Oct 18
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Spotlight on: The EDGE of Existence

EDGE LogoWhat is EDGE?

Despite what you might think, the EDGE of Existence is not a band, it is a conservation programme founded in 2007 by the Zoological Society of London. It is also the only global conservation initiative to focus specifically on threatened species that represent a significant amount of unique evolutionary history.

The programme identifies the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species using a scientific framework (read more about this in EDGE Science). EDGE species are at high risk of extinction and have few close relatives on the tree of life and are often extremely unusual in their genetics, the way they look, live and behave. The aim of the EDGE programme is to put these species on the map and catalyse conservation action to secure their future. So while the science may sound a bit complicated, the concept is simple: we want to make sure that the tree of life does not end up missing big branches.

What does EDGE do?

We are prioritizing species for conservation:  So far we have established EDGE priority species lists for mammals, amphibians and corals reefs. Because of the strong scientific framework behind EDGE, applying the process to other taxa can often be quite difficult, especially when the evolutionary history of a group is not well known. We are currently working with partner scientists around the world on the development of EDGE birds, sharks, and gymnosperms.

We are raising awareness. With so many EDGE species out there we are aware that alone we would never be able to save them all. By raising awareness of EDGE species and their importance to conservation success we hope to inspire and support governments, peoples, and NGOs to conserve their local EDGE species.

We are training future conservation leaders. Through our EDGE Fellows programme we support and train local, early career conservationists to work on a priority EDGE species in their own country.

We are establishing targeted conservation projects: building long term conservation management strategies to secure the future of priority EDGE species that receive little or no conservation attention. Some of our current projects include:

Slender loris photo

The red slender loris, a small primate with excellent night vision that is endemic to the rainforests of Sri Lanka.

Sagalla caecilian photo

The Sagalla caecilian, a legless and tailless amphibian with eyes covered by skin which is only found in one hill in Kenya.

Pygmy hippopotamus photo

The pygmy hippo, a rare nocturnal forest creature. The pygmy hippopotamus in native to the forests and swamps of western Africa and unlike the common hippo, very little is known about this species.

Chinese giant salamander photo

The Chinese giant salamander- the largest amphibian species in the world, growing up to 1.8 metres, and can live for over 50 years.

What does ARKIVE have to do with this?

Despite EDGE species representing a unique and irreplaceable part of the world’s natural heritage, an alarming proportion are currently sliding silently towards extinction unnoticed. For example, 66% of EDGE priority mammals, 84% of priority EDGE amphibians and most EDGE coral reefs are receiving little or no conservation attention.  Raising awareness is the key to making this change. We believe that images and videos are a great way of raising awareness, which is at the heart of ARKive’s mission. Thousands of people around the globe have been inspired to care for nature by watching wildlife documentaries. Great images and footage of EDGE species are crucial if we are to secure a future for these extraordinary species.

Daniela Biaggio, EDGE Intern

Sep 27
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Happy Birthday Google!

As you may have noticed, today’s Google Doodle is a rather jolly party scene, marking Google’s 13th Birthday. As you know, the ARKive team love a good birthday, and we are also big fans of Google.

If you’re not familiar with Google Earth, you might be surprised to hear that you can now dive beneath the ocean waves and explore the bottom of the sea from the comfort of your own computer. By installing the ARKive Google Earth plugin, you’ll be shown a number of ARKive place marks around the globe, each denoting a marine species found in the area, which can be clicked on and expanded for further facts, photos and footage.

To mark the occasion today, we thought we would pick 13 of our favourite sea creatues, all of which can be found using the ARKive Google Earth plugin, and set you the challenge of tracking them down on the ARKive layer!

Google Earth screenshot showing ARKive species content

Kicking off our list we have two beautiful rays, the manta ray and the spotted eagle ray. Here’s a hint, both live in tropical waters…

Manta ray photoSpotted eagle ray photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up we have a couple of spectacular sea birds, the wandering albatross and the white-chinned petrel. Both of these large birds breed on sub-Antarctic islands, keep your eyes peeled!

Wandering albatross photoWhite-chinned petrel photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are best off heading north to track down our next two species, the narwhal with it’s famous tusk and the beautiful bowhead whale.

Narwhal photoBowhead whale photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

More marine mammals up next! The super cute sea otter and the noisy northern elephant seal. Your best bet is to scour the Pacific…

Sea otter photoNorthern elephant seal photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two stunning sharks are next on our list to track down, the great white shark and the smooth hammerhead. Both these species have a large range, but we recommend searching the waters around the second largest continent.

 Great white shark photoSmooth hammerhead photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

These next two species are coral reef inhabitants; can you find the humphead parrotfish and Denise’s pygmy seahorse?

Humphead parrotfish photoDenise’s pygmy seahorse photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but by no means least, can you pinpoint the Macaroni penguin?

Macaroni penguin photo

Let us know how you get on. Remember, if you get stuck, a sneaky look at the ARKive species profiles might help you out….

Explore hundreds more ocean species using the ARKive plugin or explore ARKive on Google Earth via the global awareness and ocean layers.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher

Sep 23
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Endangered Species of the Week – Humphead wrasse

Humphead wrasse image

Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

Species: Humphead wrasse                    (Cheilinus undulatus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Adult females are able to change sex!

Straight from our new endangered species section, the humphead wrasse is a reef-dwelling giant. One of the largest reef fishes in the world, this species earns its name from the prominent hump that develops on the forehead of mature individuals. Adults are generally solitary and spend the day foraging on the reef, using their tough teeth to consume hard-shelled species such as molluscs, echinoderms and crustaceans. Humphead wrasses are extremely long-lived, known to survive for at least 30 years, and taking around five to seven years to reach sexual maturity.

Although widespread, the humphead wrasse has never been common. The flesh of this fish is highly prized and more recently this species has become one of the most highly sought species of the Live Reef Food Fish Trade (LRFFT). Unfortunately, populations can only sustain light levels of fishing. As little is known about the biology of this species, more data are urgently needed to understand the scale of the threats faced by current populations, and to implement effective conservation programmes.

For more information on humphead wrasse conservation, visit the IUCN Groupers and Wrasses Specialist Group page.

View images and footage of the humphead wrasse on ARKive.

Explore ARKive’s threatened marine species using Google Earth.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Sep 13
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In the News: Coral reefs likely to disappear within a century

Coral reefs will be gone by the end of the century, according to a top UN Scientist. This would give coral reefs the dubious accolade of being the first entire ecosystem to have been destroyed by human activity.

Coral reef ecosystem

Coral reef ecosystem

In the recently published book Our Dying Planet‘, Professor Peter Sale writes that coral reef ecosystems are very likely to disappear by the end of this century, in what would be “a new first for mankind – the ‘extinction’ of an entire ecosystem”.

Sale, who leads a team at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, reports that the decline in coral reefs is mainly due to climate change and ocean acidification. Other activities, including overfishing, pollution and coastal development, have also had a devastating impact on the world’s coral reefs.

We’re creating a situation where the organisms that make coral reefs are becoming so compromised by what we’re doing that many of them are going to be extinct, and the others are going to be very, very rare,” says Sale.

Acropora species on reef

Acropora species on reef

Human impact

The use of fossil fuels and the resulting carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change, are thought to be the biggest cause of the rapid decline in coral reefs. Climate change has led to increased ocean surface temperatures, putting reef species under enormous stress and leading to coral bleaching. Ocean acidification – caused by the oceans absorbing increased amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – is also an increasing threat, making it harder for reef organisms to retrieve the minerals needed to build their skeletons.

Although around 20% of coral reefs have already been lost in the past few decades, the authors of ‘Our Dying Planet’ are careful to stress that the corals themselves may well survive the effects of human activities and the destruction they cause.

Although corals are ancient animals and have been around for hundreds of millions of years, there have been periods of reefs, and periods where there are no reefs,” explains Mark Spalding, of the US-based environmental group Nature Conservancy and the University of Cambridge. “When climatic conditions are right they build these fantastic structures, but when they’re not they wait in the wings, in little refuges, as a rather obscure invertebrate.”

Acropora cervicornis with healthy growing white tips

A bacterial infection called white-band disease killed virtually all the dominant staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) on the reefs of Belize

Impact of natural disasters

It isn’t just human activities, however, that are impacting on coral reefs. In a recent study published in the journal Ecology, natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are also shown to have catastrophic impacts on reef ecosystems.

The study in Ecology looked at the after-effects of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the western Caribbean in May 2009.

Having been dominated by staghorn corals for nearly 4,000 years, the Belize reefs have lost their dominant corals due to disease and climate-induced bleaching in the last 25 years, drastically weakening the remaining reef.

As a result of the rapid and dramatic change to the coral reef assemblage, the earthquake in 2009 caused lagoonal reefs in Belize to avalanche and slide into deeper water, leaving behind only sediment and the skeletal debris of corals.

Close up of Agaricia tenuifolia fronds

Lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia) colonised the reefs in Belize after staghorn corals disappeared, but mass coral bleaching resulting from high temperatures during the 1998 El Nino–Southern Oscillation caused this species to also vanish.

Immense biodiversity

Coral reefs are often considered the ‘rainforests of the sea’. Containing around a quarter of all marine species, coral reefs are hugely diverse, yet they cover just a small percentage of the world’s oceans. Not only are they important habitats for a variety of marine life, but they provide protection to shorelines, as well as contributing significantly to tourism and the fishing industry.

The highly diverse and unique chemical composition of coral reef ecosystems has also been found to contain many compounds that could be useful to the medical industry.

Conservation efforts crucial

According to Alex Rogers, a Professor of conservation biology at Oxford University, local conservation efforts can make a difference – but not forever.

We know for certain that corals subject to low levels of stress are much more able to recover. So if you take away pressures like overfishing of coral reefs and pollution, this has profound effects on recovery. But what we’re really doing is buying time for many of these ecosystems. If climate change continues at its current rate, they will be done for eventually,” says Rogers.

Read the full article about the book ‘Our Dying Planet’ by Professor Peter Sale at the Independent.

Read the press release about the article published in the journal Ecology.

Find out more about corals on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Aug 15
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In the News: Great Barrier Reef at risk from pesticides

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffering significant damage from agricultural pesticides, according to a new report by the Australian government.

Photo of Acropora florida on coral reef

Acropora florida, just one of around 400 coral species found in the Great Barrier Reef.

Looking at water quality around the Great Barrier Reef, the report found that nearly a quarter of horticultural producers and around 12% of pastoral farmers were using practices considered unacceptable by the industry, causing harmful chemicals to wash onto the Reef.

The report blamed much of the pollution on the sugar cane industry in the wet tropics of northern Queensland.

World Heritage Site under threat

The Great Barrier Reef is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is internationally recognised for its incredible biodiversity. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, which are home to an estimated 400 coral species, together with 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 species of mollusc, and many other marine invertebrates.

The Reef also provides vital habitat for threatened species such as the dugong, green turtle and leatherback turtle, and is used by numerous bird species.

Photo of green turtle swimming over reef

Green turtle swimming over reef.

However, this hugely diverse ecosystem faces a range of threats, particularly from the impacts of climate change. Increased water temperatures are likely to increase coral bleaching, which causes the stressed corals to lose their symbiotic algae and often leads to the death of affected corals.

Harmful chemicals such as pesticides are also impacting on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and may be lowering its ability to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change. Pesticides have already been found up to 60 kilometres (38 miles) inside the reef, at levels known to be harmful to corals.

Photo of bleached Acropora spp. coral

Bleached Acropora coral.

The pollution caused by these chemicals is thought to have been worsened by the heavy flooding and cyclone that hit northern Queensland earlier this year, flushing pollutants out to sea.

Call to limit pesticide use

The government report says that some farmers need to be more careful with their chemicals, and conservationists have called for a limit on pesticide use, as well as a ban on certain weed killers.

However, the agricultural industry has argued that the report’s findings are based on old data, and that there has been a significant change in the industry. Sugar cane producers have also said that there are no alternatives to adequately protect their crops.

Photo of adult female dugong with calf

The Great Barrier Reef is an important habitat for species such as the dugong, or ‘sea cow’.

While the Australian government agreed that farmers have been using more environmentally-friendly methods, it said that these had been undermined by the effects of Cyclone Yasi.

Read the full story at the BBC – Australia’s Great Barrier Reef ‘at risk from pesticide’.

Find out more about the Great Barrier Reef at the Australian Government Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

View photos and videos of species from Australia on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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