‘Decades of denial’: major report finds New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble

‘Decades of denial’: major report finds New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: April 18, 2019 SNIP: A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl. Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the environment ministry. It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year. It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement. The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction. Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years. The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20% of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded. [G]roundwater failed standards at 59% of wells owing to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells owing to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction. Forest and...
Earth could take 10 million years to recover from mass extinction caused by humans

Earth could take 10 million years to recover from mass extinction caused by humans

SOURCE: Newsweek and Nature DATE: April 8, 2019 SNIP: Scientists investigating the possible effects of climate change have predicted it would take 10 million years for the diversity of species on our planet to recover after a mass extinction event. The authors of the paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution wanted to calculate how long it takes for the Earth to return to former levels of biodiversity following a mass extinction event. “Humanity is undeniably causing elevated rates of biodiversity loss through climate change, habitat destruction, invasive species introduction, and so on,” the authors warned in their study. After a mass extinction, one might expect swathes of new species to quickly appear, the authors of the study explained. But fossil records show this can happen slower than predicted. The authors surmised this is because of the way species repopulate. Dr. Andrew Fraass co-author of the study and expert in planktic foraminifera at the University of Bristol told Newsweek: “From this study, it’s reasonable to infer that it’s going to take an extremely long time—millions of years—to recover from the extinction that we’re causing through climate change and other methods.” Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, professor of palaeobiology at the University of Leicester, who was not involved in the research, told Newsweek: “The study is significant because it helps us appreciate the very long-term consequences of the striking and geologically rapid changes currently taking to the Earth’s...
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten catastrophic collapse of nature’

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten catastrophic collapse of nature’

SOURCE: SBS News DATE: February 11, 2019 SNIP: Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains. “Unless we change our way of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” concluded the peer-reviewed study, which is set for publication in April. “We are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods,” the authors noted. The Permian end-game 252 million years ago snuffed out more than 90 percent of the planet’s life forms, while the abrupt finale of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago saw the demise of land dinosaurs. “At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction. Only decisive action can avert a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” the authors cautioned. Restoring wilderness areas and a drastic reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertiliser are likely the best way to slow the insect loss, they said. Moles, hedgehogs, anteaters, lizards, amphibians, most bats, many birds and fish all feed on insects or depend on them for rearing their offspring. Other insects filling the void left by declining species probably cannot compensate for the sharp drop in biomass, the study said. Insects are also the world’s top pollinators — 75 percent of 115 top global food crops depend on animal pollination, including cocoa, coffee, almonds and...
‘A sad day’: two more B.C. mountain caribou herds now locally extinct

‘A sad day’: two more B.C. mountain caribou herds now locally extinct

SOURCE: The Narwhal and Science DATE: January 18, 2019 SNIP: “A sad day when the remaining caribou in the southern interior fit in a stock trailer with room to spare,” posted Jim Ross, who raises hogs and has lived in the Kootenays for most of his life. Thirty years earlier, Ross had chanced upon 40 to 50 caribou from the South Selkirk herd in a clearing near Kootenay Pass, a sight so arresting that he nearly drove into a ditch and then pulled off the highway to watch in awe, he told The Narwhal. Now the unwitting Ross had become a witness to the same herd’s extirpation, or local extinction, as two more B.C. caribou herds join northern spotted owls on the list of wildlife populations recently extirpated from the province. “It just saddens the hell of me,” Ross said in an interview. “I have two daughters who are 19 and 21 and they’re never going to see a caribou. It’s just not going to happen for them unless they see it in an enclosure.” The loss of the two Kootenay-area herds erases the southern boundary of B.C.’s caribou populations, redrawing the line closer to Nakusp, and also makes history through the disappearance of the transboundary South Selkirk herd, the last herd in the contiguous United States. Human disturbances, including clear-cut logging, mining and oil and gas development, have given natural predators like wolves easy access to caribou whose habitat has been destroyed or fragmented right across the country, with disastrous consequences for once-robust herds. Thirty of B.C.’s 54 caribou herds are at risk of local extinction, and 14...
Lonely George the tree snail dies, and a species goes extinct

Lonely George the tree snail dies, and a species goes extinct

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: January 8, 2019 SNIP: George, a Hawaiian tree snail—and the last known member of the species Achatinella apexfulva—died on New Year’s Day. He was 14, which is quite old for a snail of his kind. George was born in a captive breeding facility at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in the early 2000s, and soon after, the rest of his kin died. That’s when he got his name—after Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise who was also the last of his kind. For over a decade, researchers searched in vain for another member of the species for George to mate with, to no avail. (Though these snails are hermaphrodites, two adults must mate to produce offspring, and researchers refer to George as a “he.”) “I’m sad, but really, I’m more angry because this was such a special species, and so few people knew about it,” says Rebecca Rundell, an evolutionary biologist with State University of New York who used to help care for George and his kin. Throughout his life, George was a public face for the struggles facing Hawaiian land snails. His death highlights both the vast diversity of indigenous snails—and their desperate plight. [Read the whole article at National Geographic to learn more about snails in Hawaii and see some great photos of beautiful...