LB1C. 2021 Seeking Biodiversity

2021-11-18. Europe’s declining butterflies find new refuge: old quarries and coal mines. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Abandoned limestone quarries provide a better habitat than some meadows… []

2021-10-14. The Most Important Global Meeting You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Is Now. By Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times. Excerpt: As 20,000 government leaders, journalists, activists and celebrities from around the world prepare to descend on Glasgow for a crucial climate summit starting late this month, another high-level international environmental meeting got started this week. The problem it seeks to tackle: A rapid collapse of species and systems that collectively sustain life on earth. …Climate change is only one driver of biodiversity loss. For now, the major culprit on land is humans destroying habitat through activities like farming, mining and logging. At sea, it’s overfishing. Other causes include pollution and introduced species that drive out native ones. “When you have two concurrent existential crises, you don’t get to pick only one to focus on — you must address both no matter how challenging,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, an advocacy group. “This is the equivalent of having a flat tire and a dead battery in your car at the same time. You’re still stuck if you only fix one.”… []

2021-09-08. Komodo Dragons Are Now Endangered and ‘Moving Toward Extinction’. Source: By Marion Renault, The New York Times. Excerpt: A top conservation organization updated the status of the fierce giant lizards on its Red List of threatened species. …Komodo dragons are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes because they inhabit a limited belt of land between the islands’ coasts and steep forested hills. …The International Union for Conservation of Nature warns that suitable Komodo dragon habitat is expected to shrink by at least 30 percent in the next 45 years. Factors driving this habitat loss include the rising temperatures and sea levels associated with climate change.… []

2021-07-31. [] – In South Africa, Poachers Now Traffic in Tiny Succulent Plants. Source: By Tommy Trenchard, The New York Times Excerpt: Conophytum, a genus of flowering plants that consists of over 100 species — including several listed as endangered — are the latest victims of a global wave of succulent poaching driven by surging demand from collectors and enthusiasts around the world, but especially in China and Korea, experts said…. 

2021-07-21. [] – This Butterfly Was the First in North America That People Made Extinct. Source: By Sabrina Imbler, The New York Times. Excerpt: …The last Xerces blue butterfly was collected in 1941 from Lobos Creek by an entomologist who would later lament that he had killed what was one of the last living members of the species. But was this butterfly truly a unique species? …Now, researchers have sequenced a near-complete mitochondrial genome of a 93-year-old museum specimen, which suggests the Xerces blue was a distinct species, which they say could be properly named Glaucopsyche xerces, according to a paper published Wednesday in Biology Letters…. 

2021-05-19. [] – More than half of Caribbean lizards and snakes disappeared after Europeans arrived. Source: By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: When European explorers arrived in the Caribbean 500 years ago, they didn’t just upend the lives of the Indigenous people they encountered—they altered the entire ecosystem. As many as 70% of the snakes and lizards living on some islands may have vanished, a new study suggests. And it wasn’t just the colonists that were responsible: It was the cats, rats, and raccoons they brought with them….

2021-03-25. Some Elephants in Africa Are Just a Step From Extinction. By Elizabeth Preston, The New York Times. Excerpt: While some African elephants parade across the savanna and thrill tourists on safari, others are more discreet. They stay hidden in the forests, eating fruit. …The threat of extinction has diminished the odds of spotting one of these wood-dwelling elephants in recent decades, according to a new [International Union for Conservation of Nature (I.U.C.N)] Red List assessment of African elephants released Thursday. The Red List categorizes species by their risk of forever vanishing from the world. The new assessment is the first in which the conservation union treats Africa’s forest and savanna elephants as two species instead of one. Both are in bad shape. The last time the group assessed African elephants, in 2008, it listed them as vulnerable. Now it says savanna elephants are endangered, one category worse. …Elephants being killed for their ivory tusks isn’t a new problem, and neither is the habitat loss they face. “It’s the same two main threats that have afflicted the animals forever,” Dr. Gobush said. Poaching comes in waves, she added; it was especially severe in the 1980s and reached another peak in 2011. Where elephants disappear, they leave a big gap — not just physically, but also in the work they do. Some tree species depend entirely on forest elephants to eat their fruits, swallow their large seeds and deposit them elsewhere in a pile of dung…. []

2021-03-17. Endangered Gazelles Make a Comeback on the Edge of a War Zone. By Carlotta Gall, The New York Times. Excerpt: KIRIKHAN, Turkey — Turkey’s southern border with Syria has become a place of hardship and misery, with tented camps for people displaced by a decade of war on the Syrian side and a concrete wall blocking entrance to Turkey for all but the most determined. Yet amid the rocky outcrops in one small area on the Turkish side, life is abounding as an endangered species of wild gazelle is recovering its stocks and multiplying. The mountain gazelle, a dainty antelope with a striped face and spiraling horns, once roamed widely across the Middle East, and as Roman mosaics reveal, across southern Turkey as well. But by the end of the last century, it was hunted almost to extinction, with only a dwindling population of 2,500 left in Israel, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature…. []

2021-02-15. Wildlife trade imperils species, even in protected areas. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Wildlife trafficking is having a profound negative impact on biodiversity, a new analysis finds. Hunting and trapping to feed international and national trade networks threaten numerous species, the researchers report, even those living in protected areas. “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that commercial wildlife trade is a significant threat,” says Scott Roberton, a conservationist in charge of antitrafficking programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Wildlife trafficking is big business, with analysts estimating it generates between $5 billion and $20 billion per year. It involves the capture or killing of tens of millions of individuals from thousands of species, and some 150 million families depend on eating wild animals or selling them for their livelihoods. And although some of this activity is legal, much is illegal. …the team found the studied species were less abundant if they lived in areas that lacked protection. Without game wardens to enforce quotas or boundaries, for example, populations declined by 65%, the researchers report today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. In areas where animals were traded for food (bushmeat), there was almost a 60% decline in the populations. And in places where animals such as songbirds were being trapped for sale as pets, population declines could reach 73%. In general, “the closer to human settlements the study sites were, the greater the decline in abundance,” Edwards says. In 83 of the 506 examples they studied, the hunted species had disappeared entirely from the study area. But even in protected areas, declines were dramatic, with populations dropping by 39%…. [

2021-01-13. A new bat was discovered in Africa — and it’s orange and black like Halloween. By Darryl Fears, The Washington Post. Excerpt: …It took two years to determine that Myotis nimbaensis, named for the Nimba Mountains where it was discovered, was in fact a new species. The confirmation was published Wednesday in the journal American Museum Novitates. …At a time when the United Nations has warned of a biodiversity crisis, with 1 million species facing extinction, a find such as this is greeted as a light in a dark era, Bat Conservation International said in a statement. “From a biodiversity standpoint, it’s mostly gloom and doom so it’s always good to have feel-good story,” [Jon] Flanders [the director of endangered species intervention at Bat Conservation International] said…. [

2021-01-06.  The Last Two Northern White Rhinos On Earth. By Sam Anderson, The New York Times. Excerpt: What will we lose when Najin and Fatu die? …Sudan was the last male northern white rhinoceros on earth — the end of an evolutionary rope that stretched back millions of years. Although his death was a disaster, it was not a surprise. It was the grim climax of a conservation crisis that had been accelerating, for many decades, toward precisely this moment. Every desperate measure — legal, political, scientific — had already been exhausted. …Although Sudan was the last male, he was not, actually, the last of his kind. He still had two living descendants, both female: Najin, a daughter, and Fatu, a granddaughter. As Sudan declined, these two stood grazing in a nearby field. They would live out their days in a strange existential twilight — a state of limbo that scientists call, with heartbreaking dryness, “functional extinction.” Their subspecies was no longer viable. Two females, all by themselves, would not be able to save it. In his final moments, Sudan was surrounded by the men who loved him. His caretakers were veterans of the deep bush — not, on any level, strangers to death. …And yet here it was: March 19, 2018. The men scratched Sudan’s rough skin, said goodbye, made promises, apologized for the sins of humanity. Finally, the veterinarians euthanized him. For a short time, he breathed heavily. And then he died. …In May 2019, just over a year after the death of Sudan, the United Nations issued an apocalyptic report about mass extinction. One million plant and animal species, it warned, were at risk of annihilation. …Horns were coveted for all kinds of reasons: as trophies, as tools reputed to detect poison and ease childbirth, as the raw material for decorative Yemeni dagger handles. And perhaps most notorious, as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, whose practitioners believe that powdered rhino horn can perform a long list of marvels: It can cool the blood, ease headaches, stop vomiting, cure snakebites and much more…. [