Sep 5
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In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities

Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.

Close up photo of a northern raccoon

Native to North America, the northern raccoon is an invasive species in parts of Europe

Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.

Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.

Threats to native wildlife

Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.

Photo of red-eared slider ssp. elegans on rock

Abandoned pet turtles such as the red-eared slider can threaten native turtle species

According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”

Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.

IUCN conference

IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

The harlequin ladybird is an invasive insect that threatens native species in Europe and elsewhere

To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.

Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.

European action

Photo of American bullfrog sitting on grass at the water's edge

The American bullfrog has been named one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world by IUCN

Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.


Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.

You can also find out more about invasive species at the GB Non-native Species Secretariat and the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 30
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World Rivers Day – 30 September 2012

World Rivers Day is an annual global celebration of the world’s waterways, observed on the last Sunday in September. Established in 2005 by the internationally renowned river conservationist Mark Angelo, World Rivers Day highlights the global importance of rivers and aims to increase public awareness and encourage greater stewardship of rivers around the world.

River running through the Northwoods, Wisconsin

River running through the Northwoods, Wisconsin

Celebrating World Rivers Day

Millions of people in more than 60 countries celebrate World Rivers Day. Here at ARKive, we’ve joined in by talking to Kevin Smith, a Programme Officer with the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, to find out more about the importance of rivers and the main issues they face.

‘Ribbons of life’

Rivers underpin many freshwater ecosystems and play a critical role in sustaining the lives of thousands of different species and habitats worldwide. Despite their importance, rivers and their associated freshwater ecosystems are actually extremely rare. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and freshwater ecosystems account for less than 1% of the planet’s total surface area.

Riverine habitat

Riverine habitat

According to Kevin, “Rivers – and freshwater habitats in general – are real hotspots of biodiversity. They may only cover 1% of the Earth’s surface, but they support almost 10% of the world’s known species. These ribbons of life also provide livelihoods and economic benefits to billions of people across the world through what are known as ‘ecosystem services’ such as fisheries, water filtration or even tourism.”

Rivers shape the landscape; act as drainage channels; and transport fresh water and nutrients to lakes, wetlands and other freshwater habitats before eventually flowing out to sea. They provide the stage for some of nature’s most spectacular events, such as the annual migration of salmon from the sea to their spawning grounds upstream. Rivers, and the fresh water they contain, are also vital to human wellbeing, providing the water we drink, as well as sources of food, recreation and energy.

Sockeye salmon jumping up waterfall to spawn

Sockeye salmon jumping up waterfall to spawn

Rivers in danger

Many of the world’s rivers are also in danger, often due to human development, pollution and climate change.

Rivers and other freshwater habitats are among the most threatened on the planet. Rivers are highly interconnected systems that can transport threats to biodiversity, such as pollution or invasive species, long distances. The species that inhabit rivers also have limited dispersal ability as they can rarely escape onto land to avoid such threats,” says Kevin.

Fewer than 70 of the world’s 177 longest rivers remain free of man-made obstructions, such as dams and hydroelectric power plants.

Rivers have also been heavily modified, and have been used and viewed as a public resource (for water or waste dispersal) to be exploited for many years,” explains Kevin. “Because of this, many threats exist to rivers and their biodiversity, from agricultural and industrial pollution, excessive water extraction and dams, to the introduction of non-native and invasive species and the overharvesting of biodiversity.

Spotlight on: the world’s longest rivers

As it’s World Rivers Day, we’ve taken the opportunity to take a look at four of the world’s longest rivers and highlight some of the amazing species that inhabit them, as well as the threats that these magnificent rivers face.

Mississippi River3,902 miles (6,275 kilometres)


Pair of young North American river otters on log

Pair of young North American river otters on log

The largest river in North America, the Mississippi gets its name from the Native American Chippewa tribe’s words ‘mici zibi’, meaning ‘great river’. The Mississippi River provides food and shelter for hundreds of different species, from freshwater fish to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds, including the 8,000,000 ducks, geese, swans and wading birds that use the river as a flyway.

The upper Mississippi region is home to one of the largest populations of nesting bald eagles in the United States, while the river also provides important habitat for the playful North American river otter. The otter was once common along the Mississippi, but unregulated trapping and habitat loss around a hundred years ago pushed this species towards the brink of extinction. Fortunately, improvements in water quality, trapping regulations and reintroduction efforts in the 1980s have enabled the otter population to grow and recover in recent years.

Yangtze – 3,917 miles (6,300 kilometres)

Baiji at waters' surface

Baiji at waters' surface

The Yangtze is the world’s third longest river, rising in west-central China and flowing across the Tibetan Plateau until it reaches the East China Sea near Shanghai.

The Yangtze River Basin has remarkably high levels of biodiversity and its waters are home to some amazing aquatic creatures, including the Yangtze finless porpoise and the baiji, the rarest cetacean in existence. The forests of the upper Yangtze are the only place where the giant panda can be found in the wild, while the central parts of the river and its lakes are known to be important for many migratory bird species, including an estimated 95% of the world’s Siberian crane population.

The Yangtze River Basin itself is faced with enormous environmental challenges and is being placed under severe strain as a result of growing pressures from the region’s expanding population and rapid economic development. The impacts of climate change, agriculture, pollution and infrastructure development are having hugely detrimental effects on the river’s species, habitats and the wider ecosystem.

Amazon – 3,980 miles (6,400 kilometres)

Amazonian manatee swimming beneath aquatic vegetation

Amazonian manatee swimming beneath aquatic vegetation

The world’s largest river by volume, and considered by many to be the longest river in the world, the Amazon begins in Peru and flows through Brazil where it reaches the Atlantic Ocean.

The drainage basin of the Amazon River supports the magnificent Amazon rainforest, home to an incredible diversity of animals and plants, from the curious Amazonian manatee to an array of colourful birds and insects, including over 4,000 species of butterfly. Despite its exceptional biodiversity, the Amazon River, as well as much of the surrounding rainforest, is under threat. The river itself is faced with a number of issues, including the construction of dams in areas of high conservation value.

Nile - 4,135 miles (6,650 kilometres)

Nile crocodile close-up

Nile crocodile close-up

Traditionally considered to be the longest river in the world, the Nile flows north through eastern Africa to where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The name of this imposing river is derived from the Greek word ‘neilos’, which means ‘river valley’.

As well as supporting a large number of species in its waters and along its banks, the Nile is depended on by more than 300 million people for their water supply and the irrigation of seasonal crops. Reptiles, such as the Nile crocodile, flourish in the waters of the Nile, while fish, birds and mammals also rely on the river as a source of food and water.

Find out more about World Rivers Day.

Learn more about the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Education Officer


Sep 26
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Spotlight On: Pangolins

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters due to their armoured appearance, are secretive, elusive creatures, found in tropical and subtropical forests, dry woodlands and open savanna regions of Africa and Asia. Despite their slightly reptilian features, pangolins are, in fact, mammals, and although they are quite similar to anteaters and armadillos in many ways, these scaly critters come from a distinct taxonomic order.

Ground pangolin image

Ground pangolin

There are eight different species of pangolin, four of which are found in Africa, and four in Asia. Something all pangolin species have in common is a characteristic covering of hard, protective scales, which are comprised of keratin, the same substance found in our own hair and nails and in rhino horn.

Did you know?

Asian pangolin species are different from their African counterparts in that they have hair between their scales.

Sunda pangolin image

Sunda pangolin

Pangolins are predominantly nocturnal, and rely on their keen sense of smell to locate ant nests and termite mounds at night. Their strong claws are used to dig into the nests or even rotting logs, and their flexible tails come in handy for support and balance while the insect prey is captured using a long and extremely sticky tongue.

Did you know?

It has been estimated that an adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects each year. These mammals play an important ecological role in regulating social insect populations.

Black-bellied pangolin image

Black-bellied pangolin

While many pangolin species tunnel underground to nest and shelter in burrows, some pangolin species, such as the black-bellied or long tailed pangolin, are arboreal, and have certain adaptations to enable them to live in the trees. Tree-dwelling pangolin species have extremely long, prehensile tails, which are used when climbing and for hanging from branches.

Did you know?

Arboreal pangolin species have special tail pads which they use for climbing, and have hair on the lower parts of their forelimbs rather than scales.

Three-cusped pangolin image

Three-cusped pangolin

If threatened, pangolins attempt to deter attackers by hissing and puffing, and can protect themselves from predators by rolling up into a tight ball, with the tough scales forming an almost impregnable layer.

Did you know?

Pangolins protect themselves from insect attacks by sealing their nostrils and ears shut using specially adapted muscles.

Chinese pangolin image

Chinese pangolin

Sadly, two of the eight pangolin species are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with a further four being classified as Near Threatened. Pangolins are protected by both national and international legislation throughout their range, yet habitat loss and poaching are still major threats, particularly to the Asian species.

Did you know?

One of the major threats to Asian pangolins is illicit hunting for black market international trade, and there are fears that African pangolins could also be at risk. Pangolin meat is sold as food, while the scales are used in traditional medicine.

Thick-tailed pangolin image

Thick-tailed pangolin

It’s not all doom and gloom for pangolins, though, because several conservation and research projects are currently being conducted by the newly formed Pangolin Specialist Group, part of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC). These projects aim to find out more about pangolin ecology and biology, learn more about captive husbandry, rescue and rehabilitation, and understand the illicit trade in pangolin products. With this new information, it is hoped that effective conservation measures can be put into place to help save these intriguing mammals.

For more information on pangolins and their conservation, don’t forget to check out the Pangolin Specialist Group’s new website.

Learn more about pangolin species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Sep 6
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ARKive Geographic: Republic of Korea

Today marks the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress the world’s largest and most important conservation event. Held in Jeju, Republic of Korea from 6 to 15 September 2012, over 9,000 representatives from governments, NGOs, business, UN agencies and social organizations will come together to discuss solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues.

Held every four years, the World Conservation Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development. Wildscreen, the charity behind ARKive is being represented at the summit by Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen.

In honor of this globally significant environmental event, and as an IUCN Red List partner, the ARKive team thought we should highlight some of the unique species found within the Republic of Korea.

Bronzed Barbarian

Bronze whaler photo

The bronze whaler is a formidable shark species, displaying power and speed as it moves through the water looking for prey. This finned powerhouse earned its name from both its metallic sheen, and its tendency to surround harpooned whale carcasses. It typically feeds on schools of bony fish such as sardines, mullets and soles, although it has been known to take squid, cuttlefish and sawfish too.

Fancy Flyer

Bekko tombo photo

With its dramatic wing markings and abdominal patterns, the bekko tombo is a stunning dragonfly with a feisty temperament; males often exhibit fierce competition over females. This Korean native was once abundant, but its populations have dwindled due to introduced predators and urban expansion, with the filling in of ponds leading to extensive habitat loss. It is sadly now considered to be Critically Endangered.

Admirable Avian

White-naped crane photo

The wetlands and waterways of the Republic of Korea provide important habitat for a number of migratory birds, including the the Vulnerable white-naped crane. This elegant bird can be easily identified by the large ring of bare red skin around each eye and the white stripe running from the crown to the nape of the neck. Like other crane species, the white-naped crane is often seen ‘dancing’, a spectacular display involving flapping the wings, tossing grass and sticks, jumping, running and bowing.

Sea Skipper

Spinetail mobula photo

The spinetail mobula is an impressively large ray with a ‘wingspan’ of up to 210 centimetres. This agile acrobat of the sea also has a long tail resembling a whip, which has a sting at the tip. They are often seen leaping out of the water as a means of communication or play. Unfortunately, this ray is commonly caught as bycatch by the fishing industry throughout its range.

Tusky trekker

Chinese water deer photo

The Latin name of the Chinese water deer, Hydropotes inermis, literally means ‘unarmed water-drinker’, which refers to the species’ lack of antlers and its affinity for marsh-like habitats.  As its name suggests, the Chinese water deer is an adept swimmer, and may swim between islets in search of food and shelter. While they do not bare antlers, the male Chinese water deer has enlarged upper canine teeth, or tusks, which measure up to eight centimetres in length.

Get involved

Keep up to date with the latest news from the IUCN World Conservation Congress with the ARKive blog as we will be keeping you posted on all the big stories over the coming days. 

You can also find out the latest news from the official IUCN Congress twitter hub.

Maggie Graham, Program Assistant, Wildscreen USA

Mar 9
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In the News: Worrying declines in the world’s seabirds

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades, with many populations now dangerously close to extinction, according to a new review by BirdLife International, a partner of the IUCN.

Photo of Balearic shearwater in flight

The Balearic shearwater, one of the rarest seabirds in the world

The review also reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds, with 28% of the 346 species being globally threatened and a further 10% listed as Near Threatened.

Almost half of all seabird species are believed to be in decline. The albatross family is particularly at risk, with 17 of the 22 albatross species currently facing extinction.

This new data details the rapid deterioration of creatures that provide a crucial window onto the condition of the oceans,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. “We must now use this information to enact changes that will reverse the loss of such an important group of species.”

Man-made threats

The most significant threat to the world’s seabirds is commercial fishing, which is reducing the fish stocks on which many species depend. In addition, thousands of seabirds are killed every year after becoming caught in fishing gear.

Photo of wandering albatross hooked and drowned by long-line fishing

Wandering albatross caught and drowned by long-line fishing gear

Seabird breeding colonies have also been decimated by invasive, introduced species such as rats and cats, which pose a particular threat to seabirds that breed on only a few small islands.

Further threats to seabirds come from oil spills, plastic waste in the oceans, and the potential effects of climate change.

Seabirds are a diverse group with worldwide distribution, and as top predators they also provide a valuable indicator of wider marine health,” says Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme.

Photo of puffin mistaking plastic for food to provide to chick

Puffin mistaking plastic for food to give to its chick

Call for action

There may still be time to reverse seabird declines, and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken.

In particular, sites where seabirds congregate, such as onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds, need to be protected. To this end, BirdLife International has already identified many ‘Important Bird Areas’ (IBAs) for seabirds on land, and is planning to publish the first list of marine IBAs. These areas will then be used to develop a global network of Marine Protected Areas, to help manage and protect marine habitats.

Photo of Henderson petrel on the nest

Breeding on just one small island, the Henderson petrel has declined due to predation by introduced rats

Invasive species, particularly rodents, also need to be removed from seabird colonies. Several successful eradication programmes have already taken place, and more are planned.

Finally, more research is needed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of seabird populations and to tackle new, emerging threats to seabirds, such as energy generation projects and the effects of climate change.

Read more on the seabird review at the IUCN.

Find out more about BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme.

View photos and videos of albatross, petrel and shearwater species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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