Environment: Biologists say new snake pathogen is ‘eerily similar’ to bat-killing white-nose syndrome

Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, a fungus that is afflicting snakes across the Midwest and Eastern US, shares many traits with Pseudogymnoascus destructans the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats, researchers report. Credit Julie McMahon

Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, a fungus that is afflicting snakes across the Midwest and Eastern US, shares many traits with Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats, researchers report.
Map courtesy Julie McMahon.

Numerous species, including rattlesnakes, affected by emerging fungal disease

Staff Report

FRISCO — Biologists say they’re tracking an emerging new fungal disease afflicting snakes that’s “eerily similar” to the fungus that has wiped out millions of bats across the eastern U.S.

The snake and bat pathogens emerged in North America in the mid-2000s. Both are moving from east to west across the United States and into parts of Canada. Continue reading

Environment: Scientists investigate unusual spate of endangered fin whale deaths in coastal Alaskan waters

9 whales died about the same time around Kodiak Island

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The first of several dead fin whales, later named FW01, floats outside Marmot Bay on May 23. Credit courtesy of MV Kennicott crew and NOAA.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marine researchers in Alaska are investigating the death of at least nine endangered fin whales in the ocean between  Kodiak to Unimak Pass since late May.

“It is an unusual and mysterious event that appears to have happened around Memorial Day weekend,” said Kate Wynne, an Alaska Sea Grant marine mammal specialist and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor. “We rarely see more than one fin whale carcass every couple of years.”

Fin whales, an endangered species, grow to 70 feet long. They use baleen in their mouths to strain copepods, krill and small fish from seawater. The whales feed in tight formations, so Wynne thinks the dead whales could have consumed something toxic around the week of May 20. Continue reading

Climate change, pollution linked with amphibian decline

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A boreal toad captured as part of a research project in Breckenridge, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Warming and tainted waters raise threats to wood frog tadpoles

Staff Report

FRISCO — With more than a third of the world’s amphibian species threatened by extinction, scientists have been try to figure out what’s driving the decline. For some species, the chytrid fungus has been pinpointed as the biggest threat, but a study by scientists from California and Alaska shows that climate change and pollution may also be big factors.

Lab tests showed that wood frog tadpoles were attacked by dragonfly larvae 30 minutes sooner and three times more often in warmer water with a slight increase in copper pollution, than in cooler, copper-free treatments. The attacks either killed the tadpoles directly, left them with injuries that could become abnormalities in later life, or increased levels of stress measured by the behavior of other tadpoles in the tanks.  Continue reading

DNA study pinpoints elephant poaching hotspots

‘When you’re losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something more urgent …’

 IMAGE: A group of elephants socializing. view more Credit: Courtesy of Michael Nichols

New DNA evidence could help slow the slaughter of elephants. Photo courtesy Michael Nichols.

FRISCO — A high-tech DNA analysis of ivory from illegally killed elephants could help track and capture poachers. After sampling tons of ivory associated with large-scale trafficking, University of Washington biologist Sam Wasser says the ivory comes largely from just two areas, one each for the forest and savanna elephants. The findings are published June 18 in the journal Science.

“Africa is a huge continent, and poaching is occurring everywhere. When you look at it that way it seems like a daunting task to tackle this problem,” Wasser said. “But when you look at large ivory seizures, which represent 70 percent of illegal ivory by weight, you get a different picture.” Continue reading

Environment: House GOP continues anti-wolf crusade

The leader of the new Summit County wolf pack, dubbed "John Denver" by federal biologists. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

GOP continues wolf persecution.  Photo via USFWS.

Latest budget amendment would overturn federal court rulings that reinstated protection for wolves

Staff Report

FRISCO — For the second time in five years, anti-environmental Republicans in Congress are trying to make an end run around the Endangered Species Act by stripping federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states.

The amendment to a spending bill for the Interior Department is similar to a measure passed in 2011, when Congress removed protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana — the first time that Congress legislatively removed protections for a species. Since the 2011 rider passed, more than 1,900 wolves have been killed in the two states. Continue reading

Does light pollution threaten endangered seabirds?

Credit: Beneharo Rodríguez

Balearic shearwater. Credit: Beneharo Rodríguez

Scientists study impacts to petrels on the Balearic Islands

Staff Report

FRISCO — Light pollution from towns, sports fields and other developments affects up to half the nesting colonies of endangered Balearic shearwater colonies.

The seabirds nesting on the islands off Spain’s Mediterranean coast are the most threatened seabird species in Europe. In a new study, Spanish researchers have tried to quantify the effects of the light pollution, which disorients chicks when they leave their nests for the first time. Many collide or fall to the ground, where they are in danger of being run over and vulnerable to predators. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Study says captive breeding not always the best option for endangered species

‘Captive breeding can reduce motivation and resources for conservation in the wild, with disastrous consequences …’

"Great Indian bustard" by Prajwalkm - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Indian_bustard.jpg#/media/File:Great_Indian_bustard.jpg

Great Indian bustards, one of the heaviest flying birds, would benefit more from habitat conservation than by a captive breeding program, according to a new study. Phot by Prajwalkm – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Captive breeding has helped recover wild populations of California condors and Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. But in some cases, it’s better to leave near-extinct species to breed in the wild, according to UK scientists with the University of East Anglia. Their study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology shows more should be done to prevent extinction in the wild.

“Our research challenges the assumption that when a species is perilously close to extinction in the wild, it is always a good idea to set up a captive breeding population,” said researcher Dr Paul Dolman, with UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences. Continue reading

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