Weekly round-up: December 13

European bison are no longer classified as Vulnerable following long-term conservation efforts according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – but the organisation’s latest update also reclassifies 31 species as Extinct, including three species of South American tree frog and 17 freshwater fish species in the Philippines.

It also revealed every species of freshwater dolphin across the world is at risk from extinction, with death from bycatch in gillnets, damming and pollution the biggest threats to river dolphins.

Long-term conservation has enabled European bison numbers to rise from 1,800 in 2003 to more than 6,200 in 2019, but further measures will be required to continue progress.

European bison are now classed as Near Threatened, from Vulnerable (Rafal Kowalczyk)

“Historically, European bison were reintroduced mostly to forest habitats, where they don’t find enough food in winter,” said Dr Rafał Kowalczyk, co-author of the new assessment and member of the IUCN bison specialist group. “However, when they move out of the forest into agricultural areas, they often find themselves in conflict with people. To reduce the conflict risk and the bison’s dependence on supplementary feeding, it will be important to create protected areas that include open meadows for them to graze.”

Species classified as Critically Endangered (possibly extinct in the wild) include the shark Carcharhinus obsoletus, which only formally described last year – its habitat in the South China sea has long been subjected to heavy fishing. 

The tucuxi, a freshwater dolphin found in the Amazon basin (Fernando Trujillo)

In addition to the three recently extinct species, a further 22 frog species across Central and South America have been newly listed as Critically Endangered (possibly extinct in the wild), primarily due to chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease caused by fungus. 

IUCN director general Dr Bruno Oberle said: “The European bison and 25 other species recoveries documented in [the latest] IUCN Red List update demonstrate the power of conservation.

“Yet the growing list of Extinct species is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand. To tackle global threats such as unsustainable fisheries, land clearing for agriculture, and invasive species, conservation needs to happen around the world and be incorporated into all sectors of the economy.”
Source IUCN

Koala numbers are declining (Rebecca Tregear/Pixabay)

Environmental groups have likened the Australian government’s mass koala census akin to “counting the deckchairs on the Titanic as it sinks”, arguing instead for an immediate halt to all land clearing and development that threatens koala habitats.

The count, part of an A$18 million package to protect the country’s iconic species, will include the use of heat-seeking drones, sniffer dogs and citizen surveys to assess the number of koalas today. The Koala Foundation estimates there to be fewer than 100,000 left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000 following extensive habitat destruction, intense forest fires, dog attacks and road accidents.

However, a group of 23 conservation organisations has argued the audit is “too little, too late”, writing an open letter to environment minister Sussan Ley in which they argue direct action to prevent further habitat loss should be the main priority for the coalition government – adding that “while the government does its research, the iconic animal is nearing closer to extinction”.

President of Koala Action Queensland Vanda Grabowski wrote: “To date all levels of government have paid lip service to koala conservation. Community consultation has simply been a box-ticking exercise rather than implementing actions that actually make a difference to the sustainability of koalas across their natural range. 

“Everyone recognises the issues are complex and require a multi-pronged approach. However, without a strong commitment to retain remaining koala habitat and increase the carrying capacity of secondary habitat, all other measures are temporary fixes. 

“This unique marsupial, an Australian animal icon and Queensland’s faunal emblem deserves so much more.”
Source International Fund for Animal Welfare

A species of land snail thought to be extinct has been rediscovered on a small Hawaiian island during a survey by the Bishop Museum and Florida Museum of Natural History.

Endodonta christenseni, a small gastropod about the size of a pea with a striped shell, was first recorded in 1923 – and is likely the last remaining species in the Endodonta genus.

Scientists warn that without conservation the lineage may disappear entirely – Hawaii has already lost more than half of its more than 750 species of land snail, with loss of habitat, predation and climate change the primary causes.
Source Florida Museum

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) may provide a safe haven for the fish within their boundaries – if effectively enforced – but do not offer respite from marine heatwaves, a new study has shown.

By increasing biodiversity and stabilising ecosystems it had been thought MPAs may be better able to mitigate the negative effects of warming due to climate change. However, a study by UC Santa Barbara and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of an extended heat wave along the west coast of the US between 2014 and 2016 revealed little difference in the effect on fish communities.

This was primarily because the species most affected by heatwaves are smaller and not targeted by fisheries, therefore the presence of an MPA has little effect on their abundance – yet their loss resulting from acute heat events still has a negative impact on biodiversity with MPAs, and across the wider marine environment.
Publication Scientific Reports

Swimming Pool, Italy by Jonk (2019)

A swimming pool and former hotel reconquered by nature are part of the stunning portfolio crowned overall winner of Earth Photo, an international competition and exhibition created by Forestry England and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

The winning photographer, Jonk, also won the Place category with his selection of four images capturing buildings abandoned by civilisation and returned to the wild, described by the Royal Geographical Society as “far from being pessimistic, and at a time when human domination of nature has never been so extreme, these images aim to awaken our ecological consciousness. Nature is stronger, so whatever happens to humans, nature will always be there.”

Click here to see the winning portfolio.
Source Royal Geographical Society

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