Aug 31
Photo of red wolf panting

Red wolf (Canis rufus)

Species: Red wolf (Canis rufus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Breeding pairs of red wolves mate for life and usually live in small packs with their offspring, who help rear subsequent litters of pups.

More information:

A smaller relative of the grey wolf, the red wolf is characterised by the reddish colour of its fur, with this colour being most apparent on its neck and legs. The red wolf is most active at dawn and dusk, when it hunts mammals such as rabbits, deer, raccoons and small rodents. It is also reported to feed on carrion. Breeding pairs typically have litters of three to six pups, and all the members of the pack help to rear the young. The red wolf inhabits swamps, forests and wetlands, and was once common throughout the eastern and south-central United States.

The red wolf is one of the rarest canids in the world. Extensive persecution and forest clearance caused a dramatic decline in its population, while hybridisation with the closely related coyote posed a further threat. Despite being designated as an endangered species in 1967, the red wolf became extinct in the wild by 1980. Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already begun efforts to conserve this charismatic predator, and the last few wild individuals had been taken into captivity to start a captive breeding programme. The red wolf has now been reintroduced to a remote part of North Carolina, and as of 2010 the reintroduced population numbered around 130 individuals. The species is fully protected within its current range, but education programmes will be important in maintaining public support for this large carnivore. As a top predator, the red wolf can help control populations of deer, raccoons and small rodents, and therefore plays a vital role in the ecosystems it inhabits.

 

Find out more about the red wolf at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Red Wolf Coalition.

See images and videos of the red wolf on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 30

Beyond the signature kangaroo or koala, did you know that Australia is also home to a wide range of lesser-known and somewhat bizarre-looking species such as the spotted handfish or the southern hairy-nosed wombat?  With astounding habitats including Barrow Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and the outback, we thought we would take the opportunity to highlight just some of the unique species found in this spectacular land!

Weedy wader Leafy seadragon swimming

The leafy seadragon is endemic to Australia, meaning it is found nowhere else on Earth. Living in shallow coastal waters, these slow-moving creatures call underwater seagrass meadows home, blending in perfectly due to their leaf-like appendages.

King croc

Immature saltwater crocodile swimming underwater

The largest of all crocodilians, the saltwater crocodile roams both the land and sea. By using its powerful tail and webbed hind feet, this species is an effective aquatic predator. The saltwater crocodile feasts on large land animals such as wallabies, dingoes, and even humans!

The face of climate change

Found only in northern Australia, the lemuroid ringtail possum may become Australia’s first victim of global climate change. Being unable to withstand temperatures over 86°F (30°C), this species is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves, which are expected to increase in frequency as the climate changes. In fact, a heatwave in 2005 was thought to have wiped out the entire population until a few individuals were finally discovered in 2009.

Misunderstood marsupial

Adult Tasmanian devil

Known for its frightening nocturnal screeches, the Tasmanian devil is the largest of the carnivorous marsupials. Contrary to its savage reputation, the Tasmanian devil is actually quite shy and is only aggressive when feeling threatened or when in competition with other devils.

Snack and swim

Dugong with remoras

Strictly feeding on plants, the dugong is often referred to as the ‘sea cow’, but it is actually more closely related to elephants than cows! Found off the coast of northern Australia, the dugong uses its flexible upper lip to rip whole plants apart, leaving ‘feeding trails’ on the sea floor. What a messy eater!

Water-free wallaby

Black-footed rock wallaby with young on rock

Found throughout Australia, the black-footed wallaby lives its life in groups of 10 to 100 individuals. Found primarily in rock piles and granite outcrops, this wallaby feasts mostly on grasses and fruit, and, interestingly, obtains nearly all of its water through its food.

Burrow builder

Southern hairy-nosed wombat

An expert digger, the southern hairy-nosed wombat is able to construct burrows that support a constant inside temperature of 78°F in the summer and 57.2 °F in the winter. These burrows are often formed as networks of up to thirty meters long that can host five to ten wombats.

Smooth sailing

Sugar glider on branch preparing to leap

The softly furred sugar glider uses the membrane along its body to glide distances of up to 150 feet between trees. This agile possum also has a rather distinctive alarm call, which is said to resemble a yapping dog!

Cultural croaker

Northern corroboree frog

Found only in the northern Australian Alps and the Australian Capital Territory, the northern corroboree frog has a local cultural story attached to its name. ‘Corroboree’ is an aboriginal word used to describe a gathering, where traditionally attendees are adorned with brightly colored yellow markings similar to those of this frog.

Aquatic ambler

Spotted handfish

A fish with ‘hands’ that can walk the ocean floor? It’s true! The spotted handfish, one of the world’s most endangered fish, is able to use its characteristic ‘hand-like’ fins to walk the sea floor, occasionally sucking on prey like shrimp and small fish. Threatened by development, a restricted distribution and a low reproductive rate, the spotted handfish population may be restored in the future through successful re-introduction programs.

If you’re looking to continue your ‘walkabout’ around Australia on ARKive, check out the new Barrow Island topic page or search the 1,200+ Australian species on ARKive today. Feel free to share your favorite Aussie species in the comments below!

Jade Womack, Education & Outreach Intern, Wildscreen USA

Aug 28

A significant improvement in the health of seagrass in a central Californian estuary is due to the return of sea otters, according to recent research.

Sea otter image

Researchers have found that the presence of sea otters may be improving the health of seagrass beds

Seagrass decline

Seagrass has been suffering drastic declines worldwide, and coastal California is no exception. Urbanisation has led to a massive increase in nutrient pollution along the state’s coast, with run-off from fields treated with nitrogen-rich fertilisers being blamed for the reduction in seagrass beds in the region. However, new research has revealed that the return of sea otter populations to the area may be enabling seagrass levels to recover.

Sea otters were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly for their dense pelt which was extremely sought-after for the fur trade. This latest research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that the drastic reduction in sea otter numbers may have exacerbated the decline of seagrass in the region.

Sea otters are now returning to the area, and, despite the continued pollution of the ocean, the water-dwelling plants are now doing much better. It is thought that the return of sea otters has triggered a complex ecological chain reaction which favours the survival of seagrass.

Sea otter feeding image

Sea otters feed on crabs and other shellfish

Seagrass saviour

Scientists assessed seagrass levels in part of Monterey Bay, California, over the past 50 years, mapping increases and declines. A whole host of factors which could potentially affect seagrass levels were studied, but the only one which matched the recorded changes was sea otter numbers. The health of the marine ecosystem relies upon a delicate balance of predator and prey species, and scientists have theorised that it is a readjustment in this balance that is now enabling seagrass to thrive.

Increased nutrients in the ocean due to fertiliser run-off have favoured the growth of a particular type of algae which grows on seagrass, shading the leaves and causing them to die off. Ordinarily, this algae is kept in check by small invertebrates which feed upon it, but with the reduction in sea otters came an increase in one of its main food sources – crabs. Crabs feed on marine invertebrates, so higher numbers of crabs meant fewer invertebrates to keep algae levels down, therefore contributing to the drastic reduction in seagrass.

Testing the hypothesis

To test their theory, the researchers set up experiments in similar estuaries with and without sea otters, and carried out other tests in the field as well as in the lab. One experiment involved putting cages on the seagrass, with some being accessible to sea otters and some not. The results of the tests confirmed the hypothesis.

Sea otter image

Sea otters

Fighting climate change

Brent Hughes, lead author of the study, described seagrass as being ‘the canary in the coalmine’, as it can be used to predict the levels of nutrient pollution in the water. He marvelled at the positive effect the return of the sea otters is having, saying, “This estuary is part of one of the most polluted systems in the entire world, but you can still get this healthy thriving habitat, and it’s all because of the sea otters. So it’s almost like these sea otters are fighting the effects of poor water quality.”

Seagrass plays an extremely important role in the marine ecosystem, acting as a nursery habitat for a wide variety of fish species, and taking in carbon dioxide from the water and the atmosphere, therefore potentially helping in the fight against climate change. In addition to this, seagrass contributes to the stability and protection of the shoreline.

It’s what we call a foundation species, like kelp forest, salt marsh or coral reef,” said Hughes. “The major problem from a global perspective is that seagrass is declining worldwide. And one of the major drivers of this decline has been nutrient inputs from anthropogenic sources, via agriculture or urban runoff.”

Benefits

A ban on sea otters that was in place to prevent them from impinging on fisheries in the southern California area was lifted last year, and so the findings from this latest research are particularly relevant.

That’s important because there’s a lot of these kind of degraded estuaries in southern California because of all the urban runoff from places like Los Angeles and San Diego,” said Hughes. “Coastal managers will now have a better sense of what’s going to happen when sea otters move into their systems. There’s a huge potential benefit to sea otters returning to these estuaries, and into these seagrass beds that might be threatened.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Sea otter return boosts ailing seagrass in California.

See more photos and videos of sea otters on ARKive.

Learn more about the importance of food chains and food webs in our exciting Web of Wildlife education resource.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 24
Photo of Mauritian flying fox in flight

Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger)

Species: Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Mauritian flying fox is named for its fox-like face, but is in fact a large species of fruit bat.

More information:

The only fruit bat to occur on the island of Mauritius, the Mauritian flying fox is a large bat with golden-brown fur. This species has a wingspan of about 80 centimetres, and the long, narrow shape of its wings allows it to travel long distances as it seeks out food in the forest canopy. The Mauritian flying fox feeds mainly on fruit, which it squeezes in its mouth to obtain the juices before spitting out the seeds and pulp. This species roosts in trees, where it gathers in large groups known as ‘camps’. Like other flying foxes, the Mauritian flying fox gives birth to a single young each year. Although this species is found almost entirely on Mauritius, a few individuals have also been reported from nearby Réunion in recent years.

The main threat to the Mauritian flying fox is deforestation. Only around five percent of the original vegetation on Mauritius now remains, and over half the plants the Mauritian flying fox feeds on are introduced species. Despite legal protection, this large bat is hunted for food and sport, and in 2006 the Mauritian government endorsed a culling programme as a result of alleged damage to fruit crops. The Mauritian flying fox occurs in a number of protected areas and is listed on Appendix II of CITES, but illegal hunting is still reported to occur. Recommended conservation measures include research into this bat’s populations, together with habitat restoration, education campaigns and captive breeding. The effects of culling also need to be assessed, as does the effectiveness of netting fruit trees to protect crops. The Mauritian flying fox plays a vital role in pollination and seed dispersal, so conserving this species will also help maintain the health of the island’s remaining forests.

 

Find out more about bat conservation at:

You can also find out more about Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands on our Indian Ocean islands page and at the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

See more images of the Mauritian flying fox on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Aug 20

Madagascar’s lemurs could be all but wiped out within the next 20 years unless drastic action is taken, according to primatologists.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur portrait

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Threats to lemurs

All lemur species are endemic to Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and a global “hotspot” of biodiversity. However, these unique primates are under threat from habitat loss and hunting, and recent assessments have found that an alarming 91% of lemur species should be placed in the IUCN Red List threatened categories. This makes lemurs the world’s most endangered mammal group.

One of the greatest threats to lemurs is widespread deforestation. Decades of logging, mining and agriculture have already destroyed 90% of Madagascar’s forests, confining lemurs to the remaining fragments. In recent years, political instability has compounded the problem, forcing many local people to turn to illegal logging and hunting to survive.

Photo of brown lemur on a tree trunk

The brown lemur, listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN

According to Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a local primatologist, “If continued at this rate of deforestation, we can say that within 20 to 25 years there will be no more forest and thus no more lemurs.”

Lemur conservation strategy

To tackle the issues facing these charismatic primates, the world’s leading primate experts came together this month to draw up a three-year strategy for lemur conservation. This strategy contains 30 action plans for the 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation, and it aims to help with fundraising for individual projects.

According to Dr Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, there are three main actions which will be most effective for lemur conservation in the field: “First working on grassroots projects with local communities so people can make a difference for themselves, secondly supporting eco-tourism projects and thirdly establishing research stations as a permanent facility to protect against loggers and hunters.”

Photo of Verreaux's sifaka about to leap from tree

Like many other lemurs, Verreaux’s sifaka is threatened by habitat loss and hunting

Benjamin Andriamihaja of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments said, “We try to fund activities that generate revenues, like planting beans, rearing pigs and chickens or developing fish farming, so that peasants stop destroying the forest.”

Hard work is yet to come

Speaking about the new strategy for lemur conservation, Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said, “The fact is that if we don’t act now we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time in two centuries. The importance of the projects we’ve outlined in this document simply cannot be overstated.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young

The Alaotran gentle lemur has a very restricted range and specialised habitat, putting it at high risk of extinction

However, he said that he was an optimist and would not give up on any species of lemur, adding that, “This document shows how well people can work together when species are on the brink. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here but the hard work is yet to come.”

 

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Furry lemurs ‘could be wiped out within 20 years’.

Find out more about Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands.

View more photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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