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News articles on extinction
Mongabay.com news articles on extinction in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
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.
Extinction crisis: rising sea levels will submerge thousands of islands
(04/08/2014) Sea levels are rising at the highest rate in thousands of years, putting at risk low-lying islands around the world. In a new study published in Nature Conservation, researchers found that projected rises in sea level stand to swamp more than 10,000 islands, displacing human communities and wiping many unique species off the face of the earth.
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.
Blame humans: new research proves people killed off New Zealand's giant birds
(03/17/2014) Moas were a diverse group of flightless birds that ruled over New Zealand up to the arrival of humans, the biggest of these mega-birds stood around 3.5 meters (12 feet) with outstretched neck. While the whole moa family—comprised of nine species—vanished shortly after the arrival of people on New Zealand in the 13th Century, scientists have long debated why the big birds went extinct. Some theories contend that the birds were already in decline due to environmental changes or volcanic activity before humans first stepped on New Zealand's beaches. But a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds no evidence of said decline, instead pointing the finger squarely at us.
Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record – book review
(03/04/2014) Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record reaches into your imagination and draws you closer to the final days of a variety of extinct animals on Earth. Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record is filled with poignant and powerful first-hand accounts, photographic records, and illustrations.
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.
On edge of extinction, could drones and technology save the Little Dodo?
(02/10/2014) Almost nothing is known about the little dodo, a large, archaic, pigeon-like bird found only on the islands of Samoa. Worse still, this truly bizarre bird is on the verge of extinction, following the fate of its much more famous relative, the dodo bird. Recently, conservationists estimated that fewer than 200 survived on the island and maybe far fewer; frustratingly, sightings of the bird have been almost non-existent in recent years. But conservation efforts were buoyed this December when researchers stumbled on a juvenile little dodo hanging out in a tree. Not only was this an important sighting of a nearly-extinct species, but even more so it proved the species is still successfully breeding. In other words: there is still time to save the species from extinction so long as conservationists are able to raise the funds needed.
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.
Predator appreciation: how saving lions, tigers, and polar bears could rescue ourselves
(01/29/2014) In the new book, In Predatory Light: Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears, authors Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Sy Montgomery, and John Houston, and photographers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson share with us an impassioned and detailed appeal to appreciate three of the world's biggest predators: lions, tigers, and polar bears. Through lengthy discussions, combining themes from scientific conservation to local community folklore, In Predatory Light takes us step by step deeper into the wild world of these awe-inspiring carnivores and their varied plight as they facedown extinction.
The smoothtooth blacktip shark and four other species rediscovered in markets
(01/21/2014) Scientific American) magazine recently ran an article on the rediscovery of the smoothtooth blacktip shark (Carcharhinus leiodon) in a Kuwaiti fish market. Believed extinct for over 100 years, the smoothtooth had not been seen since the naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned from a trip to Yemen in 1902. With its reappearance, scientists scoured Kuwaiti markets and discovered an astounding 47 individual smoothtooth blacktips.
Jaguars in Argentine Chaco on verge of local extinction
(12/23/2013) The majestic jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest of the New World cats, is found as far north as the southern states of the US, and as far south as northern Argentina. In the past jaguars ranged 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) further south, but their range has shrunk as habitat loss and human disturbance have increased. Overall, jaguars are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, but the level of risk facing jaguars varies by region. Populations in Argentina, at the present-day southern range limit, have previously been identified as some of the most threatened of them all.
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.
Bonobos: the Congo Basin's great gardeners
(12/11/2013) The survival of primary forests depends on many overlapping interactions. Among these interactions include tropical gardeners, like the bonobo (Pan pansicus) in the Congo Basin, according to a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology. Bonobos are known as a keystone species, vital to the diversification and existence of their forests.
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.
Consumer report uncovers why people buy rhino horn
(11/26/2013) The rhinoceros is one of the largest and most iconic animals to roam the earth. However, poaching for their horn, erroneously believed to have medicinal value, has led the IUCN Red List to classify three of the world's five species as Critically Endangered. But, a new consumer report by the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, finds that rhino horn consumers in Vietnam buy the illegal product as much to raise their social status as to attempt to treat a fever or hangover.
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.
Nearly half a million seabirds die in gillnets every year, but solutions exist
(11/18/2013) A recent study from the Biological Conservation journal brings shocking news: every year across the globe, an estimated 400,000 seabirds are killed by gillnets. Gillnets, a common term for any net used to entangle and catch fish, are used all over the world, and at any depth. These nets, whether used in subsistence or commercial fishing, trap anything that swims through them. When unintended marine wildlife, or "bycatch," is caught in these nets, the results can be significant.
New bat species discovered in Brazil leaves another at risk
(11/15/2013) A team of researchers has discovered a new species of bat in Brazil, which has put a previously known species, Bokermann's nectar bat (Lonchophylla bokermanni), at risk of extinction. Long thought to comprise one species, the bat populations of the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado – the tropical savannah of Brazil's interior - are in fact distinct from one another, according to a new study in Zootaxa. Scientists now say the Atlantic Forest's population represents a newly described species, which they have dubbed Peracchi's nectar bat (Lonchophylla peracchii).
Giant turtle-devouring duck-billed platypus discovered
(11/04/2013) Based on a single tooth from Australia, scientists believe they have discovered a giant, meter-long (3.3 feet) duck-billed platypus that likely fed on fish, frogs, and even turtles, according to a new study in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. At least twice the size of a modern duckbilled platypus, the scientists say the extinct giant likely lived between 15 and 5 million years ago.
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.
First study of little-known mammal reveals climate change threat
(10/28/2013) One of the world's least-known flying foxes could face extinction by rising seas and changing precipitation patterns due to global warming, according to a new study in Zookeys. The research, headed by Donald Buden with the College of Micronesia, is the first in-depth study of the resident bats of the remote Mortlock Islands, a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Small invertebrates could be key to uncovering the mysteries of killer amphibian fungus
(10/22/2013) In 2004, the first-ever Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA) reviewed all 5,743 amphibian species known to science and concluded that 32% were threatened with extinction - a number far exceeding corresponding figures for birds and mammals (12 to 23% respectively). In addition to the usual culprits of climate change and habitat destruction, a startling 92.5% of amphibians listed as Critically Endangered were found to be undergoing enigmatic declines linked to an unexpected perpetrator - the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).
Climate change pushing tropical trees upslope 'exactly as predicted'
(09/27/2013) Tropical tree communities are moving up mountainsides to cooler habitats as temperatures rise, a new study in Global Change Biology has found. By examining the tree species present in ten one-hectare plots at various intervals over a decade, researchers found that the proportion of lowland species increased in the plots at higher elevations. The study, which was undertaken in Volcan Barva, Costa Rica, adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is having an impact on species range distributions.
'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.
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?
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.
Ground zero for endangered species: new program to assist animals on the brink across Southeast Asia
(08/27/2013) Organizations within the international conservation community are joining forces to minimize impending extinctions in Southeast Asia, where habitat loss, trade and hunting have contributed to a dramatic decline in wildlife. The coalition is aptly named ASAP, or the Asian Species Action Partnership.
Zoo races to save extreme butterfly from extinction
(08/15/2013) In a large room that used to house aquatic mammals at the Minnesota Zoo, Erik Runquist holds up a vial and says, 'Here are its eggs.' I peer inside and see small specks, pale with a dot of brown at the top; they look like a single grain of cous cous or quinoa. Runquist explains that the brown on the top is the head cap of the larva, a fact that becomes more clear under a microscope when you can see the encased larva squirm. I'm looking at the eggs of a Poweshiek skipperling, a species that is more imperiled than pandas, tigers, or bluewhales. Once superabundant, only several hundred Poweshiek skipperlings may survive on Earth today and the eggs I'm looking at are the only ones in captivity.
Forest fragmentation leading to higher extinction rates
(08/13/2013) The world's species are in worse trouble than widely-assumed, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which reevaluates how scientists estimate extinction rates. The new model takes into account the impact of forest fragmentation on extinction rates for the first time, filling in a gap in past estimates. Much of the world's tropical forests, which house the bulk of the world's species, have been whittled down to fragments: small forest islands that no longer connect to larger habitat. According to the paper, species confined to fragments have a higher likelihood of vanishing.
Nutrient deficiency in Amazon rainforest linked to megafauna extinction
(08/12/2013) Around twelve thousand of years ago, the Amazon was home to a menagerie of giant creatures: the heavily armored glyptodons, the elephant-sized ground sloth, and the rhino-like toxodons among others. But by 10,000 B.C. these monsters were largely gone, possibly due to overhunting by humans or climatic changes. There's no question that the rapid extinction of these megafauna changed the environment, but a new study in Nature Geoscience posits a novel theory: did the mass extinction of big mammals lead to nutrient deficiency, especially of nitrogen, in parts of the Amazon rainforest?
Florida declares two butterfly species extinct as pollinator crisis worsens
(08/01/2013) Conservationist’s faced a crushing blow last month as two butterfly species native to Florida were declared extinct. 'Occasionally, these types of butterflies disappear for long periods of time but are rediscovered in another location,' said Larry Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife state supervisor for ecological services. We think it’s apparent now these two species are extinct.'
Climate could warm more rapidly than any time in the last 65 million years
(08/01/2013) According to a new review of 27 climate models, scientists say the global climate is likely to experience a warmth as great as any in the last 65 million years, only much, much faster. According to the study published today in Science, the Earth's land temperature will rise by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels by 2100 if we continue on our current emissions trajectory.
Palm oil drives Malaysian rainforest tree to extinction
(07/30/2013) Oil palm plantations have extinguished the last habitat of a rainforest tree in Malaysia. Last week the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), a state agency, announced that the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) in Peninsular Malaysia were wiped out when Bikam forest reserve in Perak was cleared for oil palm plantations.
Rare animal species and Buddhist monks in danger of losing their home to cement quarry
(07/22/2013) An international cement company Lafarge, winner of a Green Initiative award, is considering quarrying a cave in Malaysia which is the sole home of a critically endangered species. The proposed operations also threaten a Buddhist monastery near the cave where monks are facing eviction. Kanthan cave in Peninsular Malaysia is located in a limestone hill, already extensively quarried for the production of cement by Lafarge. The cave, just as most karst caves in Southeast Asia, harbors a unique ecosystem. One of the rare endemic organisms is the Kanthan Cave trapdoor spider (Liphistius kanthan), which was just designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
Losing just one pollinator species leads to big plant declines
(07/22/2013) A shocking new study finds that losing just one pollinator species could lead to major declines in plant productivity, a finding that has broad implications for biodiversity conservation. Looking at ten bumblebee species in Colorado alpine meadows, two scientists found that removing a single bee species cut flower seed production by one-third. Pollinators worldwide are in major trouble as they are hit by habitat loss, pesticides, disease and other impacts. In fact, the EU has recently banned several pesticides that have been linked to the global bee decline.
Madagascar occupied by humans 2,500 years earlier than previously thought
(07/22/2013) New research indicates that Madagascar was occupied some 2,500 years earlier than previously established. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a more complex view of the human role in the extinction of the island's mega-fauna. A large body of research holds that village communities began to appear in Madagascar around 500 AD. These were established by people of Indonesian and East African heritage, according to past studies that found linguistic similarities between the Malagasy languages of southeastern Borneo as well as genetic markers tying modern-day Malagasy people to both Indonesia and East Africa. But there have been plenty of hints that people came to the world's third largest island well before 500 AD.
Losing our monarchs: iconic monarch butterfly down to lowest numbers in 20 years
(07/15/2013) In the next few months, the beating of fragile fiery orange and black wings will transport the monarch butterfly south. But the number of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) reaching their final destination has steadily declined, dropping to its lowest level in two decades last winter, according to a recent survey.
Vocal-sac breeding frog possibly extinct
(07/02/2013) Somewhere in the wet pine forests of Chile, a male frog is gulping-up a bunch of eggs. No he's not eating them, he's just being a good dad. Darwin's frogs are known for their unique parenting-style: tadpoles are incubated in the vocal sac of the father. First recorded by Charles Darwin during his world famous voyage aboard the Beagle, the amphibians were common in the native Chilean pine forests until the last few decades. Now, scientists believe that one of the two species, the northern Darwin's frog (Rhinoderma rufum), may have vanished for good. And the other is hanging on by a thread.
Over 700 species added to the threatened categories on the IUCN Red List (photos)
(07/02/2013) In another sign of the global biodiversity crisis, the IUCN Red List has added 715 species to its threatened categories of Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered in this year's update. Some of these species were evaluated by the IUCN Red List for the first time while others saw their conditions deteriorate, such as the the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) which is now listed as Vulnerable due to overhunting, deforestation, and possibly disease. As of this year, the Red List has evaluated 70,923 of the world's species—including almost all mammals, birds, and amphibians—of which 20,934 are deemed threatened.
Syrian bald ibis may be down to a single bird
(06/11/2013) The eastern population of northern bald ibises (Geronticus eremita) has likely fallen to a single breeding bird, reports conservationists monitoring the dwindling flock. The population had believed to be obliterated starting from 1989 until a small group was discovered in 2002 in Syria. However, it now appears that this last group is vanishing one-by-one despite efforts by conservation groups to sustain the distinct population.
The comeback kids: the role of zoos in saving species from oblivion (photos)
(06/03/2013) While many people may view zoos first and foremost as attractions, these institutions have a long history of supporting and instigating conservation work, including saving species from extinction that have vanished from their wild habitat. But such efforts require not just dedication and patience, but herculean organizational efforts. Enter, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which works with zoos and aquariums to set up conservation programs and track endangered species in captivity.
Loss of big fruit-eating birds impacting trees in endangered rainforests
(05/31/2013) The extinction of large, fruit-eating birds in fragments of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest has caused palm trees to produce smaller seeds over the past century, impacting forest ecology, finds a study published in the journal Science.
Over 500 scientists warn we 'are causing alarming levels of harm to our planet'
(05/27/2013) A new consensus statement by 520 scientists from around the world warns that global environmental harm is putting at risk the happiness and well-being of this and future generations.
Plants re-grow after five centuries under the ice
(05/27/2013) While monitoring the retreat of the Teardrop Glacier in the Canadian Arctic, scientists have found that recently unfrozen plants, some of which had been under ice since the reign of Henry VIII, were capable of new growth.
Could the Tasmanian tiger be hiding out in New Guinea?
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Aquarium launches desperate search to save a species down to 3 individuals
(05/10/2013) Aquarists at ZSL London Zoo have launched a worldwide appeal to find a female mate for a fish species that is believed to have gone extinct in the wild.
The Hawaiian silversword: another warning on climate change
(05/06/2013) The Hawaiian silversword (Argyroxyphium sandwicense), a beautiful, spiny plant from the volcanic Hawaiian highlands may not survive the ravages of climate change, according to a new study in Global Change Biology. An unmistakable plant, the silversword has long, sword-shaped leaves covered in silver hair and beautiful flowering stalks that may tower to a height of three meters.
13 year search for Taiwan's top predator comes up empty-handed
(05/01/2013) After 13 years of searching for the Formosan clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura), once hopeful scientists say they believe the cat is likely extinct. For more than a decade scientists set up over 1,500 camera traps and scent traps in the mountains of Taiwan where they believed the cat may still be hiding out, only to find nothing.
Rhinos now extinct in Mozambique's Limpopo National Park
(04/25/2013) Poachers have likely killed off the last rhinos in Mozambique's Limpopo National Park, according to a park official.
Featured video: time to meet The Lonely Dodo
(04/24/2013) A new short animation (see below) highlights the plight of today's most endangered species by focusing on one which is already extinct: the dodo. The animation, produced by Academy award-winning studio Aardman, introduces the world to the last, and very lonely, dodo. The short was created for conservation organization, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which is striving to save a number of species from the dodo's fate.
Yangtze porpoise down to 1,000 animals as world's most degraded river may soon claim another extinction
(04/16/2013) A survey late last year found that the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) population has been cut in half in just six years. During a 44-day survey, experts estimated 1,000 river porpoises inhabited the river and adjoining lakes, down from around 2,000 in 2006. The ecology of China's Yangtze River has been decimated the Three Gorges Dam, ship traffic, pollution, electrofishing, and overfishing, making it arguably the world's most degraded major river. These environmental tolls have already led to the likely extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), or baiji, and possibly the Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius), which is one of the world's longest freshwater fish.
Future generations to pay for our mistakes: biodiversity loss doesn't appear for decades
(04/15/2013) The biodiversity of Europe today is largely linked to environmental conditions decades ago, according to a new large-scale study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at various social and economic conditions from the last hundred years, scientists found that today's European species were closely aligned to environmental impacts on the continent from 1900 and 1950 instead of more recent times. The findings imply that scientists may be underestimating the total decline in global biodiversity, while future generations will inherit a natural world of our making.
How many animals do we need to keep extinction at bay?
(04/15/2013) How many animal individuals are needed to ensure a species isn't doomed to extinction even with our best conservation efforts? While no one knows exactly, scientists have created complex models to attempt an answer. They call this important threshold the "minimum viable population" and have spilled plenty of ink trying to decipher estimates, many of which fall in the thousands. However, a new study in Conservation Biology shows that some long-lived animals may not need so many individuals to retain a stable population.
Humans killed over 10 percent of the world's bird species when they colonized the Pacific Islands
(03/25/2013) Around 4,000 years ago intrepid Polynesian seafarers made their way into an untamed wilderness: the far-flung Pacific Islands. Over a thousands or so years, they rowed from one island to another, stepping on shores never yet seen by humans. While this vast colonization brought about a new era of human history, it also ended the existence of well-over a thousand bird species according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Scientists clone extinct frog that births young from its mouth
(03/18/2013) Australian scientists have produced cloned embryos of an extinct species of frog known for its strange reproductive behavior, reports the University of New South Wales.
Seeing the forest through the elephants: slaughtered elephants taking rainforest trees with them
(03/11/2013) Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world's largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?
Starry frog rediscovered after thought extinct for 160 years (photos)
(03/07/2013) In 1853 Edward Frederick Kelaart, a physician and naturalist, collected a strange frog on the island of Sri Lanka then a British colony known as Ceylon. The specimen was a large shrub frog (about 2 inches or 5.5 centimeters long) with black-outlined white specks on lime-green skin. He dubbed it "starry" after its pale specks, but that was last anyone heard of it. Even the holotype—the body of the amphibian collected by Kelaart—went missing. Fast forward nearly 160 years—two world wars, Sri Lanka's independence, and a man on the moon—when a recent expedition into Sri Lanka's Peak Wilderness rediscovered a beguiling frog with pinkish specks.
Warnings of global ecological tipping points may be overstated
(03/05/2013) There's little evidence that the Earth is nearing a global ecological tipping point, according to a new Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper that is bound to be controversial. The authors argue that despite numerous warnings that the Earth is headed toward an ecological tipping point due to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss or climate change, it's unlikely this will occur anytime soon—at least not on land. The paper comes with a number of caveats, including that a global tipping point could occur in marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels. In addition, regional tipping points, such as the Arctic ice melt or the Amazon rainforest drying out, are still of great concern.
Extinction warning: racing to save the little dodo from its cousin's fate
(03/04/2013) Sometime in the late 1600s the world's last dodo perished on the island of Mauritius. No one knows how it spent its final moments—rather in the grip of some invasive predator or simply fading away from loneliness—but with its passing came an icon of extinction, that final breath passed by the last of its kind. The dodo, a giant flightless pigeon, was a marvel of the animal world: now another island ground pigeon, known as the little dodo, is facing its namesake's fate. Found only in Samoa, composed of ten islands, the bird has many names: the tooth-billed pigeon, the Manumea (local name), and Didunculus ("little dodo") strigirostris, which lead one scientist to Christen it the Dodlet. But according to recent surveys without rapid action the Dodlet may soon be as extinct as the dodo.
Chasing down 'quest species': new book travels the world in search of rarity in nature
(02/13/2013) In his new book, The Kingdom of Rarities, Eric Dinerstein chases after rare animals around the world, from the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) in Brazil to the golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) in Bhutan to Kirtland's warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) in the forests of Michigan. Throughout his journeys, he tackles the concept of rarity in nature head-on. Contrary to popular belief, rarity is actually the norm in the wildlife world.
Catching Borneo's mysterious wild cats on film
(02/07/2013) In my childhood's biology books from the 50's, the Australian marsupial tiger Thylacine is classified rare but alive. Today we know that the last thylacine died in a Tasmanian zoo 7th September, 1936, after a century of intensive hunting encouraged by bounties. The local government had finally introduced official protection 59 days before the last specimen died. Despite the optimism in my old books, no more thylacines were ever found. No film of it in the wild exists.
Man drove Tasmanian Tiger to extinction in Australia
(02/01/2013) Man, not disease, drove the Tasmanian Tiger to extinction, according to a new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Scientists could name every species on Earth in 50 years
(01/28/2013) A bold new paper in Science argues that the world's species could be named and described before they vanish into extinction, though the threat of eventual extinction will remain for many, especially as climate change worsens. The scientists say that contrary to popular belief, there are more taxonomists working than ever before and there are likely less species on Earth than often reported, making finding and naming the world's species within reach this century.
Scientists: bizarre mammal could still roam Australia
(01/03/2013) The continent of Australia is home to a wide variety of wonderfully weird mammals—kangaroos, wombats, and koalas among many others. But the re-discovery of a specimen over a hundred years old raises new hopes that Australia could harbor another wonderful mammal. Examining museum specimens collected in western Australia in 1901, contemporary mammalogist Kristofer Helgen discovered a western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii). The surprise: long-beaked echidnas were supposed to have gone extinct in Australia thousands of years ago.
New species of bioluminescent cockroach possibly already extinct by volcanic eruption
(11/14/2012) While new species are discovered every day, Peter Vršanský and company's discovery of a light-producing cockroach, Lucihormetica luckae, in Ecuador is remarkable for many reasons, not the least that it may already be extinct. The new species represents the only known case of mimicry by bioluminescence in a land animal. Like a venomless king snake beating its tail to copy the unmistakable warning of a rattlesnake, Lucihormetica luckae's bioluminescent patterns are nearly identical to the poisonous click beetle, with which it shares (or shared) its habitat.
Artificial 'misting system' allows vanished toad to be released back into the wild
(11/01/2012) In 1996 scientists discovered a new species of dwarf toad: the Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis). Although surviving on only two hectares near the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania, the toads proved populous: around 17,000 individuals crowded the smallest known habitat of any vertebrate, living happily off the moist micro-habitat created by spray from adjacent waterfalls. Eight years later and the Kihansi spray toad was gone. Disease combined with the construction of a hydroelectric dam ended the toads' limited, but fecund, reign.
Parrots of the Caribbean: extinction looms in the Bahamas
(10/08/2012) I think about extinction a lot. It’s only natural for someone in my line of work. On my way to work I drive past the Colorado National Monument. Even from a distance it’s impressive: piles of dark schist 1,500 million years old; Wingate sandstone from the age of dinosaurs, all of it formed into cliffs, carved into spires. I can see Independence monument from the highway; a tall tower of tan sandstone that John Otto climbed near the beginning of the 20th century without rope. The monument is a display of the massive changes in the world. I often think about the rainforests and the oceans that once covered the land. Ecosystems have come and gone, the planet destroyed and rebuilt over and over.
Arachnopocalypse: with birds away, the spiders play in Guam
(09/17/2012) The island of Guam is drowning in spiders. New research in the open-access journal PLOS ONE has found that in the wet season, Guam's arachnid population booms to around 40 times higher than adjacent islands. Scientists say this is because Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, has lost its insect-eating forest birds. Guam's forests were once rich in birdlife until the invasion of non-native brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) in the 1940s decimated biodiverse bird communities. Now, the island is not only overrun with snakes, but spiders too.
Teetering on the edge: the world's 100 most endangered species (photos)
(09/10/2012) From the Baishan fir (five left in the world) to the Sumatran rhino (around 250), a new report highlights the world's top 100 most endangered species, according to the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The list spans the taxonomic gamut, from fungi (Cryptomyces maximus) to amphibians (the Table Mountain ghost frog) to flowers (the Cayman Islands ghost orchid) and much more (see full list at the end of the article).
One extinction leads to another...and another
(08/28/2012) A new study in Biology Letters demonstrates that altering the relationship between a predator and its prey can cause wide-ranging ripple effects through an ecosystem, including unexpected extinctions. Species help each other, directly or indirectly, which scientists refer to as mutualism or commensalism. For example, a species’ success may rely not only upon the survival of its food source, but may also indirectly rely upon the survival of more distantly related species.
Japan declares its river otter extinct
(08/28/2012) Japan's Ministry of the Environment today declared the Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) extinct. Last seen in 1979 in the city of Susaki on the island of Shikoku, the unique subspecies was killed-off by overhunting and loss of habitat due to development.
Animal picture of the day: Critically Endangered macaws
(08/23/2012) Found in only one location in northern Bolivia, the blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis) is thought to number little more than 100 individuals in the wild. However the species is protected from utter extinction by a much larger captive population.
Key mammals dying off in rainforest fragments
(08/15/2012) When the Portuguese first arrived on the shores of what is now Brazil, a massive forest waited for them. Not the Amazon, but the Atlantic Forest, stretching for over 1.2 million kilometers. Here jaguars, the continent's apex predator, stalked peccaries, while tapirs waded in rivers and giant anteaters unearthed termites mounds. Here, also, the Tupi people numbered around a million people. Now, almost all of this gone: 93 percent of the Atlantic Forest has been converted to agriculture, pasture, and cities, the bulk of it lost since the 1940s. The Tupi people are largely vanished due to slavery and disease, and, according to a new study in the open access journal PLoS ONE, so are many of the forest's megafauna, from jaguars to giant anteaters.
North American freshwater fish going extinct at rate over 800 times the fossil record
(08/14/2012) Since 1898 North America has lost at least 39 species of freshwater fish, according to a new study in Bioscience, and an additional 18 subspecies. Moreover, the loss of freshwater fish on the continent seems to be increasing, as the rate jumped by 25 percent since 1989, though even this data may be low.
Climate change may be worsening impacts of killer frog disease
(08/13/2012) Climate change, which is spawning more extreme temperatures variations worldwide, may be worsening the effects of a devastating fungal disease on the world's amphibians, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. Researchers found that frogs infected with the disease, known as chytridiomycosis, perished more rapidly when temperatures swung wildly. However scientists told the BBC that more research is needed before any definitive link between climate change and chytridiomycosis mortalities could be made.
Still time to save most species in the Brazilian Amazon
(07/12/2012) Once habitat is lost or degraded, a species doesn't just wink out of existence: it takes time, often several generations, before a species vanishes for good. A new study in Science investigates this process, called "extinction debt", in the Brazilian Amazon and finds that 80-90 percent of the predicted extinctions of birds, amphibians, and mammals have not yet occurred. But, unless urgent action is taken, the debt will be collected, and these species will vanish for good in the next few decades.
Meet the world's rarest snake: only 18 left
(07/10/2012) It's slithery, brown, and doesn't mind being picked up: meet the Saint Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus), which holds the dubious honor of being the world's most endangered snake. A five month extensive survey found just 18 animals on a small islet off of the Caribbean Island of Saint Lucia. The snake had once been abundant on Saint Lucia, as well, but was decimated by invasive mongooses. For nearly 40 years the snake was thought to be extinct until in 1973 a single snake was found on the Maria Major Island, a 12-hectare (30 acre) protected islet, a mile off the coast of Saint Lucia (see map below).
With the death of the world's rarest creature, ranger loses his best friend, Lonesome George
(06/29/2012) With the death of Lonesome George, the world lost the last member of a subspecies and Ecuador its greatest symbol of the Galapagos Islands, but Fausto Llerena lost his best friend.
96 percent of the world's species remain unevaluated by the Red List
(06/28/2012) Nearly 250 species have been added to the threatened categories—i.e. Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered—in this year's update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. The 247 additions—including sixty bird species—pushes the number of threatened species globally perilously close to 20,000. However to date the Red List has only assessed 4 percent of the world's known species; for the other 96 percent, scientists simply don't know how they are faring.
Lonesome George passes, taking unique subspecies with him
(06/25/2012) Lonesome George, the sole surviving member of the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni), was found dead on Sunday by staff at the Galapagos National Park. With George's passing, the Pinta Island tortoise subspecies officially falls into extinction. First found in 1972, Lonesome George became famous for representing the last of his kind. He was believed to be around 100—middle-aged for a Galapagos tortoise which can live to 200 years old. Staff plan to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Historic birth for the Sumatran rhino
(06/24/2012) After two miscarriages and a pregnancy that lasted 15 months, Ratu, a female Sumatra rhino, has given birth to a healthy male calf, conservationists happily announced this weekend. The birth at a rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the best reproductive rhino science in the world. This is the first captive birth in Indonesia, and only the fourth captive birth for the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in the last hundred years. The successful birth brings new hope for one of the world's rarest mammals: less than 200 Sumatra rhinos are thought to survive in the world.
Scientists to Rio+20: save biodiversity to save ourselves
(06/06/2012) World leaders need to do much more to protect the Earth's millions of species for the services they provide, according to a new scientific consensus statement in Nature based on over 1,000 research papers. Written by 17 top ecologists, the statement points out that despite growing knowledge of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and survival, species continue to vanish at alarming rates. The statement comes just weeks before the UN'S Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which is supposed to chart a path for a less impoverished and more equitable world including an emphasis on greater environmental protections, but which has been marred by a lack of ambition.
Highest priority conservation sites provide essential services for people too
(06/05/2012) Preventing the extinction of the world's most imperiled species would also bring untold benefits to people according to new research in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. Looking at the world's nearly 600 Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites, the study found that preserving these ecosystems would benefit humans even beyond preserving biodiversity, including safeguarding freshwater, carbon storage, and protecting cultural diversity. AZE sites are identified as habitats containing one or more species listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, in which the survival of the species is highly dependent on the conservation of the ecosystem in question.
Island bat goes extinct after Australian officials hesitate
(05/23/2012) Nights on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean will never again be the same. The last echolocation call of a tiny bat native to the island, the Christmas Island pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi), was recorded on August 26th 2009, and since then there has been only silence. Perhaps even more alarming is that nothing was done to save the species. According to a new paper in Conservation Letters the bat was lost to extinction while Australian government officials equivocated and delayed action even though they were warned repeatedly that the situation was dire. The Christmas Island pipistrelle is the first mammal to be confirmed extinct in Australia in 50 years.
Wildlife in the tropics plummets by over 60 percent
(05/15/2012) In 48 years wildlife populations in the tropics, the region that holds the bulk of the world's biodiversity, have fallen by an alarming 61 percent, according to the most recent update to the Living Planet Index. Produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the index currently tracks almost 10,000 populations of 2,688 vertebrate species (including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) in both the tropics and temperate regions.
Biodiversity loss cripples plant growth
(05/02/2012) For decades scientists have been warning that if global society continues with "business-as-usual" practices the result will be a mass extinction of the world's species, an extinction event some researchers say is already underway. However, the direct impacts of global biodiversity loss has been more difficult to compile. Now a new study in Nature finds that loss of plant biodiversity could cripple overall plant growth.
Over 30 Yangtze porpoises found dead in China as population nears extinction
(05/01/2012) Six years after the Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), or baiji, was declared "functionally extinct" by scientists, another marine mammal appears on the edge of extinction in China's hugely degraded Yangtze River. In less than two months, 32 Yangtze finless porpoises (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), a subspecies of the finless porpoise, have been dead found in Dongting and Poyang Lakes in the Yangtze, reports the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Skink biodiversity jumps 650 percent in the Caribbean
(04/30/2012) In a single paper in Zootaxa scientists have rewritten the current understanding of lizard biodiversity in the Caribbean. By going over museum specimens of skinks, scientists have discovered 24 new species and re-established nine species previously described species, long-thought invalid. The single paper has increased the number of skinks in the Caribbean by 650 percent, from six recognized species to 39. Unfortunately, half of these new species may already be extinct and all of them are likely imperiled.
Doing good and staying sane amidst the global environmental crisis
(04/23/2012) Several years ago while teaching a course in environmental science a student raised her hand during our discussion of the circumstances of modern ecological collapse and posed the question, "what happens when there is no more environment?" At the time I had no response and stumbled to formulate some sort of reply based on the typical aseptic, apathetic logic with which we are programmed through education in the scientific tradition: that there will always be some sort of environment, that life has prospered through the five previous mass extinctions and that something will survive. While this may be the case, the time has come for more of us to consider the broader spectrum of what global humanity is facing as the planet’s ecology is decimated.
Humans killed off magnificent Australian megafauna, flipping rainforest into savannah
(03/27/2012) The theory that humans, and not climate change, was primarily responsible for the extinction of giant marsupials in prehistoric Australia takes another step forward with a new study in Science. Exploring sediment cores for past evidence of big herbivores, researchers found that the arrival of humans coincided with the loss of a menagerie of magnificent beasts, from giant kangaroos to fearsome marsupial lions and monster birds to Komodo dragon-like reptiles. The decline of this megafauna ultimately led to ecological changes that may have caused Australia's rainforest to become savannah.
World's smallest dolphin: only 55 left, but continue to drown in nets
(03/22/2012) The world's smallest dolphin is also the closest to extinction. New Zealand government figures show that Maui's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) are down to just 55 mature individuals, falling from 111 in 2005. The small cetaceans, measuring up to 1.7 meters (5.5 feet), are imperiled due to drowning in gillnets with the most recent death by a fisherman's net occurring in January.
Over 5,000 vital biodiversity sites remain unprotected
(03/22/2012) A recent study has found that half of the world's Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites remain unprotected, leaving many endangered species, some on the verge of extinction, gravely vulnerable to habitat loss. Published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, the study urges governments to focus on expanding protected areas to cover the species that need it most.
Javan officials employ camera traps to find extinct tiger
(03/13/2012) Although officially declared extinct in 2003, some people believe the Javan tiger (panthera tigris sondaica) is still alive in the island's Meru Betiri National Park. To prove the big cat has not vanished for good, wildlife officials have installed five camera traps in the park, reports Antara News.
Niger creates desert park bigger than Hungary
(03/07/2012) Yesterday, the Niger government formally created the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature and Cultural Reserve in the Sahara Desert, reports the Sahara Conservation Fund. The reserve, now one of the largest in Africa, expands existing protected areas to 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 sq. miles), an area bigger than Hungary and nearly twice the size of Costa Rica.
Carbon emissions paving way for mass extinction in oceans
(03/05/2012) Human emissions of carbon dioxide may be acidifying the oceans at a rate not seen in 300 million years, according to new research published in Science. The ground-breaking study, which measures for the first time the rate of current acidification compared with other occurrences going back 300 million years, warns that carbon emissions, unchecked, will likely lead to a mass extinction in the world's oceans. Acidification particularly threatens species dependent on calcium carbonate (a chemical compound that drops as the ocean acidifies) such as coral reefs, marine mollusks, and even some plankton. As these species vanish, thousands of others that depend on them are likely to follow.
When giant coyotes roamed the Earth
(02/27/2012) Not long ago, geologically speaking, coyotes (Canis latrans) were bigger and more robust than today's animals. In the late Pleistocene, over 10,000 years ago, coyotes rivaled grey wolves (Canis lupus) in size. But, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), coyotes shrunk significantly following the megafaunal extinction—including the disappearance of big herbivores like giant sloths and mastodons and predators like the smilodon—due to changes in prey and predator competition.
Celebrate frogs on leap day!
(02/20/2012) The NGO Amphibian Ark is asking frog-lovers to visit their local zoos on up-coming leap day, February 29th. Dubbed, Leaping Ahead of Extinction, the program includes 58 zoos and other amphibian breeding facilities in seventeen countries that have captive breeding populations of endangered amphibians.
New sanctuaries declared for Asia's freshwater dolphins
(02/15/2012) Bangladesh has declared three new sanctuaries to help protect the south Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Split into two subspecies, the Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor), the new sanctuaries will benefit both. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the south Asian freshwater dolphin has disappeared from much of its habitat. Already Asia has its other freshwater dolphin species: the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) was declared functionally extinct into 2006 after a survey of the Yangtze River failed to find a single individual.
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