By Richard Connor
A spokeswoman for the Extinction Rebellion group on Tuesday said one of its cofounders had been arrested by officers from London's Metropolitan Police.
The group, whose stated aim is to use nonviolent protest to force government action on climate change, has staged numerous high-profile protests in the UK, US and other developed nations including Germany.
Why Was She Arrested?
The group said Bradbrook had been arrested on charges relating to its action campaign against financial institutions known as "Money Rebellion."
"Extinction Rebellion cofounder Gail Bradbrook was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police at her home in Stroud at around 5:30 a.m. this morning for conspiracy to cause criminal damage and fraud in relation to Money Rebellion's debt disobedience," a spokeswoman for the group said.
BREAKING: Extinction Rebellion Co-founder Gail Bradbrook arrested at her home this morning Extinction Rebellion co… https://t.co/ixq6VHdQFy— Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍 (@Extinction Rebellion UK 🌍)1620724507.0
Activists from the Extinction Rebellion smashed window frontages of HSBC and Barclays in the British capital in March. The group also targeted the Lloyds of London insurance market as part of its action.
The spokeswoman added that the fraud allegation stems from a campaign to use personal credit card debt to make donations to groups allegedly damaged by banks. The borrower would then refuse to pay off the debt.
Who Is Gail Bradbrook?
The 49-year-old Bradbrook, who holds a doctorate in molecular biophysics, has said she believes only large-scale civil disobedience can bring about government action on climate change.
She started Extinction Rebellion in 2018 along with her former partner Simon Bramwell, and organic farmer and activist Roger Hallam.
The group says the UK and other countries are acting too slowly to stop climate change. It also accuses the Western financial system of fueling the abuse of the planet.
In April 2019, Extinction Rebellion rose to prominence when it occupied five prominent sites in central London over several days.
In November that year, Hallam caused outrage and issued an apology for "hurt and offense caused" after comments that appeared to downplay the Holocaust.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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After almost a decade of no precipitation, 10mm of rain caused an entire desert in South Africa to bloom. Rare species in Richtersveld National Park awoke and flowered for the first time in nine years, only to be stolen for the illegal plant trade, The Guardian reported. Plant poaching is not new, nor is it unique to the area; but, pandemic-inspired houseplant purchases have exacerbated the issue worldwide.
According to Pieter van Wyk, a botanist and nursery curator at Richtersveld, the World Heritage Site is the world's most biodiverse desert. With its unique geology, including the world's oldest mountains, and location creating a perfect ecosystem for many plants to thrive, more than 3,000 plant species exist in a relatively small area, including 400 endemic to the region, The Guardian reported. Many of these are prized succulents that fetch high prices on the black market. Some species are so specialized they only grow in one valley or on one mountain top. There are even cases where an entire species lives in an area smaller than a soccer field, "so a poacher could render a species extinct in a morning," The Guardian noted.
"In regards to rare, more than half of the plants from the region were not rare, but are now becoming rare" due to environmental and human factors, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
Van Wyk adds how demand is high and supply is low, especially for charismatic and endangered species, making the black market quite profitable. South African plants such as those in Richtersveld are sold to distant places by crime syndicates who subcontract the actual theft to desperate locals and even tourists, he said.
"People [here] don't have work... People are desperate for money and food, willing to make quick money," van Wyk explained. Due to increased interest in rare plants, "now syndicates pay several months' worth of salary to locals for plants which, in the end, are being sold in Asia and Europe, as well as America, for values that could sustain a family for years in Namaqualand."
Van Wyk noted that the appeal of the black market continues to grow because ethical and legal nurseries can take five to 15 years to build up enough stock for retail sale, while it can be difficult dealing with export regulations and obtaining permits.
He told The Guardian that plant poaching in South Africa might eclipse the country's lucrative rhino horn industry. The nursery curator fears that many iconic species may go extinct within his lifetime, having already witnessed massive losses within the last five years, The Guardian added. This is mainly due to poaching and habitat loss from farming, mining and the climate crisis, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
The botanist also warned that the global-local crime cycle has caused locals to poach more than what is asked of them. "The quick money-making scheme has gone viral amongst locals who are now removing plants without having buyers, causing large-scale destruction with many plants eventually being thrown away," van Wyk told EcoWatch.
He warned that this biodiversity loss will have a greater impact on general ecology, ecosystem health and climate regulation. "This has a severe impact on humans as well, as [this area] eventually will become uninhabitable, and probably soon," van Wyk said.
Plant poaching itself is not a new crime nor limited to South Africa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines the act as the illegal removal of rare and endangered plants from their natural habitat. Plants are stolen without regard to laws and regulations created for their protection, and theft can occur either on government land or private property.
In a 2020 "buyer beware" warning for Venus flytrap plants, FWS asked collectors to help stem poaching of the popular potted plant. Endemic to North and South Carolina, wild populations of the carnivorous plant are in serious decline. Habitat loss and alteration are the primary threats, but poaching causes enough damage that it was declared a felony in 2014.
Another article by The Guardian highlighted how the quarantine-fueled gardening craze around the world is also spurring plant poaching in the Philippines. Carnivorous pitcher plants and those used to cultivate bonsai became especially popular, and these and other endangered species are being dug up from forests and mountains in record numbers, according to the article.
Iconic saguaro cacti are another wild plant now threatened with extinction due to climate change and poaching. Saguaros grow slowly, taking 50 years to reach three feet tall, A Natural Curiosity reported. The cacti don't typically begin to grow their famous arms until they are at least 70 years old, and can live around 150 years. Coveted amongst collectors, the cacti sell for up to $100 a foot. But saguaro poaching has escalated to the point where individual wild plants are now microchipped to track and deter poaching.
Although not as widely publicized as animal poaching, removing plants from nature has an "equally large effect on the vital balance needed to maintain healthy ecosystems," A Natural Curiosity reported. The article also covered an issue facing small rosette succulents in California. These succulents prevent erosion on rocks and cliffs where few other plants can survive, and removing them for houseplants destabilizes the entire ecosystem base. And that's exactly what is happening due to pandemic plant demand.
As plants such as monsteras, hoyas and succulents gained popularity on social media, poachers have been enlisted to source them no matter the consequence, A Natural Curiosity found.
FWS offered a few tips to rare plant collectors to help avoid buying poached or stolen plants:
- Examine the entire tray. Nursery-propagated or tissue-cultured plants will have uniform sizing. Poached plants are more likely to vary in size.
- Examine the soil. Nursery soil is uniform, often with sterile peat moss. Mixed gravel and sand in soil is a tip-off.
- Look for other species growing in the same pot. Weedy pots are another indication that the plants were taken from the wild.
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Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
By Marlowe Starling
Clear-skied, low-wind summer days are rare off the coast of California. But they're a blessing if you're a researcher tracking down critically endangered leatherback sea turtles.
Marine ecologists Scott Benson and Karin Forney, with NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, spent many of those days tag-teaming a decades-long research effort to collect data on one of the world's oldest and largest marine reptiles. Forney sits in the clear belly of a NOAA surveying plane, scanning the dark waters like a hawk, notifying the team when she spots a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Benson, her husband, is among the scientists on the boat below, prepped at the hull with a large net, anticipating the moment they can heave the prehistoric giant on board.
Then comes the sampling: blood tests, tissue samples, attaching transmitters, recording weight. It's an hour-long ordeal, Benson says, and "an all-consuming task." In a month and a half, the team gets maybe five good-weather opportunities to collect data on this massive but little-understood species. And it could be their last chance to save this population.
The western Pacific leatherback sea turtle is at high risk of extinction, according to a study published in Global Ecology and Conservation. The researchers, including lead author Benson and co-author Forney, used roughly three decades of data to assess the population's status. Combining their observations of foraging turtles in California with data on nesting patterns in Indonesia, the researchers estimate the population has declined at a rate of 5.6% annually, suffering an overall 80% decline from 1990 to 2017.
Both on land and at sea, the turtles face a series of existential threats in the Pacific. The situation is so dire that scientists on both sides of the ocean have dedicated their lives to reeling the distinct populations back from a dangerous tipping point.
The Leatherback in the Pacific
The world knew little about Pacific leatherbacks prior to the 1980s, when scientists started collecting more data. Without modern-day technology like satellite transmitters to track turtles' movements, biologists couldn't have known that the leatherbacks foraging off the Californian coast were the same as those nesting in the western Pacific.
Today we know that leatherback sea turtles span the globe with seven genetically distinct subpopulations: the eastern and western in the Pacific Ocean, as well as three in the Atlantic Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. While the IUCN lists the species as a whole as vulnerable, both Pacific subpopulations are considered critically endangered.
"We know what a thriving sea turtle population needs, but the expanse over which this drama is playing out in the Pacific is so huge, it's hard to understand the whole puzzle and which parts need to be leveraged," said Kyle Van Houtan, chief scientist of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who was not involved with the study.
All leatherback sea turtle populations are declining, but those in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are more robust than the plummeting Pacific populations, Benson said.
Pacific leatherbacks feed in seven known areas of the ocean, stretching from New Zealand to Japan to California. While the eastern subpopulation nests in Mexico and parts of Central America, western Pacific leatherbacks nest primarily in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
The research team recorded an average of 140 individuals in central California's foraging patch from 1990 to 2003, but that number dropped to an average of 55 by 2017.
Still, the data only account for a fraction of a population that is scattered across the entire Pacific Ocean and migrates at unpredictable time intervals. Benson said the annual decline of nesting females in West Papua, Indonesia, closely mirrors the rate of decline his team calculated in California, providing further evidence that the entire western subpopulation is suffering.
There is no exact count of how many western Pacific leatherback turtles are left. An analysis in 2013 by the IUCN estimated around 1,400 adult turtles survived in the subpopulation. The IUCN also forecasts the population will dip below 1,000 individuals by 2030.
Scientists say a concrete population estimate is difficult given the nature of western Pacific leatherbacks. It is the only subpopulation with a bimodal nesting pattern, meaning some females nest in the summer while others nest in the winter. Compounding the uncertainty, western Pacific leatherbacks only visit foraging and nesting grounds every two to five years.
Western Pacific leatherbacks are attracted to the Monterey ecosystem in California due to the "the immense productivity … because of the upwelling, the deep offshore currents coming up to the surface, causing these cascades of nutrients and life," Van Houtan said. "That's why we have these leatherbacks."
Unlike most reptiles, leatherback turtles can self-regulate their body temperature, allowing them "to go places where no other sea turtles can go," Van Houtan added. These long-evolved marine reptiles — "living fossils," as he describes them — date back to the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today, they are the only living species in the Demochelys genus.
Weighing up to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) and growing up to 2 meters (7 feet) long, leatherbacks are the largest turtle species on the planet. They are also the most migratory sea turtle, traveling up to 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) a year between nesting and feeding sites. These giants can dive more than 1,200 m (4,000 ft) deep — deeper than any other sea turtle — thanks to their soft shells, which won't crack under pressure.
But even evolution's long helping hand may not be enough to protect them from humanity's reach.
Threats at Sea and On Land
Pacific leatherback turtles face a multitude of perils both at sea and on land. Among them are impoverished villagers who poach eggs or adults for meat, and habitat degradation in the Pacific islands, where coastal development and cyclones have eroded nesting beaches. But the biggest threat, according to scientists, are fishing vessels that accidentally kill turtles as bycatch.
Drift gillnet and longline fisheries — large-scale fishing operations on the open ocean that harvest an abundance of seafood, like swordfish — are notorious for killing sea turtles that get caught in nets and other fishing gear. Worse, scientists say existing bycatch data probably underestimate the true numbers.
"It's the wild west out on the open ocean," said George Shillinger, a marine biologist who has studied leatherbacks for three decades and is executive director of Upwell, an NGO dedicated to sea turtle conservation. He added that even if nests are protected, ship strikes and bycatch will continue to decimate the population. And then there's the further obstacle of subsidized fisheries, expanding fishing fleets and more intense artisanal fishing, he said, noting "we are really challenged to stave off the relentless pressures."
Across the Pacific, marine scientist Deasy Lontoh champions for leatherback protection in West Papua, Indonesia. She is the research coordinator for the Abun Leatherback Project, which seeks to combat threats that are difficult and costly to mitigate at sea by protecting what's on shore: nesting females and eggs.
Lontoh co-authored a recent paper outlining threats to the largest remaining nesting population on two beaches in West Papua, known as Jamursba-Medi and Wermon. Lontoh's team says it hopes to protect at least half of leatherback nests with the help of local communities.
Lontoh is trying to avoid what happened in Malaysia when a nesting population of western Pacific leatherbacks vanished entirely. Egg harvesting was a rampant, and legal, way for locals to make money until the Terengganu Turtle Sanctuary Advisory Council outlawed it in 1988. From the 1950s to 1995, Malaysia went from 10,000 nests annually to a mere handful. No nests have been reported in almost a decade.
But even when people don't harvest turtle eggs, juvenile survival is naturally a gamble. Scientists estimate that only one in every 1,000 eggs survive to maturity, while females lay around 80 eggs in each nest.
"A lot of hatchlings will die, so we just need to produce high enough numbers … and assume that some of them will become adults in 15 or 20 years," Lontoh said.
Climate change further mars the leatherbacks' future. More extreme storms can decimate nesting sites, while rising temperatures can bake eggs to death. Lontoh said that, locally, sands can reach a lethal 33° Celsius (91° Fahrenheit), and temperatures are rising in the area alongside global trends.
Under normal circumstances, leatherbacks would be less fragile, Benson notes. For one, they lay eggs in multiple locations and span much of the world's oceans. They have also survived several natural climate changes over the past 80 million years. But scientists don't know how the recent, and rapid, changes in water temperature, ocean currents, and upwelling of nutrients will affect leatherbacks.
"Climate change is thrusting all of those things that they depended on up into the air," Van Houtan said. "We need to listen to these signals that the ocean is telling us, because the ocean is the driver of life on our planet."
As the Pacific leatherback population size continues to shrink, climate change and human pressures become a daunting threat to their survival.
"Something more needs to be done," Shillinger said.
Turtle Needs: Regulations and Tourism
For a species inhabiting millions of square miles, keeping it out of harm's way is a monumental task. Scientists have spent the past two decades calling for stricter fishing regulations. But the lack of transnational cooperation and enforcement by governments has been an obstacle to protecting the turtles through policy and regulations.
"One government won't solve it," Shillinger said. "Everyone's got to be involved.
"By the mid-1990s, emerging data revealed high bycatch rates for large marine animals like sea turtles. To mitigate bycatch, the U.S. government created the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area in 2001: a seasonal protected area off the U.S. West Coast that covers 650,000 square kilometers (250,000 square miles) of ocean and prohibits drift gillnet fishing during the months leatherbacks feast on jellyfish.
Dubbed a "time-area closure," the new regulation helped reduce leatherback bycatch from an average of about 15 turtles per year to fewer than two a year after 2001, according to NOAA.
Additional regulations have helped save turtles in U.S. waters. For example, California's commercial fisheries aren't allowed to use pelagic longlines that can accidentally bait sea turtles. Meanwhile, Hawaiʻi's longline fishery comes with 100% observer coverage, meaning there is always someone documenting bycatch. California is also testing newer technology like deep-set buoy gear, which bypasses leatherbacks feeding on jellyfish to hook swordfish at lower depths.
However, none of these rules apply in international waters. For better protections, Benson and Forney say member countries of regional fishery management organizations like the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission need to encourage safer fishery practices.
For the leatherback populations to recover, scientists have suggested a 40% bycatch reduction over the next two decades.
It's an ambitious goal, Shillinger said, adding "what really has to happen is to elevate political will … and make governments accountable for protecting their resources."
In the meantime, Benson called on people to ask waiters at restaurants how and from where their fish is sourced.
"Please consume U.S.-caught swordfish or tuna, because it comes with a side dish of Endangered Species Act rather than a side dish of dead turtle or dead dolphin," he said.
Leatherback conservation also needs to move forward at nesting sites. The Abun Leatherback Project, which works primarily in remote and impoverished villages in West Papua, attempts to protect western Pacific leatherbacks by employing the help of locals. A team of 10 monitors patrols the beaches while others help measure leatherbacks, release hatchlings or create shades made from palm fronds to keep nests cool.
Conservation success is contingent upon local people, Lontoh said: if they don't care about leatherbacks, they won't try to save them.
"[Locals] have strategic roles," Lontoh said. "In the future, they're probably the ones who will [either] help take care of the leatherbacks or help them go extinct."
But that requires incentives and income. Lontoh said the local government set forth an agenda in 2019 to develop the nearby area for tourism. In rural areas with limited resources, women have prepared to make souvenirs, such as the traditional noken woven bags, to sell to tourists.
"To get [rural people] to see that the leatherbacks are worth protecting, they need to feel benefits from conservation," Lontoh said.
Tourism has funded conservation efforts in other areas of the world already, Shillinger said.
"Leatherbacks bring in a lot of ecotourism projects around the world," he said. "Turtles are really charismatic, benign, attractive animals, and no one wants to see them harmed. So culturally, economically and socially, turtles play an important role."
An Ocean Without Leatherbacks
The question remains: What if western Pacific leatherbacks do go extinct? Scientists warn it could happen in a matter of decades without immediate action.
"In the West Pacific, there's a little bit of a window left, but it's not much," Benson said. "It's definitely 11:55 on its way to midnight."
Losing leatherbacks could throw the entire ecosystem off-balance. Leatherbacks, with their ferocious appetites (eating up 40% of their body weight daily), gobble down huge amounts of jellyfish that in turn devour fish larvae and plankton. By eating these bountiful yet low-nutrition "jellies," the turtles help keep jellyfish numbers under control. In recent years, however, Benson said he's noticed an increase of brown sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens), one of the leatherbacks' favorite jellies, in California's waters.
"Over time, this might be an illustration that the number of leatherbacks is so reduced now that they can't serve part of their ecological roles," Lontoh said.
Because jellyfish eat fish larvae, more jellyfish may mean less fish overall, likely impacting small-scale artisanal fisheries and rural Pacific islanders who depend on fish for food or income. Fish provide about 3.3 billion people worldwide with nearly 20% of their animal protein, according to the most recent Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
A world without leatherbacks "would still function," Shillinger said, "but there would be some big shifts that we still don't understand."
As the forces of climate change are amplified — cyclones that wash away nests, sand temperatures so hot that hatchlings bake to death, a rapidly changing California Current — a conservation biologist's job becomes no easier.
"This is kind of a higher calling," Benson said. "This is a species threatened with extinction, a lot of people don't know about it, so it's my job to provide some data to increase the opportunities for recovery of the population."
Ironically, Shillinger said, many Californians are unaware that their state marine reptile is the Pacific leatherback.
"Losing a species is a tragedy, something that humanity should really be concerned about," Shillinger said. "As the turtles go, so too does everything else — including ourselves."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
By Tara Lohan
Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.
Dubbed the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England's coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region's rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.
That's left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.
Conservation organizations, fishing groups and even some state scientists are now calling for the removal of up to four dams along a 30-mile stretch of the Kennebec River, where about a third of Maine's best salmon habitat remains.
The dams' owner — multinational Brookfield Renewable Partners — has instead proposed building fishways to aid salmon and other migratory fish getting around dams as they travel both up and down the river. But most experts think that plan has little chance of success.
A confusing array of state and federal processes are underway to try and sort things out. None is likely to be quick, cheap or easy. And there's a lot at stake.
"Ultimately the fate of the species in the United States really depends upon what happens at a handful of key dams," says John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "If those four projects don't work — or even if just one of them doesn't work — you could basically preclude recovering Atlantic salmon in the United States."
The best place for salmon recovery is in Maine's two largest watersheds.
"The Penobscot River and the Kennebec River have orders of magnitude more habitat, production potential and climate resilient habitat" than other parts of the state, says Burrows.
The rivers and their tributaries run far inland and reach more undeveloped areas with higher elevations. That helps provide salmon with the cold, clean water they need for spawning and rearing. Smaller numbers of salmon are hanging on in lower-elevation rivers along the coastal plain in Maine's Down East region, but climate change could make that habitat unsuitable.
"There's definitely concern about how resilient those watersheds are going to be for salmon in the future," says Burrows. "To recover the population, we need to be able to get salmon to the major tributaries farther upriver, in places where we're still going to have cold water even under predictions with climate change."
One of those key places is the Penobscot, which has already seen a $60 million effort to help recover salmon and other native sea-run fish. A 16-year project resulted in the removal of two dams, the construction of a stream-like bypass channel at a third dam, and new fish lift at a fourth. In all, the project made 2,000 miles of river habitat accessible.
Veazie dam on the Penobscot River is breached in 2013 as part of a river restoration project. Meagan Racey / USFWS
While there's still more work to be done on the Penobscot, says Burrows, attention has shifted to the Kennebec. The river has what's regarded as the largest and best salmon habitat in the state, especially in its tributary, the Sandy River, where hatchery eggs are being planted to help boost salmon numbers.
"That's helped us go from zero salmon in the upper tributaries of Kennebec to getting 50 or 60 adults back, which is still an abysmally small number compared to historical counts," says Burrows. "But these are the last of the wildest fish that we have."
The Sandy may be good salmon habitat, but it's also hard to reach. Brookfield's four dams stand in the way of fish trying to get upriver.
At the lowest dam on the river, Lockwood Dam in Waterville, there's a fish lift — a kind of elevator that should allow fish that enter it to pass up and around the dam. But if fish do find the lift — and only around half of salmon do — they don't get far.
"It's a terminal lift," says Sean Ledwin, division director of Maine's Department of Marine Resources' Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. "The lift was never completed. So we pick up those fish in a truck and drive them up to the Sandy River."
That taxi cab arrangement isn't a long-term solution, though, and was part of an interim species protection plan.
Only the second dam, Hydro Kennebec, has a modern fish passage system. But how well that actually works hasn't been tested yet since fish can't get by Lockwood Dam. As part of a consultation process related to the Endangered Species Act, Brookfield has submitted a plan proposing to fix the fishway at Lockwood and add passage to the third and fourth dams.
But federal regulators found it inadequate.
"Brookfield's proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee [which oversees hydroelectric projects] and all the [federal management] agencies," says Ledwin. The company now has until May 2022 to come up with a new plan.
State scientists aren't convinced Brookfield's plan would work either.
"We have really low confidence that having four fishways would ever result in meaningful runs of all the sea-run fish and certainly not recovery of Atlantic salmon," says Ledwin. "We don't think that it's going to be conducive to recovery."
In addition to considerations related to the Endangered Species Act, Shawmut Dam, the third on the Kennebec, is currently up for relicensing, which triggers a federal review process by FERC.
And at the same time the Maine Department of Marine Resources has drafted a new plan for managing the Kennebec River that recommends removing Shawmut Dam and Lockwood Dam. A public comment period on the proposed plan closed in March.
Brookfield isn't happy with it and responded with a lawsuit against the state.
It was good news to conservation groups, however, which would like to see all four of the dams removed if possible — or at least a few of them.
"There's no self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world that we know of that have to go by more than one hydro dam," says Burrows. He believes that having Brookfield spend tens of millions of dollars on new fishways will just result in failure for salmon.
Atlantic salmon parr emerging from a stream bed in Maine. E. Peter Steenstra / USFWS
It's partly a game of numbers. Not all fish will find or use a fishway. And if you start with a low number of returning fish and expect them to pass through four gauntlets, you won't be left with many at the end.
"If you're passing 50% of salmon that show up at the first dam, and then you've got three more dams passing 50%, that means you're left with only an eighth of the population you started with by the end," says Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "You can't start a restoration program where you're losing seven-eighths of the adults before they even get to their spawning habitat."
And getting upriver is just part of the salmon's journey. Juvenile salmon face threats going downstream to the ocean as well, including predation and warm water in impoundments. They also risk being injured or killed going through spillways or turbines. Only about half are likely to survive the four hydro projects.
Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, don't always die after spawning, either. So some adults will also make the downstream trek, too.
"Just looking at our reality, at least two dams need to go, hopefully three, and it would be amazing if all four would go," says Burrows.
The fate of Atlantic salmon hangs in the balance, but so do the futures of other fishes.
The Pacific coast of the United States is home to five species of salmon. And while the Atlantic side has just the one, it has a dozen other native sea-run species that have also seen their habitat shrink.
"Those dams are preventing other native species like American shad, alewives, blueback herring and American eel from accessing large amounts of historic habitat," says Burrows.
Ledwin says removing dams on the Kennebec could result in populations of more than a million shad, millions of blueback herring, millions of eels and hundreds of thousands of sea lampreys.
"The recovery of those species would actually help Atlantic salmon as well because they provide prey buffers and there are a lot of co-evolved benefits," he says.
Salmon are much more successful at nesting when they can lay their eggs in old sea lamprey nests, explains Bennett. "But sea lamprey are not good at using fish lifts and we've essentially blocked 90% of the historic sea lamprey habitat at Lockwood dam. We need to get those fish upstream, too."
Dam removal advocates don't have to look too far to find an example of how well river ecosystems respond when dams are removed.
The removal of the Edwards Dam on the lower Kennebec River in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam just upstream on the Sebasticook in 2008 helped ignite a nationwide dam-removal movement. It also brought back American shad, eel, two native species of sturgeon and millions of river herring to lower parts of the watershed.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
"We've got the biggest river herring run in North America now due to the dam removals," says Ledwin. "And the largest abundance of eel we've ever seen on the lower Kennebec."
The resurgence of native fishes helps the whole ecosystem. When they returned, so too did eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
"When people see all those fish in the river and the eagles overhead, it just kind of blows their minds because they never realized what had been lost for so long in our rivers," says Burrows.
Rebuilding key forage fish like herring also benefits species that live not just in the river, but the Gulf of Maine and even the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny fish feed whales, porpoises and seabirds. They're also used for lobster bait and can help rebuild fisheries for cod and haddock, which has economic benefits for the region, too.
"We have to rebalance the scales if we want to have marine industries and commercial fishing industries and if we want the ecological benefits of what sea-run fisheries do for us," says Bennett.
The Path Ahead
The process to determine whether any — or all — of the four Kennebec dams that stretch from Waterville and Skowhegan are removed will take years, a diverse coalition, financial resources and agreements to meet the concerns of communities and the dam owner.
"These things come down to compromise, so there may be situations where one of those dams might not be a candidate for economic or social reasons," says Burrows. "But it will be interesting to see if in the next couple of years we can get to a place where we can have meaningful conversations with federal agencies, the dam owner and continue to engage the communities about the potential of removal at some of these sites."
And if removal of the four dams did happen, it wouldn't open up the river all the way to its headwaters. Another nine dams still lie upstream in the watershed that obstruct fish passage.
"Some of those are major dams in terms of power, production and economics," says Burrows. "So we're not calling for those to be removed."
The four lower dams provide just 46 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 37,000 homes and 0.43% of the state's annual electricity generation. It's a small amount of power relative to the damage they cause sea-run fish, says Bennett.
"By comparison we expect to add 1,200 megawatts of solar generation in the next five years," he says. "So these four dams aren't particularly important in our climate fight." And removing them would open up substantial amounts of habitat to aid salmon recovery that seem worth the tradeoff in lost power.
That's not the case, he says, for the nine larger dams upstream.
"We need those dams. We need hydroelectric power in Maine," says Bennett. "But we made big mistakes in our past use of our rivers. And we went way overboard in favor of hydroelectric power at the expense of fish."
Outside of the rivers, Atlantic salmon still face a tough road. Climate change is warming ocean temperatures, changing salinity and altering food webs. But having so many unknowns in the marine environment in the coming decades provides more reason to focus efforts on restoring rivers where scientists already know what works, says Burrows.
And if that's done right, the benefits will extend far beyond salmon.
"It's not just about salmon — it's about these other native fish, it's about the wildlife, water quality, economic opportunity for ground fishermen and lobstermen, and more sustainable forms of recreation and community development," says Burrows. "If we remove a dam or two here and rebuild these fish populations to pretty big levels that really impacts a whole bunch of different parts of society. That's what we want to try to do here on the Kennebec."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
Ecologists have assumed this global pattern has remained stable over recent centuries — until now. Our recent study found the ocean around the equator has already become too hot for many species to survive, and that global warming is responsible.
In other words, the global pattern is rapidly changing. And as species flee to cooler water towards the poles, it's likely to have profound implications for marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90% of all marine species died.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided
This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.
So, as our oceans warm, species have tracked their preferred temperatures by moving towards the poles. Although the warming at the equator of 0.6℃ over the past 50 years is relatively modest compared with warming at higher latitudes, tropical species have to move further to remain in their thermal niche compared with species elsewhere.
As ocean warming has accelerated over recent decades due to climate change, the dip around at the equator has deepened.
We predicted such a change five years ago using a modeling approach, and now we have observational evidence.
For each of the 10 major groups of species we studied (including pelagic fish, reef fish and molluscs) that live in the water or on the seafloor, their richness either plateaued or declined slightly at latitudes with mean annual sea-surface temperatures above 20℃.
Today, species richness is greatest in the northern hemisphere in latitudes around 30°N (off southern China and Mexico) and in the south around 20°S (off northern Australia and southern Brazil).
This Has Happened Before
We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.
252 million years ago…
At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.
A 2020 study of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.
125,000 years ago…
A 2012 study showed that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.
Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.
During the last ice age, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.
Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.
The Profound Implications
Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.
In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, tropical fish moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.
This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.
The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.
Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.
The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the Sustainable Development Goals concerning zero hunger and marine life.
Is There Anything We Can Do?
One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.
Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in fully or highly protected reserves. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
But a group of 41 nations is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.
This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as global aviation. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.
Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.
We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.
Anthony Richardson: Professor, The University of Queensland. Chhaya Chaudhary: University of Auckland, David Schoeman: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Mark John Costello: Professor, University of Auckland
Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.
David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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In October 2020, two men living in Indonesia's South Kalimantan province on Borneo managed to catch a bird that they had never seen before. They photographed and released it, then sent the pictures to birdwatching organizations in the area for identification.
📢 Missing for 170 years, BLACK-BROWED BABBLER has been rediscovered in South Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo! Until now, a taxidermy specimen was only proof of this species existence. #ThursdayThought #Mega 🤩💚💎— Oriental Bird Club (@orientbirdclub) February 25, 2021
📷: Muhammad Rizky Fauzan pic.twitter.com/R0p75EN6EZ
To the men's surprise, the bird wasn't just new to them. Ornithologists identified it as the black-browed babbler (Malacocincla perspicillata), a bird last documented around 170 years ago. It is so rare that the data on the only collected specimen lists it as "presumed extinct."
"It feels surreal to know that we have found a species of bird presumed by experts to be extinct," Muhammad Rizky Fauzan, who found the bird along with Muhammad Suranto, told The Guardian. "We didn't expect it to be that special at all — we thought it was just another bird that we simply have never seen before."
Ornithologist Panji Gusti Akbar was equally surprised when he saw Fauzan and Suranto's picture of the bird on WhatsApp, Mongabay reported.
"I contacted as many leading ornithologists as possible, and they all agreed that there is no other bird that [it] looks [like] other than a black-browed babbler," Akbar told Mongabay. "It just blew my mind."
The black-browed babbler was first captured on an expedition to the East Indies in the 1840s, according to The Guardian. Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon's nephew, named and described it. German naturalist Carl A.L.M. Schwaner collected the only known specimen, now located at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, Mongabay reported.
Lead author Akbar detailed the new find in a paper published in BirdingAsia on Thursday. The report noted that this is the longest an Asian bird has been lost to science. The authors also detailed the rediscovered bird's physical characteristics and the differences between the one in the recent photograph and the taxidermied specimen.
"The facial appearance of the bird was very distinct, with the crown being chestnut brown, demarcated by a broad, black eye-stripe extending across the malars (cheekbone) to the nape and necksides," the report authors wrote.
There are three major differences between the live and stuffed specimens. The former has maroon irises instead of yellow; its legs are slate gray instead of brown; and its bill is a different color.
"These three parts of a bird's body are known to lose their tint and are often artificially colored during the taxidermy process," Akbar told The Guardian.
The researchers do not have enough information to determine the conservation status of the rediscovered species, but they hope to do further study. However, The Guardian noted massive deforestation in lowland Borneo, and Akbar believes habitat loss poses a threat. The bird's reemergence is another argument for preserving Borneo's unique rainforest.
"It's sobering to think that when the black-browed babbler was last seen, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species hadn't even been published and the now extinct passenger pigeon was still among the world's commonest birds," Ding Li Yong of BirdLife International and study coauthor said in a press release. "Who knows what other riches lie deep within Borneo's fabled rainforests, especially in the Indonesian part of the island?"
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By John R. Platt
Most tourism sites use a common word to describe La Désirade Island in the French West Indies: "pristine." They rave about this 8-square-mile island's beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, snorkel-worthy waters and healthy nature reserve.
In truth, this small rocky outcropping in the Guadeloupe Islands has seen its fair share of human-driven change since colonial settlers arrived. Once a haven for pirates hiding out from the law, the island served as a colony for lepers and lawbreakers for two centuries. The land, despite its modern reputation and protected status, was heavily cultivated and disturbed for much of that time — much like the other islands around it.
"There's no 'pristine' environment when it comes to the Guadeloupe Islands," says Corentin Bochaton, a postdoctoral researcher with Université de Bordeaux in France and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who conducts studies in the archipelago. "These islands were all strongly impacted by European colonization starting in the 17th century. La Désirade is nowhere close to what it was before this period."
He points out that research published 15 years ago links that disturbance to several local extinctions — and now, thanks to his work, we can add one more to the list.
According to a paper published last month in the journal Zootaxa, La Désirade was once home to a unique lizard, a relative of the curly-tailed iguana-like lizards common to the West Indies. The authors, including Bochaton, have dubbed it Leiocephalus roquetus.
Long forgotten by science and the residents of La Désirade, the evidence of L. roquetus was hiding under our noses — and La Désirade's soil — for nearly two centuries.
The first line of evidence for this lost lizard's existence has sat on a shelf for most of that time — since 1835, in fact. And like La Désirade, it was far from pristine.
"Around 2015 we consulted on a very old and rather poorly prepared stuffed specimen of Leiocephalus indicated as originating from Guadeloupe," Bochaton recalls. The 10-inch-long taxidermied lizard came from naturalist named Théodore Roger, who deposited it at the Natural History of Museum of Bordeaux in France three years before his death in 1838. The original label has been lost to time, but a mid-20th century replacement identifies the specimen as Holotropis herminieri (a species named by scientists in 1837 and later moved into the Leiocephalus genus) from the vague location of "Guadeloupe."
Bochaton points out that L. herminieri, another extinct species last seen in the 1830s, lived on the island of Martinique, also in the West Indies. Despite the "Guadeloupe" label the specimen did, indeed, bear external anatomy suggesting it was the Martinique species. "Because of that, it was never studied in detail," he says.
It's easy to see why the specimen was ignored for so long. While previous research had indicated a need to reassess the species in the Leiocephalus genus, at least seven of the 24 previously known species are long gone and the supply of specimens or bones to study were, until recently, slim.
A northern curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus) on Cat Island, Bahamas. Photo: Trish Hartmann (CC BY 2.0)
That's where new archaeological evidence came into play. Bochaton and others have conducted numerous digs in the Guadeloupe Islands and uncovered hundreds of lizard bones from days gone by. The most successful excavation took place in 2018 at a cave on La Désirade, where they found what Bochaton calls "the largest assemblage of Leiocephalus bone so far in Guadeloupe."
Like the museum specimen, which the researchers examined through CT scanning, those newly uncovered bones contained enough common morphological differences to declare it a new species, one that hasn't been seen on La Désirade or any other Guadeloupe island since…well, no one knows when. Perhaps since Roger's time.
Exactly how and when this species went extinct remains a mystery, but the paper suggests it could have been a combination of "introduced mammalian predators, human-induced changes to landscapes and intensive agricultural practices."
And while we may not know what killed off the lizard, Bochaton says the evidence of its extinction has relevance to modern times.
"To me, this highlights the rapid damages modern societies and their agro-pastoral practices have caused to insular ecosystems and shows what might also happen in the long run in more resilient continental systems," he says. This could help us learn to prevent more extinctions in the future.
Meanwhile, he hopes it will help to inspire more research and protection in the region.
"There are still several questions that remain poorly explored in the Guadeloupe islands regarding its past fauna, especially for the periods preceding the arrival of human populations," he says. "I hope that this research will motivate the public and the government to do their best to save the remaining Guadeloupe and Lesser Antillean endemic reptile fauna by highlighting how fast and easy it is to lose and completely forget an endemic species that will never come back."
And speaking of short-term memories, La Désirade's official tourism site calls the island itself "The Forgotten" — a name that might now equally apply to the creatures we caused to vanish there before we even knew they existed.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By John R. Platt
The straw-headed bulbul doesn't look like much.
It's less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.
But this Southeast Asian native stands out in one notable way: It sings like an angel.
"It's arguably the most beautiful song of any bird," says Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor Conservation Research Society and an expert on Asian songbirds. "It's amazing," he adds.
The bird's beautiful voice serves a vital ecological purpose: Males use it to attract mates. The better the song, the greater the chance of finding a female and propagating the species.
But the song has also come with a terrible modern cost. Humans have come to value the bulbul's calls so much that they've collected the birds from almost every inch of their habitat. Captured birds, quickly caged, have been shipped to markets throughout Southeast Asia. Due to this overwhelming commercial demand, the species has disappeared from most of its range and is now critically endangered. Only a few pocket populations continue to hang on.
And the straw-headed bulbul is far from alone in this decline. Practically every songbird species in Southeast Asia faces a similar predicament. Many birds face the very real risk of imminent extinction, leaving some forests in the region eerily silent.
Recent research finds that several songbirds have become perilously close to vanishing — if they haven't been lost already.
One Indonesian bird, the Simeulue hill myna, has only just been described as genetically and morphologically unique from other lookalike species. It probably went extinct in the wild in the past two or three years, according to a paper published last spring in the journal Ibis. As the researchers wrote, "On multiple recent excursions to Simeulue, most recently in July 2018, we were unable to find the bird and learned from locals that there had been a great drive to catch the last survivors on the island in response to a wealthy person's bounty on these birds."
The paper calls this an "extinction-in-process" and warns that any remaining birds left in captivity may die without producing offspring. Even if they do manage to breed, the researchers fear they could be hybridized with other similar-in-appearance mynas, obscuring their genetic lineage.
That same phrase, extinction-in-process, has also been used to describe the Barusan shama, which according to a 2019 study published in the journal Forktail has become one of the most threatened of Asian songbirds due to rampant collection. It's now gone from all but one island.
Like the Simeulue hill myna, the Barushan shama's plight went virtually unnoticed for years because many taxonomists have classified it as a subspecies rather than a full species. Newer research finds that it's a species with four subspecies, few of which may now survive.
Not that the species/subspecies disputes matter too much at this point.
"Taxonomic debates about the rank of these forms should not stand in the way of trying to ensure the survival of what is clearly an evolutionarily distinct lineage," says Frank Rheindt, a biologist with National University of Singapore and senior or lead author on both of the papers.
So what happens to these birds once they're taken from the wild?
That's where the story gets even bleaker.
Songbirds are an important element of culture and tradition for many peoples in Southeast Asia. In Java, for example, it's almost assumed that every household will have at least one pet songbird. The more birds, the more prestigious the home.
But wild songbirds in captivity…well, they don't tend to last long.
"We've often called the caged songbird trade like cut flowers," says Shepherd. "The birds look nice. They're often inexpensive. You bring one home. It sits in a cage for a couple of days and it dies just like a cut flower. They're not expected to live."
And because many Asian cities feature massive markets full of birds that have been easily snatched from the wild — usually illegally — any bird that dies is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.
Cages line the Malang bird and animal market on Java in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
Even bird traders don't put much value on their stock, since a new supply of wild-caught birds always seems to be waiting in the wings.
"I've seen some cages where the surviving birds are all sitting on top of dead birds in the cages," Shepherd says. "You can't see the floor of the cage. It's covered with a few layers of dead birds, and then there's some sick and half-dead birds perched on top of them. And they cost the dealers next to nothing. So, you know, even if they sell a few, they think they must be covering their costs or you wouldn't have a business model like that."
Although all of this seems to favor low-cost disposability, some species are captive bred by the thousands, and prices can soar for the right birds.
As with so many other groups of heavily traded species, the rarest birds fetch higher prices from collectors — a "better get them before they're gone" collector's mentality that pushes prices higher, drives further poaching and drives birds even closer to extinction.
The Simeulue hill myna, for instance, might have sold for about $100-$150, "certainly if a foreigner or non-Simeulue person asks," says Rheindt. "This is easily 2-4 monthly incomes for rural people on the island."
The Caged Bird Sings
Along with its rarity, a bird's appearance is clearly a valuable trait to collectors. Some of the birds are strikingly beautiful, like birds of paradise and the Javan white-eye.
A kingfisher, looking a little worse for wear, in the Malang bird and animal market in 2016. Andrea Kirkby / CC BY-SA 2.0
But the quality that typically drives up a bird's market price?
That, of course, would be the song.
A good song can earn a bird owner a big payday. Entire competitions have sprung up that offer cash prizes for the birds with the best songs — up to $50,000, according to some reports. On Java these events are known as Kicau-mania ("kicau" is Indonesian for "chirping").
The bird doesn't get much for his work. Perhaps some food and a chance to sing again.
But it can take a lot of human effort to inspire them to sing for their suppers.
"People will keep the male birds in captivity for a long time," says Shepherd. "Some birds don't want to sing in captivity and take a long time before they adjust to the point where they'll start to sing. Then they'll train the bird. They'll keep it near other males so it sings more frequently, because they naturally compete with their songs."
This forced companionship changes the very nature of the song.
"Some birds pick up notes and sounds from other species," Shepherd says. "Some of the species that are disappearing, they're just training birds. They're not even the ones used in competition. They just keep them beside other the species that compete so they have a more complex and unique song in the competition."
After that, it's a bit like a dog show.
"Everybody takes their bird in a cage and there are songbird judges. They walk around and listen to the song and there's big cash prizes for the bird with the best." (Most recently, these competitions have moved online due to COVID-19.)
Through all of this, the gift nature gave these animals to help propagate their species — song — ends up driving them toward extinction.
This makes the trade similar to trophy hunting, which values the biggest animals or those with the most beautiful features. "The strongest bird in the wild, the one with the greatest song, would be the one that would pass on his genes," Shepherd says. "Those are the ones being removed from the wild. So, you know, only inferior birds are left behind."
Unlike trophy hunting, however, where an elephant's tusks can theoretically trade hands in perpetuity, a bird's song is ephemeral — sung once, then lost to time.
Shepherd says the Asian songbird crisis went virtually ignored for many years. Relatively few scientists studied it, and funding for conservation remained scarce. That's been a costly delay.
"One of the interesting and sad things is that lot of the species that I worked on in the early Nineties, the ones I tried to raise the alarm on, are now gone or almost gone," he says. "And then the ones I was working on that were extremely common at the time are now the next wave that's disappearing."
Fortunately, that's started to change. For one thing, scientific research about the trade and affected species continues to pick up. One of the most worrying studies came out last August and found that Java now has more songbirds in cages than in its forests. The study found that one species, the Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla), now has fewer than 50 birds remaining in the wild, while 1.1 million live on the island in captivity.
Meanwhile governments, NGOs and other researchers have also stepping up their game. Conservation experts came together in 2015 to hold an event called the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit. Two years later they formed the IUCN Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group, which had its first official meeting in 2019. And over the past five years governments have started to take action, including seizing several large shipments of poached birds, although the trade remains mostly illegal and unsustainable.
Local groups have helped, too, which brings us back to the Simeulue hill myna and Barusan shama. A Simeulue-based organization called Ecosystemimpact set out to help the two birds at the beginning of 2020. Although their efforts were hampered by the COVID pandemic, they're still trying to acquire any captive birds they can find to keep them out of the trade. If they do rescue any Simeulue hill mynas — such as four juvenile birds that reportedly recently turned up for sale on Facebook — they'll need a permit from the government to breed them.
Even then, saving them from extinction won't be easy.
"Hill myna are notoriously hard to breed, requiring large, tall aviaries with good vantage points over forested areas," says program manager Tom Amey. "It's not out of the question that hill myna will breed within our aviaries, but given their specific requirements, we feel it is unlikely." They're working on raising funding for new aviaries designed specifically for hill mynas.
They also hope to educate the community, to turn its love of captive birds into one that also supports wild populations.
"There is a distinct lack of bird song on Simeulue, especially within close to medium proximity of [human] habitation," says Amey. "Our ambition is to bring the beautiful sounds of songbirds back to Simeulue's forests and culture. Songbirds have played an important role in Simeulue culture and many members of the community wish to see them return."
As with everything in the past year, progress to protect Asian songbirds has slowed down of late. "Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has been a huge, but legitimate, distraction from the global fight against extinction, and very little attention has been paid to such issues in the last few months," says Rheindt.
Once the pandemic recedes, Shepherd suggests that tourism may play an important role in keeping birds alive, uncaged and in their natural habitats.
"There's a very big birdwatching community," he says, "and I think working with the community and with the birdwatching tour guides to raise awareness of the benefits of having songbirds around is important. The birdwatching industry's worth millions. I think we need to raise awareness of the fact that you can lose your birds, but also awareness of the facts that having birds around is good for the environment, it's good for your mental health, it's good for all kinds of things — but it's good for the economy."
Until those messages resonate more than the ka-ching of a cash register, however, Asian songbirds will remain in crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Tara Lohan
What does a biodiversity crisis sound like? You may need to strain your ears to hear it.
In the past 50 years, America's bird populations have fallen by a third, and worldwide the average mammal population has dropped 60%, writes acclaimed environmental philosopher and nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore in her new collection of essays, Earth's Wild Music: Celebrating and Defending the Songs of the Natural World.
And with all that loss comes an unsettling silence.
"Unless the world acts to stop extinctions, I will write my last nature essay on a planet that is less than half as song-graced and life-drenched as the one where I began to write," she explains in the book's preface. "My grandchildren will tear out half the pages in their field guides. They won't need them."
Her book uses sound as a reference point to better understand what we stand to lose as extinction rates climb higher. But the essays are also a celebration of the natural world's chorus and the joy of learning to hear what's still there.
The essays are also being set to music in a series for Oregon State's Spring Creek Project that will feature 20 4-minute-long concerts combining live musical performance with excerpts from Earth's Wild Music.
"I've never been so excited about a project in my life," Moore tells us. "It combines everything I care about with the cause that I believe in more than anything else."
The Revelator spoke to Moore about the moral stakes of our environmental crisis, what it's like to find a truly quiet place to listen, and what we lose as wild songs disappear.
You've been writing about nature for 50 years. During that time our environmental problems have become graver. Has this changed how you approach your work?
At first I was a celebrant. I believed Mary Oliver when she said, "My work is loving the world... which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished." And that went along fine for years and years, but then it became clear that what I was writing celebrations of were disappearing.
I was right in the midst of an essay on frog song, and bulldozers came and took away the marsh and put in a condominium. I was writing about a bald eagle nest, and the nest — and the tree it was in — burned to the ground in a forest fire. So it was starting to become clear to me that I was going to have to do more than celebrate. I was going to have to demonstrate. I was going to have to protect. I was going to have to defend the natural world.
Why did you decide to focus this collection on sound?
I started thinking about how I could open people's hearts without breaking them. How I could point to the onrushing extinctions and not force people to turn away in absolute grief. I decided that I was going to have to write in a way that was like a wave — I would lift people and smash them at the same time.
What is it that reaches people without breaking them? What is it that goes straight into people's hearts? What do they love about the world and will call them to action?
I decided that of all the things I loved about the world, what I loved the most was the music. What I loved the most was the sound. I've been writing about this for quite some time, so I had a couple of essays already under my belt, and I couldn't think of a more wonderful writing assignment for myself then to go outside and listen.
Nature may be getting quieter. But people are getting louder. How is our noise affecting wildlife?
We are deafening. Noise that we create is causing extraordinary harm to the creatures. Think about the pain caused to the whales from the exploratory thudding of those machines that go through the ocean and stamp to try to find oil.
Think about the meadowlarks that lived in the fracking fields and had to endure endless noise of drilling and trucks. And as a result, the songs of the meadowlarks are fractured and abbreviated. They haven't been able to hear their parents well enough to imitate them.
Many of us may be out of practice at listening. In fact, a lot of folks walk around with earphones on so we can't hear what's around us. How do we get better at both listening to and understanding the sounds of nature?
Listening is an art that we should practice because it does two things. It makes us shut up and it makes us open up. We stop listening just to the songs of "me, me, me." When we set aside our own stories, it opens us up so we can listen to the stories of other beings. It's a skill of empathy, isn't it? Listening to other people's stories and other creatures' sounds is a way of understanding the world from their point of view. It's a moral training.
When it comes to understanding what we hear, Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring, and cared so much about bird song, took pains to tell us that it doesn't matter if we know the names of what we see. That comes later. But the first thing that has to happen is love.
So I'm not so concerned about knowing which bird is calling. I'm surrounded by people who could do that in a majestic way. My husband can identify birds by their call. My neighbor can. I think it's a beautiful skill that I don't have.
But I do have the ability to catch a song. To hear it, which isn't nothing. It can catch my attention and I can seek it out and I can listen to it. Knowing its name — maybe that's not so important as knowing its tune.
How are people affected by this loss of nature's song, and what's the importance of preserving silent places where we can still experience what's left?
We lose joy. Let's face it — the sounds of the natural world are beautiful and they make us happy. I think we also lose a connection to the world around us.
In the book, I write about going with acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton to One Square Inch of Silence, a small spot in Olympic National Park [possibly the quietest place in the United States]. It was a wonderful experience. At the time, we were in pouring rain. Nature itself was cacophonous, but we didn't hear a human sound for 20 minutes, which is the definition in Gordon's mind of a quiet place.
Gordon now is recording in a jungle somewhere that can only be reached by canoeing down a wild river, because it's one of the last places on Earth he can find that's silent.
He's famous for these recordings called the Dawn Chorus that captured the outpouring of bird song that's triggered by morning light. But he couldn't do that anymore, because that music box is broken. We're in the process of wrecking what we should be treasuring.
It's hard to find a balance between grief and celebration. But you know, people often ask me, "What can one person do?" And I say, "Stop being one person."
You don't have to do it all. Other people are working all around the world on the same causes you believe in. Find them, join up with them. You'll find your place in the choir. [Author and teacher] Joanna Macy says to choose what you love and devote yourself to it. That, she says, is enough.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Scientists say the planet is facing its "sixth mass extinction" and human activity is to blame. But as ecosystems change at unprecedented rates, predicting what future life on Earth could look like may seem unimaginable.
Understanding history's worst mass extinction event could provide insight on what lies ahead — and offer a warning if global action isn't taken.
That's why an international team of researchers looked back 252 million years, during the end of the Permian period when a severe extinction event, coined as the "The Great Dying," erased 19 out of every 20 species on Earth, the California Academy of Sciences reported.
For the first time, in a study published Wednesday, researchers identified what made "The Great Dying" more severe than other extinction periods. The scientists studied this period because of similarities in crises that occurred then and are occurring now — "namely extinction following the massive release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," they wrote, adding this period also faced global warming, acid rain and acidification.
But unlike other mass extinctions throughout history, species in the end-Permian period struggled to recover, possibly for 10 million years, the California Academy of Sciences reported. To find out why, the scientists recreated food webs, sampled from north China, spanning the Permian and Triassic periods, which showed how a single region responded to ecosystem collapse.
"By studying the fossils and evidence from their teeth, stomach contents, and excrement, I was able to identify who ate whom," lead author and Academy researcher Yuangeng Huang told the California Academy of Sciences. "It's important to build an accurate food web if we want to understand these ancient ecosystems."
By tracking food webs during this period, the scientists saw that when animals died, nothing replaced them, creating an "unbalanced ecosystem," according to the California Academy of Sciences.
"We found that the end-Permian event was exceptional in two ways," professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol told the California Academy of Sciences. "First, the collapse in diversity was much more severe, whereas in the other two mass extinctions there had been low-stability ecosystems before the final collapse. And second, it took a very long time for ecosystems to recover."
The new study comes at the same time as two other groundbreaking studies that also draw comparisons between "The Great Dying" and the current day. In one of these studies, scientists developed a record of ocean acidity, which allowed them to track how "The Great Dying" occurred, CBS reported.
The extinction didn't happen all at once but instead occurred as a series of events, from volcanic activity, the release of carbon gases, global warming, acidifying oceans, fire and erosion, spanning a million years, professor Uwe Brand, a geoscientist from Brock University in Canada, who was involved in the ocean record study, told CBS News.
"These are not individual and separate causes, but they all acted together, they acted in concert, and that is why I call it the perfect storm," Brand told CBS News. "You got hit on this side with temperature, on this side with acidification and then finally the knock-out punch came from deoxygenation."
While the possibility of avoiding this same ecological collapse may seem elusive, conversations on how to respond are occurring, even at a global level.
"Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet," Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said recently, according to UN News, following the release of a report, Making Peace with Nature, which calls for urgent action to combat environmental crises. "The rewards will be immense. With a new consciousness, we can direct investment into policies and activities that protect and restore nature."
Yuangeng Huang and his team's research on food webs also shows which species recovered from "The Great Dying," providing insight as to how modern species may do the same.
"This is an amazing new result," professor Zhong-Qiang Chen of the China University of Geosciences, Wuhan told the California Academy of Sciences. "The combination of great new data from long rock sections in north China with cutting-edge computational methods allows us to get inside these ancient examples in the same way we can study food webs in the modern world."
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"Nowhere is the world's nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine, and we must heed the warning," Stuart Orr, WWF global freshwater lead, said in a statement Tuesday announcing the report.
WWF is one of the many organizations behind the report, along with the Alliance for Freshwater Life, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, to name a few. Together, the groups emphasized the incredible diversity of the world's freshwater fish and their importance for human wellbeing.
There are a total of 18,075 freshwater fish species in the world, accounting for 51 percent of all fish species and 25 percent of all vertebrates. They are an important food source for 200 million people and provide work for 60 million. But their numbers are in decline. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has declared 80 to be extinct, 16 of those in 2020 alone. The numbers of migratory freshwater fish such as salmon have declined 76 percent since 1970, while mega-fish such as beluga sturgeon have fallen by 94 percent in the same time period. In fact, freshwater biodiversity is plummeting at twice the rate of biodiversity in the oceans and forests.
Despite this, freshwater fish get much less attention than their saltwater counterparts, the report authors say. Titled "The World's Forgotten Fishes," it argues that policy makers rarely consider river wildlife when making decisions.
The main threats to freshwater fish include building dams, syphoning river water for irrigation, releasing wastewater and draining wetlands. Other factors include overfishing, introducing invasive species and the climate crisis.
"As we look to adapt to climate change and we start to think about all the discussions that governments are going to have on biodiversity, it's really a time for us to shine a light back on freshwater," Orr told NBC News.
To protect these forgotten fishes, the report authors outlined a six-point plan:
1. Let rivers flow more naturally;
2. Improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems;
3. Protect and restore critical habitats;
4. End overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes;
5. Prevent and control invasions by non-native species; and
6. Protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.
They also called on world leaders to include freshwater ecosystems in an ambitious biodiversity agreement at the upcoming UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Kunming, China.
But the solution will require more than just government action.
"It's now more urgent than ever that we find the collective political will and effective collaboration with private sector, governments, NGOs and communities, to implement nature-based solutions that protect freshwater species, while also ensuring human needs are met," Carmen Revenga of The Nature Conservancy told BBC News.
By Tara Lohan
For 10,000 years we've relied on domesticated plants for our staple foods. But it's the wild relatives of those crops that are becoming increasingly important to our future food supply.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, these wild foods have adapted to pests, diseases, extreme climates and other inhospitable conditions. That makes their genes particularly important for plant breeding, especially when we're looking for foods that can withstand a changing climate. Some varieties are still key food and cultural resources today, too.
In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have taken stock of these wild foods and the conservation threats they face. They inventoried and modeled the distribution of 600 native wild taxa in the United States, including the relatives of barley, beans, grapes, hops, plums, potatoes and other foods.
What they found was concerning: More than half of the wild relatives are endangered in their native habitats. And that poses a threat to our future.
"The contributions of crop wild relatives to food security depend on their conservation and accessibility for use," the researchers wrote. With mounting extinction threats, the researchers recommended that three quarters of the taxa be deemed an "urgent priority" for collection to boost conservation.
To do that we need a multipronged approach.
"Given the diversity of U.S. native crop wild relatives prioritized for action, ambitious collaborative conservation efforts are needed among gene banks, botanical gardens, community conservation initiatives, and organizations focused on habitat conservation," they wrote.
So far ex situ conservation — in gene banks and botanical gardens — is insufficient. The study showed 14% of the plants were entirely absent from these repositories, and another 33% were found in fewer than 10 locations. That leaves us with "relatively limited genetic variation for research and education," the researchers concluded.
Crop Wild Relatives seed bank at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. Michael Major, Crop Trust / CC BY-ND 2.0
Better collaboration with botanical gardens, hobby gardeners and citizen conservationists can help close that gap, they recommend.
Outside of seed banks and gardens, protecting the habitat where these species grow naturally is also important.
Based on the researchers' mapping of the potential distribution of the plants, some are likely to be found in areas that are already protected — such as the Patuxent Research Refuge, the Grand Canyon, Olympic National Park, the Indiana Dunes, Gulf Islands, Yellowstone and other areas.
But more habitat conservation efforts are needed, and that may include the widening of current protected areas or the establishment of new protected spaces, they write.
That can be tough to do with competing demands on land, but it will also provide additional benefits.
Conserving these natural habitats, the study finds, will help safeguard ecosystems and other species, providing both "known as well as currently unrecognized benefits to society."
Beyond the work of scientists and land managers, the fate of these wild foods may come down to better public awareness. And for that, botanical gardens could be the best champions.
"While all involved organizations will need to enhance their public outreach around native crop wild relatives," the researchers conclude, "botanical gardens, which receive more than 120 million visitors a year in the United States, could play a particularly pivotal role in introducing these species to people, communicating their value and plight, and better connecting the concepts of food security, agricultural livelihoods, and services provided by nature for the public."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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