Apr 8
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

Mar 23

Horsfield's tarsier © Doug Wechsler / gettyimages.com*Pond bat © Dietmar Nill / naturepl.com

SATURDAY 23rd

MARCH   8:30  PM

EARTH  HOUR  2013

 *

 

Don’t miss it! For one hour only – your chance to show your support to protect our amazing planet!

This Saturday 23rd March, 8:30 pm local time marks the beginning of the 8th annual WWF Earth Hour. As we switch off our lights for one hour, we are asked this year to think about our energy usage and the desperate need to move from burning high-carbon fossil fuels to using clean renewable energy. This action is symbolic of the fact that ‘together our individual actions add up to make a difference collectively’.

7,001 towns and cities in 152 countries are taking part, so join us and millions of others on Saturday to show your support for the switch to renewable energy.

Aye-aye close-up

This aye-aye will be able to see us all the better in the dark …

 

Mar 15

On Saturday 23rd March hundreds of millions of people across the world will take part in WWF’s Earth Hour by turning off their lights for one hour. WWF’s Earth hour is a unique annual phenomenon that focuses the world’s attention on our amazing planet, and why we need to protect it.

During Earth Hour 2013, people are asked to think about the type of energy we use. How we need to move away from fossil fuels and onto clean renewable energy, which works with nature and not against it.

In 2012, 6,950 towns and cities in 152 countries took part, with over 7.6 million people in the UK joining in alone. Earth Hour 2013 takes place at 8:30 pm local time on Saturday 23rd March, so get ready to flick those switches and join in the fight for a healthier planet! Here at ARKive, to get ready we have been thinking about species which prefer life in the dark and have put together a list of our top ten nocturnal species.

Aye-aye

Despite originally being classified as a rodent, the unusual looking aye-aye is actually the world’s largest nocturnal primate. The aye-aye’s hand has an extended middle digit which it uses for foraging. This finger has a range of uses, including scooping the pulp out of fruit and tapping on trees to find cavities concealing insects.

An aye-aye using its elongated finger to find insects in wood

 

Sri Lankan frogmouth

The strange looking Sri Lankan frogmouth certainly looks like it could do with some beauty sleep! This nocturnal bird is very distinctive due to its unusual appearance and its loud laughing song. Found only in India and Sri Lanka, it hunts insects at night and rests during the day.

The Sri Lankan frogmouth gets its name from its large, gaping mouth

 

Horsfield’s tarsier

Like other tarsier species, the Horsfield’s tarsier has some very strange adaptations. Tarsiers have the biggest eyes of any mammal compared to body weight, and due to the unique shape of their spine they possess the ability to rotate their head almost 360º! Tarsiers are also the only entirely carnivorous primate, feeding on a diet of insects and small vertebrates at night.

Tarsiers have the biggest eyes of any mammal, relative to their body weight

Night-flowering orchid

The night flowering orchid is the only known orchid species which opens its flowers at night. This newly discovered species is only found on the island of New Britain, in Papua New Guinea. In cultivation, this orchid opens its flowers at around 10pm keeping them open for about 12 hours. The flowers of this orchid are short lived, only lasting for one night.

The night-flowering orchid is the only orchid species to open its flowers at night

Philippine flying lemur

The Philippine flying lemur is not actually a true flier or a true lemur, but is actually a rather unique gliding mammal. It possesses a distinctive gliding membrane, or patagium, that when stretched out enables the Philippine flying lemur to glide through the forest for over 100 metres! It is a secretive and nocturnal animal which ventures out at dusk to find food.

The Philippine flying lemur gliding between trees

Lemur leaf frog

The lemur leaf frog is a nocturnal frog species, with the incredible ability to change colour depending on whether it is active or resting. During the day, it has a bright green colouration to provide it with camouflage whilst curled up on leaves. At night, when it becomes active, the lemur leaf frog’s eyes turn grey and the upperparts of its body turns brown. This provides the lemur leaf frog with excellent camouflage during the day and night.

Lemur leaf frogs have the ability to change colour between green and brown

Great spotted kiwi

As the name suggests, the great spotted kiwi is New Zealand’s largest kiwi species. This nocturnal bird finds its prey at night by tapping the ground with its beak and sniffing the earth. For the first six weeks of their life great spotted kiwi chicks may feed during the day, before becoming exclusively nocturnal.

Two great spotted kiwis foraging at night

Pyjama shark

Despite what its name suggests, you will not find the pyjama shark tucked up in bed at night in its pyjamas, as this strange looking shark is actually nocturnal. It is in fact the seven dark longitudinal stripes running the length of its body which gives this shark its name. The nocturnal pyjama shark spends its day concealed in caves or crevices and becomes active at night to hunt fish and molluscs.

The aptly named pyjama shark

Aardvark

The unusual looking aardvark is primarily a nocturnal animal which spends its day in its burrow and ventures out at night to find food. The aardvarks diet is composed of ants and termites which it swallows whole and then grinds them up in a muscular area of its lower stomach. The aardvark not only holds the title for being the first word in dictionary, but its powerful limbs means it can dig a hole quicker than several men with shovels!

An aardvark showing of its digging skills

Kakapo

The kakapo is a very unusual nocturnal parrot species endemic to New Zealand. This unique species is not only the world’s largest and heaviest parrot but it is also the only flightless parrot in the world. The kakapo was once widespread in New Zealand but now this Critically Edangered species only occurs on Codfish and Chalky Islands.

The kakapo is the largest and heaviest parrot and also seems to be the best at hide and seek!

Don’t forget, Earth Hour is on Saturday  23rd March at 8:30 pm local time, so join the ARKive team and millions of other people worldwide and switch off those lights!

Find out how to get involved on the WWF’s Earth Hour website

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 6

As the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties continues, the USA and Russia have come together in an attempt to ban export trade in polar bear products.

Male polar bear

Canada is home to three-quarters of the remaining polar bear population

Polar bear trade

In a bid to provide polar bears with the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the American-Russian proposal calls for a ban on any international commercial trade of skin, fur, fangs and other products made from polar bears.

A similar proposal made in 2010 by the USA was voted against by both Russia and Norway. However, since then Russia has reversed its stance on polar bear conservation and is now highly vocal in support of its protection. Voting on this proposal, thought to happen later today or tomorrow, will be one of the key votes of the entire conference.

The USA and Russia argue that the trade in polar bear products is entirely unsustainable, calling on evidence that predicts a two-third decline in the polar bear population by the middle of this century.  However, the proposal has had a frosty welcome from Canada, which is home to approximately three-quarters of the world’s polar bear population.

Polar bears on the ice

Hunting and trade of polar bears will be illegal if the American-Russian proposal is accepted

Insufficient evidence

Canada, which is the only country to currently allow the export of polar bear products, argues against the evidence, claiming that it is “insufficient”. They state that Canadian Inuit communities rely on hunting and trading in polar bears to survive and that it is deeply embedded in their culture. The Canadian delegates also dispute the declared impact of melting ice on polar bears, labelling it as “uncertain”. These claims are puzzling as it is widely known that polar bears depend on sufficient ice cover to hunt seals.

If the American-Russian proposal is accepted, the Inuit people will still be able to hunt for polar bears, as stated in Canada’s domestic law. The restrictions will apply to exporting skins and other parts which will no longer be permitted under the new laws.

Polar bear jumping between ice floes

Polar bears rely on sea ice to be able to hunt for seals

Polar bear plight

 Despite polar bear hunting being prohibited in Russia, it is estimated that nearly 200 individuals are poached there every year. The pelt and other parts of these bears are sold with false Canadian documentation that allows them to enter the trade markets. If the proposed laws were to be passed, these certificates would become void, thereby putting an end to this problem.

As polar bears become rarer, the fear is that demand for their skins will increase and therefore they will become more valuable. This in turn drives the hunters who can fetch more for their catch, and the ugly cycle continues.

Only five countries are home to the polar bear: the USA, Canada, Norway, Russia and Greenland (represented by Denmark). With Russia and the USA on one side, and Canada and Greenland on the other, it would seem that the polar bear’s fate lies in the hands of the Norwegians who have yet to publicly announce their alliance.

 

Read more on this story at The Guardian – US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear and The New York Times – U.S. and Russia team up in a bid polar bears.

View photos and videos of the polar bear on ARKive.

Read more about polar bears on our Polar Bear Day Blog.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 6

As you may be aware, not only is this week the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES, it is also Climate Week in the UK. The biggest climate change campaign in Britain, Climate Week aims to inspire us to create a more sustainable future through a range of activities.

Climate week logo

Throughout the course of the week schools, businesses, charities, councils and many other organisations will run over 3,000 events attended by around half a million people interested in finding out more about the future of climate change and what we can do to safeguard against its impacts.

With such a wide range of events on offer there is bound to be something for everyone so do try to attend if you can. Not only will it be informative, by the sounds of it you will also have a lot of fun. Activities include test driving electric vehicles, growing your own food in community allotments, a green building show with a Climate Week Pledge Wall, swapping clothes, books, toys and DVDs, developing a Community Energy Plan and even an event at Manchester United hosted by none other than England football coach Gary Neville. There are too many to list but more information can be found on the Climate Week website.

Polar bear jumping between ice floes

Polar bears are dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover

If you are unable to attend any events near you (or, alas there are no events in your proximity), we’ll do our best in this blog to give you an overview of climate change and why it is so important for us to safeguard our wildlife and environment against it.

About climate change

Without wanting to be too accusatory, there is no doubt that climate change is caused by man-made impacts on our planet. You may have heard it referred to as ‘global warming’, due to the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature that is occurring. Both terms are correct, however they actually refer to different phenomena. Climate change refers to the changes in climate which arise as a result of the increasing global temperature. These can include changes in precipitation patterns, increased incidence of drought, heat waves and other extreme weather conditions. In essence, global warming does not mean that we will all have increasingly warmer weather; the planet’s steadily rising temperature will be associated with changes across the world in climate pattern, and more extreme and unpredictable weather. Some places may well become hotter, but some will become colder, and others wetter or drier.

Atlantic krill

Antarctic krill die due to ocean acidification

These changes in climate may not sound like much, but they are creating huge problems on a global scale for both wildlife and people. The severity of storms and floods are increasing, and ruthless droughts are on the rise. The acidity of our seas is rising, affecting species such as coral and krill and destroying marine food chains that ultimately maintain the balance of life in the oceans. The lack of arctic ice in the summer creates a dire situation for polar bears as well as compounding global warming because the ice would usually serve to deflect sunlight away from the planet. The increased heat absorbed due to the absence of this natural deflection in turn causes permafrost to thaw, releasing trapped methane gas. This gas, along with carbon dioxide released by the process of deforestation and the warming oceans both serve to increase what is known as the greenhouse effect; some gases trap and retain the sun’s heat giving rise to this phenomenon.

Hawksbill turtle

Rising sea levels could wash away hawksbill turtle nests and decrease nesting habitat

As we can see, this process is not pretty, and we’ve only scratched at the surface of what is happening in this blog. Mass extinction of wildlife is predicted in the near future, including species such as polar bears and emperor penguins that will lose their habitat to melting ice and rising sea levels. Colourful corals such as the Acanthastrea coral will die as a result of ocean acidification. Also affected are species that live and breed on low-lying remote islands, for example marine turtles like the giant South American, hawksbill and leatherback turtles. There are too many to name here, but you can check out more species that will be affected by climate change on ARKive.

Staghorn coral

Climate change is already having measurable impacts on coral reefs worldwide

 

So, even if it’s just spreading the word on climate change, will you do your bit this Climate Week?

Find out more about climate change, the species it affects and what we can do to mitigate the effects on our Climate Change topic page.

Download Climate Week resources from the Climate Week website.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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