LB1C. Stay Current—Seeking Biodiversity

2024-06-03. Deadly one-two punch may have driven the woolly rhino to extinction. By DARREN INCORVAIA, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: …the woolly rhinoceros proved a formidable beast for millions of years as it roamed northern Eurasia. Then, roughly 10,000 years ago, it went extinct. Its sparse fossil record left few clues to its disappearance. But according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that pulls together fossil data, ancient DNA, and paleoclimate models, the ferocious beast likely met its end for the same reason that many other giant ice age animals died out: a combination of climate change and human hunting. …an interdisciplinary team of collaborators simulated what the world was like for woolly rhinos in the 52,000 years leading up to their extinction. …After running this simulation 45,000 times,…the scientists landed on a model that closely matched the extinction pattern reflected in the fossil record and recorded by ancient environmental DNA. The simulation shows that about 52,000 years ago, during the last ice age, woolly rhinos ranged widely across Eurasia. When the planet began to cool more dramatically about 30,000 years ago and glaciers began to encroach from the North Pole, the rhinos were pushed south—into the path of more and more humans…. Full article at

2024-05-15. Human ancestors may have hunted cave bears 300,000 years ago. By ANDREW CURRY, Science. Excerpt: For Stone Age hunters armed with little more than wooden spears, cave bears must have been a daunting foe. Adult members of Ursus spelaeus weighed upward of 750 kilograms, half again as big as modern grizzly bears. Standing upright, they towered more than 3 meters. …paleozoologist Susanne Münzel found …a stone spear tip embedded in a cave bear vertebra, evidence of a hunt 29,000 years ago. …Münzel and her colleagues have found dozens of additional signs pointing to cave bear hunting across Germany, as they report in the June issue of Quaternary Science Reviews. …At site after site, beginning about 300,000 years ago, the researchers found similar patterns: slice marks on paw bones and skulls where hides would have been cut free, bones cracked open to extract nutritious marrow, and scrapes on long bones showing they were carefully and thoroughly stripped of every last scrap of meat. …In the earliest caves, bones with marks made by Neanderthals and their immediate predecessor, known as Homo heidelbergensis, were often found intermingled with untouched cave bear bones—a sign that plenty of these bears died natural deaths. That may mean early hominins hunted cave bears only occasionally, not routinely. …Starting 40,000 years ago, things changed. Almost all the cave bear bones in caves occupied by modern humans were modified, suggesting hunting had become more systematic. During the last glacial maximum—an intense cold spell that began about 27,000 years ago and lasted more than 7000 years—cave bears would have been an especially tempting target. The animals could dependably be found hibernating in caves, making them a reliable and vulnerable food source during frigid winters. …This rise in cave bear hunting may have played a role in their eventual extinction—but it wasn’t the only factor. Humans weren’t just hunting these animals, they were competing with them for habitat, particularly the caves both species relied on for winter shelter. That put U. spelaeus on a collision course with Homo sapiens, particularly as human populations grew along with warming temperatures about 20,000 years ago…. Full article at

2024-04-18. Controversial wolf killing appears to help caribou, but concerns persist. By WARREN CORNWALL, Science. Excerpt: Some worry the findings will stall efforts to halt logging—the root cause of declining caribou populations. Since 2015, a slaughter has unfolded in the mountains of British Columbia, all in the name of saving southern mountain caribous, classified as threatened in Canada. Each winter, sharpshooters hired by the provincial government kill hundreds of wolves from low-flying helicopters, sometimes using a tracking collar attached to a “Judas wolf” that leads them to other pack members. Nearly 2200 of the predators have been killed, including 248 in the most recent winter. The policy has provoked lawsuits and protests from conservation groups and dueling papers in scientific journals about whether the carnage benefits caribou herds. This week, in Ecological Applications, a research team looking at 51 years of population trends and conservation actions offers the most complete analysis yet of the divisive issue. Even critics of the culling say it offers compelling data that, at least in the short term, killing wolves is one of the few actions that aids ailing caribou populations. …There is little disagreement about the root cause of the caribou’s plight. Logging of old growth forests has cut away at habitat preferred by southern mountain caribou—a type of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) that occupies swaths of south and central British Columbia and Alberta and, until recently, parts of northern Idaho and Washington state. The shrubs that grow back in these logged mountainous areas attract moose and deer, which in turn draw more wolves. The numbers of southern mountain caribou in North America have dwindled from roughly 10,000 animals in 1991 to a little more than 4700 in 2023…. See article at

2024-01-18. The global distribution of plants used by humans. [] By S. PIRONON et al, Science. Abstract: Plants sustain human life. Understanding geographic patterns of the diversity of species used by people is thus essential for the sustainable management of plant resources. Here, we investigate the global distribution of 35,687 utilized plant species spanning 10 use categories (e.g., food, medicine, material). Our findings indicate general concordance between utilized and total plant diversity, supporting the potential for simultaneously conserving species diversity and its contributions to people. Although Indigenous lands across Mesoamerica, the Horn of Africa, and Southern Asia harbor a disproportionate diversity of utilized plants, the incidence of protected areas is negatively correlated with utilized species richness. Finding mechanisms to preserve areas containing concentrations of utilized plants and traditional knowledge must become a priority for the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework….

2024-01-11. Shark kills rise to more than 100 million per year—despite antifinning laws. [] By SEAN CUMMINGS, Science. Excerpt: Two decades ago, public outrage boiled over around shark finning—the practice of cutting off shark fins for traditional medicine and cuisine and casting the mutilated animals back into the water to die. A global onslaught of legislation followed to limit shark catch-and-eliminate finning, widely regarded as a cruel and wasteful fishing method. But fishing-related shark deaths have continued to climb since then, reaching more than 100 million per year in 2019, researchers report today in Science—a trend that could spell trouble for the already-imperiled marine animals….

2024-01-09. California grizzlies weren’t as giant and threatening as people once thought. [] By RODRIGO PÉREZ ORTEGA, Science. Excerpt: More than a century ago, grizzly bears roaming California’s coasts and forests had gained a fearsome reputation for attacking European settlers’ livestock. In 1912, for example, a rancher in Kern County claimed a grizzly bear killed some 200 sheep in a single night. The conflict grew so tense some counties offered bounties to kill the bears. Eventually, California grizzlies—a subspecies of brown bear—were hunted, poisoned, and trapped to local extinction. A new study, however, shows that people’s perceptions of these iconic predators didn’t always match reality: In fact, these bears were mostly herbivores, and weren’t as big or dangerous as many once believed. The work, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, compared historical descriptions of the size and diet of California grizzly bears with new paleontological data of these traits. …The last California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californicus) was seen in the wild in 1924….

2023-10-03. Monarch butterfly is not endangered, conservation authority decides. [] By DENNIS NORMILE, Science. Excerpt: In an unusual reversal, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has decided North America’s monarch butterfly is not “endangered.” Instead, the insect is only “vulnerable” to extinction, the group said last week—adding that it could lower the alarm still further, changing the listing to “near threatened” if an upcoming census suggests the population is stable or growing. The 27 September decision followed a researcher’s challenge to population models an IUCN team used to justify the endangered designation, conferred just 14 months ago. The team committed a “scientific injustice” by ignoring data showing monarchs are “doing really well,” argued ecologist Andrew Davis of the University of Georgia. IUCN’s shift marks the latest twist in a scientific debate over the health of the showy black and orange insect. Monarchs are found worldwide, but the North American subspecies, called the migratory monarch (Danaus plexippus plexippus), has become “a poster child of species conservation because of its awesome ecology and migration,” says ecologist Anurag Agrawal of Cornell University, who was not involved in IUCN’s assessment or the challenge….

2023-09-04. 2,000 Southern White Rhino to be Released into the Wild Over Next 10 Years. [] By African Parks. Excerpt: Johannesburg, South Africa, 04 September 2023 African Parks, a conservation NGO that manages 22 protected areas in partnership with 12 governments across Africa, announced that it will rewild over 2,000 southern white rhino over the next 10 years. African Parks has stepped in as the new owner of the world’s largest private captive rhino breeding operation, “Platinum Rhino”, a 7,800-hectare property in the North West province of South Africa, which currently holds 2,000 southern white rhino, representing up to 15% of the world’s remaining wild population….

2023-08-11. Herbivore Diversity Helps Maintain Arctic Tundra Diversity. [] By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: A long-term experiment in southwestern Greenland reveals that the presence of musk oxen and caribou helps stave off declines in Arctic tundra diversity brought on by climate change.

2023-03-29. China is cracking down on its wildlife trade. Is it enough? [] By Dennis Normile. Excerpt: For years, scientists and conservationists have urged China’s government to crack down on a thriving trade in wild animals that they say both threatens the nation’s rich biodiversity and increases the risk that a dangerous disease will jump from wildlife to humans. Now, some of those pleas are being answered: On 1 May, officials will begin to enforce a strengthened Wildlife Protection Law that, together with other recent rules, expands China’s list of protected species and criminalizes the sale or consumption of meat from certain animals—including raccoon dogs—known to harbor viruses that can infect humans. …in February 2020, shortly after COVID-19 was linked to the Huanan market, officials permanently banned the consumption of meat from wild species to “eradicate the bad habit of indiscriminate consumption of wildlife, [and] effectively prevent major public health risks,” Xinhua, the official state news agency, said at the time. …In May 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs clarified the extent of the ban, issuing a list of species that farmers can legally raise for meat, eggs, and milk. In addition to traditional livestock such as pigs and chickens, it identifies 16 “special” animals deemed to pose low human health risks. These include several species of deer, as well as animals not native to China, such as ostrich and emu….

2023-03-06. Bee and butterfly numbers are falling, even in undisturbed forests. [] By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. Excerpt: Habitat destruction, pesticide use, and other human impacts are often blamed for the well-documented decline of insects in recent decades. But even in forests where few humans tread, some bees and butterflies are declining, researchers have found. Over the past 15 years, populations of bees shrank 62.5% and those of butterflies dropped 57.6% in a forest in the U.S. southeast. In addition, the number of bee species there fell by 39%, the team reports this month in Current Biology. Five times between 2007 and 2022, researchers surveyed the insects in three forested areas in the Oconee National Forest in northern Georgia. The sites were relatively undisturbed by humans and didn’t have common invasive plants such as Chinese privet. The team suspects climate change may be warming the region and affecting bee and possibly butterfly survival. Invasive insects may also be to blame…. F

2022-12-09. Animals Are Running Out of Places to Live. [] By Catrin Einhorn and Lauren Leatherby, The New York Times. Excerpt: WILDLIFE IS DISAPPEARING around the world, in the oceans and on land. The main cause on land is perhaps the most straightforward: Humans are taking over too much of the planet, erasing what was there before. Climate change and other pressures make survival harder. This week and next, nations are meeting in Montreal to negotiate a new agreement to address staggering declines in biodiversity. The future of many species hangs in the balance. Meet some of the animals most affected as humans convert more and more land: ….

2022-11-11. Booming trade in mammoth ivory may be bad news for elephants. [] By Michael Price, Science Magazine. Excerpt: …At the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) here last week, Huynh argued that the growing trade in ivory from the ancient carcasses now emerging as Arctic permafrost thaws is sustaining a global market that leads to the death of living elephants. He urged paleontologists to raise their voices against the fossil ivory trade—and avoid dealing with unscrupulous collectors who might be involved in it. …Ivory from African and Asian elephants commands up to $3000 per kilogram on the black market, primarily in Southeast Asia, where it is mixed into traditional medicine and carved into status-signifying statues and other trinkets. About 55 African elephants are killed every day for their tusks. But stricter poaching laws and China’s closing of legal ivory carving facilities in 2018 have made it harder for suppliers—sometimes tied to criminal syndicates—to source elephant ivory, Huynh said. “In order to make up for decreasing supply, organized crime has turned to using mammoth ivory.”…

2022-10-12. Researchers Report a Staggering Decline in Wildlife. Here’s How to Understand It.. [] By Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times. Excerpt: …wildlife is suffering mightily on our planet, but scientists don’t know exactly how much. A comprehensive figure is exceedingly hard to determine. Counting wild animals — on land and at sea, from gnats to whales — is no small feat. …One of the most ambitious efforts to fill this void is published every two years. …the Living Planet Index, …a collaboration between two major conservation organizations, the World Wide Fund for Nature, …WWF, and the Zoological Society of London. But the report has repeatedly resulted in inaccurate headlines when journalists misinterpreted or overstated its results. The assessment’s latest number, issued Wednesday by 89 authors from around the world, is its most alarming yet: From 1970 to 2018, monitored populations of vertebrates declined an average of 69 percent. That’s more than two-thirds in only 48 years. …this number is only about vertebrates: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Absent are creatures without spines, even though they make up the vast majority of animal species…. …There’s a temptation to think that an average 69 percent decline in these populations means that’s the share of monitored wildlife that was wiped out. But that’s not true. …“The Living Planet Index is really a contemporary view on the health of the populations that underpin the functioning of nature across the planet,” said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at WWF and an author of the report. …Another important factor is the way monitored populations end up in the index. They don’t represent a broad, randomized sampling. Rather, they reflect the data that’s available. So there is quite likely bias in which species are tracked. …One controversy has been whether a small number of populations in drastic decline call into question the overall results. Two years ago, a study in Nature found that just 3 percent of populations were driving a drastic decline. When those were removed, the global trend switched to an increase.… See also article in The Guardian. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 1.

2022-08-24. Up to 135 U.S. tree species face extinction—and just eight enjoy federal protection. [] By Gabriel Popkin, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Top threats include invasive pests, climate change and habitat loss…

2022-08-16. Killing of Ranger Protecting Rhinos Raises Fears for Conservation Efforts. [] By Rachel Nuwer,
The New York Times. Excerpt: The fatal shooting of the head ranger at the Timbavati reserve in South Africa has stoked concerns that organized poaching syndicates are targeting wildlife protectors.…

2022-07-21. Monarch Butterflies Are Endangered, Leading Wildlife Monitor Says. [] By Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times. Excerpt: North America’s monarch butterfly, whose showy looks and extraordinary migration have made it one of the continent’s most beloved insects, has been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s most comprehensive scientific authority on the status of species. …The numbers of Western monarchs, which live west of the Rocky Mountains, plummeted by an estimated 99.9 percent between the 1980s and 2021. While they rebounded somewhat this year, they remain in great peril. Eastern monarchs, which make up most of the population in North America, dropped by 84 percent from 1996 to 2014. The new designation of endangered covers both populations. …Monarch caterpillars depend on milkweed, the only plants they can eat. After leaving their overwintering grounds, which for most monarchs are concentrated in just a few hectares of forest in central Mexico, females deposit eggs on milkweed plants from Texas to as far north as Canada in a multigenerational journey. …American farmers turned to crops that were genetically modified to withstand glyphosate, a herbicide that is used in the weed killer Roundup. “Glyphosate was suddenly sprayed over vast acreage of farm in the Midwest,” Ms. Walker said. “That took out a lot of the milkweed plants that the monarch caterpillars rely on.” …Monarch experts are eager to enlist the public’s help in saving the species. Their message: Plant milkweed that’s native to your region, which probably means avoiding tropical milkweed (it can do more harm than good, especially in the South). Swamp milkweed is an attractive, easy-to-grow variety native to all but the most western areas of the contiguous United States. That’s for the egg-laying and caterpillars. The butterflies need nectar, so plant native flowers that bloom when monarchs are in your area.…

2022-06-09. A Wild Hope. [] By Kai Kupferschmidt, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Two decades after it disappeared in nature, the stunning blue Spix’s macaw will be reintroduced to its forest home. CURAÇÁ, BRAZIL—In 1995, conservationists and scientists embarked on a desperate attempt to save the world’s rarest bird, a blue-gray parrot called the Spix’s macaw. …By the mid-1990s only a single individual remained alive in the wild, close to this dusty, small town in northeastern Brazil. …Now, conservationists are attempting to undo that fate. On 11 June, …they plan to release eight Spix’s macaws from captivity into the wild. Twelve more are supposed to follow at the end of the year and still more in the years to come. If everything goes according to plan, these birds will be the vanguard of a new population of Spix’s macaws in their natural habitat.…

2022-06-01. How the Bramble Cay melomys became the first mammal lost to the climate crisis. By Hannah Seo, The Guardian. Excerpt: No one knows how the Bramble Cay melomyses – rodents with large, liquid eyes and reddish-brown fur, small enough to fit in the palms of your hands – ended up on Bramble Cay. The cay is speck of land about 50km (31 miles) off the coast of Papua New Guinea, at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. …in 2015, the Bramble Cay melomys became the first mammal to go extinct directly because of human-caused climate breakdown. …Bramble Cay is only a little larger than an average US shopping mall. The highest point is about 10 feet above sea level. …The tiny cay and its essentially trapped inhabitants were susceptible to even small changes in the surrounding ocean. Climate change and rising sea levels led to salt-water intrusions throughout the island, choking much of the flora – in the decade between 2004 and 2014, the volume of leafy plants on Bramble Cay shrank by 97%. Storm surges also winnowed down the population, sweeping animals out to sea. When biologists returned in 2002 and 2004, only about a dozen melomyses could be found…. [

2022-04-27. From King Cobras to Geckos, 20 Percent of Reptiles Risk Extinction. By Catrin Einhorn, The New York Times. Excerpt: About 20 percent of reptile species risk extinction, mainly because people are taking away their habitats for agriculture, urban development and logging, according to the first global reptile assessment of its kind. From inch-long geckos to the iconic king cobra, at least 1,829 species of reptiles, including lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodiles, are threatened, the study found. The research, published Wednesday in Nature, adds another dimension to a substantial body of scientific evidence that points to a human-caused biodiversity crisis similar to climate change in the vast effect it could have on life on Earth. … [] See also Science Magazine article.

2022-03-03. This Map Shows Where Biodiversity Is Most at Risk in America. By Catrin Einhorn and Nadja Popovich, The New York Times. Excerpt: …places in the lower 48 United States most likely to have plants and animals at high risk of global extinction. …Animals like the black-footed ferret and California condor are represented, but so are groups often left out of such analyses: species of bees, butterflies, fish, mussels, crayfish and flowering plants. Not included are gray wolves, grizzly bears and other wildlife not at risk of global extinction.… []

2022-01-31. Massive wolf kill disrupts long-running study of Yellowstone park packs. By Virginia Morell, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Hunters are killing gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains in numbers not seen since the animals were driven to near extinction in the continental United States in the 20th century. The killing of more than 500 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming in recent months…threatens to undermine a decades-old effort to restore the predators to the landscape and disrupt a long-term Yellowstone research project that has produced influential findings on how wolves help shape ecosystems. Researchers and conservation groups are calling on government officials to rethink the hunts, which have eliminated about 16% of the wolves living in the three states. …The killings are the result of a change in legal protections for Canis lupus. For decades, the wolves were strictly protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), but more than 10 years ago successful restoration efforts prompted federal officials to ease protections and give state governments a greater say in managing the species. …several states have legalized or expanded wolf hunts. Legislators in Montana, for example, last year set a goal of shrinking the state’s wolf population to “at least 15 breeding pairs,” the minimum required by the ESA; state rules allow a person to kill up to 20 wolves each season. Idaho also aims to shrink its wolf population and has set no kill limits. Wyoming has nearly achieved its goal of maintaining just 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone (where hunting is barred). Biologists say the recent killings won’t cause the regional extinction of wolves, …. []

Cover of Losing Biodiversity online book

Non-chronological resources

WildFinder – a map-driven, searchable database of more than 26,000 species worldwide. Discover where species live or explore wild places to find out what species live there. 

Center for Biological Diversity —

International Biodiversity Observation Year (IBOY) 

New Satellite Maps Provide Planners improved Urban Sprawl Insight

The Race Against Extinction–Biodiversity and Endangered Species. The Center for Biological Diversity.