Sep 13
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In the News: Blobfish claims landslide victory as world’s ugliest animal

Its grouchy face and slimy, gelatinous body have won the blobfish the honour of becoming the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, as well as the unofficial title of world’s ugliest animal.

Public vote

First taking form as a science-themed comedy night, the society launched a campaign urging members of the public to vote for its mascot from a pool of ‘aesthetically challenged’ threatened species. The main aim of the campaign, which was run in conjunction with the National Science and Engineering Competition, was to draw attention to the threats facing these bizarre and often ignored creatures.

Our traditional approach to conservation is egotistical,” said biologist and TV presenter Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. “We only protect the animals that we relate to because they’re cute, like pandas. If extinction threats are as bad as they seem, then focusing just on very charismatic megafauna is completely missing the point.”

The campaign featured eleven ‘ugly’ species, each of which was championed by a comedian and was promoted via a special YouTube video message before the public was asked to vote for their favourite. “I have nothing against pandas,” added Watt, “but they have their supporters. These species need help.”

Proboscis monkey image

Proboscis monkey males have enlarged noses

Blobfish emerges victorious

After around 88,000 video views and more than 3,000 votes, the campaign came to its conclusion at the British Science Festival in Newcastle with the announcement of the blobfish as the winner. Supported by comedian Paul Foot, this species received a whopping 795 votes and will now become the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Some would describe it as a bit ugly, but I think the sad face of the blobfish belies a kind and very wise little brain in there,” said Foot of his chosen species.

A strange, gelatinous creature, the blobfish lives off the coast of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania, where it lives at depths of between 600 and 1,200 metres and is rarely seen. Incredibly, the blobfish is able to thrive at these depths, despite the pressure being several dozen times higher than at the surface. With its body being just slightly denser than water, the blobfish spends its life bobbing around in the ocean, feeding on crabs and lobsters. However, fishing trawlers pose a significant threat to this aesthetically challenged species, as it becomes caught up in their nets.

Titicaca water frog image

The Critically Endangered Titicaca water frog

Daily extinctions

With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the Ugly Animal Preservation Society is keen to promote the conservation of less well known or less adored species, and Watt is pleased with the success of the campaign, saying, “We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction.”

Watt also hopes that the attention given to these animals has brought a lighter side to conservation, and that it has highlighted the importance of habitat conservation.

Carly Waterman, from the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence programme which aims to highlight and conserve evolutionarily distinct, ‘one-of-a-kind’ species, praised the efforts of the campaign, saying, “A large proportion of the world’s biodiversity is being overlooked, so flying the flag for these species is a really positive thing.”

Axolotl image

The axolotl, an unusual amphibian

Other contenders

A whole host of fascinating creatures were in line for the title of world’s ugliest animal, including the flightless dung beetle, the European eel and the dromedary jumping-slug. In addition to the blobfish, the other four species in the top five following the public vote were the:

Read more on this story at BBC News – Blobfish wins ugliest animal vote and The Guardian – Blobfish voted world’s ugliest animal.

Watch Paul Foot’s acceptance speech on behalf of the blobfish.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 28
Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on Digg Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on reddit Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on Email Share 'In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California' on Print Friendly

In the News: Sea otter return providing lifeline for dwindling seagrass in California

A significant improvement in the health of seagrass in a central Californian estuary is due to the return of sea otters, according to recent research.

Sea otter image

Researchers have found that the presence of sea otters may be improving the health of seagrass beds

Seagrass decline

Seagrass has been suffering drastic declines worldwide, and coastal California is no exception. Urbanisation has led to a massive increase in nutrient pollution along the state’s coast, with run-off from fields treated with nitrogen-rich fertilisers being blamed for the reduction in seagrass beds in the region. However, new research has revealed that the return of sea otter populations to the area may be enabling seagrass levels to recover.

Sea otters were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly for their dense pelt which was extremely sought-after for the fur trade. This latest research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that the drastic reduction in sea otter numbers may have exacerbated the decline of seagrass in the region.

Sea otters are now returning to the area, and, despite the continued pollution of the ocean, the water-dwelling plants are now doing much better. It is thought that the return of sea otters has triggered a complex ecological chain reaction which favours the survival of seagrass.

Sea otter feeding image

Sea otters feed on crabs and other shellfish

Seagrass saviour

Scientists assessed seagrass levels in part of Monterey Bay, California, over the past 50 years, mapping increases and declines. A whole host of factors which could potentially affect seagrass levels were studied, but the only one which matched the recorded changes was sea otter numbers. The health of the marine ecosystem relies upon a delicate balance of predator and prey species, and scientists have theorised that it is a readjustment in this balance that is now enabling seagrass to thrive.

Increased nutrients in the ocean due to fertiliser run-off have favoured the growth of a particular type of algae which grows on seagrass, shading the leaves and causing them to die off. Ordinarily, this algae is kept in check by small invertebrates which feed upon it, but with the reduction in sea otters came an increase in one of its main food sources – crabs. Crabs feed on marine invertebrates, so higher numbers of crabs meant fewer invertebrates to keep algae levels down, therefore contributing to the drastic reduction in seagrass.

Testing the hypothesis

To test their theory, the researchers set up experiments in similar estuaries with and without sea otters, and carried out other tests in the field as well as in the lab. One experiment involved putting cages on the seagrass, with some being accessible to sea otters and some not. The results of the tests confirmed the hypothesis.

Sea otter image

Sea otters

Fighting climate change

Brent Hughes, lead author of the study, described seagrass as being ‘the canary in the coalmine’, as it can be used to predict the levels of nutrient pollution in the water. He marvelled at the positive effect the return of the sea otters is having, saying, “This estuary is part of one of the most polluted systems in the entire world, but you can still get this healthy thriving habitat, and it’s all because of the sea otters. So it’s almost like these sea otters are fighting the effects of poor water quality.”

Seagrass plays an extremely important role in the marine ecosystem, acting as a nursery habitat for a wide variety of fish species, and taking in carbon dioxide from the water and the atmosphere, therefore potentially helping in the fight against climate change. In addition to this, seagrass contributes to the stability and protection of the shoreline.

It’s what we call a foundation species, like kelp forest, salt marsh or coral reef,” said Hughes. “The major problem from a global perspective is that seagrass is declining worldwide. And one of the major drivers of this decline has been nutrient inputs from anthropogenic sources, via agriculture or urban runoff.”

Benefits

A ban on sea otters that was in place to prevent them from impinging on fisheries in the southern California area was lifted last year, and so the findings from this latest research are particularly relevant.

That’s important because there’s a lot of these kind of degraded estuaries in southern California because of all the urban runoff from places like Los Angeles and San Diego,” said Hughes. “Coastal managers will now have a better sense of what’s going to happen when sea otters move into their systems. There’s a huge potential benefit to sea otters returning to these estuaries, and into these seagrass beds that might be threatened.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Sea otter return boosts ailing seagrass in California.

See more photos and videos of sea otters on ARKive.

Learn more about the importance of food chains and food webs in our exciting Web of Wildlife education resource.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 15
Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on Digg Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on reddit Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on Email Share 'In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey' on Print Friendly

In the News: Conservation efforts boost numbers of Endangered Chinese monkey

The Endangered Yunnan snub-nosed monkey has received a welcome boost in south-western China thanks to conservation efforts, showing a 50% increase in numbers since the 1990s, according to Chinese state media.

Yunnan snub-nosed monkey image

Hunting is one of the major threats faced by the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey

Primate in peril

Also known as the black snub-nosed monkey, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is an inhabitant of south-western China’s high-altitude evergreen forests, where harsh environmental conditions prevail. At elevations between 3,000 and 4,500 metres, these forests suffer extreme weather, with temperatures falling below freezing for several months of the year.

As a result of hunting for food and its pelt, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey suffered massive declines, coming perilously close to extinction in the 1980s. Since then, authorities have taken action to help save this elusive primate, by enacting a hunting ban, confiscating hunting guns, establishing special protected areas and banning logging.

Yunnan snub-nosed monkey image

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Conservation success

The concerted conservation efforts have not been in vain, with a survey launched last month discovering that there are now more than 3,000 Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys surviving in the high-elevation forests of China’s Yunnan Province and Tibet Autonomous Region. These figures are welcome news, given that there were fewer than 2,000 individuals present in the area in the 1990s. Figures from Yunnan’s Baima Snow Mountain Nature Reserve are particularly encouraging, showing a nine-fold increase compared to numbers in the protected area in 1987.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Endangered Chinese monkey population recovering.

See more photos and videos of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 9
Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on Digg Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on reddit Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on Email Share 'In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England' on Print Friendly

In the News: Hen harriers on brink of extinction in England

Hen harriers are dangerously close to extinction in England following failed breeding attempts by the country’s only two nesting pairs, according to the RSPB.

Hen harrier image

The hen harrier is also known as the northern harrier

Species on the edge

Described as one of the region’s most charismatic birds of prey, the hen harrier, also known as the northern harrier, was once widespread in the UK. However, this impressive species became extinct in mainland Britain at the turn of the 20th century as a result of persecution, only returning to England from Scottish island populations after World War II following land use changes and a decline in persecution.

Since the 1990s, populations of this species in England have fallen dramatically, with just 15 pairs breeding in the country in 2007. According to the RSPB, 2013 is the first year the species has not produced a chick in England since the 1960s, a situation which is considered by the organisation to be a huge setback.

Juvenile hen harrier image

This year is the first time the hen harrier hasn’t bred successfully in England since the 1960s

Nesting failure

The two nesting attempts, both of which occurred at sites in the north of England, were carefully monitored. At the County Durham nest site, although eggs were laid, the male deserted the site, forcing the female to abandon the nest in order to feed. In the second nesting attempt, which occurred in Northumberland, the eggs laid by the immature female were not viable, despite being incubated for the full term and the female being well tended to by the male.

Just two pairs attempted to nest this year in England, but both failed,” said an RSPB spokesperson. “At one of these sites the RSPB was working with the landowner to ensure the nest was protected. Sadly, the eggs never hatched. While conservationists believe that this nest failed naturally, the government’s own wildlife advisers say that the population had been forced into this precarious position by illegal killing.

Continued persecution

A study carried out by government scientists reported that more than 300 pairs of hen harriers could be supported in England’s upland areas, but showed that illegal persecution through shooting, trapping and nest disturbance was preventing this species from flourishing.

Hen harrier image

Providing alternative food sources for the hen harriers may help to reduce conflict with grouse moor estates

Conflict with gamekeepers

The Moorland Association cites the long, cold winter as the cause of the failure of the nesting pairs this season, but the RSPB believes that gamekeepers working for rogue moorland estate owners are to blame for the hen harrier’s struggle to survive in England, persecuting the majestic birds of prey for killing grouse chicks.

No new hen harriers this season means that the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in England,” said RSPB spokesman Graham Madge. “Our belief is that on some estates there is a systematic approach to the removal of birds of prey. We are not asking that these people do anything more than respect the law. The loss is almost entirely due to the illegal persecution. It has to be by rogue grouse moor estates.”

Predator control

While methods to control other grouse predators such as red foxes and crows have led to a boost in hen harrier numbers, this has also resulted in more grouse being taken. According to research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), the loss of grouse could make grouse moor estates economically unviable.

The RSPB is involved in an initiative to provide alternative food sources for hen harriers to avoid such conflict, enabling the species to successfully live alongside managed grouse moors.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Hen harriers ‘face extinction’ in England as nests fail and The Guardian – Hen harrier close to extinction in England, says RSPB.

See more photos and videos of the hen harrier on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Aug 2
Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on Delicious Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on Digg Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on Facebook Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on reddit Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on StumbleUpon Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on Email Share 'In the News: Iraq creates first National Park' on Print Friendly

In the News: Iraq creates first National Park

Iraq’s Council of Ministers has approved the designation of the country’s first national park, in the Mesopotamian Marshes of southern Iraq.

Photo of Basra reed warbler among reeds

The Basra reed warbler breeds in the Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq

Once the third largest wetland in the world, the Mesopotamian Marshes are widely thought to be the original ‘Garden of Eden’. However, they were nearly destroyed during the Gulf War in the 1990s, when Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, drained the area and reduced the marshland to less than ten percent of its original extent.

Since Saddam’s downfall in 2003, efforts have been made to re-flood and restore the marshes, with surprising success. The new designation as a national park will hopefully help to protect this vital habitat into the future.

Wildlife returns

The Mesopotamian Marshes are of great importance to Iraq’s wildlife, providing a source of fresh water and essential habitat in a region surrounded by deserts. Despite most of the marshes being destroyed, the region’s wildlife managed to survive and is now making a remarkable comeback.

Photo of marbled duck

Restoration of the marshes has allowed species such as the marbled duck to return

They had hung on in small spots. When the water spread again, so did the birds,” said Richard Porter, BirdLife International’s Middle East Advisor. “It shows how resilient nature can be, and gives hope that other lost wetlands can be restored.”

Water politics

Unfortunately, although many parts of the marshland have recovered, others have not. One of the main threats to the wetland is the region’s water politics, with countries upstream of Iraq increasingly restricting the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

To counter this threat, Nature Iraq, the NGO which led the campaign for the designation of the national park, has persuaded the Iraq government to build an embankment to allow water to be diverted into the marshes in spring.

Declaring a park isn’t just a bit of paper,” said Azzam Alwash, founder of Nature Iraq. “It will mean we can reserve a percentage of the water from the rivers for the marshes.”

Photo of bladetail in habitat

Restoration of Iraq’s marshes will benefit a range of different species

Long-term protection

A further threat to the marshes comes from Iraq’s increasing urbanisation and development. The building of roads, infrastructure and water systems could all threaten the country’s natural habitats if not properly regulated.

I see areas that have been the same way for thousands of years being obstructed by roads. Development is encroaching into the wildlife’s area and taking away habitats,” said Alwash, adding that, “I want progress, but I don’t want development to overtake the Iraqi tradition of living in harmony with nature.”

Long-term protection of Iraq’s marshes will depend on international agreements on water-sharing, as well as the availability of money, which could one day come from tourism.

Photo of greater flamingos in flight

Greater flamingos also occur in the marshes of Iraq

The team who worked on establishing the new national park see it as just one step towards the protection of many of Iraq’s other natural habitats. Next year, Alwash and his colleagues hope to establish four more parks across the country.

This park is not a destination,” he explained. “It’s just a piece in the roadway to protecting Iraq’s national and natural heritage.”

 

Read more on this story at:

View more photos and videos of species from Iraq on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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