Mar 21

Photographs on the Arkive website  have helped two naturalists who had never met and work around 200 miles (310 kms) apart to identify two previously unrecorded species of one of Earth’s oldest flowering plants: the magnolia.

In 2010, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz gave Arkive a series of animal and plant photos he had taken in a life-rich cloud forest within eastern Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. One of the photos he donated was identified as being the magnolia, Magnolia dealbata, classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

But the image raised questions for Dr José Antonio Vázquez, a botanist at the University of Guadalajara, when he came across it during a search of Arkive’s 16,000 free-to-view online flora and fauna fact-files.

Magnolia rzedowskiana flower

It was this image that first raised questions. It is now identified as a Magnolia rzedowskiana flower.

As Roberto explains: “For Dr Vázquez, the specimen in the photo seemed unusual and he requested that I sent him more pictures. So I made several more trips to the cloud forest, documenting the flowers and fruits of the trees until finally receiving confirmation that I had photographed not only one but two completely new species of magnolias.”

Two new species of magnolia discovered

The first of the finds, originally identified on Arkive, has already been documented and has been given the name Magnolia rzedowskiana, after Dr Jerzy Rzedoswski, Mexico’s most eminent botanist who has collected and documented over 50,000 species and celebrating his 90th birthday this year.  A description of the second specimen is about to published and will be named Magnolia pedrazae, after Roberto.

He says: “This is without doubt the highest honour that a conservationist and nature photographer can receive. It means that this incredibly special tree – an endemic of the Sierra Gorda and product of an evolutionary process that spans millennia – has become part of the family.”

Magnolia rzedowskiana

Magnolia rzedowskiana

Lucie Muir, Director of Wildscreen, added: “We were absolutely thrilled when Roberto told us that a new species of magnolia had been identified because of botanist looking through the images on the Arkive website. It’s amazing that new species are still being discovered and that on this occasion Arkive was part of the discovery story.”

Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda

The use of the Pedraza name is especially apt as it was Roberto’s parents who started the grassroots movement which led to the creation of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) to look after a section of the eastern Sierra Madre where the high peaks, rain shadow, remoteness and latitude mean biodiversity is especially rich.

Roberto Pedraza Ruiz

Roberto Pedraza Ruiz

Roberto grew up in the region and soon turned to photography as a way of documenting and sharing the area’s biological wealth and GESG’s work to protect it.  It was during one of his GESG expeditions in 1996 that Roberto found loggers at work in the cloud forest where the new species of magnolia grow.   After he raised the alarm, 40 friends clubbed together to buy the land and halt the operation – so saving a habitat where ancient oaks and cypress reach heights of 130 feet (40 metres), their limbs draped in dense mats of moss, ferns, orchids and bromeliads; and a place where he has photographed many rare or previously unrecorded life-forms, including jaguars, pumas and margays and a new family of molluscs.

Roberto says: “These discoveries highlight the importance of protecting sites with high biological value, giving ecosystems and species refuges from human activity, spaces where they are protected from humans’ ever-increasing demands for land and ecosystem services. If steps had not been taken to protect them, these species and others may have disappeared before we even learned of their existence.”

More information

Roberto has been donating his images to Arkive since 2010. View all of his images here and view the new species profile for Magnolia rzedowskiana here.

Find out more about the work of  Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda here.

Nov 19

The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate warming as the single most important threat to the long-term survival of the polar bear.

The update also highlights habitat degradation as a main threat to many fungus species and over-fishing as the key driver of decline in marine bony fish. 

Polar bears on thin ice

The report, which is the most comprehensive assessment of sea ice and polar bear sub-population data to date, revealed that there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.

Based on the latest, most robust science, this assessment provides evidence that climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Climate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge.”

Recent studies show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has progressed faster than most climate models had predicted, with September sea ice extent declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011. As polar bears rely on sea ice to access their prey, such as seals, an annual ice-free period of five months or more will cause extended fasting for the species, which is likely to lead to increased reproductive failure and starvation in some areas.

Polar bears are important to the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and, as apex predators, are essential to maintaining ecosystem balance in the Arctic region. Along with sea ice loss, other potential threats to the species include pollution, resource exploration and habitat change due to development. Oil development in the Arctic poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-bear interaction.

Number of fungi on The IUCN Red List doubles

Twenty-nine species of fungi have been added to The IUCN Red List in this latest update, more than doubling current numbers. Fungi are an enormous group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals. They obtain nutrients through the absorption of decaying organic matter, recycling plant and animal waste into useful products.  The main threats affecting the species are habitat loss and degradation, mostly from changing land use practices.

Fungi are extremely important to humans as medicine and food and their conservation is vital for the health of the world’s ecosystems. Fungi have a symbiotic relationship with 80% of all plants and form a crucial part of the digestive system of ruminants such as sheep and cows.

Logging of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) which is listed as Endangered, is major threat to the fungus Leptonia carnea which has now been listed as Vulnerable.

Marine bony fishes at risk of extinction in the East Central Atlantic and Greater Caribbean regions

The latest global assessment of the 1,400 marine bony fishes of the Eastern Central Atlantic – covering the area from Mauritania to Angola – shows that 3% are threatened with extinction. In the Caribbean, 1,340 species were assessed, and of these 5% are threatened with extinction, including the golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) which is listed as Endangered.

The lionfish, which is an invasive species, is placing further pressure on marine bony fishes in the Caribbean.

The degradation of sensitive coastal habitats, pollution, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are putting many species of marine bony fishes at risk of extinction.

Marine bony fishes are both ecologically and economically important, with the loss of these species posing a serious threat to food security and livelihoods of more than 340 million people in the regions assessed. The data from this latest assessment will be used to guide fisheries management and conservation priorities in the regions.

The IUCN Red List now includes 79,837 assessed species, of which 23,250 are threatened with extinction.

For more on the latest update visit The IUCN Red List website.

Learn more about climate change and ocean acidification on Arkive.

Jul 17

Plans for a new opencast mine near South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve may increase pollution and poaching in the area, which would lead to further reductions in the size of the local southern white rhinoceros population. 

Among the most charismatic and recognisable of Africa’s mega-fauna, the white rhinoceros is the largest of the five rhinoceros species and one of the world’s biggest land animals, second only to the African and Asian elephant in size. A subspecies of white rhinoceros, the southern white rhinoceros, is currently the most numerous of all the world’s rhinos, and 93 percent of the total population is thought to occur in South Africa. This subspecies was rescued from near extinction a century ago, and represents a real conservation success story. In 1895, only around 50 individuals remained but careful conservation has increased this number to the 20,000 individuals that exist today. However, threats to the southern white rhinoceros are on the increase, and news of a proposed mining operation in close proximity to one of the most important nature reserve for this, and many other, species may spell disaster for this iconic animal.

The Near Threatened southern white rhinoceros is currently the most populous of the world’s rhinoceros species

The Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa is the oldest nature reserve in Africa and was established in 1895, largely to protect the remaining population of the southern white rhinoceros. Situated at the confluence of the Black and White Umfolozi Rivers, this natural reserve is home to Africa’s ‘big five’, as well as innumerable other iconic species and over 340 bird species. There are fears that opencast coal mining in close proximity to the park may pollute the air and rivers, displace local communities, and threaten the southern white rhinoceros. Local communities’ fears are founded in experience, they say that drilling and blasting at the Somkhele coal mine, six miles away, already creates pollution and affects livestock. There are concerns that not only will the toxic dust from the new mine affect the local wildlife, but the influx of people is also likely to increase the accessibility of the park to poachers.

The African leopard is also found in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Poaching is an increasing threat to all rhinoceros species. Just 13 rhinoceros were killed in 2007, while recent figures show that over 500 have been killed so far in 2014, indicating the highest level of poaching since records began. The growing demand for rhinoceros horn is thought to be due to economic growth and increased disposable income in Southeast Asia and China, where the horn is used for traditional medicine and as a sign of prestige among the business elite. The price of rhinoceros horn is greater than that of gold, and poachers are becoming increasingly organised, and there have been many reports of helicopters and high-tech gadgetry being used in poaching attempts. It is thought that the mine could help to facilitate poaching, and increase the difficulty of policing the park. The response to the plans from local communities and conservationists worldwide has been one of concern and consternation.

The horn of the white rhinoceros is becoming a more valuable target for poachers due to increasing demand from Asia

Find out more about the white rhinoceros on Arkive.

Discover more South African species on Arkive.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Mining poses new threat to world’s greatest rhino sanctuary.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

Jun 19

Over $1.8 billion has been pledged by various parties at the ‘Our Ocean’ 2014 summit, and proposals have been made to double the amount of protected marine habitats around the world.

‘Our Ocean’ 2014 brought together leaders from business, government and academic institutions, and NGOs from over 80 countries to discuss how economic development and ocean conservation can be reconciled. The oceans are extremely important for humans, generating more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, absorbing excess carbon dioxide, and providing a source of food and income for millions of people worldwide.

Oceans provide invaluable environmental services and supports vast arrays of animal and plant life.

The summit concentrated on several key themes in ocean conservation including sustainable fishing, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. Perhaps one of the most significant announcements at Our Ocean was President Obama’s intention to expand and create new marine reserves in the Pacific Ocean, while Kiribati announced it will expand its already vast Phoenix Islands Protected Area. If implemented, these proposals will more than double the total area of legally protected oceans.

President Obama said in a video to participants at Our Ocean, “I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes.”

The yellowfin tuna, along with other tuna species, are heavily fished for commercial and recreational purposes.

Many of the world’s fish stocks are being fished at unsustainable levels, and it is thought that around 30 percent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited. The Our Ocean summit aimed to examine the steps fishery management authorities need to take to reduce, and ultimately end, overfishing and to mitigate adverse impacts on the broader marine environment. Initiatives proposed at the summit aim to end all overfishing on marine fish stocks by 2020, through a series of measures including increased transparency in allocating fishing rights, tougher enforcement of legislation and penalties for illegal fisheries, elimination of excess capacity in fishing fleets and minimising bycatch.

To this end, President Obama has announced a comprehensive new national programme on seafood traceability and openness which will allow customers in the United States to ensure that their seafood has been harvested legally and sustainably. Additionally, the United States launched the ‘mFish’ partnership, which will provide mobile devices to small-scale fisheries in developing nations with apps designed to access market and weather information and ensure accurate and easy catch reporting. Norway also pledged more than $150 million to promote fishery management and development abroad, including a new research vessel to train fisheries experts and managers around the world.

Laysan albatross fledging with neck caught in plastic coathanger, an example of the effects of marine pollution.

Significant advances have been made in addressing marine pollution from land- and ocean-based sources, by individuals and local communities at the regional and global scale, although much more needs to be done. Our Ocean 2014 has facilitated the development of initiatives to reduce total nutrient pollution in the ocean by 20 percent and to significantly reduce the input of debris into the marine environment by 2025. To help achieve this, Norway will allocate up to $1 million for a study on measures to combat marine plastic waste and microplastics. Additionally, the United States announced the Trash Free Waters programme, which aims to stop waste and debris from entering the ocean though sustainable product design, increased material recovery and recycling, and a new nationwide waste prevention ethic.

It is thought that coral reefs could be the first victims of ocean acidification, with one reef being destroyed every other day.

Due to ocean acidification, our oceans are approximately 30 percent more acidic than before the industrial revolution, and the ocean’s chemistry is currently changing 10 times faster than at any other time in the past 50 million years. Many organisms will not be able to adapt to the changes within their habitat, which will negatively impact both biodiversity and the crucial services that the oceans provide us. Initiatives to prevent further increases in ocean acidification were developed at the Our Oceans summit, which aim to reduce carbon emissions and monitor ocean acidification on a global scale.

Norway announced that it will allocate over $1 billion to climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance in 2015. The United States presented new projects to meet the challenges of ocean acidification and marine pollution in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean, as well as contributing $640,000 to support the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center in Monaco.

Find out more about the Our Oceans summit.

Find out more about coral reef conservation on Arkive.

Read more about ocean acidification on Arkive.

Read our blog on protecting our oceans for the future.

Learn more about the islands of the South Pacific on Arkive.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

May 22

Today is the United Nation’s International Day of Biological Diversity, which this year has been dedicated to island biodiversity.

Islands are home to an estimated 20% of all bird, reptile and plant species despite making up less than 5% of Earth’s land area. Islands also contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species, and the extinction rates on islands are disproportionately high despite a global extinction rate that may be 1000 times the historical background rate.

Islands contain 40 percent of all critically endangered species

“Biodiversity is crucial to meet human needs. Our economies, livelihoods, health, and cultures depend on the proper management of this natural capital.  This is even more important on islands where natural ecosystems are fragile and easily disturbed.” said Olivier Langrand, Island Conservation’s Director of Global Affairs, member of the Steering Committee of Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) and co-chair of the GLISPA Working Group on Invasive Alien Species.

The necessity of urgent action in aid of island conservation, to halt and reverse the loss in biodiversity is highlighted in the new publication , “Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” by the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA). This report showcases inspired island conservation solutions in action, “bright spots”. These “bright spots” will also be showcased during the 2014 International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to encourage investment in scaling and replicating initiatives that work. In this publication Island Conservation’s Allen Cay and Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) projects are highlighted as successful examples that could serve as innovative models for island restoration around the globe.

Island Conservation’s Allen Cay

Allen Cay, The Bahamas is a small island habitat but is home to important populations of Audubon’s shearwater and provides critical habitat for the endemic, endangered Allen Cay rock iguana. However, invasive house mice were indirectly threatening the native species by providing an abundant food source for barn owls, increasing the owl populations, which predate heavily on Audubon’s shearwater and juvenile Allen Cay rock iguanas. In 2012, Island conservation collaborated with the Bahamas National Trust, Government, NGO and private partners to remove invasive house mice from Allen Cay. This successful partnership protected nationally and globally significant biodiversity, and laid foundations for future restoration and conservation projects in the Bahamas.

Allen’s Cay rock iguana on beach

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference Project

Island Conservation’s Small Islands, Big Difference (SIBD) campaign was launched in Montreal, Canada in 2012. The goal of this campaign is to financially support hundreds of partners and island nations in protecting thousands of species through the removal of invasive species from 500 islands.

Island Conservation and local partners helped protect critical habitat for the waved albatross by removing invasive goats and feral cats from Isla de la Plata

The“Island Bright Spots in Conservation & Sustainability” publication also highlights emerging initiatives such as the recent launch of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a three year open-ocean journey around the world undertaken in two Hawaiian voyaging canoes. The aim of this project is to catalyse awareness and action on how to care for Earth, the Oceans and our natural heritage. The crew aim to bring stories of our islands and oceans to inspire communities and leaders to take action to protect these critical resources.

Read more about the importance of Island habitats on Arkive.

Read more about Island Conservation.

Find out how the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage is progressing.

Ben Hogan, Wildscreen ARKive PIPS Intern

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