A Virus Wiped Out 90% of This Turtle Species. Can It Recover?
By John R. Platt
In most cases an extinction takes decades of slow attrition and population declines — a death by a thousand cuts.
Sometimes, though, a species can nearly vanish in the blink of an eye.
Take the strange, scary case of the Bellinger River snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi). A few years ago, an estimated 4,500 of these colorful critters swam the waters of the Australian water system for which they were named, a 44-mile river in the state of New South Wales, about six hours north of Sydney. They were probably never a populous species, and they faced a few problems from egg-eating predators, but otherwise these turtles hung on just fine.
Then disaster struck.
In 2015 canoeist Rowan Simon and a friend were paddling down the Bellinger River when they noticed a turtle sitting on a rock. It should have jumped back into the water as they approached. It didn't. They got closer and found a shocking sight — its eyes "were grown over with this disease," as Simon recounted to the Sydney Morning Herald last year. They found another sick turtle 20 minutes later.
That was the first sign of a disease that, in under two months, would wipe out more than 90% of the species. In addition to blindness, the virus reportedly caused inflammatory lesions and internal organ failure.
Today as few as 150 Bellinger River snapping turtles remain, making them one of the world's 25 rarest turtle or tortoise species. Australia has declared them critically endangered and devoted hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the species' conservation.
Photo by Dr. Ricky Spencer, courtesy NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
"I don't know of any similar wildlife mortality like this," says ecologist Bruce Chessman of the University of New South Wales-Sydney. "Of course, the chytrid fungus has wiped out some amphibian species quickly, but I don't know of anything equivalent with turtles."
Chessman served as the lead author of a recent paper that provided an estimate of the Bellinger River snapping turtle's precipitous decline. "There's a lot of uncertainty because, as the paper says, trying to get a reliable estimate of a very rare species over 70 kilometers of river is quite challenging. But we think it's about 150-200 animals remaining. The risk of extinction is real because of the small number left."
The researchers also examined several hypotheses about how a previously unknown and still unidentified virus could have killed so many turtles so quickly.
They didn't find much.
"It's all a bit of a mystery," Chessman says. "There's still so much we don't know. We know it's a reptile type of virus, but we have no idea where it came from, how long it's been in the Bellinger River, or how it managed to apparently spread upstream rather than downstream at a rate of up to a kilometer a day, which is really quite bizarre."
Previous research had suggested that some additional contributing factor — perhaps abnormal water temperatures, pollution or malnutrition — may have magnified the effects of the virus so that it caused so many fatalities. Current research, however, has found no specific evidence to support those hypotheses — at least, not yet.
"We can't rule out that some sort of unusual environmental conditions in the preceding months were related to it somehow, but we don't really have the information to understand what that was or what it may have been," says Chessman. "Unfortunately, there isn't that much information about what happened in the river until these sick and dead turtles started showing up in February 2015."
The Bellinger River in September 2019. Photo: Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Even our understanding of the virus — what it does and how it kills — continues to lag.
"Because the species is so critically endangered now, it's not permissible to try infection trials with the few adults that are remaining," Chessman explains. "So it's still not possible to get that experimental confirmation about what infection with the virus really does to the turtles."
All of this leaves the teams working to conserve the turtles with a great deal of uncertainty.
"We really don't know what the prospects are in terms of further disease outbreak and mortality," Chessman says. The few remaining turtles also face threats from predators, mostly introduced red fox, as well as from native species such as monitor lizards.
There's also a genetic threat. Another Australian turtle species, the Macquarie turtle (Emydura macquarii), appeared in the Bellinger River in recent years. The newcomers are slightly more aggressive than the native species, so they outcompete them for food, and there's evidence they've started to breed and hybridize with Bellinger River snapping turtles.
"The challenges are ahead," Chessman says. "But everyone's giving it their best."
That "everyone" includes the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment, other government organizations, local conservation groups and experts around the world.
And that collaboration may represent hope for the species.
The Last Chance Leads to the Next Generation
After his first warnings reportedly fell on deaf ears, Rowan Simon and another friend returned to the river, where they gathered up 50 dead and dying turtles and presented them to the local council.
The collection process "was pretty horrific," Rowan told the Sydney Morning Herald.
That confrontation finally motivated action. But by then — just two months after the first signs of the disease — very few turtles were left.
At the last minute, conservation teams rescued 17 healthy mature and immature Bellinger River snapping turtles from an upper stretch of the river the disease hadn't yet reached. They soon became the core of a captive-breeding population at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. Another 19 immature turtles (also healthy) were collected in November 2016 and sent to Symbio Wildlife Park to start a second captive-assurance population.
A recent hatchling identified with a unique dab of paint. Photo courtesy NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
That effort has paid off — and probably saved the species from extinction.
The captive turtles promptly got down to business and started breeding. Today more than 130 healthy turtles live at the two breeding facilities. Taronga Zoo announced the birth of the most recent 35 turtle babies this past May.
More importantly, 20 captive-born animals have been released back into the river, where they're constantly monitored through surveys and radio transmitters.
So far the released turtles appear to be healthy, and their survival rate remains quite high. As of this past March, 17 of the released turtles were still being tracked; one turtle had died, while two more had disappeared after their tracking devices failed. That month 16 of the released hatchlings were collected, tested and rereleased. Gerry McGilvray, co-lead of the Bellinger River turtle conservation program for the NSW government, told The Guardian that the youngsters "appear to be in good health and there's no evidence of exposure to the virus."
That makes the Bellinger River snapping turtle an interesting parallel to the current COVID-19 pandemic: The virus seems to have caused greater mortality levels in adults than in immature turtles, for as-yet-unknown reasons.
"The older ones seemed more susceptible than the younger ones, which of course is true with coronavirus as well," says Chessman.
A Long Road Ahead
Of course, you need to produce a huge number of hatchlings to make up for losing 90% of a species. That will take time — a lot of it — and the effort faces some very strict physical limitations.
For one thing, very few mature females remain — just 5% of the total wild population. On top of that, 88% of the remaining turtles are immature, meaning they won't reach breeding age for several years — another 10-12 years in the case of the released hatchlings.
Two Bellinger River snapping turtle hatchlings. Photo courtesy NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
That means it would take decades for the population to come anywhere close to recovery even if the zoos keep producing and releasing young, and if the virus doesn't have a resurgence.
That timeline shouldn't come as a surprise, as it often takes decades for threatened species to recover once (or if) the threat that put them at risk is contained. As examples, the Chessman team's paper points out the difficulties faced by two other turtle species that faced enormous declines:
…a population of northern map turtles (Graptemys geographica) in the USA took 27 years to recover after a period of harvesting in which abundance declined by ~50% … and there was no recovery of a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) population in Canada 23 years after loss of 39% of nesting females to predation by otters…
For now, though, the Bellinger River snapping turtle's declines have ceased.
The biggest question, though, is whether that status quo will persist.
"The means of recovery are in place, potentially, but there's ongoing uncertainty about further mortality from disease," says Chessman. "We just don't know really what's going to happen to these young turtles that are being released once they reach maturity. Will they then succumb to the disease and die, or was it perhaps more of a one-off event?"
Other uncertainties include the potential threat of more bushfires like the ones Australia experienced earlier this year. Several media reports have suggested debris from the fires fell into the Bellinger River, potentially affecting the turtles' food supplies. (Despite more than four months of inquiries, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's public affairs office would not answer questions about how the fires may have affected the river.)
Although we don't know much about the river basin's water quality before the turtles got sick, we know a lot more about it now — because this near-extinction has motivated the community.
Soon after news of the virus and mass turtle deaths emerged, a group of citizens banded together to form Bellingen Riverwatch (named after the nearby town with a slightly different name than the river itself). Now community volunteers, schools and other organizations conduct monthly water-quality tests across three rivers, a process that's continued even amid the pandemic.
The results have been mostly good, with a few concerns. Elevated phosphate levels have shown up several times. Tests for February and March found that several sites that, at certain moments, failed to meet guidelines for dissolved oxygen established by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, indicating unsafe conditions for "aquatic life and the macroinvertebrates that our turtles love to eat." The water's oxygen content is potentially important for the Bellinger River turtle, a butt-breathing species that takes in some oxygen through its cloaca while it's underwater. If a turtle can't get enough oxygen from the water, it must come to the surface, putting it at increased risk of predation. Although concerning, there's no indication this is currently a threat to the species.
Bellingen Riverwatch uses an icon of the critically endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle in its logo.
But the most recent Riverwatch report, published June 24, found the river to be in "great" shape, with no visible pollution in most sites and only slight rises in certain phosphate levels or algae in others.
Although many questions remain, the Bellinger River snapping turtle appears to have been saved from extinction — for now.
Of course, the threat of another potential outbreak still looms large — as it does for other wildlife species and even people around the world.
"Situations like this are of course unpredictable and could in theory happen anytime and anywhere — kind of like COVID," says biologist Craig Stanford, the lead author of a new study about the threats faced by the world's turtle and tortoise species. What's happening with the Bellinger River turtle, he says, "concerns all of us, but it's hard to take lessons from it to prevent something like this from happening in the future."
But there's one lesson from the Bellinger River that we can all carry forward: If you see a turtle or other animal that's displaying signs of illness or unusual behavior, raise the alarm. It could be the start of something catastrophic — and an opportunity to bring a coalition and a community together to fight for a good cause and make a difference.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs Donate to Trump 'With Greater Zeal' Than in 2016
By Jake Johnson
With presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's climate platform becoming increasingly ambitious thanks to nonstop grassroots pressure, fossil fuel executives and lobbyists are pouring money into the coffers of President Donald Trump's reelection campaign in the hopes of keeping an outspoken and dedicated ally of dirty energy in the White House.
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now warning against more than 100 potentially dangerous hand sanitizers.
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While the nation overall struggles with rising COVID cases, New York State is seeing the opposite. After peaking in March and April and implementing strict shutdowns of businesses, the state has seen its number of positive cases steadily decline as it slowly reopens. From coast-to-coast, Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to the crisis has been hailed as an exemplar of how to handle a public health crisis.
By Gavin Naylor
Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
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Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
More to Know<p>There still is much to learn about sharks, especially the 500 or so species that have never been implicated in a bite on humans. One example is the tiny <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/one-worlds-rarest-sharks-also-one-most-adorable-325280" target="_blank">deep sea pocket shark</a>, which has a strange pouch behind its pectoral fins.</p><p>Only two specimens of this type of shark have ever been caught – one off the coast of Chile 30 years ago, and another more recently in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not sure about the function of the pouch, but suspect it stores luminous fluid that is released to distract would-be predators – much as its close relative, the <a href="https://sharkdevocean.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/second-ever-pocket-shark-discovered-in-gulf-of-mexico/" target="_blank">tail light shark</a>, releases luminous fluid from a gland on its underside near its vent.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5783b39d0838d6e410344a852ed0dcc3"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UTO5debfmsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Sharks range in form from the bizarre <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/" target="_blank">goblin shark</a> (<em>Mitsukurina owstoni</em>), most commonly encountered in Japan, to the gentle filter-feeding <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/rhincodon-typus/" target="_blank">whale shark</a> (<em>Rhincodon typus</em>). Although whale sharks are the largest fishes in the world, we have yet to locate their nursery grounds, which are likely teeming with thousands of <a href="https://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/sharks/baby-whale-shark-rescued-from-gillnet-in-india-video/" target="_blank">foot-long pups</a>. Some deepwater sharks are primarily known from submersibles, such as the giant <a href="https://twitter.com/gavinnaylor/status/1146144452681113601" target="_blank">sixgill shark</a>, which feeds mainly on carrion but probably also preys on other animals in the deep sea.</p><p>Sharks seem familiar to almost all of us, but we know precious little about them. Our current understanding of their biology barely scratches the surface. The little we do know suggests they are profoundly different from other vertebrate animals. They've had 400 million years of independent evolution to adapt to their environments, and it's reasonable to expect they may be hiding more than a few tricks up their gills.</p>
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Current efforts to curb an infectious disease show the potential we have for collective action. That action and more will be needed if we want to stem the coming wave of heat-related deaths that will surpass the number of people who die from all infectious diseases, according to a new study, as The Guardian reported.
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By Jenny Morber
Caribbean corals sprout off Texas. Pacific salmon tour the Canadian Arctic. Peruvian lowland birds nest at higher elevations.
Known and anticipated changes in species distribution due to climate change around the world have implications for culture, society ecosystems, governance and climate change. Figure used with permission from Gretta T. Pecl, originally published on 31 Mar 2017 in Science 355(6332).<p>How we define species is critical, because these definitions influence perceptions, policy and management. The U.S. National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines a biological invasion as "the process by which non-native species breach biogeographical barriers and extend their range" and states that "preventing the introduction of potentially harmful organisms is … the first line of defense." But some say excluding newcomers is myopic.</p><p>"If you were trying to maintain the status quo, so every time a new species comes in, you chuck it out," says Camille Parmesan, director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, you could gradually "lose so many that that ecosystem will lose its coherence." If climate change is driving native species extinct, she says, "you need to allow new ones coming in to take over those same functions."</p><p>As University of Florida conservation ecologist Brett Scheffers and Pecl warned in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0526-5" target="_blank">2019 paper in <em>Nature Climate Change</em></a>, "past management of redistributed species … has yielded mixed actions and results." They concluded that "we cannot leave the fate of biodiversity critical to human survival to be randomly persecuted, protected or ignored."</p>
Existing Tools<p>One approach to managing these climate-driven habitat shifts, suggested by University of California, Irvine marine ecologist Piper Wallingford and colleagues in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0768-2" target="_blank">a recent issue of Nature Climate Change</a>, is for scientists to adapt existing tools like the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/invasive-species/eicat" target="_blank">Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa (EICAT)</a> to assess potential risks associated with moving species. Because range-shifting species pose impacts to communities similar to those of species introduced by humans, the authors argue, new management strategies are unnecessary, and each new arrival can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.</p><p>Karen Lips, a professor of biology at University of Maryland who was not associated with the study, echoes the idea that each case is so varied and nuanced that trying to fit climate shifting species into a single category with broad management goals may be impractical. "Things may be fine today, but add a new mosquito vector or add a new tick or a new disease, and all of a sudden things spiral out of control," she says. "The nuance means that the answer to any particular problem might be pretty different."</p>
In recent years, northern flying squirrels in Canada have found themselves in the company of new neighbors — southern flying squirrels expanding their range as the climate warms. Public Domain / USFW<p>Laura Meyerson, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island says scientists should use existing tools to identify and address invasive species to deal with climate-shifting species. "I would like to operate under the precautionary principle and then reevaluate as things shift. You're sort of shifting one piece in this machinery; as you insert a new species into a system, everything is going to respond," she says. "Will some of the species that are expanding their ranges because of climate change become problematic? Perhaps they might."</p><p>The reality is that some climate-shifting species may be harmful to some conservation or economic goals while being helpful to others. While sport fisherman are excited about red snapper moving down the East Coast of Australia, for example, if they eat juvenile lobsters in Tasmania they could harm this environmentally and economically important crustacean. "At the end of the day … you're going to have to look at whether that range expansion has some sort of impact and presumably be more concerned about the negative impacts," says NISC executive director Stas Burgiel. "Many of the [risk assessment] tools we have are set up to look at negative impact." As a result, positive effects may be deemphasized or overlooked. "So that notion of cost versus benefit … I don't think it has played out in this particular context."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p>In a <a href="https://www-nature-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/articles/s41558-020-0770-8" target="_blank">companion paper</a> to Wallingford's, University of Connecticut ecology and evolutionary biology associate professor Mark Urban stressed key differences between invasive species, which are both non-native and harmful, and what he calls "climate tracking species." Whereas invasive species originate from places very unlike the communities they overtake, he says, climate tracking species expand from largely similar environments, seeking to follow preferred conditions as these environments move. For example, an American pika may relocate to a higher mountain elevation, or a marbled salamander might expand its New England range northward to seek cooler temperatures, but these new locations are not drastically different than the places they had called home before.</p><p>Climate tracking species may move faster than their competitors at first, Urban says, but competing species will likely catch up. "Applying perspectives from invasion biology to climate-tracking species … arbitrarily chooses local winners over colonizing losers," he writes.</p>
The marbled salamander, a native of the eastern U.S., is among species whose range could expand northward to accommodate rising temperatures. Seánín Óg / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Urban stresses that if people prevent range shifts, some climate-tracking species may have nowhere to go. He suggests that humans should even <a href="https://ensia.com/features/time-for-trees-to-pack-their-trunks/" target="_blank">facilitate movement</a> as the planet warms. "The goal in this crazy warming world is to keep everything alive. But it may not be in the same place," Urban says.</p><p>Parmesan echoes Urban, emphasizing it's the distance that makes the difference. "[Invasives] come from a different continent or a different ocean. You're having these enormous trans-global movements and that's what ends up causing the species that's exotic to be invasive," she says. "Things moving around with climate change is a few hundred miles. Invasive species are moving a few thousand miles."</p><p>In 2019 University of Vienna conservation biology associate professor Franz Essl published a similar argument for species classification beyond the native/non-native dichotomy. Essl uses "neonatives" to refer to species that have expanded outside their native areas and established populations because of climate change but not direct human agency. He argues that these species should be considered as native in their new range.</p>
They Never Come Alone<p>Meyerson calls for caution. "I don't think we should be introducing species" into ecosystems, she says. "I mean, they never come alone. They bring all their friends, their microflora, and maybe parasites and things clinging to their roots or their leaves. … It's like bringing some mattress off the street into your house."</p><p>Burgiel warns that labeling can have unintended consequences. We in the invasive species field … focus on non-native species that cause harm," he says. "Some people think that anything that's not native is invasive, which isn't necessarily the case." Because resources are limited and land management and conservation are publicly funded, Burgiel says, it is critical that the public understands how the decisions are being made.</p><p>Piero Genovesi, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Invasive Species Specialist Group, sees the debate about classification — and therefore about management — as a potential distraction from more pressing conservation issues.</p><p>"The real bulk of conservation is that we want to focus on the narrow proportion of alien species that are really harmful," he says. In Hawaii "we don't discuss species that are there [but aren't] causing any problem because we don't even have the energy for dealing with them all. And I can tell you, no one wants to remove [non-native] cypresses from Tuscany. So, I think that some of the discussions are probably not so real in the work that we do in conservation."</p><p>Indigenous frameworks offer another way to look at species searching for a new home in the face of climate change. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-018-0571-4" target="_blank">a study</a> published in Sustainability Science in 2018 by Dartmouth Native American studies and environmental studies associate professor Nicholas Reo, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Dartmouth anthropology associate professor Laura Ogden, some Anishnaabe people view plants as persons and the arrival of new plants as a natural form of migration, which is not inherently good or bad. They may seek to discover the purpose of new species, at times with animals as their teachers. In their paper Reo and Ogden quote Anishnaabe tribal chairman Aaron Payment as saying, "We are an extension of our natural environment; we're not separate from it."</p>
The Need for Collaboration<p>The successful conservation of Earth's species in a way that keeps biodiversity functional and healthy will likely depend on collaboration. Without global agreements, one can envision scenarios in which countries try to impede high-value species from moving beyond their borders, or newly arriving species are quickly overharvested.</p><p>In Nature Climate Change, Sheffers and Pecl call for a Climate Change Redistribution Treaty that would recognize species redistribution beyond political boundaries and establish governance to deal with it. Treaties already in place, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in wild plants and animals; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, can help guide these new agreements.</p><p>"We are living through the greatest redistribution of life on Earth for … potentially hundreds of thousands of years, so we definitely need to think about how we want to manage that," Pecl says.</p><p>Genovesi agrees that conservationists need a vision for the future. "What we do is more to be reactive [to known threats]. … It's so simple to say that destroying the Amazon is probably not a good idea that you don't need to think of a step ahead of that." But, he adds, "I don't think we have a real answer in terms of okay, this is a threshold of species, or this is the temporal line where we should aim to." Defining a vision for what success would look like, Genovesi says, "is a question that hasn't been addressed enough by science and by decision makers."</p><p>At the heart of these questions are values. "All of these perceptions around what's good and what's bad, all [are based on] some kind of value system," Pecl says. "As a whole society, we haven't talked about what we value and who gets to say what's of value and what isn't."</p><p>This is especially important when it comes to marginalized voices, and Pecl says she is concerned because she doesn't "think we have enough consideration or representation of Indigenous worldviews." Reo and colleagues <a href="https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.dartmouth.edu/dist/9/52/files/2012/10/Reo_etal_AIQ_invasive_species_2017.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in American Indian Quarterly in 2017</a> that climate change literature and media coverage tend to portray native people as vulnerable and without agency. Yet, says Pecl, "The regions of the world where [biodiversity and ecosystems] are either not declining or are declining at a much slower rate are Indigenous controlled" — suggesting that Indigenous people have potentially managed species more effectively in the past, and may be able to manage changing species distributions in a way that could be informative to others working on these issues.</p><p>Meanwhile, researchers such as Lips see species classification as native or other as stemming from a perspective that there is a better environmental time and place to return to. "There is no pristine, there's no way to go back," says Lips. "The entire world is always very dynamic and changing. And I think it's a better idea to consider just simply what is it that we do want, and let's work on that."</p>
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