Oct 12

The cost of establishing protected areas for nature and reducing the risk of extinction for threatened species across the globe could amount to about $76 billion, according to a new study.

Razo lark image

On account of its small range, the Razo lark would be relatively inexpensive to save

The cost of unmet targets

Back in 2002, an agreement was reached by governments across the world to achieve a significant reduction in global biodiversity loss by 2010, but unfortunately this target was far from met. Further agreements to reduce the rate of human-induced extinctions and to improve protected areas by 2020 were agreed at a meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan in 2010, yet progress towards these goals also appears to be somewhat limited, due in part to a lack of clarity surrounding the financial costs of such an undertaking.

To tackle this issue, an international collaboration of conservation groups and universities has carried out a study to determine the likely costs of achieving these goals, including the financial backing required to ensure that, by 2020, protected areas cover 17% of land and inland water areas.

Reducing the extinction threat for all species would cost five billion U.S. dollars a year, but establishing and maintaining a comprehensive global network of protected areas would cost substantially more,” said Donal McCarthy, environmental economist from the RSPB and leader of the study. “It could be up to 76 billion dollars annually to meet both targets.”

In their paper, published recently in the journal Science, researchers also warned that such figures were likely to increase should conservation action be delayed.

Indian rhino image

The Indian rhino is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Calculating cost

Conservation data on 211 species of globally threatened birds was used to analyse the cost of improving the conservation status of each bird by one category on the IUCN Red List. These results were then used as the basis of a model which then extrapolated the costs of conservation for all threatened bird species. When coupled with further data on the conservation of threatened mammals, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants, this model could predict the costs across all threatened species.

The researchers also gathered information on the costs of protecting sites from threats such as deforestation, poaching and over-harvesting, as well as the financial responsibilities associated with improving existing conservation zones.

The researchers acknowledged that the costs involved in saving individual species vary as widely as the strategies required to save them, from controlling poaching to eradicating invasive species, yet some encouraging results emerged.

A key finding of our analysis was that the most highly threatened species tend to be relatively cheap to save on account of their small range sizes, such as the Razo lark, which lives on the island of Razo in the Cape Verde islands,” said Mr McCarthy. “Experts say conserving the species would cost less than one hundred thousand a year over the next ten years.”

Tiger image

Bengal tiger cubs resting

Putting it into perspective

The figures resulting from the data analysis may seem enormous, but when compared to government budgets and global expenditures, Mr McCarthy pointed out that it is a small price to pay. “These are just a fraction of what we as consumers spend on soft drinks each year which is almost half a trillion dollars – the total required for species and sites is less than half of what is paid out in bonuses to bankers on Wall street’s biggest investment banks,” he said.

To truly put matters into perspective, the amount required to reduce biodiversity loss is a mere 1% of the value of ecosystems currently being lost annually.

Philippine eagle image

Philippine eagle

Strategise and optimise

Despite this perspective, however, some scientists, including Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds, are not convinced that the global economy can afford such large sums given the current economic crisis. “Some species in some places are absolutely crucial to the way the ecosystem works, but that may not be the case in other places,” he said. So rather than trying to save everything everywhere, I think we need to be more strategic, in a very money-limited world, to optimise conservation targets rather than to maximise all biodiversity everywhere.”

Yet Mr McCarthy and his colleagues disagree. Stuart Butchart, the global research co-coordinator at BirdLife International in Cambridge, underlined the importance of nature to human wellbeing, one of the challenges currently facing those attending the CBD meeting in India this week. “These aren’t bills, they are investments in natural capital, because they are dwarfed by the benefits we get back from nature, the ecosystem services, such as pollination of crops, regulation of climate, and the provision of clean water,” he said. Governments have found vast sums to prop up the financial infrastructure of the world. It’s even more vital to keep our natural infrastructure from failing.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Scientists say billions required to meet conservation targets and at The Guardian – Cost of saving endangered species £50bn a year, say experts.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Oct 11

An unusual species of turtle has been found to excrete waste substances through its mouth, according to a team of scientists in Singapore.

Photo of the head of a captive Chinese softshell turtle

The scientists were puzzled by the behaviour of the Chinese softshell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) as, despite needing to breathe air, it often submerged its head in water for up to 100 minutes at a time.

When they studied the turtle in the lab, the team found that it regularly dipped its head into water and rinsed it through its mouth. The rhythmic motion of its throat, not to mention the fact that it did not drown, indicated that it was still ‘breathing’ while submerged.

Photo of a Chinese softshell turtle hauled out on log, damselfly on back

Excreting urea

After testing the water, the scientists found increased levels of the chemical compound urea, a nitrogen-rich waste substance that is excreted by most vertebrates via the kidneys and passed out as urine. In turtles, urea normally passes out of the cloaca, a single orifice used for excretion and for reproduction.

However, the team’s findings showed that the Chinese softshell turtle excretes significantly more urea through its mouth than through its cloaca. This adds to previous research that indicated that this species has highly specialised mouth tissues, a fact first discussed over a century ago when it was suggested that their velvety mouth functions in a similar way to fish gills. The findings of the research have been published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Portrait photo of a captive chinese softshell turtle

According to Professor Ip Yuen Kwong, one of the researchers, “These results indicate for the first time that [mouth tissue] processes and rhythmic [throat] movements were involved in urea excretion in P. sinensis.”

We were greatly surprised by our novel results because it is generally accepted that the kidney is responsible for the excretion of urea in vertebrates – except fish,” he said.

Farmed for food

An odd-looking turtle with a leathery shell, the Chinese softshell turtle is native to much of East Asia, occurring in China, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. It has also been introduced to Thailand and the United States.

Photo of Chinese softshell turtle on ground

The Chinese softshell turtle is typically found in swampy, brackish water, and the scientists have suggested that the ability to excrete urea via the mouth may have helped this and other soft-shelled turtles to successfully invade brackish and marine environments.

To produce urine in the kidneys, the turtles would have to regularly take in water, which would be harmful when the water is too salty. By simply rinsing its mouth with the brackish water, the turtle can avoid the problems associated with drinking it.

The Chinese softshell turtle may also be able to take in oxygen through its mouth tissues.

Considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia, this species is farmed in vast numbers for food, but its wild populations also continue to be exploited. As a result, the Chinese softshell turtle is in decline, and has been classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Chinese turtle passes waste urea through its mouth.

View more photos and videos of turtles on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Oct 10

Here in the Northern Hemisphere autumn has well and truly hit us and we are moving fast heading towards winter. As leaves change colour and fall from the trees, many creatures are beginning their preparation for hibernation and birds are embarking on their seasonal migrations to warmer climes. Across the globe many species rely on seasonal changes in weather to signal the next stage in their life cycle, such as hibernation, migration, blooming or molting. Although all organisms go through natural lifecycles, the study of seasonal cycling is unique and scientists refer to it as phenology.

What is phenology?

By definition, phenology is the study of how seasonal and climatic changes influence natural cycles. Not only can phenology provide valuable clues to the lifecycles of individual species, it can also highlight the importance of relationships between species. For example, insects such as honey bees must carefully time their spring emergence with the blooming of flowers, which they rely upon to provide nectar and pollen.

Honey bee photo

Come spring time, honey bees rely on blooming plants for food, while the plants rely upon the bees for pollination


Why study phenology?

Although phenology seems like something that is just observed and not studied, it is actually very valuable to research phenological patterns. Understanding phenology can allow scientists to make comparisons to see if a community is healthy and following normal cycles. Phenology can also aid conservation efforts, for example by calculating the timing and migration routes of the North Atlantic right whale, the species can be protected appropriately throughout its range at different times of year.

North Atlantic right whale photo

Conservation measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale include regulations in the US to restrict the use of certain types of fishing gear in specific areas at times when the whales are present


What triggers seasonal changes in nature?

One well-known sign that the seasons are changing is the difference in temperature throughout the year, but there are other indicators that may not be as well known. For example, the Caspian seal relies on the presence of ice formations in the Caspian Sea to trigger its seasonal migration to different locations, while the Critically Endangered black-eared mantella gets its signal to start the breeding season from seasonal fluctuations in rainfall.

Caspian seal photo

The Caspian seal relies on change in ice formation to jump-start its migration

Black-eared mantella photo

The black-eared mantella begins breeding at the arrival of the seasonal rains











How can climate change affect phenology?

Climate change can have a negative effect on species that follow phenological patterns. For example, unusual seasonal droughts in the Namib Desert in southern Africa were followed by large declines in quiver tree numbers, which scientists believe to be the result of drought stress. Climate change can also effect species’ reproductive cycles, for example the loggerhead turtle comes ashore to lay its eggs in the summer when the odds of the young surviving are at their highest. Changes in climate patterns are likely to shift this cycle, putting the eggs and young at risk.

Loggerhead turtle photo

Climate change could cause this young loggerhead turtle to hatch too early or too late in the season

Butterflies and blooms education resource

Related education resource

Learn more about phenology with our creative Butterflies and Blooms education resource. Check it out on the ARKive Education pages, and help your students to discover the relationship between the butterflies of Wisconsin’s Northwoods and the springtime flowers they depend upon.

Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA

Oct 8
Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica) photo

Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

Species: Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

Status:  Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The coco-de-mer has some of the longest leaves and the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world.

The coco-de-mer is a palm tree endemic to the Seychelles. Unlike other Seychelles palms, the coco-de-mer is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. Coco-de-mer palms start producing fruit after 25 years, and these fruits take 7 years to develop. The seeds can weigh up to an enormous 30kg, and give this species its name: seeing the seeds washed up on deserted beaches or riding the waves, sailors named them ‘coconuts of the sea’ as they appeared to come from a mysterious plant in the ocean.

This palm has been lost from the wild from three Seychelles islands within its former range. The collection and trade of coco-de-mer seeds has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations. Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations. The Seychelles is a World Heritage Site, giving protection to much of the coco-de-mer’s habitat. The trade in these seeds is now controlled by the Coco-de-mer (Management) Decree of 1995. The continued protection of populations and enforcement of regulations is important to secure the future of the magnificent coco-de-mer.

Find out more about the coco-de-mer on the  Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) website.

See images and videos of the coco-de-mer on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Oct 5

Population numbers of the tamaraw, the world’s most threatened buffalo species, have reached their highest since annual surveys began in 2001, according to figures from WWF-Philippines.

Tamaraw image

The tamaraw is the largest mammal native to the Philippines

Small but mighty

The tamaraw, also known as the Mindoro pygmy buffalo, is a national icon in the Philippines, where depictions of this small, robust species feature heavily on everything from coins to cars, and provincial statues to university sports teams. Sadly, this wary and famously fierce bovid also has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the rarest mammals in existence, but according to recent population surveys, conservation efforts are proving to be successful in increasing tamaraw numbers.

Historical threats

Some 12,000 years ago, tamaraw herds ranged across much of mainland Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, yet by the early 1900s, migrants had killed off many populations of this stocky buffalo species, leaving just 10,000 individuals on the island of Mindoro. Since then, several other factors have contributed to the continued decline of the tamaraw, including a crippling outbreak of the cattle-killing Rinderpest virus in the 1930s. Poaching and habitat destruction have also proven to be major threats to this species, leaving just a few hundred individuals surviving on the grassy slopes and forest patches of Mindoro, and have contributed to the tamaraw’s listing as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Tamaraw image

Gregg Yan from WWF-Philippines took this wonderful shot

Continued crisis

Despite being legally protected from poaching by four national laws, including the Wildlife Act which can lead to imprisonment and substantial fines for violators, illegal hunting, mainly for trophies, continues to be a problem on Mindoro.

Even the island’s wildlife reserves are not spared by poachers, as Edgardo Flores, a ranger with the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) who leads patrols in core zones within Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park, explains, “Still some poachers come here to hunt them, mainly for sport. Just this April we chanced upon a poaching laager. Our rangers recovered a tamaraw hide and assorted parts. Six hunters with tracker dogs snuck into the park at night, armed with M2 carbines, .22 hunting rifles and some homemade 12-gauge shotguns. Examples will be made – we’re now filing for their arrest.”

Close-up of tamaraw horns

The tamaraw has stout, powerful horns, measuring up to 51 centimetres

Teaming up for the tamaraw

WWF-Philippines has teamed up with the Far Eastern University (FEU) to further support TCP initiatives, and together they have formed Tamaraw Times Two by 2020, dubbed ‘Tams 2’. This project has set conservationists an ambitious goal: to double wild tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020. To monitor success, annual population counts are conducted each April, with promising results so far.

Yes, I believe we can double the number of wild tamaraw before 2020,” affirms Rodel Boyles, TCP head and Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park Superintendent. “This April we counted 327 heads – the highest ever posted since we began our annual surveys in 2001. There were many calves and yearlings, a sure sign that the population is breeding. Finally, the count is conducted in a 16,000 hectare portion of a 75,000 hectare park. If we can find 327 heads in this small area, then there should be many more.”

Photographic mission

Armed with nothing but cameras, and shooting only pictures, a group from TCP and WWF-Philippines recently set out on the grassy slopes of the Iglit-Baco mountain range with one goal in mind: to photograph the world’s rarest buffalo species. The expedition was a success, despite several close encounters with the confrontational tamaraw.

Philippine brown deer image

Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park is home to several other threatened species, including the Vulnerable Philippine brown deer (Rusa marianna)

Home to many – tamaraw to tribesfolk

As well as the tamaraw, several other threatened species call Iglit-Baco National Park home, including the Mindoro warty pig (Sus oliveri), the large Mindoro forest mouse (Apomys gracilirostris), and the Philippine brown deer (Rusa marianna). These animals share the park with the reclusive, forest-dwelling Tawbuid or Batangan tribe, part of eight indigenous groups known as ‘Mangyan’.

Human activities, such as slash-and-burn farming, are a major concern in the area, with many groups, including the Tawbuid, cutting down essential forest groves. To mitigate these threats, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been working tirelessly through the TCP to ensure that tamaraw core habitats are managed and protected, whilst engaging local communities in conservation efforts and simultaneously improving their lives.

We make it a point to hire Tawbuid tribesfolk, not just as trackers or porters, but as actual staff. Their bushcraft and knowledge of terrain make them particularly effective rangers,” says Mr Boyles. “Community-based education is our drive. Some groups cannot read nor write, so it is our duty to let them know that certain animals are protected by law. Our dream is to turn the park into the Mounts Iglit-Baco Biotic Area – a zone where the influence of modern society cannot replace the traditional practices of indigenous groups. We work not just to conserve the tamaraw – but the Tawbuid’s way of life.”

Read more on this story at WWF-Philippines – Return of the Tamaraw.

Learn more about the tamaraw on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author


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