Jul 27
Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on Delicious Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on Digg Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on Facebook Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on reddit Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on StumbleUpon Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on Email Share 'Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013' on Print Friendly

Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013

The UK has been experiencing some uncharacteristically hot weather over the last few weeks, so what better time to get out to our beautiful coast? Take this opportunity to find out more about the fantastic diversity of species and habitats we have off our shores, and join in The Wildlife Trusts’ annual National Marine Week! This celebration of all things marine actually runs for more than two weeks, from Saturday 27 July to Sunday 11 August, to make the most of the tides.

Velvet swimming crab image

Velvet swimming crab

We are fortunate in the UK to have an awe-inspiring range of habitats and species around our coasts. From shallow seagrass meadows and kelp forests to gullies and canyons over 2,000 metres deep, these habitats provide homes and feeding grounds for countless species, including colourful sea slugs, charismatic fish such as the tompot blenny, and the bottlenose dolphin, one of 11 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise regularly seen in our waters! Our seas are also home to the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. This gentle giant can be spotted in the summer as it comes close to the shore, filter feeding micro-organisms.

Basking shark image

Basking shark

All around our coasts, Wildlife Trusts staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge, so whether you want to find out more about minke whales or molluscs, velvet swimming crabs or strawberry anemones, breadcrumb sponges or butterfish, and seals or seabirds, there will be events where people can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and learn more about its riches.

The Wildlife Trusts hold these events to showcase some of the UK’s marine wildlife, and to educate and enthuse people about this fantastic resource on our doorstep. As well as being a source of wonder, our seas are also a playground, a food supply, a conduit for our imports and exports, and a climate regulator that absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases while releasing the oxygen we breathe. We are an island nation, and the sea is a vital part of our national identity.

Jewel anemone image

Jewel anemones

However, the seas are not as productive as they once were. For years, we have taken too much with too little care. Our seas’ resources are not inexhaustible, and their ability to cope with the pressures we put on them – damage from fishing, industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate – is limited. Much of our marine wildlife is in decline. Two species of whale and dolphin have become extinct in UK waters in the last 400 years, and basking shark numbers have declined by 95%. Commercial species are also under pressure, and in 2009 the EU Commission declared that 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.

Grey seal image

Grey seal

In order to provide better protection for our marine environment, here at The Wildlife Trusts we are campaigning for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas – areas that offer protection not just to our most rare and vulnerable species, but to the full range of species and habitats found in the seas.

These areas will protect marine life within their boundaries, and with careful management they can also have an influence beyond these boundaries, as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. A well-designed and effectively managed network will help boost the health of the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures. Although we have made a start on our network, we still have a long way to go, and at the moment progress towards achieving the network is slow.

The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and our events provide us with a crucial opportunity to highlight the need to continue to put pressure on UK Governments to ensure that this vital ambition is achieved. It offers countless opportunities for people to savour the seaside and find out so much more about what our coasts have to offer. Why not head over to The Wildlife Trusts’ marine wildlife weeks page to find an event near you!

Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for The Wildlife Trusts

Jul 24
Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on Digg Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on reddit Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on Email Share 'In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade' on Print Friendly

In the News: Snow leopard under threat from cashmere trade

A rising global demand for cashmere is putting the snow leopard and other native wildlife in Central Asia under threat, according to a new study.

Photo of wild snow leopard in stalking pose

The snow leopard is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Domestic cashmere goats are raised in many parts of Central Asia for their luxurious fur coats. Although cashmere production is not new, the global demand for this product has increased dramatically, and goat numbers have almost tripled in some areas in the last 20 years.

The new study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, reports that the increasing goat population is encroaching on the habitat of the snow leopard and its prey. Nearly all the forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and northern India is now being consumed by goats, sheep and other livestock, leaving only tiny amounts for native herbivores such as the Tibetan antelope, saiga, wild yak and Przewalski’s horse.

Photo of Przewalski's horses in habitat

Goats are also competing with native herbivores such as Przewalski’s horse

A decline in these native prey species can lead snow leopards to hunt goats, so leading to increased conflict with humans as people seek to protect their herds. Other threats to native species include disease transfer from livestock and the killing of wild animals by herders’ dogs.

Green labelling

Cashmere production is an important source of income for many local communities in Central Asia.

According to Dr Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust, “Cashmere production is a complicated human issue. Understandably, indigenous herders are trying to improve their livelihoods, but the short-term economic gain is harming the local ecosystem.”

Photo of snow leopard female and juvenile

Snow leopards prey mainly on wild sheep and goats, but will take livestock if wild prey has been depleted

Dr Mishra suggests that ‘green labelling’ of cashmere clothes could help increase awareness of the issue among consumers. “One of the intentions is to bring together some of the local communities who produce cashmere and the buyers from the international market. We want to address everyone’s concerns and develop a programme where we can make grazing more sustainable, and that allows for wild and domestic animals to co-exist,” he said.

According to Dr Mishra and the other authors of the study, the iconic species of the region’s mountains and steppes will become victims of fashion unless action is taken on both a global and a local scale.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Cashmere trade threat to snow leopards and The Guardian – Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming ‘fashion victims’.

View more images and videos of the snow leopard on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

May 27
Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on Delicious Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on Digg Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on Facebook Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on reddit Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on StumbleUpon Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on Email Share 'Garden Bioblitz 2013' on Print Friendly

Garden Bioblitz 2013

Here at ARKive, we’re not just researchers, writers and website designers – we are also passionate about the natural world, and many of us enjoy getting outside and learning more about the wildlife around us.

While not writing and editing species profiles for the ARKive website, I have been busy setting up and helping to run the UK’s first national ‘Garden Bioblitz’ event. It takes place across the country this weekend (1st-2nd June) and everyone can get involved!

Photo of hedgehog in grass

Hedgehogs are common garden visitors, but are in decline in the UK

What is a BioBlitz?

The idea of a BioBlitz is to bring together scientists and members of the public to identify and record as many species as possible in a particular area over a limited time period, usually 24 hours.

The first BioBlitz was held in Washington, D.C. in 1996, and since then the idea has spread across the world, with more events being added every year.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Growing nectar-rich plants can help attract bees, butterflies and other insects

Most BioBlitzes work together with environmental records centres to ensure that the data collected will have the maximum value for science. As well as collecting scientific records, the events also give the public the opportunity to learn about biodiversity, be inspired by experts, and experience their local wildlife.

Why a Garden Bioblitz?

The idea of a Garden Bioblitz came about last year when a couple of wildlife enthusiasts got together online and decided it would be fun to record the wildlife in our gardens. We had so much interest from others who wanted to join in that we decided to turn it into a national event.

The Garden Bioblitz initially ran as a trial event in 2012 and was a huge success, with more than 2,231 records entered for 966 species by just 24 volunteers. This year, the event is open to everyone, and we hope that as many people as possible will take part.

Photo of robin singing

Putting out food and water can attract birds into your garden

Gardens cover a large area of the UK and are an important habitat for many native species. The only way for scientists to thoroughly survey the wildlife living in people’s gardens is through ‘citizen science’, with members of the public helping to collect this valuable information. The records collected will be made available to national recording schemes, which help researchers and local governments make conservation and land management decisions.

However, although these records are important, the main aims of the event are to get people outside, engaging with the species on their doorsteps, discovering something new, and hopefully being inspired to encourage more wildlife into their gardens. Above all, it’s about having fun!

How to take part

To take part in the Garden Bioblitz, all you need to do is choose a 24-hour period over the weekend of 1st-2nd June, then get outside and rummage through your flowerbeds, watch birds on your feeders, dip nets into ponds or crawl across your lawn to see what you can find.

Photo of slow worm

Compost heaps can provide shelter for many species, including slow worms, the UK’s only legless lizards

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert or have any special skills, and you don’t even need to count for the full 24 hours. The team are interested in all records – just go out, write down what you see, take lots of photos and submit your records online. There is even a downloadable ticksheet of 20 top species to spot, for those who want a bit more help with where to begin. Or you can view some of our handy hints and tips on how to go about your Bioblitz.

Experts will be online over the weekend to help identify finds, and anyone can take part in the event, whether they have a large garden or a tiny patio – it’s amazing what you can discover when you take a closer look. And if it seems a little daunting, why not get friends, family or neighbours to join in and help out?

Photos of daisies in flower

Lawns can be home to a surprising variety of wildflowers

Here are the five simple steps to taking part:

  • Go out into your garden and see what you can find! Use the downloadable tick sheet if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Take lots of photos – these can help with species identification.
  • Identify your finds – you can use books, online field guides, or ask the experts on iSpot or Twitter.
  • Upload your records to iRecord.
  • Have fun!

Although the Garden Bioblitz is currently based in the UK, you are welcome to take part wherever you are, and to submit records to your own local recording schemes.

Let us know how you get on!

Garden Bioblitz logo

To find out more about the Garden Bioblitz and how to take part, visit the Garden Bioblitz website or follow the Garden Bioblitz team on Twitter @GardenBioblitz.

You can also find out about other BioBlitz events on the National BioBlitz website and Encyclopedia of Life – BioBlitz.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author and Garden Bioblitz team member

May 24
Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on Digg Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on reddit Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on Email Share 'In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate' on Print Friendly

In the News: Amphibians in the U.S. declining at alarming rate

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

May 24
Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on Delicious Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on Digg Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on Facebook Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on reddit Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on StumbleUpon Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on Email Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains' on Print Friendly

ARKive’s Top Ten Animals of the North American Plains

Many of you will have been as excited as we were to see Discovery’s latest series – ‘North America’ – burst onto our screens last week in a dazzling spectacle starring the world’s most accomplished performer: nature. The incredible footage of captivating landscapes and an impressive array of wildlife inspired us to delve further into North America’s natural history, so we’re bringing you a collection of some of the fascinating species that live in one of the continent’s most iconic ecosystems – the Great Plains.

With the Interior Lowland to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Great Plains stretch across ten US states, including Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma, and up into parts of Canada, covering an area of approximately 2.9 million square kilometres. Roughly equivalent to a third of the United States, this broad expanse of flat land encompasses grassland, steppe and prairie habitats which were once covered with grasses and beautiful wild flowers. The Great Plains have undergone a big transformation over the years, with settlers bringing agriculture to the area, but they are still home to some interesting wildlife.

American bison

American bison image

North America’s largest mammal, and one of the continent’s most iconic species, the American bison once helped shape the Great Plains, influencing grass composition and the availability of habitat for a multitude of other species as it roamed across the grasslands in vast herds. However, while it historically had the widest natural range of any North American herbivore, the American bison is now restricted to small wildlife refuges and a few national parks, free-roaming over less than one percent of its original range. As a result of changes in land use, this tough species, with its characteristic towering shoulder hump and short, up-curving horns, is now no longer migratory, although it does still move in response to the availability of food.

Black-tailed prairie dog

Black-tailed prairie dog image

The highly social black-tailed prairie dog is actually not a dog at all but is, in fact, a species of stout, ground-dwelling squirrel. It is named for the dog-like ‘yip’ that it uses to communicate with other members of its extensive colony. Black-tailed prairie dog colonies, known as ‘towns’, have a complex structure and can contain from hundreds to millions of individuals which share an elaborate network of burrows; the largest recorded colony covered an area of 65,000 square kilometres! These huge underground tunnel systems are useful to the ecosystem in which they are found, as they aerate the soil and enable water to reach several feet below the surface of the plains.

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake

Western diamond-backed rattlesnake image

A species frequently associated with the arid southern United States, the western diamond-backed rattlesnake can be found on the grassy plains, as well as in woodland and deserts. As implied by its name, this species has a striking skin pattern, but its most distinctive feature is the tail rattle. This is formed of loosely connected segments of dead keratin, which produce a rattling sound as they knock together when the tail is vibrated. The western diamond-backed rattlesnake is highly venomous, dispatching its prey within seconds, and the toxic venom also plays a part in digesting its victims.

Coyote

Coyote image

The coyote, one of North America’s most resourceful and adaptable predators, is known for its piercing nocturnal howl, which can be heard across the plains at night. Understandably, given its appearance, this canine species is often confused with the red wolf and the grey wolf, as well as the domestic dog. Interestingly, coyotes have been recorded to form unlikely hunting partnerships with American badgers, with the coyote locating rodents with its acute sense of smell and the badger excavating the burrow to flush out the prey.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly image

The striking monarch butterfly is perhaps one of the best-known butterfly species, and is renowned for its spectacular, long-distance annual migrations. This species is well suited to its environment, with the bright orange, black and white colouration on the upper parts of the wing serving as a warning to predators that it is poisonous, and the duller orange undersurface enabling the monarch butterfly to camouflage itself against tree bark when at rest.

Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl image

The burrowing owl is unique among owls in that it nests underground. This unusual owl species usually inhabits holes made by mammals such as prairie dogs, but will occasionally excavate its own nesting site. Another intriguing aspect of the burrowing owl is its method of finding prey; it deposits mammal dung around its burrow, which acts as attractive bait for the beetles it feeds on.

Black-footed ferret

Black-footed ferret image

The black-footed ferret is the only ferret native to North America, and has a fascinating conservation story. Once common throughout the Great Plains, this species was believed to be extinct in the 1970s, until a small wild population was discovered in 1981. The last remaining 18 black-footed ferrets were taken into captivity for captive breeding purposes in the mid-1980s, and by 1987 it was considered to be extinct in the wild. However, although still one of the world’s rarest mammals, thanks to conservation efforts the black-footed ferret now exists in populations in eight western states of the USA, as well as in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Lesser prairie-chicken

Lesser prairie-chicken image

Perhaps a less well-known species of the Great Plains, the lesser prairie-chicken is actually a medium-sized grouse, despite its name. Male lesser prairie-chickens have rather conspicuous bright yellow eye combs above the eye, and dull red ‘air sacs’ on the side of the neck which are inflated during their elaborate courtship displays. This species has what is known as a ‘lekking’ system, where the male performs a display in an area called a ‘lek’ and the female selects a mate. Lesser prairie-chickens can look rather comical during courtship displays, as they erect a tuft of elongated feathers on each side of the neck and make short jumps into the air.

Ornate box turtle

Ornate box turtle image

The ornate box turtle gets its name from its patterned shell, the two parts of which can be completely closed thanks to a special hinge, enabling the turtle to completely withdraw its head and feet into a protective ‘box’. There are two subspecies of the ornate box turtle, with one inhabiting plains and gently rolling open grasslands and the other tending to prefer more arid habitats including semi-desert and desert. Male and female ornate box turtles can be distinguished by the colour of their eyes; male ornate box turtles have red eyes, and females have yellowish-brown eyes.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn image

Although it looks much like an antelope, the pronghorn actually belongs to its own unique family, and is endemic to North America. The distinctive horns for which this species is named are interesting in that they consist of a keratin sheath on a bony core, like those seen in bovids, but are forked and have an outer layer which is shed annually, as in deer species. The pronghorn also has the distinction of being the fastest terrestrial mammal in the Americas, renowned for reaching top speeds of up to 86 kilometres per hour.

Find out more about the North American Plains:

Find out about Discovery’s new series – North America:

Find out more about North American species:

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

About

RSS feedARKive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of ARKive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

ARKive twitter

Twitter: ARKive