to baselessly claim that protecting the lizard “could cost you a bundle at the gas station,” in the words of Stuart Varney, guest-hosting Your World with Neil Cavuto. Varney interviewed Ben Shepperd of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and went so far as to suggest that efforts to protect the lizard are motivated by a desire to hurt the oil industry:

VARNEY: Why is this happening now? I mean, is there – do the environmentalists just want to protect any and all species, none of them can ever be moved or disturbed in any way, shape or form? Or are they going directly at the oil industry?

SHEPPERD: Well, I think a little of both, Stuart. The environmental groups have sued to list over a thousand species in the last four years and there’s no scientific basis for it. And some folks have said that this is a direct attack against the oil and gas industry, which tends to support conservative candidates and also as a way to drive up oil and gas prices to move us hopefully to alternative fuels.

David Asman joined in pushing the conspiratorial claim while discussing the lizard on his Fox Business Show America’s Nightly Scoreboard, suggesting that the protecting the species could be part of “a ploy to hurt Texas oil production.”

Fox News contributor Monica Crowley added:

CROWLEY: On the little lizard, I am an animal lover. The lizard is adorable.

ASMAN: You’re with Alan on this?

CROWLEY: However, this administration has been conducting a war against the oil industry from the very beginning –

ASMAN: Is this part of that?

CROWLEY: — with environmental regulations, through the drilling moratorium, and that is the primary reason why we’ve got gas over $4 a gallon.

Last night, Andrew Napolitano railed against the proposed protection of the lizard on his Fox Business show, including it in what he deemed an “all-out vendetta against affordable oil.”

While Varney, Asman, Napolitano, and Glenn Beck have all suggested that listing the dunes sagebrush lizard would require oil production in West Texas to shut down, Fish And Wildlife Service officials dispute this claim. Michelle Shaughnessy, the assistant regional director for ecological services in FWS’s Southwest district, told the Albuquerque Journal (accessed via Nexis) that these claims are “absolutely not true.” Likewise, FWS biologist Debra Hill explained that listing the lizard “doesn’t mean we stop everything. It means we use the tools available” to allow drilling activity to continue.

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Vietnam’s elephants to be extinct in ten years

VIETNAM NET

VietNamNet Bridge – After the death of an elephant named Beckham in the Central Highland city of Da Lat last week, wildlife experts have warned that the number of elephants in Vietnam is falling and elephants will be extinct in the next ten years.


Scott Roberton, Country Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Vietnam, talked about elephant conservation in Vietnam.

A male elephant named Beckham was killed in Da Lat city. What do you think about this case?

In Vietnam, at least ten elephants were reportedly killed in Dong Nai and Dak Lak province in the past 19 months.

The number of elephants in Vietnam, both wild and tamed elephants, is facing extinction. The murder of elephant Beckham is another warning about this situation and man must take responsibility for the extremely endangered situation of elephants.

If the situation is not improved, elephant species will be extinct in Vietnam in the next ten years.

In Vietnam, Asian elephants are now at the significant turning point for their survival due to hunting and losing their living environment.

The elephant killed (in Da Lat) is a tamed elephant. When the elephant was brought from the forest to a tourist site to tame and to serve tourists, that elephant no longer performed its mission in the nature.

What do you think about wildlife preservation in Vietnam?

Endangered wild animals like primates, turtle, tiger and elephant may be extinct in the next ten years.

Vietnam lost the war to save the Java rhino species on April 29, 2010 (the day the body of the rhino which is considered as the last of its kind in Vietnam was found). Wild animal species in Vietnam will disappear very quickly, so we need to take action immediately.

We don’t need more speeches or action plans. It’s time to take action; otherwise it will be too late.

In you opinion, why does illegal hunting wild animals exist in Vietnam?

Vietnam is among markets for wild animals and products from wild animals which are used as pets, medicines, decorative items or to take meat. This threats wild animals.

Vietnam has had legal systems on wildlife preservation, sufficient finance and human resources. However, Vietnam still lacks determination and effectively implementation of its laws against crimes related to wild animals.

Could you tell us of some experiences in the world in wildlife preservation?

There are many countries that are examples in the conservation of wild animals. The decisive factor for their success is strictly executing the laws.

India is a typical example. This is one of the two largest countries by population, but India can still preserve its abundant biodiversity. The number of tigers is increasing in many nature reserves in India because they protect these areas very well.

In Nepal, rhinos have been saved from the brink of extinction through effective and strong implementation of law.

Source: VNE

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New research finds mangroves key to climate change

BIOLOGY NEWS

New research shows that mangroves store exceptionally more carbon than most tropical forests, but they are being destroyed from coastlines at a rapid rate causing significant emissions of greenhouse gases.

The findings from the study, which was carried out by scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the USDA Forest Service, underscore a call by scientists for mangroves to be protected as part of global efforts to combat climate change.

“Mangroves are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This needs to stop. Our research shows that mangroves play a key role in climate change mitigation strategies,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, Senior Scientist at CIFOR, a co-author of the paper, entitled Mangroves among the most carbon-rich forests in the topics.

In the study, which was published on April 3 in Nature Geoscience, scientists quantified carbon storage in mangroves across a large tract of the Indo-pacific region. No studies to date have integrated the necessary measurements for total mangrove carbon storage across broad geographic domains.

From the results, the scientists estimated that the destruction and degradation of mangrove forests may be generating as much as 10% of all the global deforestation emissions despite accounting for just 0.7% of tropical forest area. Much of that carbon is stored in the ground below the mangroves forests that can be seen above the ground and water.

Deforestation and land-use change currently account for 8% to 20% of all global carbon emissions, second only to the use of fossil fuels. An international initiative known as REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to slow the rate of climate change.

Mangroves occur along the coasts of most major oceans in some 118 countries. A 30% to 50% decline in mangroves over the past half-century has raised fears that they may disappear altogether in as little as 100 years.

Rapid 21st century sea level rise has also been cited as a primary threat to mangroves, which have responded to past more gradual sea-level changes by migrating landward or upward. Under current climate trends, sea level is projected to rise 18-79 centimeters this century – and even higher if ice-sheet melting continues accelerating.

Mangroves are also being threatened by increasing pressures from urban and industrial developments, as well as fish farms.

“There is a lack of awareness of the full implications of mangrove loss for humankind,” Murdiyarso said. “There is an urgent need for governments to acknowledge their importance and develop better policies to ensure their protection.”

Mangroves are not only key to climate change mitigation efforts, they also play important roles in adapting to the changing climate. They protect coastlines from storm surges and fluctuations in sea levels, including from tsunamis.

Source : Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

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More than 22,000 Pledge Support for Saving Imperiled Bluefin Tuna

For Immediate Release, April 8, 2011

Contact: Catherine Kilduff, (415) 644-8580

More than 22,000 Pledge Support for Saving Imperiled Bluefin Tuna

Supporters’ Signatures Presented to Obama Administration Ahead of
Decision on Endangered Species Act Protection for Rare Fish

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today delivered to the Obama administration the names of more than 22,000 people from 104 countries who have pledged to boycott bluefin tuna as part of a larger campaign to save this imperiled fish from extinction. The signatures were submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is poised to decide next month on a petition from the Center to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. If approved, the listing could prohibit the trade and sale of bluefin tuna in the United States as early as May 2012.

“Saving bluefin tuna from extinction will require cutting consumer demand for this high-priced sushi item and implementing real protections that will finally put a halt to overfishing,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center staff attorney.

Bluefin boycottThe Center launched the bluefin boycott Nov. 30, 2010, after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas refused to act to protect the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has dropped by about 80 percent since 1970.

Since then, more than 22,000 people have signed on to the boycott. Dozens of the signers are chefs and owners of seafood and sushi restaurants — including prominent chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Dan Barber of Blue Hill in Manhattan — who have pledged not to serve bluefin in their restaurants.

“Dollars spent on bluefin tuna support unsustainable and often illegal fishing around the world,” Kilduff said. “In 2010, the United States imported $11.6 million worth of Atlantic bluefin tuna, with almost half of that amount going directly to Spain, a fishing power that frustrates international efforts to secure meaningful bluefin tuna protections. Because these imported bluefin tuna cross the Atlantic Ocean, buying bluefin is paying other countries to take them out of our waters. Rebuilding the bluefin tuna population and restoring our oceans requires breaking this consumer-driven cycle.”

Some Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico from March through June. Now, a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed an estimated 20 percent of juvenile bluefin tuna, the bluefin tuna are returning to the Gulf of Mexico even while the government continues to permit drilling without fully understanding either the cause or the ecological effects of the spill.

Southern bluefin tuna, fished around Australia, are critically endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Meanwhile, the overfishing of baby Pacific bluefin tuna risks the population’s sudden and irreversible collapse; 70 percent of these fish are caught before they are a year old and more than 90 percent before they are two years old.

Background
Bluefin tuna are oceangoing fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds. Unlike almost all other fish, they are warm-blooded and able to regulate their body temperature, which helps during their epic transatlantic journeys. Top ocean predators, they sometimes hunt cooperatively, much like wolves. With streamlined bodies and retractable fins, they can bolt through water at speeds of 50 miles per hour, crossing oceans in weeks.

Bluefin, which remain a staple in some sushi restaurants, have been declining for decades due to overfishing. A record-breaking $396,000 bluefin tuna was sold at auction in January 2011.

Please visit bluefinboycott.org to sign the pledge, and share the Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bluefin-Tuna-Boycott-Join-the-Bluefin-Brigade/107330386001726).

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