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

NOAA scientists discover a new species of a gelatinous animal in the waters near Puerto Rico

Scientists have discovered a new species of ctenophore, or comb jelly, near Puerto Rico.

a fish swimming under water: This type of comb jelly, or ctenophore, was first seen during a 2015 underwater expedition by a NOAA research team.

© NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
This type of comb jelly, or ctenophore, was first seen during a 2015 underwater expedition by a NOAA research team.

The newly named Duobrachium sparksae was discovered two and a half miles below sea level by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries research team. It was found during an underwater expedition using a remotely operated vehicle in 2015 and filmed by a high-definition camera.

NOAA Fisheries scientists Mike Ford and Allen Collins spotted the ctenophore and recognized it as a new species. This is the first time NOAA scientists have identified a new species using only high-definition video, according to NOAA.

“The cameras on the Deep Discoverer robot are able to get high-resolution images and measure structures less than a millimeter. We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects,” Collins said.

The scientists also said there was another unique quality to the discovery. During the expedition, they were not able to gather any samples, so the video evidence is all they have.

“Naming of organisms is guided by international code, but some changes have allowed descriptions of new species based on video — certainly when species are rare and when collection is impossible,” Ford said. “When we made these observations, we were 4,000 meters down, using a remote vehicle, and we did not have the capabilities to take a sample.”

There are between 100 and 150 species of comb jellies, and despite their name, they are not related to jellyfish at all, according to the NOAA. The species is carnivorous, and many are highly efficient predators that eat small arthropods and many kinds of larvae.

The researchers said that there did not initially get a long look at the animal, so there is still a lot about this new species that they do not know yet. Their findings were recently published in the journal Plankton and Benthos Research.

“We’re not sure of their role in the ecosystem yet,” Ford said.

“We can consider that it serves similar roles to other ctenophores near the ocean floor and it also has some similarities to other ctenophores in open ocean areas,” he said.

The videos are now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Collection and publicly accessible.

Continue Reading

Source Article

Read more

Jaguars robust to climate extremes but lack of food threatens species

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A new QUT-led study has found wild jaguars in the Amazon can cope with climate extremes in the short-term, but numbers will rapidly decline if weather events increase in frequency, diminishing sources of food.

Distinguished Professor Kerrie Mengersen and Professor Kevin Burrage led a team of researchers in a world-first investigation of the big cat’s chances of survival.

The new research results have been published in Ecology and Evolution.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the dominant predator in Central and South America and is considered a near-threatened species by the International Union Conservation Nature.

Research main points:

  • Results are concerning for future viability of jaguar populations in Peruvian Amazon.
  • Stochastic statistical temporal model of jaguar abundance considers six population scenarios and estimates of prey species.
  • Jaguar diet includes white lipped peccary, collared peccary, red brochet deer, white tailed deer, agouti, paca and armadillo.
  • Species exhibit some robustness to extreme drought and flood, but repeated exposure can result in rapid decline.
  • Predictions show species can recover- at lower numbers—if there are periods of benign climate patterns.
  • Modelling provides framework to evaluate complex ecological problems using sparse information sources.

Professor Mengersen said the Pacaya Semiria Reserve covers 20,800 km2 in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon, comprised of mostly primary forest.

“Estimates of jaguar numbers are difficult to achieve because the big cats are cryptic by nature, are not always uniquely identifiable, and their habitat can be hostile to humans,” Professor Mengersen said.

Credit: Queensland University of Technology

The project drew on information gathered during a 2016 trip to the remote reserve, as well as a census study based on camera traps and scat analysis, jaguar ecology, and an elicitation study of Indigenous rangers in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

Six jaguar population scenarios were analysed mapping the jungle creature’s solitary behaviour, mating, births of cubs at certain times of the year, competition, illegal hunting, death from starvation and availability of key prey.

Professor Kevin Burrage cautioned the predicted results for the jaguars in the long-term were concerning.

“Our results imply that jaguars can cope with extreme drought and flood, but there is a very high probability that the population will crash if the conditions are repeated over short time periods. These scenarios are becoming more likely due to climate change,” he said.

“The declines may be further exacerbated by hunting of both jaguars and their prey, as well as loss of habitat through deforestation.”

Professor Burrage said scenario 1 estimated the jaguar population at 600-700 assuming stable prey availability while scenario 6 was an extreme case with drought and flood occurring every other year.

“In this worst-case scenario, prey levels could not recover, and jaguar populations was predicted to drop to single figures in 30 years’ time,” Professor Burrage said.

In addition to Professors Mengersen and Burrage, researchers involved in the study included Professor Erin Peterson, Professor Tomasz Bednarz, Dr. Pamela Burrage, Dr. Julie Vercelloni and June Kim based at the ARC Centre of

Read more

The invasive species that Europe needs to erradicate most urgently are identified

The invasive species that Europe needs to erradicate most urgently are identified
Research team. Credit: University of Cordoba

Species such as the golden apple snail are putting the agricultural sector in the Ebro river basin in quite a predicament. Meanwhile, in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, water hyacinths are threatening to destroy the natural ecosystem of the Guadiana River. Invasive species change not only the habitat of many other species but they also directly impact the region’s economy. Some of these species are already wreaking havoc on certain areas but others could do so in the future and have a huge impact, both environmentally and financially.

In order to help management centers and administrations make decisions, an international team of European researchers, led by the University of Newcastle and the Belgian Nature and Forests Agency with which the University of Córdoba collaborated, assessed the priority of erradicating different invasive species in Europe. One of the new aspects they also included is a study of possible scenarios regarding invasive species that are not currently present in the region or that are in an emerging stage, for which there are still opportunities to curb their spread.

“It would be ideal to erradicate all the invasive species but financial and labor resources are limited, even more so now, when we are dealing with other priorities”, explains researcher Pablo González Moreno, an expert on invasive species and a member of the ERSAF (Assessment and Restoration of Farming and Forest Systems) group at the University of Córdoba, who collaborated on the study, researching the feasibility of erradicating different invasive plant species.

One of the species identified as a very high priority is the common myna from the starling family that has been able to establish small colonies in Spain and Portugal and that, due to its aggressive territorial nature and ability to adapt, could spread to more areas and displace other native species. Other very high priority species for Europe are the Berber toad, the ring-tailed coati (a carnivorous mammal) and the red-vented bulbul, another bird species.

Among the species that have yet to arrive in Europe but that could in the future, the highest priority is for the rusty crayfish (Faxonius rusticus), a freshwater crayfish that is causing serious problems in the northern US and Canada. Also a priority are the northern snakehead (Channa argus), an Asian fish that came to the US via collectors who had purchased them, and Cryptostegia grandiflora, a kind of vine native to Madagascar.

In order to draw up this list, the international team first analyzed the risk of establishment, spreading and the impact of different invasive species. This research was previously published and financed by the European Union. This risk ranking was compared to an assessment of erradication strategies for these species in terms of effectiveness, cost, level of acceptance by different social sectors, estimated time needed to act and possibility of the species coming back after being erradicated.

Having analyzed feasibility, the team met up to pool their assessments and together drew up a list of invasive

Read more

Darwin’s handwritten pages from ‘On the Origin of Species’ go online for the first time

Darwin's handwritten pages from On the Origin of Species go online for the first time
Darwin’s handwritten letter to his former geology professor at Cambridge where he first mentioned his radical new book, On the Origin of Species Credit: Reproduced with the kind permission of a private collection, USA, and William Huxley Darwin

An extraordinary collection of priceless manuscripts of naturalist Charles Darwin goes online today, including two rare pages from the original draft of On the Origin of Species.

These documents will be added to Darwin Online, a website which contains not only the complete works of Darwin, but is possibly the most comprehensive scholarly portal on any historical individual in the world. The website is helmed by Dr. John van Wyhe, an eminent historian of science. He is a Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences, and Tembusu College.

“Darwin wrote the first draft of On the Origin of Species by hand. But the historical significance of this work was not yet known and almost all the manuscript was lost—with his children even using the pages as drawing paper! As such, these two pages are extremely rare survivors, and give unprecedented insight into the making of the book that changed the world,” explained Dr. van Wyhe.

Access to these rare artifacts comes exactly 161 years after the initial publication of On the Origin of Species on 24 November 1859, and coincides with Evolution Day, which commemorates the anniversary of this revolutionary book.

An unbelievably rare collection

Despite being one of the most important scientific works of all time, only a few portions of the original handwritten On the Origin of Species manuscript survive. Those which are being added to the Darwin Online project are two of only nine pages in private hands.

Other important manuscripts going online today include a draft page from Darwin’s other most revolutionary work The Descent of Man, and even the receipt for the book from Darwin’s publisher, “for the Sum of Six Hundred and thirty pounds for the first edition, consisting of 2,500 copies, of my work on the ‘Descent of Man’.”

There are also two draft pages from Darwin’s seminal The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Unprecedented insights into Darwin’s work

A page that has never been made public before is some reading notes on ants that Darwin made during his research for On the Origin of Species. The notes informed his examination of slave-making ants which became one of the most widely talked about parts of his famous book.

In addition, there are three very important letters by Darwin. One 1859 letter was written to his former geology professor at Cambridge, Adam Sedgwick, as Darwin nervously sends his radical new On the Origin of Species. Two other important letters are to his colleagues, the biologist T. H. Huxley and the botanist Asa Gray.

Darwin’s handwriting is notoriously difficult to read. As such, the documents have been transcribed, and can be viewed side-by-side with the original manuscript. The newly released documents can be

Read more

Ugly Species Deserve Biodiversity Protections, Too

By Marie Quinney, Specialist, Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum

Last month, the United Nations Global Biodiversity Outlook announced that no government had met a single target to halt biodiversity loss in the last decade. Deforestation rates are increasing, with an estimated 17% of the Amazon rainforest being lost in the last 50 years. Bee populations are at risk due to human activity and, in the US, honey bee populations declined by 60% between 1947-2008 while in Europe, 12 wild bee species are critically endangered.

Some recovery packages are already acknowledging the role of nature in helping the economy recover from COVID-19. In September, leaders from 77 countries pledged to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 during the UN Biodiversity Summit and negotiations are ongoing to finalise the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

For any of these efforts to succeed, we must first expand our understanding of biodiversity.

Biodiversity beyond bees

Biodiversity conversations tend to focus on certain plants and animals while ignoring others.

Popular imagination often heralds trees and bees as the cornerstone of nature. For conservation campaigns, it pays – literally – to be a large mammal that people can easily identify with or a species that seems directly useful to humans. “Charismatic megafauna” is a term often employed to describe these eye-catching animals that easily attract donations. We also strive to protect species with obvious commercial interest, such as tuna and the honeybee.

But we are doing ourselves a disservice if we define biodiversity too narrowly.

Many species are too small, too ugly, too few or still undiscovered for us to notice them, and the public is far less likely to consider unattractive animals as vital to protect. Let’s not make these the reasons why they are overlooked. We must not risk letting our notion of beauty simplify natural systems and, for example, let slugs go extinct.

While it is natural for humans to anthropomorphise animals, it does little to reflect their role in an ecosystem. For example, dolphins may be no more worthy of saving than the blobfish.

And as aesthetic and commercial standards dominate, science may get left behind. Public and corporate donors are lining up to save the polar bear, for example, but funds are not being directed to saving life-supporting bacteria.

Plants also have a tough time garnering attention in the public sphere where poster species such as whales and elephants rule. A report released during the UN Biodiversity Summit, revealed that 40% of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction. This report highlighted that humanity cannot survive without plants and fungi but since many species are yet to be discovered, we may miss out on an untapped treasure chest of solutions to some of our greatest problems, including potential coronavirus treatments.

While single species can be vital in putting biodiversity on the map and making the case for conservation of the ecosystems that support them, they are not the best proxies for biodiversity. We should, therefore, acknowledge all species as

Read more

Beautiful and resilient: bluff country landscapes key for species survival as planet warms | Science & Environment

SAUK PRAIRIE — Nestled in the hills southeast of Baraboo, Hemlock Draw is like a time capsule from Mother Nature.

Descending roughly 300 feet into a gorge carved by water over millions of years, past quartzite outcrops that once stood as islands in a prehistoric sea, the oak and maple forests of southern Wisconsin give way to yellow birch, white pine and hemlock.

Typically found in northern Wisconsin, these trees are relics of the last ice age, when polar ice sheets ended just a few miles to the east.

Resilient Lands 07-10282020101731

Ann Calhoun, Baraboo Hills project coordinator for The Nature Conservancy, walks past “sea stacks,” quartzite outcrops that were once islands in a prehistoric ocean at Hemlock Draw State Natural Area.

The glacier that covered most of Wisconsin — but not the southwest corner — retreated more than 10,000 years ago as global temperatures warmed by about 5 degrees Celsius. But on the shaded slopes of this gorge, conditions remained cool enough for those species to hang on.

Scientists think those same geological features that made southwest Wisconsin biologically resilient during the last period of climate change can help preserve biodiversity in the coming decades of unprecedented global warming.

Over the past decade, a team of scientists working with The Nature Conservancy analyzed geographical and topographical data across the United States to identify and map landscapes like the Baraboo Hills that they believe will be key to helping species survive.

Now the global nonprofit organization has made that data publicly available through an online mapping tool that will allow government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private landowners and local leaders to develop conservation strategies that focus limited resources on the most valuable land.

Source Article

Read more

Celebrating 3 ‘Lazarus’ Species That Were Once Thought To Be Long Gone

A “Lazarus Taxon” is a group of living things that are assumed to be extinct, but then later discovered to exist either later in the fossil record or are unexpectedly found to be alive on the planet today. In a period where extinctions are occurring at a rapid rate, finding species that are elusive (such as the recently re-discovered Voeltzkow’s chameleon) presumed extinct is a particularly special treat.

So, on this Halloween, instead of excavating corpses, let’s celebrate in the resurrection of these formerly extinct species!

1. The Coelacanth

Quite possibly the best-known species to be absolved of its extinct status, the coelacanth was assumed to have perished along with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The skeletal structure of its fossilized lobed fins suggested that its species was a crucial juncture in the evolution four-limbed land animals (”tetrapods”). Then, in the 20th century two different living species of coelacanth were discovered. First, in 1938, the West Indian Ocean coelacanth was caught near South Africa. And then, in 1998 the Indonesian coelacanth was caught off the coast of – you guessed it! – Indonesia. It is surprising how cryptic these species are, given that they are nearly six feet long and weigh close to 200 pounds.

2. New Guinea Big-Eared Bat

In 2012, Australian researchers were studying the effects of logging on microbats in Papua New Guinea. They caught several bats spanning nine known species, and a single, unidentifiable female bat. It wasn’t until 2014 that Australian Museum researcher, Harry Parnaby, was able to determine that the specimen was a New Guinea Big-Eared Bat, a species that had only been observed once before in 1890. What set this bat apart from other species was the skin near its nostrils, the size of its ears and the curve of its nose — nuanced characteristics that would certainly require a bat aficionado to distinguish. Unfortunately, as logging continues in Papua New Guinea and the Big-Eared Bat’s habitat disappears, it may be difficult – if not impossible – to find another specimen and learn more about this species’ ecology.

3. Goblin Shark

The last species on this list, the Goblin Shark, might be the most mysterious of all! Very little is known about the goblin shark, which is thought to be related to an ancient group of sharks (the Mitsukurinidae). Dead ones have been caught on occasion, but there are only a handful of accounts of live sightings.

In January 2007, a strange-looking shark was caught in the net of some Japanese fishermen who had been targeting fish 500 feet

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