Apr 12
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Spotlight on: Beaches in the UK

Although it may not feel like it with all the cold weather we’ve been having recently, here in the UK we are well into spring and heading towards summer. As the temperatures begin to creep up, now is the perfect time to get out and about and start exploring the diverse range of habitats the UK has to offer. Being an island, the UK boasts over 6,000 kilometres of shoreline, and heading down to the seaside is a popular pastime for people of all ages. It is said that in the UK you are never more than about 70 miles from the sea, so why not make a day of it and visit one of the beautiful sandy beaches that our coastline has to offer?

Beach photo

Sandy beach at Three Crowns Bay on the Gower Peninsula, Wales

While sandy shores may not seem an obvious place to find wildlife, a wealth of invertebrate and fish species live below the sand, buried out of sight. If you are lucky, you may also spot seals hauled out on the beach, or shorebirds foraging for prey in the sand or among the debris of the strandline. Visitors to beaches such as Studland on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast could be treated to an even rarer sight, as sand lizards can be spotted here in the dunes and heathland which border the beach.

Sand lizard photo

Sand lizard feeding on prey

Studland photo

Sandstone cliffs and sandy beach at Studland Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certain beaches are renowned for their bird life, such as Titchwell Marsh on the north Norfolk coast. Here you can see curlew sandpipers, avocets, redshank and many other waders, particularly in the summer and autumn. Looking further north, Balranald on the Outer Hebrides is another haven for a number of bird species, inlcuding  little terns which can be spotted fishing along the shore.

Curlew sandpiper photo

Curlew sandpipers feeding at sunrise

Of course, part of the fun of heading to the beach is spotting signs of invertebrate life, and I’m sure that like me, many of you spent hours of your childhood searching for shells and other treasures. If you fancy re-living your youth, or you’d like to introduce the next generation to the wonders that wash ashore, make sure you take along a copy of our beach treasure hunt activity next time you visit the seaside; a PDF version can be downloaded here.

Common whelk photo

Common whelk shell on the beach

Coastal sand dunes are typically formed as the wind blows sand into drifts which get trapped around plants such as marram grass, the roots of which help to hold the dune together. These dunes are a great place to find other plant life too, including species such as sea holly, sea spurge, centaury and prickly saltwort.

Sea holly photo

Sea holly growing on sand dune

Why not take a look at our new UK sandy shore feature page for more information and inspiration, and start planning your next trip to the beach? We’ve got details of the species you might encounter, ideas and tips on choosing where to visit and even suggestions about how you can get involved and help to protect and preserve our coastline.

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Apr 8
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Spotlight On: Reforestation in the Atlantic forest

Atlantic forest canopy

The Atlantic forest now covers only 8% of its historical range

Despite being one of the most diverse and biologically rich forests in the world, the Atlantic forest in South America is unfortunately also one of the most threatened. Only about eight percent of its original cover remains and its total area has been dramatically reduced to just less than 100,000 square kilometres. If we flip this figure; compared to the Amazon which has lost around 20% of its forest, the Atlantic forest, or Mata Atlântica as it is also known, has seen a staggering 92% decline. To make matters worse, what remains of the forest is severely fragmented and only two percent is still considered to be primary, or pristine, forest.

Iguaçu falls in Atlantic forest

Only 2% of the Atlantic forest is now considered to be primary forest

The Atlantic forest extends along Brazil’s eastern coast, into Paraguay and northeast Argentina. It is home to thousands of species that are not found anywhere else in the world; for example, no fewer than 8,000 of the total 20,000 or more plant species are totally unique to the Atlantic forest, including over half of the forest’s trees. Examples include the Endangered Pau brasil and the Vulnerable Brazilian rosewood tree. But it’s not just the plants: there are many mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates that are found exclusively in the Atlantic forest. As more of the forest is degraded and fragmented by deforestation, these species are increasingly at risk of extinction.

Deforestation in the Atlantic forest is a result of human settlement, dating back centuries to when Europeans arrived in South America and began to clear forest to make way for timber and cattle ranches, as well as to grow crops such as sugarcane, coffee and cocoa. In more recent years land use has shifted towards soy cultivation and pine, tobacco and eucalyptus plantations. The spread of invasive species and the ever-looming presence of climate change are also playing their part, providing competition for food and resources, and decreasing the resiliency of species to changes in their environment.

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Brazilian rainforest cleared for cattle ranching

Of the 100,000 remaining square kilometres, only approximately 23,800 square kilometres are under protection; less than 2% of the forest’s historic range. There are, however, also a range of conservation initiatives working to protect and restore parts of the Atlantic forest.

One such reforestation project by The Nature Conservancy began in 2008 with the ambitious aim of planting one billion trees in Brazil’s Atlantic forest within seven years. If successful, the ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ project will repopulate 2.5 million acres of land, increasing the forest’s significance as a carbon sink that will potentially be able to remove four million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year. As numbers currently stand, 12,574,689 trees have been planted, with one tree planted per dollar donated. Despite being far from the target, this level of reforestation is still significant.

The Nature Conservancy are not alone in their bid to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest. The Alstom Foundation’s project aims to promote long-term sustainability in the remaining forest, and to reconnect fragmented areas which will help to support wildlife. Its target is to restore 15 million hectares of degraded lands by the year 2040, amounting to 12 percent of the forest’s original ecosystem.

Jaguar resting in a tree

The jaguar and many other species could soon be wiped out in the Atlantic forest

While we could go ahead and list every project working to reforest areas of the Atlantic forest, the important message to take from this is why these collective efforts are significant. Many species are on the verge of being lost from the Mata Atlântica, including the jaguar, lowland tapir and giant anteater, and many more species will continue to decline if further action is not taken. Large numbers of these species occur nowhere else in the world, and they require large areas of connected forest to survive and reproduce.

With climate change on the tip of everyone’s tongue, restoration in this forest could serve to provide a much-needed carbon sink, able to remove and store huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Reforestation projects are also able to help local communities to build their knowledge of soil use, conservation and land management, enabling them to protect their land in the future and encouraging them to undertake their own forest restoration, thereby continuing reforestation efforts in the long-term.

Find out more about the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s Atlantic forest ecoregion page.

Find out more about reforestation in the Atlantic forest on ARKive’s reforestation topic page.

Become a conservation professional and help plant trees in the Atlantic forest with Team WILD!

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Mar 18
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Spotlight On: National Wildlife Week USA

It’s National Wildlife Week in America and a perfect excuse for us to comb the ARKive collection for species in support of this year’s theme, ‘Branching Out for Wildlife’ – celebrating trees and their importance to wildlife and people.

Trees are essential for species survival around the world. They provide vital habitat for species in nearly every category from mushrooms to mammals and everything in between. Their leaves clean the air we breathe and their wood provides invaluable ecosystem services to humans. Basically, we just couldn’t survive without them!

We thought we’d showcase some of our favorite images on ARKive featuring species ‘branching out’ in their own ways. Take a look; you might be surprised at some of the species on our list!

Ring-tailed clinger

Photo of Northern raccoon

You may have spotted a Northern raccoon scampering around the forest floor but this species is actually right at home climbing in and around the limbs of trees. For a more classic image of raccoons and trees, take a look at these cuties.

Leg-less limb lounger

ARKive's common garter snake species profile

Did you know that some snakes could climb trees? Snakes like this red-sided garter snake are able to slither their way up trunks and limbs to avoid predators or, in this case, to escape from a pining male suitor.

Fir-climbing feline

ARKive's Canada lynx species profile

You’ve probably heard the story of the little house kitty that got stuck up in the tree, right? Well, the far distant cousin of the house cat, the Canada lynx, has no problem ambling up and around the trees in its native habitat. On the ground, these cats rely on fallen trees, among other shrubbery, for cozy bedding.

Pine tree pecker

ARKive's pileated woodpecker species profile

No collection of tree-dwelling species would be complete without a woodpecker which uses its powerful beak to ‘peck’ holes into tree trunks to create a home. Woodpeckers like this pileated woodpecker are especially important to the woodland ecosystems since vacated woodpecker homes provide essential shelter for other species such as owls, bats and swifts.

Branching bear

ARKive's brown bear species profile

While the large claws of the brown bear are better suited for digging rather than tree climbing, it certainly doesn’t stop this opportunistic feeder from climbing up a trunk or two for a meal.

Can you think of other American species that require trees to live? Why not do some exploring around the Wisconsin’s Northwoods or the Eastern deciduous forest of the US. Shout out your favorite species in the comments below and include a link to the species on ARKive so we can learn together!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education and Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Nov 4
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Spotlight on: ARKive School Museum

What do you get when you combine art supplies, ARKive’s amazing collection of endangered species imagery and fact files and creative young minds?  A unique, one of a kind learning experience called the ARKive School Museum which transforms classrooms and schools into a natural history museum all about endangered species.

The ARKive School Museum is an innovative and engaging educational experience which encourages students to get creative. By discovering fascinating biological facts about endangered species, designing and creating fun, interactive exhibits, and hosting unique, hands-on activities in their own ‘museum’, students improve their scientific literacy and develop cross-discipline skills that they can apply to an ever-changing global society.

Photo of a school hallway decorated with a student exhibit as part of an ARKive School Museum

A school hallway decorated with a student exhibit.

Photo of students at an ARKive School Museum

Students teach visitors about threatened species around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Designed for students from 5-14 years of age, the ARKive School Museum begins with them diving into the world of conservation and learning how species become endangered. Then, by choosing a species to learn about further, students use ARKive as a scientific research tool to discover biological information and interesting facts that can be transformed into an interactive exhibit to inform the wider school community about the species and issues.  With optional museum-focused extension activities, students can explore the world of museum curation for additional exhibit tips and tricks.

An ARKive School Museum culminates with a ‘grand opening’, where students lead visitors through the interactive exhibits they have designed. Students engage and amaze visitors as they showcase the results of their hard work and communicate their findings about endangered species to fellow students, parents and their local school communities.

Photo of students taking part in Sizing up Species activity as part of an ARKive School Museum

A student demonstrates how their exhibit explores species lengths using string.

The ARKive team worked with classrooms in Virgina, USA, to pilot the ARKive School Museum program and we were consistently amazed by the creativity of the students. From constructing pitch black naked mole rat tunnels from cardboard boxes that challenged museum visitors to experience living underground and without vision to designing a measurement exhibit using string to illustrate the length of saltwater crocodiles (the largest living reptile) and other species, there seemed to be no end to what the students could dream up! One of the teachers we worked with said it best,

“We see students being transformed from just acquiring knowledge to discovering that learning has a purpose – the sharing of knowledge”. – Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, Virginia, USA

We couldn’t agree more! To create an ARKive School Museum in your school or classroom, start by visiting ARKive Education today. Then, select the guiding materials that fit your students’ ages, learning styles and needs.

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education and Outreach Manager

Oct 10
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Spotlight on: Phenology

Here in the Northern Hemisphere autumn has well and truly hit us and we are moving fast heading towards winter. As leaves change colour and fall from the trees, many creatures are beginning their preparation for hibernation and birds are embarking on their seasonal migrations to warmer climes. Across the globe many species rely on seasonal changes in weather to signal the next stage in their life cycle, such as hibernation, migration, blooming or molting. Although all organisms go through natural lifecycles, the study of seasonal cycling is unique and scientists refer to it as phenology.

What is phenology?

By definition, phenology is the study of how seasonal and climatic changes influence natural cycles. Not only can phenology provide valuable clues to the lifecycles of individual species, it can also highlight the importance of relationships between species. For example, insects such as honey bees must carefully time their spring emergence with the blooming of flowers, which they rely upon to provide nectar and pollen.

Honey bee photo

Come spring time, honey bees rely on blooming plants for food, while the plants rely upon the bees for pollination

 

Why study phenology?

Although phenology seems like something that is just observed and not studied, it is actually very valuable to research phenological patterns. Understanding phenology can allow scientists to make comparisons to see if a community is healthy and following normal cycles. Phenology can also aid conservation efforts, for example by calculating the timing and migration routes of the North Atlantic right whale, the species can be protected appropriately throughout its range at different times of year.

North Atlantic right whale photo

Conservation measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale include regulations in the US to restrict the use of certain types of fishing gear in specific areas at times when the whales are present

 

What triggers seasonal changes in nature?

One well-known sign that the seasons are changing is the difference in temperature throughout the year, but there are other indicators that may not be as well known. For example, the Caspian seal relies on the presence of ice formations in the Caspian Sea to trigger its seasonal migration to different locations, while the Critically Endangered black-eared mantella gets its signal to start the breeding season from seasonal fluctuations in rainfall.

Caspian seal photo

The Caspian seal relies on change in ice formation to jump-start its migration

Black-eared mantella photo

The black-eared mantella begins breeding at the arrival of the seasonal rains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can climate change affect phenology?

Climate change can have a negative effect on species that follow phenological patterns. For example, unusual seasonal droughts in the Namib Desert in southern Africa were followed by large declines in quiver tree numbers, which scientists believe to be the result of drought stress. Climate change can also effect species’ reproductive cycles, for example the loggerhead turtle comes ashore to lay its eggs in the summer when the odds of the young surviving are at their highest. Changes in climate patterns are likely to shift this cycle, putting the eggs and young at risk.

Loggerhead turtle photo

Climate change could cause this young loggerhead turtle to hatch too early or too late in the season

Butterflies and blooms education resource

Related education resource

Learn more about phenology with our creative Butterflies and Blooms education resource. Check it out on the ARKive Education pages, and help your students to discover the relationship between the butterflies of Wisconsin’s Northwoods and the springtime flowers they depend upon.

Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA

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