Mar 22

Last time Liana proved her passion for plant-life, but will this week’s ARKive team member believe botany is best or animals are awesome?

Ellie Dart – Online Outreach Manager

Favourite species? Dusky dolphin

Why? The dusky dolphin stole my heart when I was in New Zealand eight years ago. I love the dusky dolphin’s playful character, its social nature and its ability to put on an impromptu acrobatics show.

It was a cold snowy morning when a group of 100 or more dolphins started swimming alongside our boat. I’d never seen so many dolphins at one time. Wetsuits on, we jumped into the sea with them. I think my heart actually skipped a couple of beats – perhaps it was the shock of the ice cold water, or perhaps it was their power that took my breath away.

They were bigger up close than they looked from the boat, and the speed at which they moved was to begin with, verging on terrifying, as they rocketed towards us, before playfully curving around. But within seconds, I felt at home with them, splashing around in the water (though my movements were significantly less graceful than theirs). Everywhere I looked there were dolphins – twirling to the side of me, diving underneath me and shooting out of the water and over my head. These dolphins know how to have fun and showed me a truly unforgettable morning.

Favourite dusky dolphin image(s) on ARKive:

Dusky dolphin imageDusky dolphin image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dusky dolphin is classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List. Threats to this species are thought to include entanglement in gillnets and illegal harpooning for meat.

See more photos and videos of the dusky dolphin.

Mar 22

Water is essential to all forms of life on Earth. That said, the enormous increase in the human population over the past few decades has placed a greater strain on the world’s freshwater reserves through direct consumption, agriculture and manufacturing activities. Sadly water shortages are not uncommon in many parts of the world. These shortages can have devastating effects for both people and wildlife and can be exacerbated by climate change.

The UN recognises March 22nd as International World Water Day to encourage people to limit their use of water as well as to highlight the issue of water shortages. To mark the day, we thought we would highlight just a few of the many organisms that depend on freshwater for survival.

Water as a jealously guarded dive site

Photo of a kingfisher exiting water with fish

Blink and you could miss the all the action! A kingfisher emerges from the water victorious with its catch

The striking yet elusive kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is famous for diving from its perch into rivers to catch fish and invertebrates. As the kingfisher requires a relatively large amount of food to sustain itself it will aggressively defend its watery hunting ground from other kingfishers with threatening displays and even physical contest. As kingfishers require clear water to see their prey and vegetation on which to perch, their presence is a good indicator of a healthy river ecosystem.

Water as a spawning ground and nursery

Photo of green-thighed frog frogspawn

A mass of green-thighed frog frogspawn in freshwater

Amphibians depend on freshwater in some form or another to lay their eggs, which develop into fully aquatic tadpoles. Predation on tadpoles is often high which is why most species lay a large number of eggs in a specific breeding season. This strategy is practiced by the green-thighed frog maximising the amount of offspring that survive to adulthood.

Water as a last refuge

A pair of Cuban crocodiles in swamp habitat

A pair of Cuban crocodiles in swamp habitat

The Cuban crocodile is found in only two freshwater swamps in Cuba. This extremely restricted range makes it highly vunerable to extinction and it depends on these specific habitats for its survival. Fortunately due to recent conservation efforts the Cuban crocodile’s numbers are recovering.

Water as a trap

Water boatman feeding on dragonfly

The water boatman will make a meal out of any insects trapped on the surface of the water, like this dragon fly

A fierce predator in many ponds and lakes across Europe, the water boatman sits and waits near the surface of the water until it detects movement nearby… it then swoops in on its prey with a toxic bite!

Water as a place to grow

White water lily flower, view from underwater

Growing from the deep: a white water-lily flower, view from underwater

Freshwater ponds and lakes all around the world are home to a huge array of interesting and beautiful plant life. The white water-lily has many adaptations to a life in freshwater such as its large flat leaves that float on the surface of the water so as to receive more light. Aquatic plants also often have important roles in freshwater ecosystems, oxygenating the water, provide nesting sites and keeping algal blooms under control.

Water as a place to set up a fortress

American beaver swimming with branches

An American beaver swims with a tree branch

The American beaver is famous for drastically altering its freshwater surroundings to make a suitable habitat. Using its tough incisors to fell trees for dams, the beaver creates an area of open, still water where it constructs its lodge. Entrance to the lodge is only possible from under the water and therefore the beaver and any offspring are protected from terrestrial predators. The beaver itself also has specific adaptations for a life in water with webbed feet and a large flat tail used for propulsion as well as a dense underfur that keeps it warm even in freezing water.

Water as a hunting ground

Pike sheltering under water lily leaf

A pike sheltering under water lily leaf

All ecosystems have a ‘top dog’ predator and in many rivers and creeks in Europe this will be the pike. A ferocious predator, the pike will remain perfectly still waiting for prey to come within a close distance and then move in for the kill with a lightening fast strike. Pike are likely to consider many of the animals in their watery environment as prey including fish, crayfish, frogs and newts and even ducklings and small mammals. Pike do need to be careful around members of their own species though as larger pike have been known to practice cannibalism!

Find out more about World Water Day 2012.

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 21

Cambodia stands to lose a large portion of the biodiverse Botum Sakor National Park to luxury resorts, according to Mongabay.com.

Pileated gibbon image

The pileated gibbon is one of many species at risk in Botum Sakor

From rainforest to resorts

Nearly 20 percent of Botum Sakor National Park has been handed over by the Cambodian government to a Chinese real-estate firm which plans to build large resorts and casinos on the land.

These developments will require the removal of large areas of pristine rainforest, which house an incredible array of species, including the pileated gibbon and the Asian elephant. The planned resorts, which are estimated to cost $3.8 billion, are to be the size of cities, and will include an airport and a 64 kilometre-long highway, as well as several hotels and golf courses.

Siamese crocodile image

The Siamese crocodile is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Loss of diversity

Botum Sakor National Park is known to be a haven for wildlife, housing a reported 44 mammal and 533 bird species. These include several threatened species, such as the Endangered Sunda pangolin, the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile and the Endangered dhole.

The plans to create resorts in the area have angered local Cambodians, as many of them risk being displaced as a result of the developments.

Cambodia is giving away 36,000 hectares to a foreign entity with little if any oversight or obvious benefit to the people,” says Mathieu Pellerin, a researcher with Cambodian human rights group LICADHO.

Sunda pangolin image

The Sunda pangolin is one of many strange-looking creatures found in Botum Sakor

Additional loss

Sadly, Cambodia has lost designated conservation land to development in the past. In 2011, the government handed over 9,000 hectares of land from Virachey National Park in the northeast of the country to a rubber plantation, while in 2007 rights were given to an Australian gold-mining company to perform exploratory mining in half of the park.

LICADHO has recently released a report indicating that more than half of all Cambodia’s arable land has been given to private corporations as economic land concessions.

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Cambodia sells off national park for city-sized pleasure resorts.

Learn more about species from Cambodia on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 21

A battle for survival

Despite three of the world’s five rhino species being classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, rhinos remain embroiled at the centre of a bitter poaching battle. In southern Africa, poaching is the single biggest threat to rhino survival, and since 2006, more than a thousand rhinos have been slaughtered by increasingly organised gangs and crime syndicates.

Levels of poaching have escalated in recent years, fuelled largely by increasing demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is highly valued in traditional medicine. In fact, rhino horn is known to rival the price of gold on the black market; last year in Vietnam dealers quoted prices of up to $133 per gram of rhino horn – almost double the price fetched by gold.

Get Involved: Your chance for a Q & A session with Peter Gwin

With several rhino species edging ever-closer to extinction, the urgent need for conservation of these magnificent animals has never been clearer. So, with that in mind, we’re giving you the chance to find out more about some of the issues surrounding rhino conservation.

On Thursday 22nd March at 5pm GMT/1pm EST/10am PST, ARKive is hosting an exclusive Facebook 30 minute chat with NatGeo author Peter Gwin about issues surrounding rhino conservation in South Africa.

Photo of black rhinoceros

The black rhino is the smaller of the two African rhino species, but it is still targeted by poachers for its valuable horn.

What would you like to ask Peter about rhino conservation? Post your questions on our Facebook event page for a chance to discover Peter’s views.

About the author

Peter Gwin has been a staff writer at National Geographic since 2003, reporting on everything from modern pirates in Southeast Asia to early tyrannosaurs in western China. His most recent piece, entitled Rhino Wars, was published in the March 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

The article is a hard-hitting piece about some of the gritty issues faced by organisations and individuals’ working to conserve the world’s remaining rhinos (WARNING: some graphic images).

©Brent Stirton/National Geographic

A white rhino cow (left) grazes with a bull that has become her companion after a poaching attack in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Using a helicopter, a gang tracked her and her four-week-old calf, shot her with a tranquilizer dart, and cut off her horns with a chain saw. Rangers found her a week later, searching for her calf, which had died, probably of starvation and dehydration. ©Brent Stirton/National Geographic.

Peter will also be releasing an eShort book in April – Rhino Wars: The Violent Underworld of Poachers and Black Market Medicine.

Interested in rhino conservation? Don’t forget to join the debate on Facebook before Thursday and post your rhino conservation questions for Peter.

Mar 20

New data has been added to global temperature records, which now indicate that the world has warmed even more in the last decade than previously thought.

Polar bear image

The polar bear is one of many species affected by climate change

Adding the Arctic

Researchers from the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia have updated HadCRUT, a global temperature set, to include data from weather stations in the Arctic, a region which has experienced one of the greatest levels of warming. The results have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Analysis of the new data within HadCRUT, one of just three global temperature sets and one which dates back to 1850, reveals that the world is warming even more than previously thought. The dataset, now known as HadCRUT4, indicates that between 1998 and 2010, temperatures rose by 0.11 degrees Celsius, which is 0.04 degrees more than previously estimated.

Quiver tree image

Quiver tree

A change in the top spot

The new data has also led to a re-ordering of the hottest years on record, and HadCRUT4’s information is now more in line with the two other global records, held by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the USA.

Prior to the update, HadCRUT placed 1998 as the hottest year on record, followed by 2010, 2005, 2003 and 2002. The addition of the new data now puts 2010 in the lead, followed by 2005, 1998, 2003 and 2006.

Despite these changes, the main conclusions of the temperature series have not altered; the dataset still indicates that, since 1850, an overall warming of 0.75 degrees Celsius has occurred, with the 10 warmest years on record all being in the last 14 years.

Arctic fox image

Arctic fox cubs playfighting

A necessary revision

Phil Jones, the director of CRU, explains that the update was required as previous data was not fully capturing changes in the Arctic due to a lack of data from the polar region, “For the latest version, we have included observations from more than 400 (observation) stations across the Arctic, Russia and Canada. This has led to better representation of what’s going on in the large geographical region.”

Fellow scientist Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, highlights the benefits of the update, and adds, “The scientific evidence is really strong that we are warming.”

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

Banishing buckets

Further alterations which have improved the reliability of the HadCRUT dataset include changes in the way in which sea surface temperature (SST) is recorded. Traditional methods of using buckets to collect sea water have been replaced by electronic sensors attached to ships, which can accurately record SST without introducing anomalies created through the use of different bucket types or due to the locations in which measurements were taken.

These improvements have allowed scientists to recalibrate and recalculate data, amending data collected in previous years.

An example of this is the rapid change in the kinds of measurements we see in the digital archives around the Second World War,” explains Dr Stott. “Research has shown readings from buckets were generally cooler so when the database changes from one source to another, you see artificial jumps in the temperature. We have quantified these effects and corrected them, providing a clearer view of the evolution of global temperatures.

Read more on this story at BBC – Update for world temperature data.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Met Office: World warmed even more in last ten years than previously thought when Arctic data added.

Learn more about climate change on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

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