Jan 30
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In the News: Climate change is killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks

A 27-year study has shown that the negative effects of climate change are increasing the mortality rates of Magellanic penguin chicks in Argentina.

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: The Magellanic penguin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List

The Earth’s changing climate has increased the frequency of extreme weather events around the world, such as droughts, storms, abnormally high or low temperatures and wildfires, which have led to the decline of many flora and fauna species, including the Magellanic penguin.

A recent study, published in the online journal PLOSone, followed 3,496 Magellanic penguin chicks in Punta Tombo, Argentina, between 1983 and 2010. In this area, there has been an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, which were found to be increasing the mortality rate of young Magellanic penguins. Professor Dee Boersma, who led the research, said, “It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success.”

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: Extreme weather means adult Magellanic penguins are less able to hunt and therefore cannot feed their chicks

Extreme weather patterns can cause mortality, as the chicks can contract hypothermia. When Magellanic penguins are young their down is not waterproof, and if it gets wet an individual cannot control its body temperature. At times when temperatures are much higher than usual, some chicks may contract hyperthermia, which is also fatal. Indirectly, climate change is increasing chick mortality through starvation, as altered fish behaviour decreases hunting success for the adult penguins, which are then unable to feed their chicks.

It is estimated that the negative effects of global warming were responsible for around 7% of Magellanic penguin chick mortalities over the period of the study, while 40% were due to starvation. The authors of the report, Professors Dee Boersma and Ginger Rebstock said, “Climate variability in the form of increased rainfall and temperature extremes, however, has increased in the last 50 years and kills many chicks in some years.”

Caption: Starvation was the main cause of chick mortality in the study

The study also found that adults start laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded, which decreases the amount of time the young have to develop before the main storm season begins in November. Professor Ginger Rebstock said, “We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season, as climatologists predict.”

Magellanic penguin image

Magellanic penguins are laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded

As well as climate change, it is also thought that several other factors have contributed to the decline of the Magellanic penguin, including oil spills, water pollution, reduced prey availability from overfishing, being caught as bycatch and disturbance from tourists.

The study also suggests that the negative effects of climate change in the region were affecting other Argentinean species. Populations of other penguin species around the world, such as the Adélie penguin, are also in decline due to decreasing sea-ice and other issues relating to altered weather patterns.

The Adélie penguin is also suffering from the negative effects of climate change

Read more about this story BBC News – Climate change is ‘killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks’

Read the journal at PLOSone – Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

View photos and videos of the Magellanic penguin on ARKive

Read more about the penguin conservation project at the Zoological Society of London

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

May 15
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Guest Blog: Join Our SOS! Campaign to Help Polar Bears with Polar Bears International

If you are a fan of ARKive, you’re a fan of wild animals. At Polar Bears International, we love all animals, but especially polar bears. In fact, we’re the champion for polar bears and are doing everything we can to help them. But we can’t do it without you. That’s why we initiated a Save Our Sea Ice (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel's 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Mrs. McKiel’s 1st and 2nd grade students at Carpathia School in Winnipeg, Canada, created this bulletin board for the Save Our Sea (SOS!) campaign.

Polar Bears International’s SOS! campaign focuses attention on the urgent challenges polar bears face in a changing Arctic—with longer and longer ice-free periods threatening their survival—and the part each of us can play in stopping global warming, beginning with personal habits and expanding out to the community.

The campaign features a series of energy-saving efforts that begin each year on International Polar Bear Day, February 27th, and continue through the summer melt period. We’ve linked our challenges to earth awareness days, but you can launch any of these efforts at any time:

  • International Polar Bear Day, February 27 – Celebrate polar bears with us by taking our Thermostat Challenge, adjusting your thermostat up or down by three degrees depending on the season. And then make every day a Polar Bear Day by switching to a programmable thermostat, insulating your home, or installing solar panels to save energy.
  • Earth Hour, March 23 – Join us on Earth Hour by switching off the lights for one hour, at 8:30 p.m. local time, and make it a Polar Bear Hour by eating a cold, energy-saving meal. Then make every hour an Earth Hour through our Power Down Effort—at home, school, and in the office.
  • Earth Day, April 22 – Celebrate Earth Day with us by turning off your engine for waits longer than thirty seconds when dropping off or picking up passengers at an Earth Day event. And then make every day an Earth Day by taking our No Idling Challenge and using our toolkit to set up No Idle Zones. Why? Because a surprising percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks, and vans come from idling engines with no transportation benefit.
  • Endangered Species Day, May 17 - Help polar bears and other endangered species every day by Sizing Up Your Pantry. Take stock of your pantry and think about your food choices, recognizing that fewer food miles, organic farming methods, and minimal processing and packaging have less impact on the planet—and can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
  • World Oceans Day, June 8 - Take action for polar bears and the sea ice they depend on every day with our Green House Grocery List. Begin by assessing your typical week’s grocery list to see how you measure up; then make adjustments where you can. Why? Because your food shopping habits can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm and the sea ice to melt.
Polar bear family jumping between ice floes © Dick and Val Beck/Polar Bears International

A polar bear family jumps from floe to floe in a melting Arctic. To save arctic sea ice, we must each do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To save polar bear habitat, we need to embrace sustainable living as a society. A promising shift is underway in sectors including transportation, energy usage, and food production—all of which have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. You can become part of the momentum for change by modifying your own habits and taking action in your community in support of greener choices—from bikes lanes to farmer’s markets—that make a low-carbon lifestyle easier.

Find out more

Learn more about the polar bear and its arctic habitat on ARKive.

Find out more about Polar Bears International and how you can get involved by visiting their website.

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

Apr 8
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Spotlight On: Reforestation in the Atlantic forest

Atlantic forest canopy

The Atlantic forest now covers only 8% of its historical range

Despite being one of the most diverse and biologically rich forests in the world, the Atlantic forest in South America is unfortunately also one of the most threatened. Only about eight percent of its original cover remains and its total area has been dramatically reduced to just less than 100,000 square kilometres. If we flip this figure; compared to the Amazon which has lost around 20% of its forest, the Atlantic forest, or Mata Atlântica as it is also known, has seen a staggering 92% decline. To make matters worse, what remains of the forest is severely fragmented and only two percent is still considered to be primary, or pristine, forest.

Iguaçu falls in Atlantic forest

Only 2% of the Atlantic forest is now considered to be primary forest

The Atlantic forest extends along Brazil’s eastern coast, into Paraguay and northeast Argentina. It is home to thousands of species that are not found anywhere else in the world; for example, no fewer than 8,000 of the total 20,000 or more plant species are totally unique to the Atlantic forest, including over half of the forest’s trees. Examples include the Endangered Pau brasil and the Vulnerable Brazilian rosewood tree. But it’s not just the plants: there are many mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates that are found exclusively in the Atlantic forest. As more of the forest is degraded and fragmented by deforestation, these species are increasingly at risk of extinction.

Deforestation in the Atlantic forest is a result of human settlement, dating back centuries to when Europeans arrived in South America and began to clear forest to make way for timber and cattle ranches, as well as to grow crops such as sugarcane, coffee and cocoa. In more recent years land use has shifted towards soy cultivation and pine, tobacco and eucalyptus plantations. The spread of invasive species and the ever-looming presence of climate change are also playing their part, providing competition for food and resources, and decreasing the resiliency of species to changes in their environment.

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Of the 100,000 remaining square kilometres, only approximately 23,800 square kilometres are under protection; less than 2% of the forest’s historic range. There are, however, also a range of conservation initiatives working to protect and restore parts of the Atlantic forest.

One such reforestation project by The Nature Conservancy began in 2008 with the ambitious aim of planting one billion trees in Brazil’s Atlantic forest within seven years. If successful, the ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ project will repopulate 2.5 million acres of land, increasing the forest’s significance as a carbon sink that will potentially be able to remove four million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year. As numbers currently stand, 12,574,689 trees have been planted, with one tree planted per dollar donated. Despite being far from the target, this level of reforestation is still significant.

The Nature Conservancy are not alone in their bid to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest. The Alstom Foundation’s project aims to promote long-term sustainability in the remaining forest, and to reconnect fragmented areas which will help to support wildlife. Its target is to restore 15 million hectares of degraded lands by the year 2040, amounting to 12 percent of the forest’s original ecosystem.

Jaguar resting in a tree

The jaguar and many other species could soon be wiped out in the Atlantic forest

While we could go ahead and list every project working to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest, the important message to take from this is why these collective efforts are significant. Many species are on the verge of being lost from the Mata Atlântica, including the jaguar, lowland tapir and giant anteater, and many more species will continue to decline if further action is not taken. Large numbers of these species occur nowhere else in the world, and they require large areas of connected forest to survive and reproduce.

With climate change on the tip of everyone’s tongue, restoration in this forest could serve to provide a much-needed carbon sink, able to remove and store huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Reforestation projects are also able to help local communities to build their knowledge of soil use, conservation and land management, enabling them to protect their land in the future and encouraging them to undertake their own forest restoration, thereby continuing reforestation efforts in the long-term.

Find out more about the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s Atlantic forest ecoregion page.

Find out more about reforestation in the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s reforestation topic page.

Become a conservation professional and help plant trees in the Atlantic forest with Team WILD!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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