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...
Can the Land of a Million Elephants Survive the Belt and Road?

Can the Land of a Million Elephants Survive the Belt and Road?

SOURCE: The Diplomat DATE: January 3, 2019 SNIP: China Railway’s Kunming bureau recently announced that a 36-kilometer long fence will be built along the Singapore-Kunming Railway project to protect wild elephants in southwest Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna region. This is a positive step, but it does little to allay concerns of the railway’s impact on elephant populations along the rest of the 3,900 km (2,400 mile) track of the Pan Asia Railway Central route. This is particularly so in Laos, where total elephant numbers are now below 1,000, and where vehicle collision is only one of many potential threats arising from China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). If current trajectories continue there will be no elephants left in Laos by the year 2030. In just 12 years, we could see the complete eradication of elephants from a country that once was known as “the land of a million elephants” (Lan Xang). So how did we reach this crisis point? What are the most daunting challenges for the future? And can Laos’ elephant population survive the advancement of the BRI? Laos’ current elephant population is estimated to be fairly evenly split between 400 wild and 450 domesticated elephants. These dwindling numbers are the latest in a consistent trend of population decline, with total numbers dropping by almost 90 percent since 1988. Reversing this downward trend for future generations is dependent on addressing key challenges that are all likely to become more pronounced under China’s BRI, including deforestation, habitat fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, and poaching. In November 2013 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced two ambitious multibillion dollar connectivity schemes across South and...
Third of Wales’ birds are in decline

Third of Wales’ birds are in decline

SOURCE: Bird Guides DATE: December 30, 2018 SNIP: A major report has found that one in three species of bird is in significant decline in Wales. The State of Birds in Wales study found farmland and woodland species were especially vulnerable, with the researchers identifying loss of habitat and climate change while urging urgent conservation action. Patrick Lindley, Senior Ornithologist at Natural Resources Wales (NRW), said: “When we look at conservation urgency, we’ve probably never seen the like of this before in terms of what we need to do. It’s startling.” Notable declines in the report included the extinction of breeding populations of Common Nightingale, Corn Bunting and Eurasian Dotterel. Common Starling declined by a massive 72 per cent between 1995 and 2016. Many threatened species that rely on farmland and moor habitat have also seen numbers crash: Black Grouse declined by 68 per cent, Red Grouse by 45 per cent, Northern Lapwing 46 per cent and Eurasian Curlew 39 per cent. Neil Lambert, Head of Conservation Management for RSPB Cymru said: “With 90 per cent of Wales farmed, agricultural practices have a huge impact on birds and other...