Koalas Become 'Functionally Extinct' in Australia With Just 80,000 Left
Koala species down under are now considered "functionally extinct" as the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) says there are no more than 80,000 individuals left on the continent. Once a population falls below a critical point, it can no longer produce the next generation, ultimately leading to the species' extinction.
"The AKF thinks there are no more than 80,000 Koalas in Australia. This is approximately 1% of the 8 million Koalas that were shot for fur and sent to London between 1890 and 1927," said AKF chairman Deborah Tabart, adding that the population could be as low as 43,000.
The organization has been monitoring koala populations in 128 of Australia's electorates for nearly a decade. Since then, 41 have seen the marsupials go extinct. However, the AKF estimate is much lower than other population predictions, albeit outdated ones. For example, the International Union of Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species lists koalas as "vulnerable" with decreasing numbers, estimating in 2014 that there are between 100,000 and 500,000 mature individuals left in the wild.
So what does functionally extinct mean? The Conversation reports it means that koala populations have declined so far that the species no longer plays a significant role in its ecosystem.
Native only to the eastern side of the continent, an adult koala can eat as much as 1 kilogram of Eucalyptus leaves each night, according to AKF. Eucalyptus is normally poisonous to most species, but koalas have evolved a special bacteria that allow them to break down toxic compounds. Because they only absorb around 25 percent of fiber eaten, important nutrients and other organic material to the forest floor. Functional extinction also means that koalas are can no longer successfully reproduce in the wild to replace the population. Even if they are still breeding, pairs may be inbreeding which can further threaten future viability.
Perhaps more at-heart is the emblematic role koalas have on Australian culture.
"The koala is one of Australia's most recognizable symbols, but its survival hangs in the balance," said the San Diego Zoo. "Formerly thought to be common and widespread, koalas are now vulnerable to extinction across much of its northern range."
In the past, koalas were killed for their coats — between 1919 and 1924 eight million koalas were killed. Today, koalas are threatened by domestic dogs and disease, along with increasing encroachment due to human development, logging and wood harvesting, and droughts and extreme weather associated with climate change.
Though koalas are currently protected by law, almost 80 percent of remaining habitat occurs on privately owned land with very little protection offered under the legislation. This is why the AKF is calling for the need for a Koala Protection Act (KPA).
"I know the Australian public are concerned for the safety of Koalas and are tired of seeing dead Koalas on our roads. It is time for the Government to respect the Koala and protect its habitat," said Tabart.
According to the AKF, the Australian government was required to establish a National Recovery Plan in 2012 but has neglected to do so in the last six years. Framework for KPA is based on the Bald Eagle Act in the U.S., which incorporates both Federal Endangered Species Act and environmental protection policies in place. In part, AKF notes that the American act has been so successful because of political motive to ensure the nation's icon did not go extinct.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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