Endangered mouse nears ‘zero’ in southern New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists are asking for an independent investigation into U.S. Forest Service practices in southern New Mexico, saying hundreds of grazing violations on the Lincoln National Forest have pushed an endangered mouse closer to extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity in its request pointed to a November report that looked at the condition of the habitat used by the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the connectivity between those patches of habitat and how long the tiny rodent has been missing from those areas. The report indicated that the mouse’s population in one stretch of southern New Mexico was near zero.

Robin Silver, a cofounder of the group, wrote in a letter sent last week to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen that local and regional forest officials have failed to issue any noncompliance letters to ranchers who graze in the area despite more than 330 instances in which cattle were found in locations that had been fenced off for the mouse.

“We’re witnessing an extinction in progress,” Silver said in statement sent to The Associated Press. “We hope an inspector general’s investigation can shed more light on this tragic situation and give these adorable little mice a fighting chance at survival.”

While it’s unclear whether forest officials will consider the request, regional agency spokesman Shayne Martin said Thursday that several projects have been dedicated to establishing critical habitat for the mouse and looking at what strategies might work best over the long-term to bolster the population.

“What I can say is that our agency has put significant scientific research behind all actions taken, to include restoration of critical riparian areas for all species,” Martin said. “We’ve also worked closely with ranchers to ensure that grazing in these areas follows adaptive management measures that considers the full array of human and environment effects.”

The mice live near streams and depend on tall grass to hide from predators. They hibernate for about nine months, emerging in the late spring to gorge themselves before mating, giving birth and going back into hibernation. They normally live about three years.

The latest study aims to set the stage for long-term habitat planning for the mouse. So far, the focus has been on improving those patches of habitat that are considered healthier and have more potential for supporting the mouse.

The research suggests that efforts start with patches immediately adjacent to those areas already occupied by the mouse and then address the occupied patches before moving outward. The report states any successful long-distance dispersal by the rodents to colonize new meadows would be extremely unlikely.

Biologists say growing mouse numbers is a challenge because of the small population they have to start with and the lack of more suitable habitat.

Three decades ago, the mice were found at 17 locations in the Sacramento Mountains on the Lincoln National Forest. Now, it’s just one. The report noted that the downward trajectory of the population continued in 2020.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016

Read more

Report: Endangered Mouse Nears ‘Zero’ in Southern New Mexico | New Mexico News

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Environmentalists are asking for an independent investigation into U.S. Forest Service practices in southern New Mexico, saying hundreds of grazing violations on the Lincoln National Forest have pushed an endangered mouse closer to extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity in its request pointed to a November report that looked at the condition of the habitat used by the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, the connectivity between those patches of habitat and how long the tiny rodent has been missing from those areas. The report indicated that the mouse’s population in one stretch of southern New Mexico was near zero.

Robin Silver, a cofounder of the group, wrote in a letter sent last week to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen that local and regional forest officials have failed to issue any noncompliance letters to ranchers who graze in the area despite more than 330 instances in which cattle were found in locations that had been fenced off for the mouse.

“We’re witnessing an extinction in progress,” Silver said in statement sent to The Associated Press. “We hope an inspector general’s investigation can shed more light on this tragic situation and give these adorable little mice a fighting chance at survival.”

While it’s unclear whether forest officials will consider the request, regional agency spokesman Shayne Martin said Thursday that several projects have been dedicated to establishing critical habitat for the mouse and looking at what strategies might work best over the long-term to bolster the population.

“What I can say is that our agency has put significant scientific research behind all actions taken, to include restoration of critical riparian areas for all species,” Martin said. “We’ve also worked closely with ranchers to ensure that grazing in these areas follows adaptive management measures that considers the full array of human and environment effects.”

The mice live near streams and depend on tall grass to hide from predators. They hibernate for about nine months, emerging in the late spring to gorge themselves before mating, giving birth and going back into hibernation. They normally live about three years.

The latest study aims to set the stage for long-term habitat planning for the mouse. So far, the focus has been on improving those patches of habitat that are considered healthier and have more potential for supporting the mouse.

The research suggests that efforts start with patches immediately adjacent to those areas already occupied by the mouse and then address the occupied patches before moving outward. The report states any successful long-distance dispersal by the rodents to colonize new meadows would be extremely unlikely.

Biologists say growing mouse numbers is a challenge because of the small population they have to start with and the lack of more suitable habitat.

Three decades ago, the mice were found at 17 locations in the Sacramento Mountains on the Lincoln National Forest. Now, it’s just one. The report noted that the downward trajectory of the population continued in 2020.

The U.S.

Read more

Human interactions threaten endangered populations

Doublestuf’s body floated off the coast of Sechelt, British Columbia, for at least three days before it was spotted by a local. The motionless killer whale, a few feet shorter than a bus, was at first mistaken for an upturned boat. He belonged to the J pod, a group of endangered killer whales known as the southern residents. On Dec. 20, 2016, Doublestuf’s body was towed to shore.



a group of people on a rocky beach: A review of more than 50 killer whale necropsies show that many deaths stem from human impacts. Fiona Goodall/Getty


© Provided by CNET
A review of more than 50 killer whale necropsies show that many deaths stem from human impacts. Fiona Goodall/Getty

A whale carcass, like Doublestuf’s, is a historical record. One man tasked with reading these records is Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Animal Health Center in British Columbia. An examination of the corpse, a necropsy, is a laborious process that can involve upward of 20 people.

“We usually have six to eight hours in order to do the exam,” Raverty said.  

In that time, the team members makes careful measurements of the whale’s body, including the thickness and character of its blubber. They remove samples of skin and tissue for analysis and then cut open the animal’s abdominal cavity to analyze its gut. They also search for the telltale signs that humans may be responsible for a whale’s death. Rope furrows in the skin; foreign debris in the mouth. They carefully assess every inch of the gastrointestinal tract. 



a group of people sitting at a beach: A worrying trend from over 50 killer whale necropsies show many deaths stemming from human impacts.


© Fiona Goodall/Getty

A worrying trend from over 50 killer whale necropsies show many deaths stemming from human impacts.


“We’re always on the lookout for evidence of human interactions,” Raverty said.

Loading...

Load Error

In Doublestuf’s case, the record showed a painful end for the 18-year-old mammal. The primary cause of death was, in veterinarian parlance, a “vessel strike.” At some point, a ship collided with Doublestuf’s upper left flank, causing extreme internal bleeding. He survived the initial insult but later succumbed to the injuries.

Although killer whales are found in every ocean of the world, they exist in many smaller populations known as ecotypes, with distinct genetic differences, feeding habits, sounds and social hierarchies.

The southern resident whales occupy a stretch of ocean along North America’s West Coast, from Oregon up into Canada. The whales, including Doublestuf’s mother, Oreo, and brother Cookie, come into inland waters in the spring and summer, hunting chinook salmon near coastal towns. Shipping lanes crisscross their territory. Ship noise, strikes and pollution are a major threat to the southern residents.

In 2020, only 74 southern resident whales remain. That’s down from 98 in 1995.

Seeking to understand the whale’s lives and deaths more clearly, Raverty and a collaboration of marine veterinarians and researchers, published on Wednesday a review of pathology reports from 53 killer whale strandings along the western coast of North America between 2004 and 2013.

The study, one of the first of its kind, captures three distinct ecotypes and enables marine scientists to better understand how different populations of killer whales are living and dying. 



a dolphin jumping out of the water: An emaciated female killer whale become stranded on Hawaii's shore in 2008. PLOS/Raverty et al (2020)


© Provided by CNET

Read more

Georgina Mace, Who Shaped List of Endangered Species, Dies at 67

She received her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Liverpool in 1975 and her Ph.D. in biology from the University of Sussex in 1979. After completing postdoctoral work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, she returned to Britain went to work for the Zoological Society of London, eventually rising to director of science. She held a position at Imperial College London from 2006 to 2012, when she joined University College London.

A fellow of the Royal Society, she was made a dame of the British Empire in 2016.

Dr. Mace married Rod Evans, who survives her, in 1985. In addition to him and her brother, she is survived by three children, Ben, Emma and Kate; one grandchild; and another brother, Edward.

Dr. Mace championed restoration of biological diversity and was a major contributor to a project called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which laid out the value of a healthy natural planet for the world’s people and its economies.

In a tribute on the website of the British Ecological Society, Professors Jon Bridle and Kate Jones of the Center for Biodiversity & Environment Research at University College London wrote that Dr. Mace’s work had “helped to reveal the ecological emergency that we face, and that we have less than a decade to prevent.”

“Perhaps her most remarkable achievement,” they added, “was the way she could calmly convince an audience of this fact, while expressing an unwavering optimism that we still have time to forge a more creative interaction with the rest of nature, one that benefits more than a wealthy minority, and one that can last more than just a few more decades.”

Dr. Mace continued to work even after she learned she had cancer. “She never mentioned her illness to others unless she absolutely had to,” her brother Peter, a physician, said. “She didn’t want to be categorized by it. She wanted to get on with her life, to get on with her job, which she enjoyed hugely.”

Source Article

Read more

Guam’s most endangered tree species reveals universal biological concept

Guam's most endangered tree species reveals universal biological concept
University of Guam Research Associate Benjamin Deloso examines a bi-pinnately compound leaf of Guam’s flame tree. The endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree makes a leaf that uses this same design. Credit: University of Guam

Newly published research carried out at the University of Guam has used a critically endangered species to show how trees modify leaf function to best exploit prevailing light conditions. The findings revealed numerous leaf traits that change depending on the light levels during leaf construction.


“The list of ways a leaf can modify its shape and structure is lengthy, and past research has not adequately looked at that entire list,” said Benjamin Deloso, lead author of the study. The results appear in the October issue of the journal Biology.

Terrestrial plants are unable to move after they find their permanent home, so they employ methods to maximize their growth potential under prevailing conditions by modifying their structure and behavior. The environmental factor that has been most studied in this line of botany research is the availability of light, as many trees begin their life in deep shade but eventually grow tall to position their leaves in full sun when they are old. These changes in prevailing light require the tree to modify the manner in which their leaves are constructed to capitalize on the light that is available at the time of leaf construction.

“One size does not fit all,” Deloso said. “A leaf designed to perform in deep shade would try to use every bit of the limited light energy, but a leaf grown under full sun needs to refrain from being damaged by excessive energy.”

The research team used Guam’s critically endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree as the model species because of the complexity of its leaf design. This tree’s leaf is classified as a bi-pinnate compound leaf, a designation that means a single leaf is comprised of many smaller leaflets that are arranged on linear structures that have a stem-like appearance. The primary outcome of the work was to show that this type of leaf modifies many whole-leaf traits in response to prevailing light conditions. Most literature on this subject has not completely considered many of these whole-leaf traits, and may have under-estimated the diversity of skills that compound leaves can benefit from while achieving the greatest growth potential.

This study provides an example of how plant species that are federally listed as endangered can be exploited for non-destructive research, helping to highlight the value of conserving the world’s threatened biodiversity while demonstrating a universal concept.

The study was a continuation of several years of research at the University of Guam designed to understand the ecology of the species. The research program has identified recruitment as the greatest limitation of species survival. Recruitment is what botanists use to describe the transition of seedlings into larger juvenile plants that are better able to remain viable. Considerable seed germination and seedling establishment occur in Guam’s habitat, but 100% of the seedlings die. Extreme shade is one

Read more

Trump administration ends endangered species protections for wolves as conservationists threaten lawsuits

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it is removing the gray wolf — a species that once faced near-extinction in the United States due to trapping, trophy hunting and habitat destruction — from the list of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists and scientists have slammed the move as premature, and said it could potentially jeopardize the recovery of the species.

Gray wolves have been protected by federal law for more than 45 years under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the decision to remove those protections on Thursday, claiming that the species has had a “successful recovery” based on scientific and commercial data.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will continue to monitor the species for five years, but state and tribal wildlife management agencies will now be responsible for managing and protecting gray wolves across the country. 

“Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” Bernhardt said in a press release. “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today’s announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”

The Mexican wolf is the only exception to the change. 

According to the department, gray wolves in the U.S. now exceed 6,000 in the lower 48 states. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith called the new ruling “a win for the gray wolf and for the American people.”  

Gray Wolves Endangered
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announces the gray wolf’s recovery “a milestone of success” during a stop at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Bloomington, Minn.

Jim Mone / AP


The Trump administration has been working for years to return the management of wild animals and protected wilderness back to state officials — despite numerous lawsuits and setbacks in federal court. Some lawmakers have also been working to weaken the Endangered Species Act, which protects animals at risk of extinction.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, 14 species have been removed from the act’s List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and seven have been downlisted from endangered to threatened. While the administration boasts these numbers as a sign of conservation progress, activists say many species have been prematurely removed when they are still at risk. That includes wolves, which currently only occupy a small fraction of their former habitat. 

“Again and again, the courts have rejected premature removal of wolf protection,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which plans to file a lawsuit to challenge the latest ruling. “But instead of pursuing further wolf recovery, the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet.”

The Defenders of Wildlife also said it plans to sue over the decision, which

Read more

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows
The first vaquita caught as part of a conservation effort in 2017. Credit: Vaquita CPR

The critically endangered vaquita has survived in low numbers in its native Gulf of California for hundreds of thousands of years, a new genetic analysis has found. The study found little sign of inbreeding or other risks often associated with small populations.


Gillnet fisheries have entangled and killed many vaquitas in recent years and scientists believe that fewer than 20 of the small porpoises survive today. The new analysis demonstrates that the species’ small numbers do not doom it to extinction, however. Vaquitas have long survived and even thrived without falling into an “extinction vortex,” the new study showed. That’s a scenario in which their limited genetic diversity makes it impossible to recover.

“The species, even now, is probably perfectly capable of surviving,” said Phil Morin, research geneticist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new study published this week in Molecular Ecology Resources. “We can now see that genetic factors are not its downfall. There’s a very good chance it could recover fully if we can get the nets out of the water.”

Small but Stable Populations

An increasing number of species in addition to the vaquita have maintained small but stable populations for long periods without suffering from inbreeding depression. Other species include the narwhal, mountain gorilla, and native foxes in California’s Channel Islands. Long periods of small population sizes may have given them time to purge harmful mutations that might otherwise jeopardize the health of their populations.

“It’s appearing to be more common than we thought that species can do just fine at low numbers over long periods,” said Morin, who credited the vaquita findings to genetic experts around the world who contributed to the research.

The idea that vaquitas could sustain themselves in low numbers is not new. Some scientists suspected that more than 20 years ago. Now advanced genetic tools that have emerged with the rapidly increasing power of new computer technology helped them prove the point.

“They’ve survived like this for at least 250,000 years,” said Barbara Taylor, research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “Knowing that gives us a lot more confidence that, in the immediate future, genetic issues are the least of our concerns.”

Endangered vaquita remain genetically healthy even in low numbers, new analysis shows
A vaquita and her calf surface in the Gulf of California. Credit: Paula Olson

Sequencing the Vaquita Genome

The new analysis examined living tissue from a vaquita captured as part of a last-ditch international 2017 effort to save the fast-disappearing species. The female vaquita tragically died, but its living cells revealed the most complete and high-quality genome sequence of any dolphin, porpoise, or whale to date, generated in collaboration with the Vertebrate Genomes Project. Only in recent years have advances in sequencing technologies and high-powered computers made such detailed reconstruction possible.

While the vaquita genome is not diverse, the animals are healthy. The most recent field effort in fall 2019 spotted about nine individuals, including three

Read more

Massive marine die-off in Russian Far East threatens endangered species

September 14 was a rare sunny day at Khalaktyrskiy Beach. A seaward wind was whipping up the waves, and at 54 degrees Fahrenheit, the water was warmer than even the air. Conditions were ideal for surfing, at least by the standards of the “land of fire and ice,” Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, in the far east.

But half an hour after Katya Dyba, an administrator at Snowave, a local surf school on the Pacific coast, came in from riding the crests, her vision began to blur, and her throat became sore. One of her co-workers couldn’t open his eyes.

The surfers first blamed it on the sun’s glare or buffeting winds. As they began to suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever in the ensuing days, however, they realized the poison was in the ocean itself. In total, 16 people went to the hospital; several were diagnosed with corneal burns.

Meanwhile mounds of lifeless sea urchins and starfish were washing up on Kamchatka’s eastern shores. Beachgoers picked up limp red octopuses by their tentacles. A patch of fetid yellowish foam hundreds of feet wide and several miles long floated down the coast. Divers estimated that in some places, 95 percent of bottom-dwelling organisms had perished.

“My reaction was absolute bewilderment, because we’re used to the water at Khalaktyrskiy Beach always being very clean, and nothing like this had ever happened before,” says Dyba, who is still suffering eye dryness a month later.

The problem has spread southwest, around the peninsula and up the food chain: Thousands of dead fish, mostly bottom feeders, were found on Kamchatka’s western shore this week, and several brown bears suffered severe food poisoning after eating them—just one example of the potential ripple effects this mass marine life die-off could cause.

While many initially suspected pollution, scientists now say the deaths were probably caused by an algal bloom. That raises even more troubling questions about how climate change is affecting one of the planet’s most biodiverse marine environments, home to endangered species such as steelhead trout and sea otters.

“We didn’t expect that the area of algal blooming [would] be so massive,” says Kirill Vinnikov, a marine biologist at the Far Eastern Federal University. “It is an unprecedented case.” (Last year, National Geographic chose Kamchatka Peninsula as one of its best trips of the year.)

‘The whole coastal zone is infected’

Hanging off Russia’s Pacific coast like a droopy tail, Kamchatka has the highest concentration of active volcanoes on Earth. Rivers cascade from these lava fields and glaciers into broad marshes and form the perfect spawning grounds for six species of ocean-going salmon, which in turn provide food for brown bears, spotted seals, orcas, and decreasing numbers of Steller’s sea eagles and Steller’s sea lions. The salmon often feed on zooplankton in the nutrient-rich Kamchatka current, as do gray whales and critically endangered right whales.

While Kamchatka is synonymous with salmon, it also has a huge variety of bottom-dwelling fish, mollusks, anemones, sea stars, and sea urchins that

Read more

Rope Bridges Save the Most Endangered Primates From Making Death-Defying Leaps | Smart News

The last few dozen of the world’s most endangered primates, Hainan gibbons, live in small patches of rainforest on Hainan Island off southern China. In 2014, a landslide fractured their habitat, forcing the canopy-dwelling primates to make dangerous leaps to reach their food. Conservation scientists came up with an alternative path: a simple rope bridge that spans the gap between the sections of trees.

Now a study published on Thursday in Scientific Reports shows that Hainan gibbons can and do make use of the high ropes course. The gibbons took about six months to warm up to the idea, but 176 days after the rope bridge was installed, a few females and juveniles began to use it, study author Bosco Pui Lok Chan of the Hainan Gibbon Conservation Project tells Mary Bates at National Geographic. The gibbons invented unexpected bridge-crossing strategies, but the researchers emphasize that the bridge is a temporary solution.

Hainan gibbons spend their lives in the rainforest canopy, swinging from branch to branch with their long arms. (Gibbons are apes, which do not have tails, unlike monkeys, which generally do.) According to the New England Primate Conservancy, Hainan gibbons have never been seen on the ground.

So when faced with a 50-foot-wide gap, the gibbons didn’t climb down, walk across the rubble of the landslide, and climb up the trees again. Instead, the gibbons launched themselves across the gap from about 100 feet in the air.

“It was pretty scary to watch – my heart just popped out of my throat,” Chan tells Clare Wilson at New Scientist. He adds that mother gibbons made the jump with their babies holding on, and “if the infant-carrying mother falls, that would have been two down out of 25.”

To help the gibbons safely cross the divide, the researchers set up a group of mountaineering-grade ropes fastened to sturdy trees by professional tree climbers, per the paper. The gibbons didn’t swing underneath the ropes like they do from tree branches. Instead, they began to walk along one rope while holding on to another for support, which the researchers called “handrailing.” On occasion, the gibbons held on to the ropes with all four limbs like a sloth and crossed upside-down, Lucy Hicks writes for Science magazine.

The research team documented eight of the gibbons—all but the males—crossing with the rope bridge a total of 52 times.

“There are many different designs of canopy bridges used all over the world, but this one is particularly cool because it is simple, low cost, and well adapted to this species,” says conservation biologist Tremaine Gregory, of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, to National Geographic. “As we chop up the world into smaller and smaller piece with roads and other infrastructure, it’s important to think about solutions for maintaining connectivity between fragments of habitat.”

Gregory, who wasn’t involved in the new research, adds to National Geographic that conservationists working with other tree-dwelling animals might take note of the gibbons’ success. The Smithsonian

Read more