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Biodiversity: Is Florida a global hotspot for reptile extinction?

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Freshwater turtles, like this specimen in Butrint, Albania, are facing serious threats. Bob Berwyn photo.

Freshwater turtles among the most threatened species

By Summit Voice

A recent far-reaching study of the world’s amphibians and reptiles finds that Florida is hotspot for environmental threats, with one of the highest concentrations of threatened reptiles in the world.

The new report highlights the need to address the global reptile extinction crisis: One in five reptiles is facing extinction from threats like habitat loss, overharvest and climate change.

“Florida is blessed with a rich diversity of lizards, turtles and snakes,” said Collette Adkins Giese, reptile-and-amphibian specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, threats like habitat loss from rapid development are continuing to push many of these rare reptiles to the brink of extinction.”

More than 200 experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission collaborated to study a random sample of 1,500 of the world’s reptile species. Globally, one in five reptiles is facing extinction. The study also flagged the rapidly deteriorating plight of freshwater turtles, estimating that 50 percent of these animals are at risk of extinction. Continue reading

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Many world heritage sites facing development pressures

West- and central African sites among the most threatened

Mesa Verde, well-protected as a national park, is Colorado’s only world heritage site. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many of the planet’s 217 world heritage natural sites are facing increasing threats, including oil and gas development, and need more protection, conservation leaders said at an occasion marking the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

The 217 sites protect more than 250 million hectares of land and sea in more than 90 countries.

Nearly 8 percent of the 217 natural World Heritage Sites are on a danger list, while another 25 percent are affected by serious conservation issues. More than 60 percent of West and Central African sites are on the Danger list, and one in four of these iconic areas are threatened by planned mining, oil and gas projects. This includes Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of the world’s last mountain gorillas.

“Too many World Heritage sites are left with few resources to ensure their proper management, risking their role as natural flagships for the protection of critical habitats and unique wildlife vital to the future of our planet,” said Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Many face a barrage of challenges, not least from mining and oil exploration.” Continue reading

IUCN ‘Green List’ program to highlight successful conservation efforts

Designations seen as step toward worldwide biodiversity goals

The IUCN is developing a Green List program to highlight protected areas that are managed to high standards.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with a developing red list of endangered ecosystems, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature is focusing on highlighting well-managed protected areas with a Green List.

The Green List project will be formally unveiled at the 2014 World Parks Congress in Australia. The Green List will celebrate protected area successes, setting benchmarks to reward effective and equitable management.

Protected areas wishing to be included on the IUCN Green List will have to satisfy a threshold of agreed criteria, including meeting their conservation goals, achieving effective management and facilitating equitable governance. Continue reading

Morning photo: Endangered ecosystems

The planet’s life-support system is unraveling

Global warming is rapidly changing coastal ecosystems along the Antarctic Peninsula, where ice-dependent species are having a hard time keeping up with the pace of change.

SUMMIT COUNTY — While much public attention has been focused on saving individual charismatic species, there’s also a need to pay attention to the ecosystems that sustain those species, It’s tough, for example, to keep lynx alive if they have nowhere to hunt or raise their young. Most conservation biologists recognize that an ecosystem approach to conservation is likely to pay a bigger dividend, but we don’t have an endangered ecosystem act — we have an Endangered Species Act. Sometimes, though, acting to save individual species, like greater sage-grouse, for example, can work to protect larger ecosystems. On a global scale, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has been developing a ‘Red List’ of ecosystems, based on the organization’s endangered species red list. Continue reading

Report: Locals should control forest investment process

‘Rights-based’ system should guide forest management

A new international report calls for more local control over forest investment and management.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some conservative lawmakers in the U.S. oppose most international environmental initiatives as “unwarranted meddling,” with the most extreme right-wingers even espousing conspiracy theories about “black UN helicopters.”

But some Republicans may agree with one of the latest initiatives from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which calls for moving from a resource-led model to a rights-based system of locally controlled forestry, that places local control of forests at the heart of the investment process.

That ties in with recent efforts by some U.S. Republicans to turn over control of national forests to local or state governments. Several bills pending in Congress would give state governments more authority over planning and implementing logging and forest health projects. Continue reading

IUCN working on ‘red list’ for ecosystems

Global risk standards to help inform management options

Coastal ecosystems along the Antarctic Peninsula are at risk from global warming. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The International Union for the Conservation of Nature already maintains the most extensive global list of endangered and threatened species; now the organization plans to build a similar list for ecoystems to help identify coral reefs, rainforest and deserts that are at risk.

The Red List of Ecosystems will be modeled on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, based on an internationally accepted set of criteria for risk assessment. In addition to providing a global standard for assessing the status of ecosystems, the outputs of the Ecosystem Red List could also be used to inform on the current and future threats to the services that such ecosystems provide, such as clean water, climate regulation and natural products.

“Natural environments are under increasing pressure from unsustainable use and other threats,” said Jon Paul Rodriguez, Leader of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management’s Ecosystems Red List Thematic Group. “Functional ecosystems are essential to our livelihoods and well-being. We will assess the status of marine, terrestrial, freshwater and subterranean ecosystems at local, regional and global levels, Rodriquez said during the IUCN’s conservation congress on Jeju Island in Korea. Continue reading

Global warming: Monkeys in trouble?

Mandrillus leucophaeus, or drill, are already are overhunted and rare, but now could face the additional pressures of warming temperatures, based on information culled from their genes and their homeland's fossil and pollen records. Credit: Photo courtesy of Nelson Ping

New study focuses on climate change impacts in equatorial region

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers combining genetic information from rare African monkeys with historic climate data from the mid-Holocene era say the species could face a significant threat if the forest dries out and vegetation becomes sparser amid warming temperatures.

Researchers discovered genetic signs that coincide with the conditions that mirror current climate projections for the equator around the globe in the next 100 years. Continue reading

Global warming threatens tropical birds

Venezuela's scissor-tailed hummingbird has an existing habitat of less than 100 square miles of humid mountain forest. It is currently considered threatened with extinction, and computer models of expected extinctions due to climate change indicate that this species will be among the most likely to go extinct by the end of the century if global warming continues. Photo courtesy Cagan Sekercioglu, University of Utah.

Hundreds of species likely to go extinct in the next few decades

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming is likely to drive hundreds of bird species to extinction in coming decades, as more intense and frequent extreme weather events destroy habitat and make foraging impossible.

“Birds are perfect canaries in the coal mine – it’s hard to avoid that metaphor – for showing the effects of global change on the world’s ecosystems and the people who depend on those ecosystems,” said Çağan Şekercioğlu , an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah.

Şekercioğlu recently reviewed 200 scientific studies on climate change impacts to birds, concluding that 600 to 900 species are likely to go extinct by 2100. For context, there area about 10,000 bird species worldwide. The research suggests that each degree of warming could lead to the extinction of an additional 100 to 500 species.

About 87 percent spend at least some time in the tropics, but if migratory birds are excluded, about 6,100 bird species live only in the tropics, according to Şekercioğlu.

About 12.5 percent of the world’s 10,000 bird species are already threatened with extinction – listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Amphibian decline projected to speed up

Overlapping threats seen as ‘multiple drivers of extinction’

More trouble for amphibians. PHOTO COURTESY USGS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Global amphibian declines have been well-documented and attributed to a combination of climate change, habitat impacts from development, agriculture and other land-use factory, and the deadly chytrid fungus. Worldwide, about 30 percent of all amphibian species are listed as threatened under International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

In some of the latest research on amphibians, an international team of scientists tried to map the the spatial distribution of these threats and their interactions. Based on overlapping risk factors, the study concluded that the population declines could intensify in the future. Continue reading

Biodiversity: New research confirms global shark declines

A whitetip reef shark. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Study: ‘Widespread, substantial, and ongoing declines in the abundance of shark populations worldwide …’

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Australian researchers say they’ve developed a new way of accurately measuring shark populations, and the results show the ocean predators are in big trouble on the Great Barrier Reef and around the world.

“There is mounting evidence of widespread, substantial, and ongoing declines in the abundance of shark populations worldwide, coincident with marked rises in global shark catches in the last half-century,” said Mizue Hisano, Professor Sean Connolly and Dr. William Robbins from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“Overfishing of sharks is now recognized as a major global conservation concern, with increasing numbers of shark species added to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species,” they wrote in the latest issue of the international science journal PLos ONE. Continue reading

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