Oct 23

From saving the world’s most threatened species of sea turtle to bringing unusual amphibians back from the brink of extinction, no conservation conundrum is a lost cause if knowledge, dedication and strong partnerships are put into play. This is the message being championed by ARKive to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.

Through its unparalleled collection of wildlife imagery, ARKive – an initiative of wildlife charity Wildscreen – has become a platform to inform, and a place to encourage conversation for conservation. To mark a decade spent educating, enthusing and inspiring people to care about the natural world and highlighting the importance of biodiversity, ARKive is flying the flag for conservation by featuring ten species which are set to improve in status over the next ten years should positive action continue.

Juliana's golden-mole image

Juliana’s golden-mole

ARKive’s chosen species, which were selected in consultation with species experts of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), represent a variety of taxonomic groups, and reflect the fascinating array of organisms with which we share our planet. From Juliana’s golden mole, one of Africa’s oldest and most enigmatic mammals, to the Asian white-backed vulture, a bird which has suffered a 99.9% population decline in just over a decade, this selection of species aims to raise awareness of the myriad threats faced by wildlife, and demonstrate how targeted conservation action can truly make a difference.

ARKive is working with the world’s leading wildlife filmmakers, photographers, conservationists and scientists to promote a greater appreciation of our natural world and the need for its conservation,” said Wildscreen CEO, Richard Edwards. In this our tenth year, we wanted to celebrate not only the great diversity of life on Earth, but also the vital conservation work that is being carried out around the world, and highlight that by working together to raise awareness, share knowledge and take positive action conservation can and does work.

Lord Howe Island stick insect

Lord Howe Island stick insect

One particularly impressive conservation story is that of the Lord Howe Island stick insect, a large, flightless invertebrate endemic to Australia. Once common on Lord Howe Island, this unusual insect was driven to extinction following the accidental introduction of rats to the island, only surviving in an area of 180 square metres on a large rock to the southeast of its original habitat. Without detailed scientific knowledge of the reasons behind its decline, this fascinating species might, by now, have been added to the ever-increasing list of extinct species. However, thanks to scientific exploration and understanding, and with the invaluable application of appropriate conservation measures, it is believed that the Lord Howe Island stick insect could be re-introduced to its native habitat in the next few years.

Kihansi spray toad image

Kihansi spray toads

Another species on the road to recovery as a result of targeted conservation action is the Kihansi spray toad, a rare dwarf amphibian found only in a two-hectare area of habitat in eastern Tanzania’s Kihansi River Gorge. In addition to catastrophic population declines due to a devastating amphibian fungal disease, the Kihansi spray toad has suffered at the hands of habitat loss. The construction of a dam on the Kihansi River in 2000 caused the diminutive toad’s wetland habitat – which relied on being moistened by waterfall spray – to dry out, leading to the amphibian’s dramatic decline and its listing as Extinct in the Wild on the IUCN Red List.

By working in partnership, zoos and conservation organisations were able to set up successful captive breeding programmes for the Kihansi spray toad, boosting an initial captive population of 499 individuals to an incredible 6,000. Conservationists also took the unusual step of setting up an artificial sprinkler system, which by 2010 had restored the Kihansi spray toad’s habitat, and by December 2012 an international team of experts – including scientists from the IUCN SSC Amphibian and Re-introduction Specialist Groups – had re-introduced 2,000 toads to Kihansi. This incredible achievement marks the first time that an amphibian classified as Extinct in the Wild has been returned to its native habitat.

The state of the natural world is increasingly worrying, with many species teetering on the brink of extinction,” said Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission. “However, conservation does work and we should be greatly encouraged by success stories such as the re-introduction of the Kihansi spray toad. Many other admirable conservation achievements also show that the situation can be reversed thanks to the dedication and determination of experts and scientists worldwide. With continued effort and support, there is much we can achieve.”

Kemp's ridley turtle image

Kemp’s ridley turtle

Another case in point is that of the Kemp’s ridley turtle, a marine reptile which once numbered in the tens of thousands, but which declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s primarily due to the overexploitation of eggs and adult turtles. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of turtle biologists, a wealth of information on the Kemp’s ridley turtle’s biology, distribution and potential threats has been collected in recent years, which has contributed greatly to a special recovery plan for the species.

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have made a commitment, through the Aichi Targets, not only to prevent the extinction of threatened species but also to improve their conservation status – ARKive’s tenth anniversary campaign is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and show that it really does work,” said Dr Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “Along with our extensive network of scientific experts, we look forward to working even more closely with ARKive, an IUCN Red List Partner, to strive towards achieving the important goals the world has set.

Asian white-backed vulture image

Asian white-backed vulture

While the work of conservationists and scientific experts is a vital component in the fight against species extinctions, ARKive is also keen to highlight the role that members of the general public can play in the future survival of Earth’s incredible biodiversity. By learning more about the natural world around them and understanding its importance, it is hoped that people will be inspired to take action in their daily lives to safeguard our invaluable species and ecosystems. From recycling and limiting plastic usage to making wiser seafood choices and supporting some of the many hundreds of organisations and scientists who devote their lives to conservation, we can all strive towards building a healthier planet.

Find out more about the ten species on the road to recovery on ARKive’s Conservation in Action page.

Sep 28
Photo of western leopard toad in habitat

Western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus)

Species: Western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The western leopard toad’s distinctive markings are unique to each individual.

More information:

Found only in a small part of the Western Cape Province of South Africa, the western leopard toad is a beautifully patterned amphibian with striking reddish-brown blotches on its back. A large, reddish-coloured gland on each side of its head produces toxins that help deter predators. This species lives on the ground and spends most of its time away from water, but between August and October large numbers converge on suitable pools to breed. Males call from vegetation to attract females, giving a distinctive, deep, snore-like call. Each female western leopard toad produces up to an incredible 25,000 eggs, but only a few young toads survive to reach maturity. This species is never found more than ten kilometres inland.

Although the western leopard toad can survive in urban gardens and parks, it is under threat from increasing urbanisation, development and agriculture. Many toads are killed on roads, particularly when migrating to breeding sites, and this species can also die by becoming trapped in artificial, vertical-sided water bodies such as swimming pools. Predatory fish, invasive plants and captive ducks also present threats at its breeding pools. Fortunately, a number of conservation measures are underway to protect this colourful amphibian. The western leopard toad is legally protected in South Africa, and a Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee has been helping to draft a management plan for the species. Volunteers help to rescue toads from roads, and the public have been encouraged to send in photographs of the toads and their unique markings to help monitor their populations. By helping to raise awareness of urban conservation issues, efforts to save the western leopard toad may also benefit a range of other species.

 

Find out more about the western leopard toad and its conservation at the Western Leopard Toad website.

You can also find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive’s Amphibian Conservation page.

See more images of the western leopard toad 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 17
Photo of Salvin's mushroomtongue salamander on a leaf

Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander (Bolitoglossa salvinii)

Species: Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander (Bolitoglossa salvinii)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander lives in trees, where it uses its thick, prehensile tail and webbed feet to help it grip onto leaves.

More information:

A strikingly coloured amphibian, Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander belongs to an unusual group of amphibians known as ‘lungless salamanders’. The members of this group lack lungs and instead absorb oxygen through their skin and their mouth lining. Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander actively climbs around in trees in search of invertebrate prey, which it catches using its remarkable projectile tongue, which can be shot out at great speed. Females of this species lay small clutches of eggs in damp places on land, and the eggs hatch directly into miniature versions of the adults, rather than going through a tadpole stage.

Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander originally inhabited forests in southern Guatemala and possibly also in El Salvador. However, much of its habitat has been lost and fragmented, mainly due to clearance for agriculture. Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander is now mostly found in shaded coffee and banana plantations, as well as sugarcane fields, but any clearance of these to create more open, drier habitats would negatively impact upon its populations. As yet, there is no direct evidence that the fungal disease chytridiomycosis is responsible for the declines in this and other Central American salamanders, but it is possible that it has played a role. There are currently no specific conservation measures in place for Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander, but maintaining moist, shaded habitats will be important to its survival. A number of protected areas have been proposed within its range, which could potentially benefit this unusual amphibian in the future.

 

Find out more about amphibian conservation at:

See more images of Salvin’s mushroomtongue salamander on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 24

Amphibian species in the United States are declining at an alarming rate, according to a new study published this week.

Photo of pickerel frog

Even common amphibians such as the pickerel frog are undergoing declines

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, gives the first estimate of how rapidly frogs, toads and salamanders in the U.S. are disappearing. Carried out by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), under the auspices of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, the research was undertaken over 9 years and looked at 48 amphibian species.

Worryingly, the results showed that amphibian populations across the country are affected, and even species that were thought to be stable and widespread are showing declines. Even more alarmingly, these declines are also occurring in protected areas such as national parks and wildlife refuges.

Significant concern

On average, the populations of the amphibians studied were disappearing at a rate of 3.7% a year. If this continues, these species would disappear from half of their current habitat in the next 20 years.

Photo of Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog in habitat

The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is listed as Endangered by the IUCN

Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

The outlook is even worse for species already listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, which are vanishing at a rate of 11.6% each year. At this rate, these species could disappear from half the habitats they currently occupy in just six years.

Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said Suzette Kimball, USGS Director. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

Photo of Flatwoods salamander on sand

The Flatwoods salamander is under threat from the loss and degradation of its habitat

Causes of amphibian declines

The study did not look at the causes of the amphibian declines, but amphibians worldwide are known to be facing a wide range of threats, including habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and disease, particularly the deadly fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

The surprise finding that amphibians are declining even in areas managed for conservation, such as national parks, suggests that the factors affecting these species are widespread.

The declines of amphibians in these protected areas are particularly worrisome because they suggest that some stressors – such as diseases, contaminants and drought – transcend landscapes,” said Michael Adams. “The fact that amphibian declines are occurring in our most protected areas adds weight to the hypothesis that this is a global phenomenon with implications for managers of all kinds of landscapes, even protected ones.”

Photo of Arroyo toad, close up

The Arroyo toad, another Endangered U.S. amphibian

Amphibians are important components of healthy ecosystems, providing food for other animals and helping to control pests. They also provide a source of medicines for humans, and are beautiful and fascinating creatures in their own right.

According to Brian Gratwicke of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, “[These findings are] very bad news for amphibians. Now, more than ever, we need to confront amphibian declines in the U.S. and take actions to conserve our incredible frog and salamander biodiversity.”

 

Read more on this story at the U.S. Geological Survey press release and Scientific American blog.

Find out more about amphibian conservation at ARKive’s amphibian conservation page and at the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative.

View photos and videos of amphibians from the United States on ARKive.

You can also have a go at becoming a conservation superhero and helping save amphibians on ARKive’s online game, Team WILD!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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