Aug 31

By protecting just four percent of our oceans, we could protect the majority of the world’s marine mammals, say researchers.

According to scientists at Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, protecting this small percentage of ocean would protect enough critical habitat to help conserve many of our ocean-dwelling mammals.

Photo of blue whale calf breaching

Blue whale calf breaching

Paul Ehrlich, co-author of the study and a professor at Stanford University, said, “It’s important to protect marine mammals if you want to keep the ocean’s ecosystems functional. Many of them are top predators and have impacts all the way through the ecosystem. And they’re also beautiful and interesting.”

Some of the world’s most charismatic conservation icons are marine mammals, such as the polar bear and the world’s largest animal, the magnificent blue whale. In total, there are 129 species of marine mammal living in our oceans; however, around a quarter of these are currently facing extinction.

Polar bear swimming, photo

Polar bear swimming

Mapping marine mammals

The researchers looked at areas where conservation measures could protect the most species, as well as those that are most vulnerable to extinction. To do this, the team used maps which showed where each mammal was found, and overlaid them to produce one big map. They were then able to pinpoint which locations had the highest numbers of different marine mammal species in the same area, the first study to do so on such a large scale.

According to co-authors Sandra Pompa and Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the researchers were surprised to find that most species of marine mammal were found in relatively few key locations.

The most surprising and interesting result was that all of the species can be represented in only 20 critical conservation locations that cover at least 10 percent of the species’ geographic range”.

The researchers identified the 20 conservation sites based on three main criteria – how many species were present at the site, how severe the risk of extinction was for each species, and whether any species found in the area were unique. They also considered whether an area held habitats of special importance, such as breeding grounds or migration routes.

Californian sea otter swimming, photo

Californian sea otter swimming

Nine key sites

After compiling and analysing their data, the scientists discovered that protecting 9 out of the 20 sites that they had identified would protect habitat for 84 percent of the world’s marine mammals.

The nine sites are located off the coasts of Baja California (Mexico), eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, north-western Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Although they cover just four percent of the ocean, each of the 9 sites have particularly high species richness, and together they provide habitat for a grand total of 108 marine mammals.

Having identified the nine key conservation sites, the researchers also looked at how threats such as pollution and shipping affected the numbers of species that were found at each location.

According to Pompa and Ceballos, “At least 70 percent of the richness areas coincide with regions highly impacted by humans. This is powerful information that obliges us to enhance marine conservation.”

Although the study identified 9 key conservation sites, the researchers are keen to emphasise that the remaining 11 sites also harbour numerous marine mammals, including species which are found nowhere else in the world. Protecting these sites will be just as important to ensure the future of many unique species.

Read the full article at Science Daily

Read the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Find out more about marine mammals on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Aug 31

Late this summer, over 3,500 ecologists, biologists and conservationists descended upon Austin, Texas, USA, for the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference. Attending, presenting and exhibiting at ESA is always a pleasure for ARKive staff as we often meet scientists who have imagery of species we’ve been searching for or are species experts of threatened species already on ARKive.

One such scientist is Hayley Gillespie, a recent university graduate who dedicated her thesis to the study of the Barton Springs salamander, a species local to Austin, TX. Hayley was happy to share with ARKive why she studies this amphibian and give a unique view on conservation from a species expert perspective.

  Barton Springs salamander photo  Barton springs salamander photo

What is the Barton Springs salamander?

The Barton Springs Salamander is a member of the genus Eurycea  and lives in the freshwater springs in downtown Austin, TX. Unlike many other salamander species, the Barton Springs salamander doesn’t experience metamorphosis and actually keeps its feathery gills and lives in an aquatic habitat its entire life. This characteristic probably evolved as the climate in central Texas started to become more hot and dry thousands of years ago. The springs where the salamanders live provide a good “refuge” from the hot, dry climate on land and the few salamanders that were able to stay in the water probably survived better than those that didn’t. One drawback: the Barton Springs Salamander cannot survive out of water any longer than you can hold your breath!

What are the conservation challenges?

According to Hayley, the Barton Springs Salamander faces many challenges and it’s amazing it is still here! Three of the four springs that make up Barton Springs have been dammed, turning their once stream-like habitat into an unsuitable pond-like habitat. The main Barton Springs Pool is actually a public swimming hole beloved by the citizens of Austin but unfortunately not very good for the salamanders that live there.

Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX, USA

Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX, USA

The Barton Springs Salamanders also need clean, plentiful water from the Edwards Aquifer to feed their springs which is constantly challenged by new development in and around the city. Combined with natural stresses like droughts (which are projected to become more frequent and severe with climate change), these challenges make life pretty difficult for Barton Springs Salamanders.

How can you help?

The best way to help protect this species is to ensure that there is abundant and clean water in the Edwards Aquifer well into the future. Local residents can choose to use less water so that groundwater is not pumped as heavily, and getting involved in influencing local and regional sustainable development issues can have a big impact. Additionally, the Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) Alliance is a local organization that advocates for aquifer protection and sustainable development in Austin.

In the end, Hayley sums it up quite nicely, “I think it’s important to simply know more about how we can help protect this unique piece of our natural heritage. After all, it lives right here with us, and no where else! That’s pretty neat.”

Neat indeed! Have you ever seen a Barton Springs salamander or learned about a threatened amphibian in your part of the world? Why not share your experience with us?

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA

Aug 30

Scientists have discovered a potential cure for a deadly fungal disease that is devastating amphibian populations worldwide.

Photo of Morelet's tree frog

The Critically Endangered Morelet’s tree frog, just one of many amphibian species at risk from chytridiomycosis.

Deadly disease

Chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease caused by the ‘chytrid’ fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has been linked to many amphibian declines around the world. It is also thought to be at least partly responsible for a number of amphibian extinctions.

Until recently, scientists have struggled to discover an effective means of controlling the spread of this devastating disease.

However, in a new study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, researchers from Oregon State University report that a species of zooplankton – a tiny aquatic animal – has been found to eat the fungus.

Daphnia magna, a type of ‘water flea’, consumes the aquatic, free-swimming spores which form the infective stage of the chytrid fungus. This observation has raised the possibility of using biological control – a method of controlling pest species using natural predators or parasites – to fight chytridiomycosis.

Photo of a male golden toad

Chytridiomycosis is believed to have contributed to the extinction of the golden toad in Costa Rica.

Biological control

Scientists are unsure what is causing the rapid spread of the chytrid fungus, and efforts to eradicate it from localised areas have so far been unsuccessful. Control measures to reduce the impacts of the disease on amphibian populations may be a more realistic option.

According to Julia Buck, the lead author of the study, “We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that.”

Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go.”

Photo of a southern gastric-brooding frog

The southern gastric-brooding frog, an Australian species believed to have become extinct in 1981, possibly due in part to fungal disease.

The chytrid fungus is not always deadly at low levels, and the researchers suggest that using the zooplankton could reduce the density of the fungus enough to give amphibians a better chance of fighting off infection.

The scientists now need to conduct field studies to test how effective Daphnia magna may be at controlling the chytrid fungus in natural settings. This tiny organism inhabits amphibian breeding sites where chytrid transmission occurs, and may therefore be a useful tool in halting the unprecedented declines in the world’s amphibian species.

Photo of golden arrow poison frog on stone

The Critically Endangered golden arrow poison frog, another species threatened by chytridiomycosis.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Could zooplankton save frogs from deadly epidemic?

View photos and videos of threatened amphibians on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Aug 30

Here we go again on our course through our colossal collection of captivating creatures, as it’s time for more alphabetical exploration with the C’s! Whether you like chameleons, corals, capercaillies or cacti ARKive’s got it covered.

This is the Turk’s head cactus which has to be one of the strangest looking plants on ARKive. It is a succulent adapted to survive in hot, arid environments with its thick skin to reduce water loss and vicious spikes to deter potential predators.

Turk's head cactus

The rather unusual Turk's head cactus

What do you think? Can you find a stranger looking plant on ARKive

C is for …Cats

Cats, or as they are more accurately known, members of the ‘Felidae’ family, are one of the most charismatic groups of animals and are found everywhere except Australia and Antarctica. They tend to be solitary, with the obvious exception of the lion and to a lesser extent the cheetah, where siblings often stay together for up to six months and brothers can remain together for life. The cheetah is a bit of a favourite here in the office as it also appeared in Lauren’s Top 10 Cats blog.

Four cheetahs sitting in a row

A coalition of cheetahs

Despite their often bold markings many cats are very well camouflaged in their respective habitats. Can you spot the tiger in this picture? Or the snow leopard in this one

…Climate Change

In addition to our species pages we also have a series of featured pages on ARKive, including eco-regions such as the Western Ghats and topics such as climate change. Many of the species on ARKive are threatened by man-made changes to our climate such as rising sea levels, the melting of polar ice caps and extreme weather events. Our featured page outlines the causes and effects of climate change as well as links to the species most at risk such as the polar bear, koala, corals and the Atlantic salmon

Atlantic salmon male

Atlantic salmon are just one of the species affected by climate change

There are also ideas for what you can do to help reduce emissions and energy consumption, so why not take a look


The capybara, found only in South America, is the world’s largest rodent species standing at over 1 metre long and 60 centimetres tall. They are well adapted to swimming and are able to remain underwater for up to 5 minutes. They have partially webbed feet and their nose, eyes and ears are aligned high on their head so that most of their body can be submerged while swimming. 

Capybara swimming

Capybaras are strong swimmers

It is widely believed that capybaras were once, rather curiously, declared to be ‘fish’ due to their semi-aquatic lifestyle, and meant that early Venezuelan settlers could eat them during the period of Lent! 


Canada is the second largest country in the world by total area, but its wildlife is by no means purely terrestrial. Many whales and dolphins inhabit Canadian waters during the year, whether resident or migratory, including the blue whale, the North Atlantic right whale, the orca and the Pacific white-sided dolphin. Some of Canada’s most iconic species are more land based however and include the brown bear, the grey wolf, the moose, the North American otter and the bald eagle. Why not check out the full list of species that can be found in and around Canada? 

Common loon on the water

The common loon can be seen on the back of the Canadian dollar coin

Did you know that the common loon appears on the back of the Canadian 1 dollar coin, which is commonly referred to as a loonie? 

That’s it for now, we’ll be C-ing you!!  

Laura Sutherland, ARKive Education Officer

Aug 26
Western barred bandicoot image

Western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville)

Species: Western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville)

Status: Endangered (EN) 

Interesting Fact: It has one of the shortest gestation periods of any mammal, just 12 days long!

The western barred bandicoot is a small, nocturnal marsupial mammal found only in Australia. It is a solitary species preferring to build its own nest, which it sleeps in during the day. As with other marsupials, the female possesses a pouch which the young will occupy after being born. Western barred bandicoot young are born just 12 days after being conceived! The young remain in the pouch to suckle and develop further for 45 to 60 days, and by two and a half months old they are ready to disperse on their own.

Thought at one point to be extinct, the western barred bandicoot is restricted to just two islands off the coast of Australia. Its disappearance from mainland Australia is thought to be mainly due to predation by introduced foxes and feral cats. Captive breeding efforts are currently underway in order to re-introduce this species back to its former range, once introduced predators have been eradicated.

View images and footage of the western barred bandicoot on ARKive.

Find out more about the western barred bandicoot here

Becky Moran,  ARKive Media Researcher


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