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374 Southeast Species Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

374 Southeast Species Move Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

The Center for Biological Diversity

In response to a 2010 scientific petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found Sept. 26 that protection of 374 freshwater species in 12 southeastern states may be warranted under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The decision was made in accordance with a historic settlement agreement reached this summer between the Center and the government to push 757 of the country’s least protected, but most imperiled, species toward ESA protection.

“With today’s finding that 374 southeastern freshwater species will be considered for Endangered Species Act protection, it’s clear the Fish and Wildlife Service is finally taking action to help hundreds of American species that desperately need a lifeline,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the center. “Like so many species in our ever-more crowded world, these 374 species face a multitude of threats to their survival—habitat destruction, pollution, climate change and pressure from invasive species.”

The 374 species include 89 species of crayfish and other crustaceans, 81 plants, 78 mollusks, 51 butterflies, moths, caddisflies and other insects, 43 fish, 13 amphibians, 12 reptiles, four mammals and three birds. They are found in 12 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Included among the 374 species are the Florida sandhill crane, streamside salamander, Alabama map turtle, beautiful crayfish, clam-shell orchid, cobblestone tiger beetle, frecklebelly madtom and the Canoe Creek pigtoe.

“The Southeast is home to more freshwater species than anywhere else in the world. Tragically, the region has already lost many of them to extinction,” Greenwald said. “Endangered Species Act protection for these remaining species will help stem the tide of extinction and herald the beginning of a new era of species protection in the Southeast.”

As documented in the petition, southeastern freshwater species are threatened by many forces that have altered—and continue to alter—the region’s waterways, such as dams, pollution, sprawl, poor agricultural practices, invasive species and a warming climate.

“Protecting these species will also protect rivers and streams that are a source of drinking water and recreation for Southeast communities,” said Greenwald. “Endangered Species Act protection will not just save these species from extinction, but benefit millions of people.”

Groups that joined the center on the petition included Alabama Rivers Alliance, The Clinch Coalition, Dogwood Alliance, Gulf Restoration Network, Tennessee Forests Council and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

For more information, click here.

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For a copy of today’s finding, more information on our campaign to address the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis, a copy of the petition, a list of species by state and a slideshow of a sample of the species, please click here.

For more information on our landmark settlement agreement, please click here.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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