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Beyond flora and fauna: Why it’s time to include fungi in global conservation goals

Beyond flora and fauna: Why it’s time to include fungi in global conservation goals

It’s no secret that Earth’s biodiversity is at risk. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 26% of all mammals, 14% of birds and 41% of amphibians are currently threatened worldwide, mainly due to human impacts such as climate change and development.

Other forms of life are also under pressure, but they are harder to count and assess. Some scientists have warned of mass insect die-offs, although others say the case hasn’t been proved. And then there are fungi – microbes that often go unnoticed, with an estimated 2 million to 4 million species. Fewer than 150,000 fungi have received formal scientific descriptions and classifications.

If you enjoy bread, wine or soy sauce, or have taken penicillin or immunosuppressant drugs, thank fungi, which make all of these products possible. Except for baker’s yeast and button mushrooms, most fungi remain overlooked and thrive hidden in the dark and damp. But scientists agree that they are valuable organisms worth protecting.

As mycologists whose biodiversity work includes studying fungi that interact with millipedes, plantsmosquitoes and true bugs, we have devoted our careers to understanding the critical roles fungi play. These relationships can be beneficial, harmful or neutral for the fungus’s partner organism. But it’s not an overstatement to say that without fungi breaking down dead matter and recycling its nutrients, life on Earth would be unrecognizable.

A mature gall, extruding gelatinous tendrils of spores, produced by Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae on an eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).

Healthy ecosystems need fungi

The amazing biological fungal kingdom includes everything from bracket fungimolds and yeasts to mushrooms and more. Fungi are not plants, although they’re usually stocked near fresh produce in grocery stores. In fact, they’re more closely related to animals.

But fungi have some unique features that set them apart. They grow by budding or as long, often branching, threadlike tubes. To reproduce, fungi typically form spores, a stage for spreading and dormancy. Rather than taking food into their bodies to eat, fungi release enzymes onto their food to break it down and then absorb sugars that are released. The fungal kingdom is very diverse, so many fungi break the mold.

Fungi play essential ecological roles worldwide. Some have been forming critical partnerships with plant roots for hundreds of millions of years. Others break down dead plants and animals and return key nutrients to the soil so other life forms can use them.

Fungi are among the few organisms that can degrade lignin, a main component of wood that gives plants their rigidity. Without fungi, our forests would be littered with huge piles of woody debris.

Still other fungi form unique mutualistic partnerships with insects. Flavodon ambrosius, a white rot decay fungus, not only serves as the primary source of nutrition for certain fungus-farming ambrosia beetles, but it also quickly out-competes other wood-colonizing fungi, which allows these beetles to build large, multigenerational communities. Similarly, leaf-cutter ants raise Leucoagaricus gongylophorus as food by gathering dead plant matter in their nests to feed their fungus partner.

Leaf-cutter ants and fungi have a complex symbiotic relationship that has existed for millions of years.

A mostly unknown kingdom

We can only partially appreciate the benefits fungi provide, since scientists have a narrow and very incomplete view of the fungal kingdom. Imagine trying to assemble a 4-million-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 3% to 5% of the pieces. Mycologists struggle to formally describe Earth’s fungal biodiversity while simultaneously assessing various species’ conservation status and tracking losses.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species currently includes 551 fungi, compared to 58,343 plants and 12,100 insects. About 60% of these listed fungal species are gilled mushrooms or lichenized fungi, which represent a very narrow sampling of the fungal kingdom.

The Bridgeoporus nobilissimus fungus, commonly known as noble polypore, is native to the Pacific Northwest, where it can reach sizes of up to 290 pounds (130 kilograms). It is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Chael Thomas, CC BY-ND

Asked what a fungus looks like, the average person will probably imagine a mushroom, which is partly correct. Mushrooms are “fruiting bodies,” or reproductive structures, that only certain fungi produce. But a majority of fungi don’t produce fruiting bodies that are visible to the eye, or any at all, so these “microfungi” go largely overlooked.

Many people see fungi as frightening or disgusting. Today, although positive interest in fungi is growing, species that cause diseases – such as chytrid fungus in amphibians and white-nose syndrome in bats – still receive more attention than fungi playing essential, beneficial roles in the environment.

Protecting our fungal future

Even with limited knowledge about the status of fungi, there is increasing evidence that climate change threatens them as much as it threatens plants, animals and other microbes. Pollution, drought, fire and other disturbances all are contributing to losses of precious fungi.

This isn’t just true on land. Recent studies of aquatic fungi, which play all kinds of important roles in rivers, lakes and oceans, have raised concerns that little is being done to conserve them.

It is hard to motivate people to care about something they do not know about or understand. And it’s difficult to establish effective conservation programs for organisms that are mysterious even to scientists. But people who care about fungi are trying. In addition to the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee, which coordinates global fungal conservation initiatives, various nongovernment organizations and nonprofits advocate for fungi.

Over the past two years, we have seen a surge of public interest in all things fungal, from home grow kits and cultivation courses to increased enrollment in local mycological societies. We hope this newfound acceptance can benefit fungi, their habitats and people who study and steward them. One measure of success would be for people to ask not just whether a mushroom is poisonous or edible, but also whether it needs protection.

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Tiny threads of fungi known as fungal mycelium wrap around or bore into the roots of plants and exchange nutrients. (Yoshihiro Kobae)


‘You can think of fungal networks as kind of the coral reefs of the soil,’ says biologist Toby Kiers

The blue milk cap mushroom is a rich source of protein. laerke_lyhne , CC BY-SA


The conversion of forests to agricultural land is happening at a mind-boggling speed. Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at around 10 million hectares every year.

Australian naturalist Steve Axford photographs fungi in Australia’s rainforests, helping scientists document previously unknown species.

Delegations from most of the world’s countries will meet in China this fall for a major conference on protecting biodiversity. Their goal is to set international benchmarks for conserving life on Earth for years to come. Mycologists want the plan to include mushroomsyeasts and molds.

Anyone who takes their curiosity outdoors can use community science platforms, such as iNaturalist, to report their observations of fungi and learn more. Joining a mycology club is a great way to learn how to find and harvest fungi responsibly, without overpicking or damaging their habitats.

Fungi are forming important networks and partnerships all around us in the environment, moving resources and information in all directions between soil, water and other living things. To us, they exemplify the power of connection and cooperation – valuable traits in this precarious phase of life on Earth.


Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Patricia Kaishian at The Conversation

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

More than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was impacted by coral bleaching during the Australian summer of 2021-2022. 

This is the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which released the results Tuesday of aerial surveys taken of 719 reefs between Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group.

“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions,” the authority wrote. “This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.”

The surveys revealed that 654 reefs, or 91 percent of those surveyed, had experienced some bleaching. The bleaching is especially notable this year because it is the first time it has happened under La Niña conditions, which usually result in cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, as AP News pointed out.

“This is heartbreaking. This is deeply troubling,” Climate Council researcher Simon Bradshaw told AP News. “It shows that our Barrier Reef really is in very serious trouble indeed.”

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than normal ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that coral-dwelling algae produce into poisons, prompting the coral to expel the algae. Because the algae provide the coral with both nutrients and color, the remaining coral turns white. 

This summer, the waters around the Great Barrier Reef began to heat up in December of 2021, the authority said. Ocean temperatures exceeded historical summer maximums that typically don’t occur until later in the summer. Between December and early April, the area experienced three distinct marine heat waves. The surveys were conducted after the last heat wave, which lasted from March 12 to 23. 

The bleaching recorded in the report does not necessarily mean that the impacted corals will die. 

“It is important to note that bleached coral is stressed but still alive,” the authority wrote. “As water temperatures cool, bleached corals may regain their colour and survive this stress event, as happened in 2020 when there was very low coral mortality associated with a mass bleaching event.”

During back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, however, the reef experienced higher death tolls, according to AP News. Scientists predict that this year will be more like 2020.

“The early indications are that the mortality won’t be very high,” the authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld said, as AP News reported. 

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However, the reef remains in hot water as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The authority has said that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to the reef, and a 2020 study found that the reef had already lost more than half its corals in the past 25 years because of human-induced global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that allowing temperatures to rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will kill 99 percent of all tropical reefs, while limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could save 30 to 10 percent of them.

The report comes as Australia prepares for federal elections later this month, AP News noted. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the Labor Party has promised steeper cuts of 43 percent by 2030. 

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Lissa Schindler told The Guardian that reducing emissions should be a priority for the next government. 

“This was a La Niña year, normally characterised by more cloud cover and rain,” she said. “It should have been a welcome reprieve for our reef to help it recover and yet the snapshot shows more than 90% of the reefs surveyed exhibited some bleaching. Although bleaching is becoming more and more frequent, this is not normal and we should not accept that this is the way things are. We need to break the norms that are breaking our reef.”


Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch

Emperor Penguin at serious risk of extinction due to climate change

Emperor Penguin at serious risk of extinction due to climate change

The emperor penguin, which roams Antarctica’s frozen tundra and chilly seas, is at severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) warned.

The emperor penguin, which roams Antarctica’s frozen tundra and chilly seas, is at severe risk of extinction in the next 30 to 40 years as a result of climate change, an expert from the Argentine Antarctic Institute warned

The emperor, the world’s largest penguin and one of only two penguin species endemic to Antarctica, gives birth during the Antarctic winter and requires solid sea ice from April through December to nest fledgling chicks.

If the sea freezes later or melts prematurely, the emperor family cannot complete its reproductive cycle.

“If the water reaches the newborn penguins, which are not ready to swim and do not have waterproof plumage, they die of the cold and drown,” said biologist Marcela Libertelli, who has studied 15,000 penguins across two colonies in Antarctica at the IAA.

This has happened at the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea, the second-largest emperor penguin colony, where for three years all the chicks died.

Every August, in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter, Libertelli and other scientists at Argentina’s Marambio Base in Antarctica travel 65 km (40 miles) each day by motor bike in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius (-40°F) to reach the nearest emperor penguin colony.

Once there, they count, weigh, and measure the chicks, gather geographical coordinates, and take blood samples. They also conduct aerial analysis.

The scientists’ findings point to a grim future for the species if climate change is not mitigated.

Emperor penguins are seen in Dumont d’Urville, Antarctica April 10, 2012. Picture taken April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Martin Passingham

“[Climate] projections suggest that the colonies that are located between latitudes 60 and 70 degrees [south] will disappear in the next few decades; that is, in the next 30, 40 years,” Libertelli told Reuters.

The emperor’s unique features include the longest reproductive cycle among penguins. After a chick is born, one parent continues carrying it between its legs for warmth until it develops its final plumage.

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Scientists have created the first ever large-scale map of microscopic algae as they bloomed across the surface of snow along the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Results indicate that this ‘green snow’is likely to spread as global temperatures increase.

“The disappearance of any species is a tragedy for the planet,” said Libertelli. “Whether small or large, plant or animal – it doesn’t matter. It’s a loss for biodiversity.”

The emperor penguin’s disappearance could have a dramatic impact throughout Antarctica, an extreme environment where food chains have fewer members and fewer links, Libertelli said.

In early April, the World Meteorological Organization warned of “increasingly extreme temperatures coupled with unusual rainfall and ice melting in Antarctica” – a “worrying trend,” said Libertelli, since the Antarctic ice sheets have been depleting since at least 1999.

The rise of tourism and fishing in Antarctica has also put the emperor’s future at risk by affecting krill, one of the main sources of food for penguins and other species.

“Tourist boats often have various negative effects on Antarctica, as do the fisheries,” said Libertelli.

“It is important that there is greater control and that we think about the future.”


Lucila Sigal via Reuters

Will Hawaii’s Spinner Dolphins Finally Get A Rest From The Crowds?

Will Hawaii’s Spinner Dolphins Finally Get A Rest From The Crowds?

NOAA officials said they hope to finally issue a new rule this summer that bars anyone from approaching within 50 yards of the dolphins.

For several decades, boat tours, retreat groups and beachgoers have enjoyed swimming near Hawaii’s spinner dolphins. The animals reliably return each morning to the same shallow, sandy bays near shore to rest after spending their nights foraging for food in a dolphin ritual that’s unique to the islands, researchers say.

That up-close access might soon end, however, amid community outcry that the crowds in the water have grown too big in recent years and have overwhelmed the spinner pods, chronically disrupting their rest cycles and jeopardizing the population’s long-term survival.

The situation has gotten especially out of hand near Waianae, on Oahu’s Leeward Coast, and on Hawaii island’s Kona Coast, local residents say. The spinners in those areas encounter more tourism activities, including swimmers who get too close, than any other dolphin group in the world, according to researchers.

“Right now it’s a total circus, man. It’s Disneyland down there,” said Micah Doane, co-founder of the Leeward Coast nonprofit Protectors of Paradise, which promotes stewardship in that area.

A new rule could soon limit access to swim with Hawaii’s spinner dolphins amid concerns they’ve been overwhelmed by tourists and other disruptions. 

On Sunday mornings, Farrington Highway near Makua Beach is a “madhouse,” Doane said. Roadsides are packed with tour guides and hundreds of swimmers scanning the bays for spinner pods coming to rest.

Often, federal marine officials and community groups say, tour operators practice what’s called “leapfrogging,” in which they maneuver their boats ahead of the dolphins and force the animals into close contact with swimming customers.

Federal law prohibits harassing dolphins or disrupting their behavior patterns, but Doane and others also say local enforcement is insufficient to protect the animals even when “the violations are clear as day.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said they’re poised to finally create a new rule that would make it easier for authorities to crack down on dolphin harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Specifically, the rule would prohibit anyone from approaching within 50 yards of spinner dolphins by boat, kayak, swimming or any other means. It’s been about 16 years in the making, and NOAA said it could start this summer.

The federal agency’s officers on the Big Island already have stepped up enforcement by issuing citations for violations in popular dolphin spots such as Kealakekua, Honaunau and Makako Bay.

A 2013 study found that the local dolphin tours industry generates more than $100 million annually.

A Religious Right?

There’s already been some pushback against NOAA’s proposed rule, not only from operators but also from local residents who regularly swim with Hawaii spinners.

Some of those Big Island swimmers argue that barring up-close dolphin encounters violates their religious rights under the U.S. Constitution because they consider their swims to be spiritual experiences.

“There’s spiritual issues at stake here,” said Lanny Sinkin, an attorney based near Hilo who said he’s been in contact with multiple swimmers who consider their regular dolphin swims a “high spiritual calling.”

Any changes to regulations need to be done in a way that doesn’t violate First Amendment rights for spiritual practice, he said. Local retreat centers sometimes offer dolphin swims to go with their workshops, or at least free time to swim with the animals.

Sinkin, who said he has swum with dolphins the past 20 years, said he may eventually represent some of the other individual swimmers in court if the community can’t reach a consensus.

But efforts to use religious grounds to justify swims that have been shown to harm spinners have incensed many Hawaiian families and community conservation groups. Recently, they came together to write to NOAA and stress that Hawaiian culture has never included any practice that involves touching, swimming or pursuing the naia, or dolphins.

“The only occasion where direct interaction may be appropriate is when a recognized cultural practitioner, working with federal and state agency partners, assists with a stranding or responds to a potential injury or death of a protected marine species, following strict cultural protocols,” the group, Kai Kuleana Network, wrote in a letter to NOAA enforcement officer David Aku Carruthers.

The coalition of 15 community groups along the Kona Coast added that its members have witnessed thousands of MPAA violations over the years — most involving dolphins — by tour groups and individual swimmers.

In Hawaiian culture “we leave them alone,” Mahealani Pai, who’s in his mid-60s and whose family hails from North Kona, said of the spinner dolphins. “We don’t bother, because they have a purpose. We always respect them.”

Pai and others said they appreciate NOAA’s recent uptick in enforcement on the Big Island under Carruthers.

“I think that (for) a lot of communities that signed the letter it’s always been an ongoing struggle and they’ve tried to do their best” to report dolphin swim violations, said Malia Kipapa, a Kai Kuleana member. Until recently, “nothing’s been done about it.”

Sinkin, however, said the enforcement has gone too far, punishing swimmers who actually aim to respect the spinners’ boundaries. He said that while there may be some bad actors, many of the operators do observe the rules for dolphin encounters.

‘Mayhem’ On The Water

Even some operators, however, acknowledge that the industry has gotten “out of control” on Oahu and the Big Island, to the detriment of the spinners’ well-being.

“The dolphins are doing everything they can to get away and they can’t. It’s just sad,” said Doug Ewalt, president of the local tour company Hawaii Nautical.

It’s one of just six local operators certified under NOAA’s “Dolphin SMART” program, which promotes responsible dolphin tourism.

A 2014 estimate from the National Marine Fisheries Service, meanwhile, found as many as 70 tour operators offering dolphin swims and encounters in Hawaii, plus 100 commercial boat and kayak tour operations that “may opportunistically view these animals.”

Ewalt and the five other operators agreed to the Dolphin SMART pledge to voluntarily maintain a distance of 50 yards from the dolphins and to not put their customers in the water up close to swim with the animals.

The “swim-with” tours are profitable, Ewalt said, so in recent years he’s seen more boats dropping more visitors in the water. Meanwhile, he sees fewer spinners than in previous years.

“I used to see schools of 400 (dolphins). I don’t see schools of 400 anymore,” Ewalt said, adding that “it’s mayhem” in the water when multiple tours converge on the same spot.

Near Waianae, it seems that competition is driving tour operators to put customers ever closer to dolphins, Doane said.

Hawaii Nautical loses business to the “swim-with” operators, but it still manages to make a profit keeping its customers at a safe distance from the animals, Ewalt said, adding that the company’s business model could succeed for others.

Possible Decline In Numbers

Researchers have expressed concerns about the long-term impacts of up-close swims on the species, which received its name because the dolphins are often seen leaping and spinning out of the water.

They’ve found that spinners off the Kona Coast are exposed to human tourism activities 82% of the time during daylight hours, precisely when they’re supposed to be resting.

The near-constant exposure stresses and strains the animals, researchers say, similar to a chronically sleep-deprived person. Some researchers suspect that’s causing local spinner population to decline, although it hasn’t been proven conclusively.

What has been proven, however, is that dolphins in other parts of the world have had their numbers decline when overexposed to humans, according to Lars Bejder, director of the University of Hawaii’s Marine Mammal Research Program.

Hawaii’s spinners are more vulnerable to human interaction because their pattern of foraging in one place and resting in shallow, safe habitats along the coast is unique among dolphins, Bejder said.

Different population estimates recorded over the decades also hint at possible declines in numbers among local spinner groups. Researchers estimated in 2010 and 2011 that about 631 spinners were off the Kona Coast, while past estimates showed as many as 2,334 in previous decades.

Earlier estimates were done using different, less-robust research methods, however, so Bejder cautioned against comparing them directly to the latest population estimates. More research needs to be done.

Bejder added that dolphin tours can have educational value — if they’re done responsibly.

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Northern Bahamian rock iguanas are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Erin Lewis The Company of Biologists/AFP


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Exceptions For Passive Swimmers

The new NOAA rule could be issued as early as this summer, said Ann Garrett, a Hawaii-based NOAA assistant regional administrator for protected resources. Officially, the rule process started in 2016, but the effort to get the proposed restrictions actually started about 15 years ago, she said.

It would address the boats’ aggressive leapfrogging maneuvers while including exceptions for vessels and swimmers who aren’t trying to chase the spinners, or may even be trying to avoid them, Garrett added.

Sinkin said the dolphins occasionally approach and interact with swimmers. One of the swimmers cited by authorities recently claimed that the dolphin approached her and wanted to play — not the other way around, he said.

NOAA officials hope the exceptions would address that issue. The agency has said some dolphins may appear to want to interact with people but those are for the most part “possibly just curious juveniles while the rest of the pod tries to avoid human interaction.”

Hawaii County Councilwoman Maile Medeiros David said she’s drafting a resolution to support NOAA’s proposed rule.

“I think this is such a huge issue, an island-wise, state-wide issue,” David said.

“I hear urgency, I hear frustration” from the community, she added. “We need to put a little nudge on NOAA.”


Marcel Honore at Civil Beat

Over 21% of reptile species at risk of extinction

Over 21% of reptile species at risk of extinction

At least one in five reptile species are threatened with extinction, including more than half of turtles and crocodiles, according to the first major global assessment of the world’s so-called cold-blooded creatures.

Catastrophic declines in biodiversity across the world are increasingly seen as a threat to life on Earth — and as important as the interrelated menace of climate change.

Threats to other creatures have been well documented. More than 40 percent of amphibians, 25 percent of mammals and 13 percent of birds could face extinction.

But until now, researchers did not have a comprehensive picture of the proportion of reptiles at risk.

In a new global assessment, published in the journal Nature, researchers assessed 10,196 reptile species and evaluated them using criteria from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

They found that at least 1,829 — 21 percent — were either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Over 21% of reptile species at risk of extinction

Image 1 of 4

Half of turtle species assessed are at risk (AFP/Luis ROBAYO)

“It’s just overwhelming the number of species that we see as being threatened,” said co-author Neil Cox, who manages of the IUCN-Conservation International Biodiversity Assessment Unit and co-led the study.

“Now we know the threats facing each reptile species, the global community can take the next step by joining conservation plans with global policy agreement and invest in turning around the often too under-appreciated and severe biodiversity crisis.”

Crocodiles and turtles were found to be among the most at-risk species, with around 58 percent and 50 percent found to be under threat respectively.

Cox said this was often down to “over-exploitation and persecution”.

Crocodiles are killed for their meat and to remove them from human settlements, he said, while turtles are targeted by the pet trade and used for traditional medicine.

‘Furry, feathery’ focus

Another well-known species at risk is the fearsome king cobra, the world’s largest venomous snake. It can grow to around five metres long, feasting on other snakes in forests across a huge area from India to Southeast Asia.

It has been classified as vulnerable, indicating it is “very close to extinction”, Cox said at a press briefing on the research.

“It’s a real iconic species in Asia and it’s such a shame that even widespread species such as this are really suffering and in decline,” he said, adding that logging and deliberate attacks by humans were among the biggest threats to the snake.

Bruce Young, chief Zoologist at NatureServe, who co-led the study, said threatened reptiles were largely found concentrated in Southeast Asia, Western Africa, northern Madagascar, the Northern Andes and the Caribbean.

The researchers found reptiles restricted to arid habitats such as deserts, grasslands, and savannas “are significantly less threatened” than those in forest habitats, he explained.

Agriculture, logging, invasive species and urban development were found to be among the threats to reptiles, while people also target them for the pet trade or kill them for food or out of fear.

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Northern Bahamian rock iguanas are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Erin Lewis The Company of Biologists/AFP


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Scaly and with forked tongues, Komodo dragons are the largest lizards to still walk the Earth. But their days here may be numbered.

Climate change was found to pose a direct threat to some 10 percent of reptile species, although researchers said that was likely an underestimate.

The researchers were surprised to find that conservation aimed at other creatures had also benefited reptiles to an extent, although they stressed that the study highlights the need for specific urgent conservation for some reptiles.

Young said the reptile assessment, which involved hundreds of scientists from across the world, took around 15 years to complete and was hampered by a lack of funding.

“Reptiles, to many people, are not charismatic. And there’s just been a lot more focus on some of the more furry or feathery species of vertebrates for conservation,” he said.

Researchers said they hope the new assessment will help spur international action to halt biodiversity loss.


AFP via France24

Recycled shrimp nets used to remove marine debris

Recycled shrimp nets used to remove marine debris

University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has devised a creative way to clean up the Georgia coast and provide financial support to local commercial shrimpers whose income was limited during the pandemic.

Through Trawl to Trash, funded by the National Sea Grant College Program, commercial shrimpers are recruited to sew bags made of recycled shrimp net material that can be used to collect marine debris.

Two fishermen work to create a bag for Trawl to Trash. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

“It’s exciting to find a new purpose for these trawl nets and who better to make the bags than the shrimpers who have spent countless hours mending their nets ahead of shrimping season?” said Dodie Sanders, marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and lead on the Trawl to Trash project.

The shrimpers earn $20 for each bag they sew.

One fisherman, Jonathan Bennett, used the money he earned from the nets to pay the people working for him.

“It was extra money, it helped us out,” said Bennett, a fifth-generation commercial shrimper from Brunswick, who now captains his own boat, the Flying Cloud. Bennett has been shrimping since he was 4. His grandfather taught him how to repair the shrimp nets.

“For years I was the only man on the boat who knew how to sew so I got pretty good at it,” he said. He and his grandfather, who is still a shrimper, joined the Trawl to Trash project during the off season when their boat was being repaired.

(Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

In an effort to produce more bags for outreach efforts, Sanders teamed up with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium to recruit additional shrimpers into the program. As of January 2022, 15 shrimpers in both Georgia and South Carolina have earned a total of $30,700 for 1,535 bags.

“This opportunity came along at a great time, in that shrimpers are making the bags in between the peak of the brown shrimp season and white shrimp season, when landings and income are lower than the rest of the year,” said Graham Gaines, living marine resources program specialist at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and partner on the project.

With more than a thousand bags in hand, Sanders and other educators at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have been working to distribute them to the public through education programs and community science efforts.

“We’re educating and engaging ecotour guides, students, recreational boaters beach goers and others who can make a difference by alleviating the impacts of marine debris,” Sanders said.

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As part of their outreach effort, the team launched a Marine Debris Community Science Program, which engages volunteers in removing marine debris from barrier islands and salt marshes along the Georgia coast while tracking what they collect using the Marine Debris Tracker App.

Since April 2021, community scientists involved in the program have conducted more than 25 marine debris cleanups across three sites on the Georgia coast and collected thousands of items.

They are also working with ecotour guides who have been certified through Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism program. The guides are providing bags to their customers and encouraging them to collect debris while exploring Georgia’s beaches and barrier islands.

This summer, educators will deliver hands-on after-school programs to Boys and Girls Clubs in Chatham and Glynn counties, educating the next generation about marine debris and encouraging them to make a difference by using the Trawl to Trash bags to clean up their communities.

“These efforts illustrate and reinforce the importance of building community capacity and encouraging behavior change as a way of supporting the long-term prevention of marine debris,” Sanders said.


Emily Kenworthy at UGA Today

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for 27 Animals, Plants Across Country, Hundreds More Still Waiting

In response to three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates for decisions on whether 18 plants and animals from across the country warrant protection as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will also consider identifying and protecting critical habitat for another nine species.

“I’m so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help. Disturbingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done little to nothing to address the problems that caused these delays.”

Longfin smelt

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Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta; historically they were so common their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Because of poor management of California's largest estuary ecosystem, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. The fish have been waiting for protection since 1994; a petition for their protection was filed by the Center, Bay Institute and NRDC in 2007.

Twenty-one of the species will see protection decisions by the end of fiscal year 2022. These include tricolored bats threatened by disease, eastern gopher tortoises threatened by Florida’s runaway sprawl, and longfin smelts in the collapsing ecosystem that is San Francisco Bay.

Western pond turtles and black-capped petrels will see decisions in fiscal year 2023. Monarch butterflies, whose population has been declined by 85% in two decades, will have to wait until fiscal year 2024, as will Bethany Beach fireflies and Las Vegas bearpoppies. The Mojave poppy bee will get a decision in 2026.

The court order addressed only a portion of the species for which the Center is seeking protection. Another 158 species, including Venus flytraps, Cascades frogs and golden-winged warblers, will continue in litigation. Roughly another 100 species are waiting for protection decisions but are not part of the litigation. Hundreds more have been identified as at risk of extinction by scientific organizations like NatureServe or IUCN yet aren’t under consideration by the Service.

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The first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. Red Wolf Recovery Program / Facebook


For the first time in four years, a litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild. The six pups were found in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina last week.

Koalas have suffered disastrous habitat loss


Australia has listed the koala as an endangered species across most of its east coast, after a dramatic decline in numbers.

The Service has taken 12 years on average to list species under the Act, but according to the law it is supposed to take two. Five of the Florida plants awaiting critical habitat and included in today’s court victory were first identified as needing the Act’s protection in 1975 but didn’t receive it until 2016 or 2017 — more than 40 years later. Even then, the Service still didn’t provide critical habitat protections at the time as required. At least 47 species have gone extinct while under consideration for endangered species protections.

“The Service’s slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction,” said Greenwald. “This is simply unacceptable. We’re in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species. We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency.”


Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Red Wolf Pups Born in Wild for First Time in Four Years

Endangered Red Wolf Pups Born in Wild for First Time in Four Years

For the first time in four years, a litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild. The six pups were found in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina last week. The news brings hope for the species, which is currently listed as endangered.

“As the sights and sounds of spring began to unfold on Alligator River NWR this April, something monumental was also unfolding on the landscape… a new litter of red wolf pups and renewed hope for survival of a species! During the week of April 18, Red Wolf Recovery Program Staff confirmed a litter of 6 wild red wolf pups (4 females, 2 males) born to mother 2225 and father 2323 (to be confirmed through genetic testing),” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program stated on Facebook.

Red wolves were once abundant in the U.S., but hunting and habitat destruction drove population numbers down. Now, few remain in the wild and their range is a fraction of what it once was. 

Prior to the new pups, there were only eight known red wolves left in the wild, and experts estimate there to be about 15 to 17 total. There are 241 red wolves in captivity. The species was first considered as “threatened with extinction” in 1967, and in 1980, the red wolf was even considered “extinct in the wild,” as reported by NPR

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Up to 70 per cent of the long-footed potoroo’s habitat was destroyed in the Black Summer bushfires.


Humpback whales will be removed from Australia’s threatened-species list, after the government’s independent scientific panel on threatened species deemed the mammals had made a major recovery.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, captive breeding programs saved the species. By 2012, there were 120 red wolves in the wild. But continued threats from humans led to a major decline again. Less than 10 years later, only the estimated 15 to 17 wolves remained in the wild as of 2021. The species is today considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The last birth of red wolf pups occurred in 2018, when four pups were born, and no pups were born in the wild in subsequent years — until now.

“This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. This red wolf pair was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves subsequently following their natural instincts in pairing, establishing their territory and mating,” the Red Wolf Recovery Program shared on Facebook. “Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf… a cause for joy and celebration!”


Paige Bennett at EcoWatch

Scientists breed threatened Florida coral species in step toward reef restoration

Scientists breed threatened Florida coral species in step toward reef restoration

Scientists have successfully bred a threatened species of coral as part of a project that hopes to restore damaged reefs off the coast of Florida that are under threat by a relatively new disease, a coral rescue organization said on Thursday.

Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean are facing growing threat of destruction by the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease that strips coral of its color and ultimately its life altogether.

The Florida Coral Rescue Center has in recent weeks bred hundreds of new coral of a species called rough cactus coral at a 2,000-square-foot (185.80-square-meter) facility that houses a total of 18 Florida coral species that are threatened by the disease.

“There is potential to propagate these corals… on a level, that you could return some of these corals to the wild,” said Justin Zimmerman, Florida Coral Rescue Center supervisor, in an interview. “And there’s a potential that you could save the species by doing that.”

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease was first observed near Miami in 2014 and by 2017 had spread to Florida’s northernmost reef tract and later past Key West to the south.

Species that fall victim to it have a mortality rate of 66-100 percent, making it deadlier than the better-known coral bleaching phenomenon that is typically caused by higher water temperatures associated with climate change.

The Florida Coral Rescue Center is managed by SeaWorld (SEAS.N) , a marine animal theme park company, and funded in part by the Disney Conservation Fund.

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The coral reefs of Aqaba have a resilience to warming waters seen nowhere else in the world


Corals in the Gulf of Aqaba have a unique evolutionary history that could help them survive the climate crisis. Scientists even hope to breed their resilience into other reefs.


Corals are the foundation species of tropical reefs worldwide, but stresses ranging from overfishing to pollution to warming oceans are killing corals and degrading the critical ecosystem services they provide.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease represents another threat to the world’s coral reefs, which already face an existential threat due to climate change.

“Large numbers of offspring produced by rescued corals will be essential for restoration of Florida’s Coral Reef,” said Gil McRae of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), a U.N.-supported global data network, in October said that 14% of the world’s coral on reefs was already lost between 2009 and 2018. read more

Damage to coral reefs is among the myriad of issues that activists are seeking to raise awareness of during this year’s observance of Earth Day on Friday April 22.


Brian Ellsworth and Julio-cesar Chavez via Reuters

Ecotourism giving rare iguanas a sweet tooth

Ecotourism giving rare iguanas a sweet tooth

Ecotourists feeding grapes to rock iguanas on remote islands in the Bahamas have given them a sweet tooth and high blood sugar, researchers said Thursday, warning of unknown effects on the health of the vulnerable reptiles.

Northern Bahamian rock iguanas living on the Exuma Islands are so hooked on the tasty tourist treats that they rush to the beaches when they hear boats approaching.

“For a tour operator it was a wonderful way to ensure that you would be able to see these animals and people would have these close and personal interactions,” said Charles Knapp, of the John G Shedd Aquarium in the United States.

Conservationists had already started to become concerned that the non-native fruit, delivered to the iguanas on the end of skewers, was making the large lizards less wary of humans and potentially vulnerable to smugglers for the pet trade.

But those closely involved with the creatures began to suspect the diets were causing even more of an upset. The clue was in their poo.

A Northern Bahamian rock iguana which consumes the leaves and fruiting plants that nature intended has faeces that scientist Susannah French, of Utah State University, likens to a “Cuban cigar — a bunch of rolled up leaves”.

The excretions of those that had developed a taste for the tourists’ grapes are a watery mess.

That prompted researchers to look into the impacts of these sugar-packed diets on the iguanas’ bodies.

Their study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, first looked in the lab at the effects of a high glucose diet on common green iguanas.

“We were able to then basically deliver glucose over time to mimic the sort of intake these iguanas in the field were getting,” French told AFP. They found that these animals struggled to regulate their blood glucose levels.

Harmful habit?

Next researchers travelled to the Bahamas and captured a total of 48 iguanas on four islands, half from populations frequented by tourists and the other half from more sheltered and remote outcrops.

Each iguana was fed a glucose drink and researchers then monitored their blood sugar for almost a day.

They found that those on the islands visited by tourists had the highest glucose peaks, with some remaining high for hours, while those iguanas that never saw humans saw levels rise at a slower rate and return to normal more quickly.

While the researchers concluded that the sugary feeding regime affects iguanas physically, they do not yet know how it might impact their health.

The iguanas living on the Exuma Islands are so hooked on the tasty tourist treats that they rush to the beaches when they hear boats approaching Erin Lewis The Company of Biologists/AFP

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“In other species, this would be a pathology. We would say yes this is diabetes if it was mice or humans,” said French, who said that further research would investigate a range of potential health effects, from impacts on immunity to reproduction.

Researchers are also looking at how losing their appetite for their normal grazing of local plants might affect the wider environment on the islands.

The iguanas are by no means the only species affected by well-meaning tourists packing inappropriate snacks.

In 2018 researchers found green turtles fed by tourists in the Canary Islands had markers in the blood linked to high consumption of proteins and fat.

Knapp said conservationists acknowledge the importance of tourism for the Bahamas and said tour operators had shown willingness to evolve their tactics — switching from bread to grapes — to avoid harming the iguanas.

But there has been a recent proliferation of smaller boat operations, he said, making it harder to make sure people were acting ethically.

“We do not want to try to mandate a complete stoppage, we’re just trying to provide the information that they can then use to help develop a plan that perhaps is more sustainable,” he added.


AFP via France24