May 17
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Endangered Species Day 2013

With a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds thought to be endangered, raising the public profile of these species and their plight is essential if we are to succeed in rescuing these species from the brink of extinction.  
 
Endangered Species Day, which was started by the United States Senate back in 2006, gives people the chance to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species through events and activities, and highlights the everyday actions that everybody can take to help protect the natural world. 
 

This year Endangered Species Day is on the 17th of May and here at ARKive to show our support we have decided to showcase some of the less well known endangered species.

Greater bamboo lemur 

Once widespread throughout Madagascar, the greater bamboo lemur is now restricted to just 1-4% of its historic range. The largest of the bamboo lemurs, this species was believed to be extinct for almost 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1972. The main threats to the greater bamboo lemur is habitat destruction by slash and burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging.  

Spoon-billed sandpiper

The spoon-billed sandpiper is a small, attractive bird with a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. As this species has very particular habitat requirements, only breeding in coastal areas with sand and sparse vegetation within six kilometres of the sea, habitat loss and alteration have greatly impacted upon it. Recent population surveys have shown that numbers of this species are declining rapidly. However, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are taking action to save this species by setting up a conservation breeding programme to buy some time while the major problems are tackled.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey 

Presumed to be extinct before its rediscovery in 1989, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is an unusual and distinctive-looking monkey. With its broad, flattened face, pale blue rings around the eyes and thick, pink lips, it almost has a comical appearance. The range of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has been greatly reduced by massive deforestation and intensive hunting. The total population of this monkey may number only around 200 to 250 individuals, and these are fragmented into small subpopulations which are unable to interbreed.

Vaquita

The vaquita is a small and slender porpoise species endemic to Mexico. In 2007 it was estimated that only about 150 vaquitas remained in the world. The main threat to this species is drowning after becoming entangled in gill nets and trawl nets, which is estimated to be claiming the lives of 39 to 84 vaquitas each year.

Chinese giant salamander

 Growing up to 1.8 metres in length, the Chinese giant salamander holds the record for being the largest salamander in the world. This fully aquatic amphibian is well adapted to its lifestyle in the mountain streams of China. As a result of habitat alteration, stream pollution and over-collection for its flesh, which is considered a delicacy in Asia, populations of the Chinese giant salamander have dropped by more than 80% since the 1960s. 
 

 

Ploughshare tortoise 

Endemic to Madagascar, the ploughshare tortoise is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world. Classified as Critically Endangered, this tortoise faces several threats, including habitat loss from bush fires and predation of eggs and young by the introduced bush pig. The primary threat to the ploughshare tortoise is illegal collection for the international pet trade, which has escalated in recent years. This situation is made worse due to this species’ slow growth rate and low breeding potential, which reduces the ability of populations to recover.
 

Coco-de-mer

A giant of the plant world, the coco-de-mer is a palm species which produces the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world. Endemic to the Seychelles, the Endangered coco-de-mer has already been lost from three of the Seychelles islands in its former range. The main threat to this plant species is the collection of its seeds, which has almost stopped all natural regeneration of population’s.

Saola

The saola is an unusual, long-horned bovid which was discovered as recently as 1992. The entire range of the saola is found in a narrow area of forest on the border between Vietnam and Laos. Classified as Critically Endangered, the saola is increasingly threatened as a result of hunting, as well as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation due to the development of infrastructure within its small range.   

Titicaca water frog

Endemic to Lake Titicaca, the Titicaca water frog is the largest truly aquatic frog and can weigh up to 1 kg. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption.

Estuarine pipefish

Believed to be extinct in the early 1990s until being rediscovered in 1995, the estuarine pipefish is still at risk of extinction. The loss of this pipefish from the majority of its former range is thought to be due to construction of upstream dams. These developments restrict the supply of fresh water which brings with it essential nutrients required by the phytoplankton upon which the food chain depends.

 These are just a few of the species which need our help – find out more about endangered species by visiting our Endangered Species topic page.

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

Apr 27
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Endangered Species of the Week: Golden frog

Photo of golden frog on leaf

Golden frog (Mantella aurantiaca)

Species: Golden frog (Mantella aurantiaca)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The toxins in the golden frog’s skin are obtained from its diet, and are lacking in captive-bred individuals that are fed on non-toxic prey.

The golden frog is a small, poisonous frog found only in a very small part of central-eastern Madagascar. As its name suggests, its skin is usually bright yellow, orange or red, and contrasts with its black eyes. The tips of its digits have adhesive pads. This tiny frog only grows to just over two centimetres in length, with females being slightly larger than males. It lives in damp, swampy areas of forest and breeds after the first heavy rains of the year. The golden frog lays its eggs in leaf litter, moss or under bark, and after the tadpoles hatch they either wriggle to water or are washed into pools by rain.

Its bright colouration makes the golden frog popular in the pet trade, and over-collection still occurs in some areas, although it is not yet known whether this is affecting the frog’s population. The golden frog is listed on Appendix II of CITES, which should regulate international trade in this species, and import of wild-caught individuals to the EU has been banned since 2006. A potentially more serious threat is the severe fragmentation of this species’ remaining habitat. This colourful frog is bred in captivity in a number of zoos and other institutions around the world, but it will also be vital to protect its remaining habitat if it is to survive in the wild.

Find out more about amphibian conservation at ARKive’s amphibian conservation page, Amphibian Ark and the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group.

See images of the golden frog on ARKive.

Is the golden frog your favourite species? Vote for it now in our World’s Favourite Species campaign!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 27
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Save the Frogs Day 2013

Save the Frogs DayToday marks the 5th annual ‘Save the Frogs Day’, an international event which focuses on raising awareness about the plight of the frog, encouraging conservation action and celebrating all things amphibian. In honour of this noble cause, we thought we would highlight some of our favourite weird and wonderful amphibians from around the world, and hopefully encourage you to get involved, spread the word about amphibian conservation and perhaps even host your own event. The ‘Save the Frogs’ website has some fantastic ideas for inspiration here, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it!

Titicaca water frog

Titicaca water frog photo

The largest truly aquatic frog, the Titicaca water frog can weigh up to 1 kg and is endemic to Lake Titicaca, which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. While its extremely loose skin gives it a bizarre appearance, the skin is very rich in capillaries, enabling the frog to remain underwater without having to surface for air. Unfortunately, the Titicaca water frog is under great threat as a result of over-collection for human consumption. It is blended with other ingredients to create a juice which local people misguidedly believe cures many ailments.

Gardiner’s tree frog

Gardiner’s tree frog photo

From one of the largest frogs to one of the smallest now, Gardiner’s tree frog. This diminutive amphibian is found in the Seychelles and grows to just 11 mm in length. Unlike most frogs, which must lay their eggs in water, this species lays them in small clumps on moist ground. Instead of hatching as tadpoles, the young then hatch as small, fully formed adults.

Dyeing poison frog

Dyeing poison frog photo

Perhaps one of the most beautiful of all frogs, the dyeing poison frog is famed for the alkaloid-based poison excreted from its skin. Its toxicity is obtained from its diet, which consists mainly of ants. Subsequently, in captivity the dyeing poison frog loses its toxicity as it cannot obtain these compounds through its captive diet.

Suriname toad

Suriname toad photo

A fascinating species from South America, the Suriname toad must surely take the prize for the most unusual reproductive methods in the animal kingdom. The male rolls the fertilised eggs onto the female’s back, after which the skin on her back closes around them. After an incubation period of three to four months the young emerge from her back as fully metamorphosed individuals. Cool or creepy? You decide!

Purple frog

Purple frog photo

Only discovered in 2003, the purple frog is the sole surviving member of an ancient group of amphibians that evolved around 130 million years ago. This strange-looking frog is adapted to a burrowing lifestyle, spending most of the year up to 3.7 metres underground and emerging for a few weeks to breed at the surface.

Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog

Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog photo

Perhaps one of the saddest stories from the amphibian world, Rabb’s fringe-limbed treefrog was described as a new species as recently as 2008, but the arrival of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis in the only known population appears to have driven the species to extinction in the wild. As of early 2012, a single male remained in captivity, believed to be the very last of its kind anywhere in the world after the only other known individual, another captive male, was euthanised due to poor health.

Darwin’s frog

Darwin’s frog photo

Discovered by Charles Darwin, the unusual Darwin’s frog is another species with a rather strange method of reproduction. The male possesses a large vocal sac, but rather than producing a loud call, he uses it for an altogether different purpose. It is his job to guard the fertilised eggs, and after they have been developing for around 20 days he uses his tongue to pick them up and manoeuvre them into his vocal sac. The tadpoles hatch and metamorphose within his vocal sac, emerging from his mouth when their tails are reduced to stumps. Check out a video of tadpoles moving within a male’s vocal sac .

Get involved

Golden frog photoIf you’ve been inspired to do your bit for amphibian conservation we would love to hear what you are up to. Don’t forget that you can also vote for the golden frog in our current campaign to find the World’s Favourite Species and spread the love for frogs!

You can also check out our feature page on amphibian conservation and have a go at collecting uninfected mountain chickens in our Team WILD game!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Apr 22
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ARKive’s Faces of Climate Change – Earth Day 2013

The Face of Climate Change

Today more than one billion people from around the world will take part in Earth Day, an annual event which celebrates our amazing planet and encourages people to take positive actions to protect it.

It is easy to think of climate change as a remote problem but the reality is it is impacting people, places and species all over the world, and the numbers are increasing. The theme of Earth Day 2013 is ‘The Face of Climate Change’, which was chosen to highlight the increasing impacts of climate change on individuals around the world.

This year to mark Earth Day we have selected our own ‘Faces of Climate Change’ in order to raise awareness about some of the many species affected by climate change.

ARKive’s Faces of Climate Change

To mark Earth Day 2013 here at the ARKive office we have selected our own Faces of Climate Change.

Polar bear

Climate change is the biggest threat facing the polar bear

The polar bear is dependent on sea ice to hunt, breed and rest but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice coverage across the Arctic region. This reduces the polar bear’s access to prey, forcing them to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves.

Coral Reef

Coral bleaching is increasing due to rising sea temperatures

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to coral reefs. Coral bleaching, a process where corals lose their symbiotic algae due to the stress of being exposed to extreme temperatures, is becoming more frequent as the sea temperatures rise. Bleached coral are unable to obtain enough nutrients so begin to starve. To find out more visit ARKive’s coral reef conservation page.

Koalas

Climate change is likely to affect the amount of nutrients koalas get from eucalyptus

Climate change could affect the amount of nutrients koalas obtain from eucalyptus, their main food source, as higher carbon dioxide levels reduce the protein levels and increase the amount of tannins in the leaves of eucalyptus.

North Atlantic Right Whale

Climate change is likely to have an affect on the abundance of the North Atlantic right whale’s prey

Increases in sea temperatures and changes in ocean currents is likely to cause the planktonic prey of the North Atlantic right whale to move location or reduce in abundance, having potentially devastating consequences for this already highly endangered species.

Atlantic Salmon

Increasing water temperatures could affect the developmental rate of juvenile Atlantic salmon

The Atlantic salmon’s developmental rate is directly related to water temperature. Therefore it is possible that increasing water temperatures could result in more rapidly developing juveniles entering the ocean before their planktonic food source has reached sufficiently high levels.

Arctic Fox

The tundra habitat of the Arctic fox is changing due to climate change

Climate change is turning the tundra, the habitat of the Arctic fox, into boreal forest as new plants are beginning to colonise the area. This change in habitat is causing a decline in the Arctic fox’s prey species and allows the red fox, a competitor, to move into the area.

Golden Toad

Climate change and chytridiomycosis are thought to be responsible for the extinction of the golden toad

The extinction of the golden toad is thought to have been caused mainly by climate change and the disease chytridiomycosis.  Amphibians are sensitive to even small changes in temperature and moisture, with changes in global weather patterns altering breeding behaviour and affecting reproductive success. Find out about what is being done to protect the world’s amphibians with our amphibian conservation topic page

Sea turtles

Climate change could lead to a disproportionate number of females in sea turtle populations

The gender of sea turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated in the nest, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures more females. Increasing temperatures, due to climate change, will result in a disproportionate number of females in a given population.

To find out more about climate change visit ARKive’s climate change topic page. You can also test your knowledge with ARKive’s Climate Change Quiz.

Jemma Pealing, Media Researcher

Apr 15
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Spotlight on: Amphibian conservation

Photo of lemur leaf frog daytime colouration

The lemur leaf frog, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Amphibians are a group of cold-blooded vertebrates which includes the frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and the lesser-known, worm-like caecilians. Most amphibians spend part of their life in water as aquatic larvae and part on land as terrestrial adults, but some species live permanently in water or permanently on land.

In all, there are over 6,000 amphibian species, and amphibians inhabit all continents except Antarctica, living in habitats ranging from rainforests to deserts. However, amphibians have undergone dramatic declines across the world and are currently facing an extinction crisis. Urgent conservation action is now needed to prevent many species from becoming extinct.

Amphibian crisis

Almost half of all amphibian species are thought to be declining, and a third are at risk of extinction, making this the most threatened group of animals on the planet. Around 165 species are thought to have gone extinct in recent times, and many more are likely to be lost in our lifetime.

Photo of male golden toad

The golden toad has not been seen since 1989, and is believed to be extinct

A staggering 500 species are facing threats that cannot be dealt with quickly enough to prevent their extinction, so are in desperate need of ex-situ conservation measures such as captive breeding.

Threats to amphibians

Amphibians face a variety of threats, including habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and collection for food and the pet trade. With their thin, permeable skins, amphibians are also particularly sensitive to pollution.

However, one of the greatest threats to amphibians is the lethal fungal disease chytridiomycosis, which has contributed to the rapid disappearance of many amphibian species across the world. The spread of this deadly disease may be exacerbated by climate change.

Photo of scientist taking samples to check for chytridiomycosis in spiny green frog

Spiny green frog being tested for chytridiomycosis

Why conserve amphibians?

Amphibians play a key role in the food chain, both as predators and as prey for many other animals. They also help to control pests, benefitting human agriculture and reducing the spread of insect-borne diseases. As they are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, amphibians are also important indicators of the overall health of the environment.

In many cultures, amphibians are cherished as signs of life and good luck, and some amphibians are eaten as food. In addition, many amphibian species have substances in their skin that can have important medical uses.

Photo of emperor newt

The emperor newt is threatened by collection for the pet trade due to its attractive colouration

As well as benefitting humans and ecosystems, amphibians are a fascinating group of animals in their own right, with many intriguing physical and behavioural adaptations.

Amphibian conservation

A range of conservation measures are underway to try and combat the crisis facing amphibians. These include habitat protection, education and awareness campaigns, and captive breeding of threatened species. An action plan is also in place to coordinate global conservation efforts for amphibian species.

In 2010, the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) and Conservation International (CI) launched a global search for amphibian species which have been ‘lost’ to science. Named the ‘Search for Lost Frogs’, this has resulted in numerous expeditions and the rediscovery of some species previously feared extinct, including the Hula painted frog and the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad. However, many more species remain missing, underlining the desperate situation that many amphibians are facing.

Photo of Hula painted frog

The Hula painted frog was believed to be extinct, but was rediscovered by scientists in 2011

Efforts are underway to breed some amphibians in captivity until they can safely be released back into the wild. Unfortunately, the global zoo community is only able to manage around ten percent of threatened amphibian species at best, and more work still needs to be done to safeguard these vitally important but highly threatened species.

How you can help

You can find out more about amphibian conservation and how you can help at the following websites:

Think you’ve got what it takes to help save amphibians? Become a conservation professional and help save the Critically Endangered mountain chicken with Team WILD!

Photo of mountain chicken

One of the world’s largest frogs, the mountain chicken is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

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

View more photos and videos of amphibians on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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