A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
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A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
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More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.
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Russia's Norilsk Nickel ran into trouble earlier this month when one of its subsidiaries accidentally spilled 21,000 tons of diesel that ended up polluting a pristine Arctic lake. Now the company admits that it has been dumping wastewater into the Arctic tundra, as Agence-France Press, (AFP) reported.
By John R. Platt
It takes a lot of effort and more than a little bit of luck for researchers like André Raine to get to the remote mountaintops of Kauai, where they're working to save endangered Hawaiian seabirds from extinction.
Raine holding a Hawaiian petrel chick. Courtesy Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project<p>So, unfortunately, do several species of invasive predators — including feral cats, black rats and feral pigs — that have put these ground-nesting birds, and so many other native Hawaiian species, on the fast track toward extinction.</p><p>"People are always really surprised by this," Raine said, "but it doesn't matter how remote the area, or how apparently inhospitable it is to predators like cats. You're going to find cats and rats and pigs in these areas. There wasn't a single site that we work in that doesn't have all these predators, busy eating the birds."</p>
An endangered chick in the mouth of a feral cat. Courtesy Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project<p>Like many island endemics, Hawaii's bird species grew up without mammalian predators, so they're ill-adapted to the teeth and claws that arrived with human society. The cats descended from housecats, while pigs escape from agricultural sites and rats descended from stowaways on ships.</p><p>That's why the Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project has spent the past nine years constructing fences and establishing other predator controls — work that is proving essential in giving these native birds a chance.</p><p>The first step in controlling predators is quantifying the threat.</p><p>According to a paper Raine and his colleagues published earlier this year in <a href="https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jwmg.21824" target="_blank">The Journal of Wildlife Management</a>, introduced predators killed at least 309 endangered seabirds at six monitored breeding colonies between 2011 and 2017. That's quite a blow for each of these endangered species.</p><p>"Newell's shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels have suffered catastrophic declines over the last few decades," Raine said. "Any chick that's lost in the population is one that we can't afford to lose."</p>
Hawaiian petrel. © Ken Chamberlain, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC). Via iNaturalist.<p>The researchers took on the sad task of collecting the dead and examining the wound patterns to determine which type of predator made the kill.</p><p>Rats, it turned out, killed the most — more than 50% of mortalities — usually from entering the birds' rocky burrows and eating eggs and chicks. That dramatically slows recovery efforts, but the research shows that adult birds who've lost their chicks returned to the same burrows the following year to try again.</p>
Fence Me In<p>Over the past decade, the Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project and its many organizational partners have concentrated on establishing predator controls at six of their seven regularly monitored seabird breeding sites.</p><p>Again, this isn't easy to accomplish in these remote, rarely visited locations. Materials must be flown in, ungulate-proof fences built, other traps set, and pig-hunting expeditions organized. All of it must be accomplished and maintained in precarious territory full of wet vegetation, narrow ridgelines and steep canyon walls.</p><p>To make things even more difficult, the human visitors must leave the habitat as undisturbed as possible.</p><p>"If you start making trails in these areas, then you're basically just opening them up to the hordes of predators that are out there," Raine says.</p><p>But the hard work pays off.</p><p>According to the paper, fences and other controls not only keep the invasive predators out, they give the birds the opportunity to thrive.</p><p>The research team used seven years data from the six sites, from before and after predator controls were established, and projected striking results for the future of the two seabird species.</p><p>The first model looked at what would happen to each site without predator controls. It was a disaster — mostly due to cats. "We ran that for 50 years, and we found that all of the colonies dwindle toward extinction."</p><p>The paper, in what Raine acknowledges as gallows humor, calls this the <em>CATastrophe</em> model.</p><p>The second modeling approach incorporated data from successful breeding that took place after more extensive predator controls (fences and traps) were put in place. "We found that the populations increased over those 50 years," Raine said. Under the model, which was based on 2017 population growth rates at sites with predator controls, most sites would see a 50-60% increase over the 50-year projection, while one site more than doubled.</p><p>"It really does show that if you remove the predators, the birds will begin to recover."</p>
By Pamela Soltis, Joseph Cook and Richard Yanagihara
In less than 20 years, communities around the globe have been hit by a string of major disease outbreaks: SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and now, COVID-19. Nearly all emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from microorganisms that are harbored by wildlife and subsequently "jump," either directly or indirectly – for example, through mosquitoes or ticks – to humans.
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Archives of Life on Earth<p>Research shows that zoonotic diseases have increased due to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2736" target="_blank">human intrusion into animal habitats</a>. In particular, <a href="https://theconversation.com/explainer-where-did-zika-virus-come-from-and-why-is-it-a-problem-in-brazil-53425" target="_blank">destruction of tropical rain forests</a> throughout the world has brought us face to face with microbes that occur naturally in wild animals and can cause disease in our own species.</p><p>Earth's biodiversity is connected through a <a href="http://www.onezoom.org/otop/@biota=93302?img=best_any&anim=flight#x1068,y2073,w4.9401" target="_blank">family tree</a>. Viruses, bacteria and other microbes have evolved with their hosts for millions of years. As a result, a virus that resides in a wild animal host such as a bat without causing disease can be highly pathogenic when transmitted to humans. This is the case with zoonotic diseases.</p><p>Unfortunately, national responses to disease outbreaks are often based on very limited knowledge of the basic biology, or even the identity, of the pathogen and its wild host. As scientists, we believe that harnessing centuries of biological knowledge and resources from natural history collections can provide an informed road map to identify the origin and transmission of disease outbreaks.</p><p>These collections of animals, plants and fungi date back centuries and are the richest sources of information available about life on Earth. They are housed in museums ranging from the <a href="https://naturalhistory.si.edu/" target="_blank">Smithsonian Institution</a> to <a href="http://scnet.acis.ufl.edu/" target="_blank">small colleges</a>.</p><p>Together, the world's natural history collections are estimated to contain <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.352.6287.762" target="_blank">more than three billion specimens</a>, including preserved specimens of possible hosts of the coronaviruses that have led to SARS, MERS and COVID-19. They provide a powerful distribution map of our planet's biodiversity over space and through time.</p>
Preserved Pathogens<p>How can researchers channel these collections toward disease discovery? Each specimen – say, a species of pitcher plant from Florida or a deer mouse from arid New Mexico – is catalogued with a scientific name, a collection date and the place where it was collected, and often with other relevant information. These records underpin scientists' understanding of where host species and their associated pathogens are found and when they occurred there.</p><p>Connecting the site of a disease outbreak to potential pathogen hosts that occur in that area can help to pinpoint likely hosts, sources of pathogens, and pathways of transmission from hosts to humans and from one human to another. These natural history collections are connected worldwide through massive online databases, so a researcher anywhere in the world can find information on potential hosts in far-off regions.</p><p>But that's just the beginning. A preserved specimen of a rodent, a bat or any other potential host animal in a collection also carries preserved pathogens, such as coronaviruses. This means that researchers can quickly survey microbes using specimens that were collected decades or more before for an entirely different purpose. They can use this information to quickly identify a pathogen, associate it with particular wild hosts, and then reconstruct the past distributions and evolution of disease-causing microbes and hosts across geographic space.</p><p>Many collections contain frozen samples of animal specimens stored in special low-temperature freezers. These materials can be quickly surveyed for microbes and possible human pathogens <a href="https://www.idigbio.org/content/idigbio%E2%80%99s-directory-genetic-resources-enhances-discoverability-materials-covid-19-and-beyond" target="_blank">using genetic analysis</a>. Scientists can compare DNA sequences of the pathogens found in animal specimens with the disease-causing agent to identify and track pathways of transmission.</p>
Equipping Museums and Connecting Scientists<p>Natural history collections have the potential to help revolutionize studies of epidemics and pandemics. But to do this, they will need more support.</p><p>Even though they play a foundational role in biology, collections are generally underfunded and understaffed. Many of them lack recent specimens or associated frozen tissues for genetic analyses. Many regions of our planet have been poorly sampled, especially the most biodiverse countries near the tropics.</p><p>To leverage biodiversity science for biomedical research and public health, museums will need more field sampling; new facilities to house collections, especially in biodiverse countries; and expanded databases for scientists who collect the samples, analyze DNA sequences and track transmission routes. These investments will require increased funding and innovations in biomedical and biodiversity sciences.</p><p>Another challenge is that natural history curators and pathobiologists who study the mechanisms of disease work in separate scientific communities and are only vaguely aware of each other's resources, despite clear benefits for both basic and clinical research. We believe now is the time to reflect on how to leverage diverse resources and <a href="https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/8/1/81a51199-e72e-480c-b0b1-1c6919c7ae62/D4FF9185D7B48C250A9B0EEEB4269B7F.national-one-health-awareness-month-resolution.pdf" target="_blank">build stronger ties</a> between natural history museums, pathobiologists and public health institutions. Collaboration will be key to our ability to predict, and perhaps forestall, future pandemics.</p>
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Hummingbirds live a more colorful existence than humans do, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday confirmed.
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Leaders from three international NGOs — the United Nations, the World Health Organization and WWF International — teamed up to issue a stark warning that pandemics like the coronavirus are a direct result of the destruction of nature caused by humans.
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By Euan Ritchie, Amy Coetsee, Anthony Rendall, Tim Doherty and Vivianna Miritis
Long-nosed potoroos are a bit like mini kangaroos, but spend much of their time digging for fungi. Zoos Victoria
French Island's thick vegetation provides potoroos with critical refuge to evade feral cats. Vivianna Miritis
Temporal activity of cats and long-nosed potoroos for winter and summer, on French Island, Victoria. Their overlap is represented by the area shaded in grey. Modified from Miritis et al. (2020).
Camera traps can tell us a lot about how introduced predators and native wildlife interact. Zoos Victoria and Deakin University
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