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News articles on biodiversity
Mongabay.com news articles on biodiversity in blog format. Updated regularly.
(08/21/2014) Selective logging in India's Western Ghats forests continues to affect frogs decades after harvesting ended, finds a new study published in Biotropica. The research assessed frog communities in logged and unlogged forests in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and found that unlogged forests had twice the density of frogs as areas logged in the 1970s.
Why conservationists need a little hope: saving themselves from becoming the most depressing scientists on the planet
(08/19/2014) Here's a challenge: take a conservationist out for a drink and ask them about their work. Nine times out of ten—or possibly more—you'll walk away feeling frustrated, despondent, and utterly hopeless. Yet a few conservation scientist are not just trying to save species from extinction, but also working to save their field—their life's work—from slipping into total despair.
An untapped resource: new study finds local people may trump scientists at biodiversity surveys
(08/12/2014) Figuring out what species live in a given area is important to the determination of its conservation importance. Traditionally, these biodiversity assessments have been done directly by scientists via surveys, which can be very time-intensive and expensive. However, a new study found that interviewing people in local communities who are familiar with the species of their regions could be just as effective – and much cheaper.
Scientists catalog the world's 10,000th reptile
(08/04/2014) As of this year, scientists have named and described over 10,000 reptiles, marking a new milestone in cataloging one of the most diverse vertebrate groups. Last week, the Reptile Database, an online catalog of all the world's living reptiles, announced it had passed 10,000 species.
Ecologists are underestimating the impacts of rainforest logging
(07/31/2014) Ecologists may be underestimating the impact of logging in old-growth tropical forests by failing to account for subtleties in how different animal groups respond to the intensity of timber extraction, argues a paper published today in the journal Current Biology. The study, led by Zuzana Burivalova of ETH Zurich, is based on a meta-analysis of 48 studies that evaluated the impact of selective logging on mammals, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates in tropical forests.
87 new bird species considered threatened with extinction
(07/29/2014) Scientists have added 361 new bird species to the IUCN Red List following a major taxonomic review of non-passerine birds, i.e. non-perching or non-songbirds. Worryingly, 87 of these new birds are threatened with extinction, a percentage nearly double the overall threatened percentage for all birds, which currently sits at 13 percent.
Deforestation ramping up in Yasuni as Ecuador sets to open up national park to drilling
(07/29/2014) Yasuni National park has been in the conservation spotlight in recent years, with oil drilling threatening the forests and wildlife of this biodiversity hotspot. Recently, disturbance in the park may have ramped up, with satellite data showing a significant increase in deforestation alerts within Yasuni National Park since 2011.
It's not just extinction: meet defaunation
(07/24/2014) Get ready to learn a new word: defaunation. Fauna is the total collection of animals—both in terms of species diversity and abundance—in a given area. So, defaunation, much like deforestation, means the loss of animals in all its myriad forms, including extinction, extirpation, or population declines.
Surprising habitat: camera traps reveal high mammal diversity in forest patches within oil palm plantations
(07/21/2014) After more than four and a half years of camera trap footage, the results are encouraging: 36 mammal species, of which more than half are legally protected, are prospering in this most surprising of spots: an oil palm plantation in the province of East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.
Too much of a good thing: fertilizer 'one of the three major drivers of biodiversity loss this century'
(07/14/2014) The world’s grasslands are being destabilized by fertilization, according to a paper recently published in the journal Nature. In a study of 41 grassland communities on five continents, researchers found that the presence of fertilizer weakened grassland species diversity.
Only 15 percent of world's biodiversity hotspots left intact
(07/14/2014) The world's 35 biodiversity hotspots—which harbor 75 percent of the planet's endangered land vertebrates—are in more trouble than expected, according to a sobering new analysis of remaining primary vegetation. In all less than 15 percent of natural intact vegetation is left in the these hotspots, which include well-known jewels such as Madagascar, the tropical Andes, and Sundaland.
Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk
(07/11/2014) Growing coffee in the shade of forests allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.
Booming populations, rising economies, threatened biodiversity: the tropics will never be the same
(07/07/2014) For those living either north or south of the tropics, images of this green ring around the Earth's equator often include verdant rainforests, exotic animals, and unchanging weather; but they may also be of entrenched poverty, unstable governments, and appalling environmental destruction. A massive new report, The State of the Tropics, however, finds that the truth is far more complicated.
Is REDD+ bad for wildlife? New study says lowland forest protection bias unfair, urges change
(06/27/2014) A study published this week found tree cover does not necessarily correlate with habitat importance. It suggests that using such a metric may be leading to false assumptions of habitat importance, and that REDD+ and other carbon-centric conservation programs may actually be propelling some species towards extinction.
Study finds tiny cloud forests have big biodiversity
(06/24/2014) Tropical cloud forests are situated in mountains and are characterized by the frequent presence of low-level clouds. Scientists have always regarded them as having high biodiversity, but a recent study adds a new dimension: it found cloud forests contain a significant and surprising array of tree and bromeliad species, even when they are relatively small.
Broken promises no more? Signs Sabah may finally uphold commitment on wildlife corridors
(06/23/2014) Five years ago an unlikely meeting was held in the Malaysian state of Sabah to discuss how to save wildlife amid worsening forest fragmentation. Although the meeting brought together longtime adversaries—conservationists and the palm oil industry—it appeared at the time to build new relationships and even point toward a way forward for Sabah's embattled forests.
Scientists discover carnivorous water rat in Indonesia, good example of convergent evolution
(06/19/2014) Researchers have discovered a new carnivorous water rat on the island of Sulawesi that's so unique it represents an entirely new genus. They believe many more new rodent species await discovery in this relatively undisturbed part of Indonesia, but mining and other types of development may threaten vital habitat before it’s even surveyed.
Fly and wasp biodiversity in Peru linked to strange defense strategy
(06/18/2014) Entomologists working in Peru have revealed new and unprecedented layers of diversity amongst wasps and flies. The paper, published in the journal Science, also describes a unique phenomenon in which flies actually fight back and kill predatory parasitic wasps.
More is better: high bee biodiversity boosts crop yields
(06/12/2014) Scientists have discovered that blueberry plants visited by more diverse bee species increased their seed number, berry size and fruit set, and quickened their ripening time. They hope their findings encourage farmers to help support local wild bee communities.
Oil overthrow: Soco to suspend operations in Virunga National Park after sustained campaign by WWF
(06/11/2014) In a surprise announcement, British oil company Soco International has said it will suspend exploratory operations in Virunga National Park, home to half the world's Critically Endangered mountain gorillas as well as thousands of other species. The announcement follows several years of campaigning from conservation groups led by WWF.
After throwing out referendum, Ecuador approves oil drilling in Yasuni's embattled heart
(06/02/2014) By 2016, oil drilling will begin in what scientists believe is the most biodiverse place on the planet: remote Yasuni National Park. Late last month, Ecuador announced it had approved permits for oil drilling in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) block, an untouched swathe of primary rainforest covering around 100,000 hectares or about 10 percent of the park.
Of jaguars and loggers: new film to showcase one of the least-known regions in the deep Amazon
(06/02/2014) In August, three young filmmakers will go on the expedition of a lifetime. They plan to spend six months filming in one of the most remote, most spectacular, and most endangered ecosystems on the planet: the Las Piedras River system. This unprotected swathe of Amazon jungle contains massive anacondas, prowling jaguars, and even uncontacted indigenous people.
Extinction rates are 1,000x the background rate, but it's not all gloomy
(05/29/2014) Current extinction rates are at the high end of past predictions, according to a new paper published today in Science, however conservation efforts combined with new technologies could make a big difference. New research led by Stuart Pimm of Duke University argues that humans have pushed the current extinction rate to 1,000 times the historical rate.
Emerald-faced reptile discovered in Ecuador
(05/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a colorful lizard species in the cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Linking public health and environmental degradation
(05/22/2014) Dr. Christopher Golden is an explorer on a mission. As both an epidemiologist and ecologist, he is investigating and expanding the interface between human and ecosystem health. This year, Golden was appointed the Director of Wildlife Conservation Society's HEAL (Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages) Program.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
'Simmering conflict': the delicate balancing act of protecting India's wilderness
(05/13/2014) The Western Ghats of southern India, one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, is a 1600-kilometer (1000-mile) mountain chain that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian subcontinent. It traverses six states and is home to as many as 250 million people. In an interview with mongabay.com, M.D. Madhusudan of the Nature Conservation Foundation discusses the importance and challenges of establishing protected areas in India.
Not all used up: why conserving selectively logged forests is important
(05/02/2014) Tropical forests, which provide rich biodiversity, vital carbon storage, and essential medicines, are being damaged and destroyed at a rapid rate worldwide. Loggers especially target old-growth forests for selective harvesting of their valuable timber. But while selectively logged forests are indeed degraded, these disturbed forests are valuable ecosystems for many species, with higher biological productivity than previously thought, and merit increased conservation attention, argues a new paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Loggers plan to clear 20 percent of tropical island paradise
(04/28/2014) Seven years ago, a palm oil company set its eyes on Woodlark Island—a small rainforest island nearly 200 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea—but was rebuked by the local populace. But locals and conservationists who spoke to mongabay.com at the time felt that wouldn't be the end of it: they were right. Recently, a company, Karridale Limited, has landed machinery on the island.
'Better late than never': Myanmar bans timber exports to save remaining forests
(04/24/2014) Myanmar contains some of Asia's largest forests, but has been losing them at a rapid pace during the last two decades as logging companies emptied woodlands to meet the demands of the lumber industry. In an effort to save its disappearing forests, Myanmar implemented a ban on raw timber exports, effective March 31, 2014. However, the ban affects only raw timber exports, not milled lumber, throwing into doubt its ability to adequately protect Myanmar's forests.
Long lives, big impacts: human life expectancy linked to extinctions
(04/15/2014) Since the arrival of Homo sapiens, other species have been going extinct at an unprecedented rate. Most scientists now agree that extinction rates are between 100 and 1000 times greater than before humans existed. Working out what is driving these extinctions is fiendishly complicated, but a new study suggests that human life expectancy may be partly to blame.
Life finds a way: the surprising biodiversity of cities
(04/11/2014) In the largest global assessment of urban biodiversity to date, researchers examined the biodiversity of urban areas and found that cities are home to a surprising number of species. The study underlines the conservation importance of preserving and creating green spaces when it comes to urban planning.
Giant ibis, little dodo, and the kakapo: meet the 100 weirdest and most endangered birds
(04/10/2014) The comic dodo, the stately great auk, the passenger pigeon blotting out the skies: human kind has wiped out nearly 200 species of birds in the last five hundred years. Now, if we don't act soon we'll add many new ones to the list: birds such as the giant ibis, the plains-wanderer, and the crow honeyeater. And these are just a few of the species that appear today on the long-awaited EDGE list.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting deforestation to disease
(04/03/2014) Thomas Gillespie is concerned with the connections between conservation and disease, with a particular emphasis on primates. Much of his research examines the places where humans and animals are at a high risk of exchanging pathogens, and how human-caused disturbances, such as deforestation, can change disease dynamics and impacts.
Brief lives linked to Amazon biodiversity
(03/31/2014) The South American Amazon rainforest is renowned for being one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, boasting an estimated 16,000 different tree species. However, the distribution of these diverse tree species is curiously uneven. What is the reason behind this irregular diversity? According to a new study, the answer lies within short durations between tree generations.
Apocalypse now? Climate change already damaging agriculture, acidifying seas, and worsening extreme weather
(03/31/2014) It's not just melting glaciers and bizarrely-early Springs anymore; climate change is impacting every facet of human civilization from our ability to grow enough crops to our ability to get along with each other, according to a new 2,300-page report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The massive report states definitively that climate change is already affecting human societies on every continent.
Revealed for the first time: the surprising biodiversity of algae 'reefs'
(03/28/2014) Most people are familiar with coral reefs, but very few have ever heard of their algal equivalent – rhodolith beds. Yet, these structures provide crucial habitat for many marine species. In the first study of its kind, published in mongabay.com’s Tropical Conservation Science, researchers unveil just how important these beds are for bottom-dwelling organisms, and the species that depend on them.
Those eyes look human: could anthropomorphism be used for conservation?
(03/28/2014) It’s easier to relate to someone you have something in common with; that feeling of connection can turn strangers into friends. And if those strangers belong to an entirely different species, then attributing human qualities to that species – a process called anthropomorphism – may aid conservation efforts by attracting public attention and funding resources.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation
(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.
The power of connections: India to establish Asia's largest protected forest
(03/21/2014) India has stepped up forest conservation efforts in recent years, with a major project underway to establish a large swath of uninterrupted habitat through the designation of additional protected areas and expanding those already under protection. If realized, these areas would converge to become Asia’s largest unbroken forest, encompassing approximately 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) over three states.
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
Leftover trees enhance the biodiversity of new forests
(03/18/2014) Trees left standing after deforestation have a discernible impact on the composition of local biodiversity in secondary growth forests, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers working on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica discovered that remnant trees could affect species composition of regenerated forests up to 20 years after being logged.
Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie
(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.
Does haze from burning forests affect marine life?
(03/10/2014) Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia's burning may extend as far as the oceans.
Can the millions in urban India live among greenery?
(03/06/2014) Large swathes of wilderness alternating with pockets of urbanization may be a reality in some countries, but in India boundaries are soft. Where a city ends and where a village begins in its outskirts is somewhat fuzzy. Rapidly developing megacities like Bangalore and Pune, localities like Gurgaon outside New Delhi, have been subsuming surrounding villages into their ever-expanding boundaries for the last couple of decades.
Amazon trees super-diverse in chemicals
(03/03/2014) In the Western Amazon—arguably the world's most biodiverse region—scientists have found that not only is the forest super-rich in species, but also in chemicals. Climbing into the canopy of thousands of trees across 19 different forests in the region—from the lowland Amazon to high Andean cloud forests—the researchers sampled chemical signatures from canopy leaves and were surprised by the levels of diversity uncovered.
Wonderful Creatures: the tiny, predatory penis-worm that lies in wait in the sand
(02/28/2014) The seabed is really where it’s at in terms of animal diversity. Of the 35 known animal lineages, representatives of all but two are found here. In contrast, the huge numbers of species that inhabit tropical rainforests represent a mere 12 lineages. One group of animals that illustrates the diversity of the seabed is the Priapulida, which also go by the unfortunate common name of "penis worms." Only 20 species of priapulid are known today, a shadow of their diverse past, which extends back for well over 500 million years. Not commonly seen, the priapulids have attracted little attention from the zoology community as a whole.
Why are the tropics so rich with life?
(02/24/2014) Descending the latitudinal ladder to the tropics, you would likely notice a few things: increasingly equivalent stretches of day and night, warmer weather and beachgoers with more intense sunburns. You may also notice an abundance of plant and animal life. Generations of scientists since the days of Darwin and Wallace have observed that species richness increases as one moves toward the equator. This holds true for nearly every animal group, including micro-organisms, marine invertebrates, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. But why is this?
The lemur end-game: scientists propose ambitious plan to save the world's most imperiled mammal family
(02/20/2014) Due to the wonderful idiosyncrasies of evolution, there is one country on Earth that houses 20 percent of the world's primates. More astounding still, every single one of these primates—an entire distinct family in fact—are found no-where else. The country is, of course, Madagascar and the primates in question are, of course, lemurs. But the far-flung island of Madagascar, once a safe haven for wild evolutionary experiments, has become an ecological nightmare. Overpopulation, deep poverty, political instability, slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging for lucrative woods, and a booming bushmeat trade has placed 94 percent of the world's lemurs under threat of extinction, making this the most imperiled mammal group on the planet. But, in order to stem a rapid march toward extinction, conservationists today publicized an emergency three year plan to safeguard 30 important lemur forests in the journal Science.
Featured video: camera traps catch jaguars, anteaters, and a sloth eating clay in the Amazon rainforest
(02/13/2014) These are sights that have rarely been seen by human eyes: a stealthy jaguar, a bustling giant armadillo, and, most amazingly, a sloth slurping up clay from the ground. A new compilation of camera trap videos from Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorean Amazon shows a staggering array of species, many cryptic and rare.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Incentivizing keeping primary forests intact
(02/07/2014) Much of Dr. Corey Bradshaw's work has a singular aim: to keep primary habitats and functioning ecosystems intact. According to Bradshaw, the existing system of carbon trading rules needs to be changed so that primary forests are given a higher value than other forms of land use. 'Nothing, can replace primary vegetation, both in terms of biodiversity value and other ecosystem services.'
Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting forest fragments
(01/31/2014) Dr. Stuart Pimm is an expert in extinctions: why they happen, how fast they happen, and how they can be prevented. Reconnecting forest fragments and avoiding fragmentation, according to Pimm, are among the most crucial things we can do to conserve global biodiversity. His organization SavingSpecies identifies areas at-risk for extinctions and helps local organizations fundraise so they can protect and restore habitats and safeguard biodiversity.
Wonderful Creatures: meet the animal that has evolved a cushy, worry-free life inside an octopus
(01/30/2014) The range of habitats that animals have come to occupy is nothing short of staggering. Take the dicyemids for example. They are among the simplest animals on the planet, with a tiny, worm-like adult body that consists of between 10 and 40 cells. They have no organs, body cavities or even guts—a structural simplicity which is a consequence of where and how they live. The only place you will find adult dicyemids is inside the bodies of cephalopods, typically octopuses and cuttlefish where large numbers of them cling to the inner wall of the mollusc's kidney.
287 amphibian and reptile species in Peruvian park sets world record (photos)
(01/28/2014) It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010.
Amazing discovery in Antarctica: sea anemones found living upside down under ice (photos)
(01/27/2014) Sea anemones are supposed to sit on the bottom of the ocean, using their basal disc (or adhesive foot) to rest on a coral reef orsand. So, imagine the surprise of geologists in Antarctica when they discovered a mass of sea anemones hanging upside from the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf like a village of wispy ghosts. The researchers weren't even there to discover new life, but to learn about south pole currents through the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program via a remotely-operated undersea robot.
New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists
(01/23/2014) Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon. Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil's Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.
The next best thing: how well do secondary forests preserve biodiversity?
(01/23/2014) Secondary forests, which are areas that were previously cleared of old-growth cover, now comprise the majority of the forested areas in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. A heavily debated issue is to what extent secondary forests are able to contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. In an article published in PLOS ONE, a group of researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute led by Michiel van Breugel evaluated the biodiversity preservation potential of secondary forests.
How “insect soup” might change the face of conservation
(01/23/2014) Much of what we know about patterns of biodiversity has come from extensive fieldwork, with expert researchers sampling and identifying species in a process that takes thousands of man-hours. But new technologies may revolutionize this process, allowing us to monitor changes in biodiversity at speeds and scales unimaginable just a decade ago.
Wonderful Creatures: A nematode drama played out in a millipede's gut
(01/17/2014) Nematodes are typically small animals that to the naked eye look very much alike; however, these creatures are fantastically diverse —on a par with the arthropods in terms of species diversity. At face value, nematodes lack the charisma of larger animals, so there are very few biologists who have made it their life’s work to understand them. Those who do have been rewarded with a glimpse of the incredible diversity of these animals, an example of which is the complex menagerie of nematodes that dwell in the guts of large, tropical millipedes.
High-living frogs hurt by remote oil roads in the Amazon
(01/14/2014) Often touted as low-impact, remote oil roads in the Amazon are, in fact, having a large impact on frogs living in flowers in the upper canopy, according to a new paper published in PLOS ONE. In Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, massive bromeliads grow on tall tropical trees high in the canopy and may contain up to four liters of standing water. Lounging inside this micro-pools, researchers find a wide diversity of life, including various species of frogs. However, despite these frogs living as high as 50 meters above the forest floor, a new study finds that proximity to oil roads actually decreases the populations of high-living frogs.
Wonderful Creatures: the lightning-fast Stenus beetles
(01/10/2014) Rove beetles are among the most diverse animals on the planet, with around 56,000 species currently described. Amongst this multitude of species is a dazzling array of adaptations perhaps best illustrated by the genus Stenus. These beetles, with their bulbous eyes and slender bodies are often found near water running swiftly over the wet ground and clambering among the vegetation.
Rewilding Chile's savanna with guanacos could increase biodiversity and livestock
(01/06/2014) Local extinctions have occurred across a variety of habitats on every continent, affecting a gamut of species from large predators such as the wolves of North America, to tiny amphibians like the Kihansi spray toad of Tanzania. The long trek toward reversing such extinctions has begun, but it is not without its challenges, both ethical and logistical.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Biggest new animal discoveries of 2013 (photos)
(12/23/2013) Thousands of species were scientifically described for the first time in 2013. Many of these were 'cryptic species' that were identified after genetic analysis distinguished them from closely-related species, while others were totally novel. Below are some of the most interesting "new species" discoveries that took place or were formally announced in 2013.
Giant clams are easy to recognize, but genetics proves there is more than meets the eye
(12/21/2013) Giant clams are among the more easily spotted invertebrates of the marine realm. However, some are actually quite cryptic and distinct species are often difficult to identify, claims a study recently published in PlosOne. Much attention has been focused on charismatic species in research, but the scientists who authored the study argue that giant clams also deserve the spotlight because of the potential threats and present misunderstandings regarding their taxonimical classifications.
Featured video: what would a world without wildlife look like?
(12/20/2013) Greenpeace today released a clever video highlighting the global biodiversity crisis with a little help from a much-beloved Disney film. While it might seem unlikely the Africa's animals will vanish, this is exactly what's happening in parts of the continent due to poaching, unsustainable bushmeat trade, habitat loss, massive development projects that are often poorly planned, and a booming human population.
Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013
(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.
Using stories to connect people to biodiversity: an interview with Tara Waters Lumpkin, PhD
(12/18/2013) In a world where extinctions are almost commonplace and global warming barely raises an eyebrow, very few of us can return to find the places we grew up in unsullied by development. Sometimes, all that is left of a favorite grove of trees or strip of forest are memories. Through Izilwane: Voices for Biodiversity Project, an online magazine for story-tellers, Tara Waters Lumpkin has succeeded in bringing together more than one hundred "eco-writers" who have shared their memories, highlighted environmental crises in their localities and raised their voices against habitat destruction.
Scientists make one of the biggest animal discoveries of the century - a new tapir
(12/16/2013) In what will likely be considered one of the biggest (literally) zoological discoveries of the Twenty-First Century, scientists today announced they have discovered a new species of tapir in Brazil and Colombia. The new mammal, hidden from science but known to local indigenous tribes, is actually one of the biggest animals on the continent, although it's still the smallest living tapir. Described in the Journal of Mammology, the scientists have named the new tapir Tapirus kabomani after the name for 'tapir' in the local Paumari language: Arabo kabomani.
Scientists: well-managed forest restoration benefits both biodiversity and people
(12/16/2013) In November this year, the world was greeted by the dismaying news that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon jumped 28% in the past year. The year 2013 also holds the dubious distinction of being the first time since humans appeared on the planet, that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere rose to 400 parts per million. A map by Google revealed that Russia, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Indonesia all displayed over 10 million hectares of gross forest loss from 2000-2012, with the highest deforestation rate occurring in Malaysia.
Camera traps find less mammals than expected in Costa Rican corridor
(12/16/2013) A new study using camera traps in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science has surveyed the diversity of medium and large-sized predators in the San Juan-La Selva biological corridor in Costa Rica, whilst also demonstrating how alteration of habitat is affecting the use of this corridor.
Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline
(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.
Sky islands: exploring East Africa's last frontier
(12/04/2013) The montane rainforests of East Africa are little-known to the global public. The Amazon and Congo loom much larger in our minds, while the savannas of East Africa remain the iconic ecosystems for the region. However these ancient, biodiverse forests—sitting on the tops of mountains rising from the African savanna—are home to some remarkable species, many found only in a single forest. A team of international scientists—Michele Menegon, Fabio Pupin, and Simon Loader—have made it their mission to document the little-known reptiles and amphibians in these so-called sky islands, many of which are highly imperiled.
86 percent of big animals in the Sahara Desert are extinct or endangered
(12/03/2013) Bigger than all of Brazil, among the harshest ecosystems on Earth, and largely undeveloped, one would expect that the Sahara desert would be a haven for desert wildlife. One would anticipate that big African animals—which are facing poaching and habitat loss in other parts of the world—would thrive in this vast wilderness. But a new landmark study in Diversity and Distributions finds that the megafauna of the Sahara desert are on the verge of total collapse.
Animal Earth: exploring the hidden biodiversity of our planet
(12/03/2013) Most of the species on Earth we never see. In fact, we have no idea what they look like, much less how spectacular they are. In general, people can identify relatively few of their backyard species, much less those of other continents. This disconnect likely leads to an inability in the general public to relate to biodiversity and, by extension, the loss of it. One of the most remarkable books I have read is a recent release that makes serious strides to repair that disconnect and affirm the human bond with biodiversity. Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Creatures written by Ross Piper, a zoologist with the University of Leeds, opens up the door to discovery.
Over 350 species added to the IUCN Red List's threatened categories in the last six months
(11/26/2013) The number of threatened species on the IUCN Red List has grown by 352 since this summer, according to an update released today. Currently, 21,286 species are now listed as threatened with extinction out of the 71,576 that have been evaluated. The new update comes with both good and bad news for a number of high-profile imperiled species, but only covers about 4 percent of the world's described species.
Microhabitats could buffer some rainforest animals against climate change
(11/25/2013) As temperatures increase worldwide due to anthropogenic climate change, scientists are scrambling to figure out if species will be able to survive rapidly warming ecosystems. A new study in Global Change Biology offers a little hope. Studying reptiles and amphibians in the Philippines, scientists say some of these species may be able to seek refuge in cooler microhabitats, such as tree holes or under the soil, in order to stay alive during intensifying heatwaves. But, the scientists' stress, the shelter from microhabitats can only protect so far.
Strange mouth-brooding frog driven to extinction by disease
(11/21/2013) An unusual species of mouth-brooding frog was likely driven to extinction by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), making an unusual example of 'extinction by infection', argue scientists writing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Rhinoderma rufum has not been seen in the wild since 1980.
Zero net deforestation is the wrong target, warn experts
(11/14/2013) Environmental initiatives that target zero net deforestation may miss their mark when it comes to slowing climate change and protecting biodiversity, warns a commentary published in this week's issue of the journal Science. While zero net deforestation may seem like a worthy target in efforts to curb forest loss, Sandra Brown and Daniel Zarin argue that the goal is at best, ambiguous, and at worst, may lead to perverse outcomes for the world's forests.
Scientists identify 137 protected areas most important for preserving biodiversity
(11/14/2013) Want to save the world's biodiversity from mass extinction? Then make certain to safeguard the 74 sites identified today in a new study in Science. Evaluating 173,000 terrestrial protected areas, scientists pulled out the most important ones for global biodiversity based on the number of threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians found in the parks. In all they identified 137 protected areas (spread over 74 sites as many protected areas were in the same region) in 34 countries as 'irreplaceable.'
Locally extinct birds in the Amazon slowly flock back to forests when trees regrow
(11/13/2013) Some good news out of the Amazon rainforest: given enough time, deforested land can rebound enough to host bird species that had previously deserted the area, according to a recent study in The Auk. When people abandon deforested land, the rainforest slowly reclaims it. Eventually, birds begin to use the clumps of secondary forest as corridors between thickets of old growth.
Amazon’s vast rainforest dominated by few tree species
(11/12/2013) The Amazon rainforest is so vast, and so diverse, that seemingly simple questions— such as which species of trees are most common— remain unanswered. Researchers are finally seeing the forest and the trees after an international collaboration of 120 scientists teamed up to compile the largest tree survey ever assembled from the Amazon.
Kids' stories and new stoves protect the golden snub-nosed monkey in China
(11/12/2013) Puppet shows, posters and children’s activities that draw from local traditions are helping to save an endangered monkey in China. The activities, which encourage villagers—children and adults alike—to protect their forests and adopt fuel-efficient cooking stoves, have worked, according to a report published in Conservation Evidence. Local Chinese researchers, supported by the U.S.-based conservation organization Rare, designed the campaign to protect the monkeys.
Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?
(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.
Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica
(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.
'Lost' bird rediscovered in New Caledonia along with 16 potentially new species (photos)
(10/29/2013) In early 2011, Conservation International (CI) dubbed the forests of New Caledonia the second-most imperiled in the world after those on mainland Southeast Asia. Today, CI has released the results of a biodiversity survey under the group's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) to New Caledonia's tallest mountain, Mount Panié. During the survey researchers rediscovered the 'lost' crow honeyeater and possibly sixteen new or recently-described species. Over 20 percent larger than Connecticut, New Caledonia is a French island east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.
New to science: 2 lizards, 1 frog discovered on Australian expedition (pictures)
(10/28/2013) Researchers from James Cook University and National Geographic discovered three new herp species — a cryptic leaf-tail gecko, a colorful skink, and a frog — during an expedition to northeastern Australia. The species are described in three papers published in October in the journal Zootaxa.
Pictures: 441 new species described in the Amazon rainforest since 2010
(10/25/2013) Scientists described at least 441 previously unknown species from Amazon rainforest between 2010 and 2013, according a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Scientists discover cocoa frog and 60 other new species in remote Suriname (photos)
(10/11/2013) In one of the most untouched and remote rainforests in the world, scientists have discovered some sixty new species, including a chocolate-colored frog and a super-mini dung beetle. The species were uncovered in Southeastern Suriname during a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP); run by Conservation International (CI), RAPS involve sending teams of specialists into little-known ecosystems to record as much biodiversity as they can in a short time. In this case, sixteen researchers from around the world had about three weeks to document the region's biodiversity.
Over 100 scientists warn Ecuadorian Congress against oil development in Yasuni
(10/03/2013) Over 100 scientists have issued a statement to the Ecuadorian Congress warning that proposed oil development and accompanying roads in Yasuni National Park will degrade its "extraordinary biodiversity." The statement by a group dubbed the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni outlines in detail how the park is not only likely the most biodiverse ecosystems in the western hemisphere, but in the entire world. Despite this, the Ecuadorian government has recently given the go-ahead to plans to drill for oil in Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs, one of most remote areas in the Amazon rainforest.
'Ecological Armageddon': mammals vanish entirely from forest fragments after 25 years
(09/26/2013) As tropical forests worldwide are increasingly cut into smaller and smaller fragments, mammal extinctions may not be far behind, according to a new study in Science. Tracking native smalls mammals in Chiew Larn Reservoir, Thailand for over 25 years, scientists found a stunning and rapid decline in mammal populations, until most forests were almost completely emptied of native mammals.
Malaysia clearcutting forest reserves for timber and palm oil
(09/26/2013) In July Bikam Permanent Forest Reserve in Malaysia's Perak state was degazetted, allowing the forest to be clearcut for an oil palm plantation. Only after the forest was lost, did the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) announce that it had contained the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) on the Malay peninsula, a large hardwood tree that's classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species is now reportedly extinct in Malaysia, although may still be found in Indonesia. However, the degazettement of the 400-hectare Bikam Forest Reserve wasn't an abnormality, according to activists. Since 2009, over 9,000 hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves have been degazetted in northwestern state, wiping out not just trees, but undercutting protected mammals and birds while threatening watersheds.
Climate change could kill off Andean cloud forests, home to thousands of species found nowhere else
(09/18/2013) One of the richest ecosystems on the planet may not survive a hotter climate without human help, according to a sobering new paper in the open source journal PLoS ONE. Although little-studied compared to lowland rainforests, the cloud forests of the Andes are known to harbor explosions of life, including thousands of species found nowhere else. Many of these species—from airy ferns to beautiful orchids to tiny frogs—thrive in small ranges that are temperature-dependent. But what happens when the climate heats up?
Photo essay: India's Western Ghats is a haven for endemic amphibians
(09/16/2013) The Western Ghats are a globally recognized repository of biological diversity for our planet. We know very little about most species found here, particularly the ecologically sensitive and spectacularly beautiful 179 amphibians. Astonishingly, 87% of all Western Ghats frogs are endemic and found nowhere else on the planet. Our collaborative research project with Drs Paul Robbins and Ashwini Chhatre examining biodiversity in production landscapes of Ghats unearthed some spectacular amphibians in 2013.
Mesoamerican Reef needs more local support, says report
(09/13/2013) From massive hotel development through the agriculture industry, humans are destroying the second largest barrier reef in the world: the Mesoamerican Reef. Although global climate change and its effects on reefs via warming and acidification of coastal waters have made recent headlines, local human activities may destroy certain ecosystems before climate change has a chance to do it. The harmful effects of mining, agriculture, commercial development, and fishing in coastal regions have already damaged more than two-thirds of reefs across the Caribbean, in addition to worsening the negative effects of climate change.
Global warming may ‘flatten’ rainforests
(09/12/2013) Climate change may push canopy-dwelling plants and animals out of the tree-tops due to rising temperatures and drier conditions, argues a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The development may be akin to 'flattening' the tiered vegetation structure that characterizes the rainforest ecosystem.
Loose laws threaten Australia's wildlife
(09/09/2013) Kookaburras, koalas and kangaroos—Australia is well known for its charismatic animals and vast, seemingly untamable, wild spaces. But throughout the country, the national parks and reserves that protect these unique animals and ecosystems have come under increasing threat. New rules and relaxed regulations, which bolster immediate economic growth, are putting pressure on Australia's already-threatened biodiversity.
Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species
(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.
Featured video: 'this is day one for the olinguito'
(09/04/2013) Last month scientists unveiled a remarkable discovery: a new mammal in the order Carnivora (even though it mostly lives off fruits) in the Andean cloud forests. This was the first new mammal from that order in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. The olinguito had long been mistaken for its closest relatives, olingos—small tree-dwelling mammals that inhabit the lowland rainforests of South and Central America—however genetic research showed the olinguito had actually been separated by 3-4 million years from its cousins.
Finding a needle in a haystack: two new species of octocorals discovered in the Pacific Ocean
(09/04/2013) The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral.
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