Tag: biodiversity

Snake-killing fungus is widespread in the East

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 afflicting snakes across the Midwest and Eastern US, shares  traits with Pseudogymnoascus destructans the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats. Credit: Julie McMahon.

Some snake populations appear at-risk from spreading fungal pathogen

Staff Report

First the chytrid fungus started killing amphibians, then white-nose syndrome emerged to devastate bat populations, and now, there’s Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, a snake-killing fungus that appears to be much more widespread than thought, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS report concluded the fungus is present in at least 20 eastern states and in many snake species not previously known to  harbor the fungus. These findings increase the total number of confirmed susceptible snake species to 30. Snakes affected by Snake Fungal Disease include the threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake. The research also shows that SFD infections are often mild, but there are unknown factors that cause outbreaks of severe skin disease and death. Continue reading “Snake-killing fungus is widespread in the East”

Pacific bluefin tuna may get endangered species status

A rampant black market and lax regulations are quickly leading to the demise of the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Overfishing is pushing bluefin tuna toward extinction.

Unsustainable fishing is pushing the species to the brink of oblivion

Staff Report

Federal regulators are one step closer to putting Pacific bluefin tuna on the endangered species list, as humankind’s insatiable appetite for resources drives the fish to the edge of extinction. The announcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service came in response to a petition filed by conservation groups, who say bluefin tuna populations have declined by about 97 percent since the advent of industrial fishing operations. Continue reading “Pacific bluefin tuna may get endangered species status”

Endangered and invasive species meet in the desert Southwest

willow flycatcher
A southwestern willow flycatcher. Photo courtesy USGS.

New data to help inform tamarisk eradication and bird conservation efforts

Staff Report

New mapping by the U.S. Geological Survey may help resource managers in the southwestern U.S. figure out how they can bolster populations of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher while at the same time trying to control an unwanted invasive plant that provides habitat for the tiny songbird.

The new report from the USGS provides detailed habitat information on the entire range of of the flycatcher, which breeds in lush, dense vegetation along rivers and streams from May through September. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 1,975 stream kilometers as critical flycatcher habitat, located in six states and 38 counties.

“The satellite model provides us with new capabilities to locate and monitor potential flycatcher habitat within individual watersheds and across its entire range” said James Hatten, Research Biogeographer with the USGS and the report’s author. “The satellite model also revealed how the quantity of flycatcher habitat is affected annually by drought conditions, with habitat declining in California from 2013 to 2015, while increasing in New Mexico and Texas.” Continue reading “Endangered and invasive species meet in the desert Southwest”

California sea otter population growing steadily

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A Southern sea otter. Via USFWS.

Survey results show healthy core population

Staff Report

The Southern sea otter population is healthy at the core of its range along the California coast, but the aquatic mammals are still struggling to expand north and south, probably because of predation by sharks, scientists said as they released the results of the latest annual otter survey.

“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said Lilian Carswell, Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, referring to a threshold number for recovery. If the population stays above that number for three years in a row, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could consider a delisting proposal.Sea otters were presumed to be extinct in California in the early 1900s, but a remnant population of 30 animals was discovered and protected in the 1930s near Bixby Bay, north of Big Sur. They were listed as a threatened species in 1977, deemed at risk from oil spills. Continue reading “California sea otter population growing steadily”

New report IDs biggest global threats to wildlife

Some species of seals are expected to face a growing global warming threat in coming decades. @bberwyn photo.
Some species of seals are expected to face a growing global warming threat in coming decades as warmer temperatures melt their habitat. @bberwyn photo.

‘Reducing immediate impacts is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis’

Staff Report

About 75 percent of the world’s threatened species are at risk because of human impacts to their environment and unsustainable harvesting, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

“Addressing these old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis” said lead author Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland, “This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda.”

Scientists from the University of Queensland, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature studied 8,688 species on the IUCN Red List. They found that 72 percent of species are imperiled by unsustainable harvesting. The production of food, fodder, fiber and fuel crops; livestock farming; aquaculture; and the cultivation of trees imperils another 62 percent.  By comparison, 19 percent are considered threatened by climate change. Continue reading “New report IDs biggest global threats to wildlife”

New study documents biodiversity in proposed deep sea mining zone

Researchers call for balance between mining and ecosystem protection

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A species of cnidarian in the genus Relicanthus with 8-foot long tentacles attached to a dead sponge stalk on a nodule in the eastern Clarion-Clipperton Zone. These are closely related to anemones. Photo credit: Diva Amon and Craig Smith, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

Staff Report

New research shows that proposed mining on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean would likely have a huge impact on marine biodiversity. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports, documents an “impressive abundance and diversity among the creatures” on the seafloor in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone — an area in the equatorial Pacific Ocean being targeted for deep-sea mining.

“We found that this exploration claim area harbors one of the most diverse communities of megafauna (animals over 2 cm in size) to be recorded at abyssal depths in the deep sea,” lead author Diva Amon said in a press release.

The researchers explained that a combination of biological, chemical and geological processes formed a high concentrations of polymetallic “manganese” nodules on the deep seafloor in the CCZ–an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States. These nodules are potentially valuable sources of copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese, among other metals, which has led to an interest in mining this region. Continue reading “New study documents biodiversity in proposed deep sea mining zone”

Will global warming lead to a battle of the birds?

Mountain bluebird.
Mountain bluebird. @bberwyn photo.

Migration changes could affect competition for nesting sites

Staff Report

As global warming speeds up the springtime northward migration of swallows, it could spell trouble for mountain bluebirds.

Both species are cavity nesters; at times they compete for the same habitat. Historically, mountain bluebirds have arrived in the breeding territories earlier than the swallows, giving them a chance to defend their nests. But if the swallows arrive first, the bluebirds may have a harder time finding a safe spot to lay eggs, according to new research published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

The scientists from the University of Saskatchewan acknowledged that the outcomes of interspecies battles for nest sites depend on a number of factors, but wanted to study what happens when tree swallows and mountain bluebirds compete for nest sites. So they set up side-by-side pairs of nest boxes in grassland habitat in central British Columbia.

When bluebird and swallow pairs moved in next door to each other, they would either block the entrance to one box and let the two pairs of birds compete for the one that remained, or remove both boxes and replace them with a fresh one.

“I became interested in this topic after watching many competitive interactions over natural tree holes during a long-term study of Northern Flickers in central British Columbia,” said researchers Karen Wiebe. “In early spring when the birds are trying to claim a nest site, these disputes can be intense and really grab your attention. Because bluebirds and swallows readily use nest boxes, I was motivated to try some experiments in a system where I could have more control over the spacing of nests and settlement patterns of the birds.”

Wiebe found that when Tree Swallows were defending their previously owned box or when the two species were competing over a new box, Tree Swallows won 65-70 percent of the time. Bluebirds got a boost when they defended a box they already occupied, however, fending off swallows 77 percent of the time.

Climate change may bring the two species into direct competition more often and reduce bluebirds’ ability to claim and defend nest sites.

“This is a nice set of clever and simple experiments that show that species are not the same when it comes to the importance of being the first one to occupy a nest site,” according to ecologist Hanna Kokko of the University of Zurich, an expert on interspecies competition in birds. “The one that currently tends to arrive first, the bluebird, relies more on this, which could easily cause problems if the arrival order changes on a changing planet.”