Endangered Gray Wolf

Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS / CC BY 2.0

Endangered Gray Wolf

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Polar Bears Are Spending More Time on Land During the Summer

Polar bears are spending more time on land than ever before. To be exact, bears around the Chuchki Sea are spending a month longer on land during the summer, according to a new study.

Research wildlife biologist with the Alaska Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author Karyn Rode says:

“They are spending approximately 30 more days on land, which is pretty substantial in the summer. Where they come on land during the summer is changing because of the ice conditions…They’re either sitting, laying or standing. They aren’t moving around very much to forage,” she said. “When we look at this activity sensor, it’s incredibly low.”

The researchers analyzed data from radio collars on 103 female polar bears between 1986-1996 and compared them to data from 47 bears in 2008-2013. They found that bears now spend a month longer on land, that almost twice as many bears spend their summers on land and that more than 90% of time on land is spent resting.

So far, this has not affected the bears’ nutrition, but there is debate about whether polar bears can sustain themselves on a land-based diet. As the summer sea ice continues to melt, polar bears will likely spend more and more time onshore and, unfortunately, recent studies show that polar bears’ cannot sustain themselves during long periods of famine. In addition, more time onshore will increase the chance of conflict with humans.

Rode says:

“The results of our study are consistent with studies in other regions where polar bears have experienced substantial sea ice loss. As sea ice loss occurs, polar bears increasingly use land habitats where they have minimal to no access to their marine mammal prey and are increasingly likely to interact with humans.”

Featured image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0

Trumpeter Swans at Sunset

Photo by Tom Koerner, USFWS / CC BY 2.0

Trumpeter Swans at Sunset

The Next Mass Extinction Could Be In Our Oceans

Nearly half of all life under the sea has disappeared in the past 50 years.

A new study by the World Wildlife Fund and researchers at the Zoological Society of London found that global populations of marine species have declined by 49% since 1970 due to pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and climate change.

Researchers were able to approximate this drastic decline using data that was collected from 2,337 individual sources, including population estimates from scientific studies and databases.

The study also found that some fish species people rely on for food – like tuna, bonito and mackerel – has declined by as much as 74%. Shark finning and industrial fishing have wiped out shark and ray populations to the point where one in four species are now threatened by extinction. And the number of sea cucumbers, a luxury food in Asia, have dropped by 98% in the Galápagos and by 94% in the Egyptian Red Sea.

Photo by USFWS - Pacific Region / CC BY 2.0
Photo by USFWS – Pacific Region / CC BY 2.0

Furthermore, industrial pollution and plastic contamination have destroyed marine habitats and caused the death of endangered sea turtles and other wildlife. Fossil fuels that accelerate the acidifcation of the oceans has led to the degradation of coral reefs, which support 25% of marine species on top of 400 million people. The world’s coral reefs will disappear if ocean temperatures continue rising at the current rate.

The report’s findings include a lot of bad news, but there is a silver lining. The world’s leaders and nations can use this information to turn things around by halting illegal fishing, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting critical marine habitats like the remaining coral reefs. Director general of WWF International Marco Lambertini said in a statement:

“The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively. If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems.”

Featured image by LASZLO ILYES / CC BY 2.0

Kronos Reef Shark

Photo by Wyland, USFWS Endangered Species / CC BY 2.0

Kronos Reef Shark

There’s a Dolphin Baby Bust in the Gulf of Mexico and It’s Concerning

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still having devastating effects, even six years later.

A new study found that dolphins in the Gulf aren’t able to have as many babies because of the 2010 BP oil spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study also found that this impact could last for generations.

Researchers examined bottlenose dolphins in a previously contaminated area and found that only 20% of them produced viable calves. These dolphins were from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, while other dolphins from Florida’s Sarasota Bay were found to have a pregnancy success rate of 83%, according to another study.

Furthermore, the Barataria Bay dolphins experienced lower longevity, with a survival rate of just 87% versus 96% in a similar bottlenose population. Other dolphin populations in the Gulf are suffering similarly, including those in the Mississippi Sound.

Executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation and the study’s co-author Cynthia Smith told TakePart:

“We are very concerned about the high rate of reproductive failures among Barataria Bay dolphins, as recovery of the population depends on successful reproduction. Barataria Bay dolphins were more likely to be underweight, have moderate-severe lung disease, and have an impaired stress response. Any one of these conditions could put a pregnancy at risk, as well as make it difficult to care for a newborn.”

Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Jason Pratt / CC BY 2.0

The BP oil spill was the worst marine oil spill in U.S. history with around 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf. Dolphins and other marine creatures were exposed to oil by ingestion, absorption through the skin and inhalation.

In February, a government-funded study showed that since 2010, 1,305 dolphins were discovered stranded on Gulf shores and 94% of them were found dead – this represents the longest marine mammal Gulf die-off ever.

The study’s authors wrote:

“Whether the observed reproductive failures are directly related to oil exposure or indirectly related to the oil through a cascade of other health impacts to the adult females, cannot currently be determined. However, given the documented poor health of Barataria Bay dolphins…it is unsurprising to find impacts on reproduction as well.”

If history is any indication of what’s to come, the long-term effects of the BP spill could be disastrous. We could see drastic declines in the populations of dolphins – and other species too – without recovery for decades.

 
 
Featured image by sheilapic76 / CC BY 2.0

How Elephant Societies are Surviving the Poaching Crisis

As many as 100,000 elephants fell victim to poaching in just two years, between 2010 and 2012.

In the elephant poaching world, poachers target males first because they have the largest tusks and then they move on to females. You’d think this latter move would break up elephant societies, as they are matriarchal, but that isn’t the case.

So how do elephant societies survive such an aggressive onslaught?

A new study found that the elephants’ extended families are stepping up to lead the societies when matriarchs were killed. The elephants’ social structure is maintained because the middle-aged females – who were now the oldest in the group – took over leadership roles. These females had enough social knowledge to recreate patterns they learned from the elders.

The study reviewed 16 years of data on elephants from Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, tracking which individual elephants associated themselves with others. The elephants were identified by ear shape, body markings, or other unique characteristics.

Photo by Brad / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Brad / CC BY-ND 2.0

Doctoral student at Colorado State University who coauthored the study, Shifra Goldenberg, says:

“It shows that elephants are socially resilient. In a highly social species, they depend on social bonds, so the fact that we haven’t seen social collapse is good news.”

Still, there are other unknown implications to losing the oldest females, including its effects on elephant calf survival, communication patterns and long-term knowledge of the area and range.

Featured image by Vaughan Leiberum / CC BY 2.0

Cold-Blooded Animals Will Probably Struggle With Climate Change

As the planet warms, cold-blooded animals will have trouble adjusting. According to a study by two biologists, cold-blooded animals, which cannot regulate their internal temperatures, will struggle with climate change.

The biologists, Alex R. Gunderson and Jonathon H. Stillman from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, analyzed 230 cold-blooded species from 112 published studies on plasticity – or the ability of animals to modify their thermal tolerance when they experience new environmental temperatures. They found that cold-blooded animals have an particularly tough time adjusting and that on average most aren’t flexible to warming climate changes.

Gunderson states:

“Overall, we found that even though all of the animals have some plasticity, they all have relatively low levels of plasticity. As environmental temperatures rise due to global warming, the animals will get closer and closer to their thermal limits, and plasticity won’t do much to help them.”

Gunderson and Stillman discovered that the plasticity of animals differs based on their habitat. So cold-blooded species like lizards and insects have less plasticity than fish and crustaceans, and thus will have a more difficult time surviving in the changing climate. Gunderson explains:

“The difference between terrestrial and aquatic animals is that the aquatic ones have a higher capacity to adjust, but it is still relatively low. Ideally, if temperatures went up three degrees, the animals’ tolerance would go up three degrees as well. But that’s not what we see.”

The study’s analysis suggests that certain animals – such as lizards, insects and snakes – can’t depend on plasticity. Rather, they will have to rely on behavior modifications, like moving to greater altitudes or more shaded habitats. But unfortunately, not all animals live in regions where such behavioral adaptations are feasible and in those cases, the species will have to evolve higher tolerance for the heat in order to survive.

Featured image by Mark Fischer / CC BY-SA 2.0

The 25 Most Endangered Primates in the World

There are 703 species and sub-species of primates in the world, from apes to monkeys to lemurs. And more than half of them are facing extinction.

Most of the endangered statuses of these primates are caused by habitat loss and destruction, like burning forests, as well as poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

Leading primatologist and director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society in Britain, Christoph Schwitzer says:

“This research highlights the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates. We hope it will focus people’s attention on these lesser-known primate species, some of which most people will probably have never heard of.”

First timers on the most endangered list include the Philippine tarsier and the Lavasoa dwarf lemur from Madagascar – a species discovered just two years ago. Other primates on the list, like the Roloway monkey from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, are on the brink of extinction.

The red colobus monkey in Africa and some of South America’s howler monkeys and spider monkeys are also threatened. These species are larger primates, which makes them easy targets for bushmeat hunting.

Photo by Harvey Barrison / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Harvey Barrison / CC BY-SA 2.0

In a statement, Schwitzer added:

“Some of these animals have tiny populations remaining in the wild. Support and action to help save them is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever.”

Here is the list of the 25 most endangered primates for 2014-2016, along with their estimated remaining population size. Five of the primates are from Madagascar, five from Africa, 10 from Asia, and five from Central and South America:

    1. Lavasoa dwarf lemur – unknown
    2. Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur – about 2,500-5,000
    3. Red ruffed lemur – unknown
    4. Northern sportive lemur – around 50
    5. Perrier’s sifaka – 1,700-2,600
    6. Rondo dwarf galago – unknown, but remaining habitat is just 40 square miles
    7. Roloway monkey – unknown, but thought to be on the verge of extinction
    8. Preuss’s red colobus monkey – unknown
    9. Tana River red colobus monkey – 1,000 and declining
    10. Eastern lowland gorilla – 2,000-10,000
    11. Philippine tarsier – unknown
    12. Javan slow loris – unknown
    13. Pig-tailed langur – 3,300
    14. Cat Ba langur (golden-headed langur) – 60
    15. Delacour’s langur – 234-275
    16. Tonkin snub-nosed monkey – less than 250
    17. Kashmir grey langur – unknown
    18. Western purple-faced langur – unknown
    19. Hainan gibbon – 25
    20, Sumatran orangutan – 6,600
    21. Ka’apor capuchin – unknown
    22. San Martin titi monkey – unknown
    23. Northern brown howler monkey – less than 250 mature animals
    24. Colombian brown spider monkey – unknown
    25. Ecuadorian brown-headed spider monkey – unknown

The list comes from a report that was put together by the IUCN, Bristol Zoological Society, International Primatological Society and Conservation International and is updated every two years

Featured image by Peter Schoen / CC BY-SA 2.0

A Giraffe in the Serengeti Sunrise

Photo by Yoni Lerner / CC BY 2.0

A Giraffe in the Serengeti Sunrise