BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: endangered

Giraffes, Giraffes, Giraffes, and More Giraffes

 

On the left is the Southern giraffe, while on the right is the Northern giraffe. They look the same but are genetically different.

Previously there was thought to be only one giraffe species, but recently with the help of genetic testing there are now four confirmed giraffe species. To make this amazing discovery, Scientists from the Senckenberg and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation utilized several nuclear marking genes on over 100 giraffes and analyzed the genetic relationship between all major species in the wild. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation collected more than 100 biopsy samples over the past decades from all areas of Africa, including war torn regions. They then sent the samples to the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre for analysis. The nuclear genes, which are genes found in the nucleus of Eukaryotes, were different enough in each group that it reveals how different species do not mate with each other. The four distinct species that were discovered are the southern giraffe, masai giraffe, reticulated giraffe, and northern giraffe. Besides demonstrating four groups, the scientists concluded from the data that some sub-species are in fact the same. The discovery highlights the need for greater conservation efforts for the overall giraffe species. While giraffes are already close to extinction, the idea that there are now four species exacerbates the issue as they are even closer to losing each diverse group.  With the giraffe species declining over 40% in the last 30 years to the point of only 68,000 of them left in the wild.

Are Species We See Everyday Going Extinct Before Our Very Eyes?

A theory has recently surfaced declaring the possibility that there are around 700 species around the world that should be considered threatened species, many of whom who were possibly inaccurately declared non-threatened on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Luca Santini, an ecologist at Radboud University, was quite discouraged by this news and took it upon himself to create a more efficient and precise method when it comes to assessing the extinction risk of a particular animal. On January 17th, Conservation Biology did a segment on Santini’s new approach.

This new approach proved that as much as “20% of 600 species that were impossible to assess before by Red List experts, are likely under threat of extinction, such as the brown-banded rail and Williamson’s mouse-deer.”  In addition, it found that around 600 different species that had been officially declared non-threatened species, were actually likely to be extremely threatened. As Santini, himself, said “This indicates that urgent re-assessment is needed of the current statuses of animal species on the Red List.”

The (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species is the “world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi, and plant species.” That being said, every few years, researchers evaluate and record the conservation status of different species, which then gets uploaded into the Red List’s database for the general public to have access to. According to Santini, however, “Often these data are of poor quality because they are outdated or inaccurate because certain species that live in very remote areas have not been properly studied. This might lead to species to be misclassified or not assessed at all.”

Santini’s method provides experts with additional independent information in attempt to help them better assess the species. It uses information gathered from land cover maps, showing how the distribution of different species has changed over time. This then allows said researcher to have more information to be able to more accurately classify species.

Santini describes his goal for this new method in saying “Our vision is that our new method will soon be automated so that data is re-updated every year with new land cover information. Thus, our method really can speed up the process and provide an early warning system by pointing specifically to species that should be re-assessed quickly.” We can only hope that this new method provides better and more accurate information in regards to what and who we will continue to share the planet with, and who we won’t.

 

“Look! Up In The Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…. A Blue-Throated Hillstar!

A decade ago, most scientists and bird-watchers believed that there were between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds on the planet. A new study in 2016, however, led by the American Museum of Natural History, doubled that estimate, suggesting that there are 18,000 bird species in the world. One big step in the discovery of these unknown bird species was announced just several weeks ago, with the finding of a new species of hummingbird in Ecuador. Named Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus, or blue-throated hillstar, the species was discovered in the Andes by a multinational team of ornithologists from Ecuador, Venezuela, Denmark and Sweden. Dr. Francisco Sornoza-Molina of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversida in Quito, Ecuador, and his colleagues first photographed the hillstar during fieldwork in the Ecuadorian highlands back in April of 2017; they would return later that spring to verify the finding.

File:Lampornis clemenciae.jpg

Hummingbird that resembles the blue-throated hillstar | Taken by Sheri L. Williamson

The blue-throated hillstar is approximately 13 centimeters in length and has a slightly curved beak, which it uses to reach the flowers of the chuquiragua, an Ecuadorian plant known as the “flower of the Andes” or “flower of true love” that is used to brew tea. It has a rich, deep-blue neck and greenish-blue head and body feathers.

Ecuador is rich in biodiversity, containing 132 hummingbird species out of the more than 300 in the world, but that doesn’t make the discovery any less surprising. Hummingbird expert and researcher at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Christopher Witt,  commented, “The hillstar hummingbirds occur in the most rugged, isolated, and inaccessible parts of the Andes, where they roost in caves, forage on the ground, and spend half their lives in hypothermic torpor, so the discovery of a new species in this group is incredibly exciting.” With estimates on the number of individuals of blue-throated hillstars varying between 250 and 750, ornithologists agree that the species is in danger of extinction, with its high-altitude habitat between the provinces of Loja and El Oro near the Pacific Ocean threatened by gold-mining, fire, and grazing. Commenting on the life-threatening conditions facing the blue-throated hillstar, Dr. Sornoza-Molina of the research team said, “Complete support from national and international conservation agencies is needed in order to save this species. The action plan for the conservation of this bird is creating a network of protected areas along its geographic range.”

Uncertain Future for Newly Discovered Species of Alpine Hummingbirds

The blue-throated hillstar humming bird is so new that there aren’t many photos of it online–this is a hummingbird that resembles the species

The blue-throated hillstar hummingbird (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemusis a newly discovered species of hummingbird located in the Ecuadorian Andes.  These unique birds have several fascinating adaptations to survive at altitudes higher than 3,500 meters, where the air is thinner, temperatures are lower, and the environment is oxygen-poor.

To conserve energy, these birds don’t hover often, instead opting to hop between chuquiraga plants, using their large feet to latch on to branches while drinking pollen and eating the insects they can find.  To account for the thin air during the rare occasion that Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus take flight, they have lengthened tails and wings to provide extra lift.  During the especially cold nights in their habitat, the blue-throated hillstar will enter a state of hibernation called torpor, slowing their metabolism and allowing their heart rate to drop.

According to evolutionary biologist Elisa Bonaccorso of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador and her team, the blue-throated hillstar hummingbird is in grave danger; she estimates that there are only 750 individuals left in the wild.  They are spread out in groups over a 100 square kilometer area that is rapidly shrinking due to the expansion of cattle grazing and god and copper mining in this area by local communities.

At this rate, the future is not bright for this brand new species of hummingbird.  There have been no efforts at conservation thus far, but a conservation action plan is currently being designed by the town of Sabadel as part of a nature tourism initiative.

Currently, our blue-throated, Ecuadorian friends are classified as critically endangered.  I hope to keep you, the reader, updated on future conservation efforts to help save these unique birds.

For the original article on this topic, click here.

To look at Bonaccorso and her team’s study, click here.

More Than One Type of Giraffe?

It has recently been found that there are four distinct types of giraffes when we only thought there was one. This was found through an analyses that used several nuclear marker genes of more than 100 animals. The giraffe population has decreased by over 35% in the last 30 years so these animals are becoming endangered. And as it turns out these 4 species of giraffes only mate with giraffes of the same species. These giraffes are primarily located throughout Africa. This recent study has proved that we don’t know everything about these animals. In order to help increase the giraffe population people who mate giraffes now need to know that there are 4 distinct species of giraffes and that these 4 species only mate with the same species. hopefully this new data will help improve the population size of giraffes and help prevent them from becoming endangered.

 

The Dangers of De-Extinction

uploaded by: FunkMonk
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woolly_mammoth.jpg

Our once ludicrous dream of resurrecting our dead animal friends, like the wooly mammoth, is transforming into a real possibility! According to David Schultz’s article on Sciencemag.org, due to human advancements made in the study of genetic engineering, scientists at Harvard University were able to reach new heights in the efforts to tackle de-extinction. However, now that it is almost within man’s capability to actually bring back extinct animals, there is a spark of skepticism sweeping the scientific world. “The conversation thus far has been focused on whether or not we can do this. Now, we are progressing toward the: ‘Holy crap, we can—so should we?’ phase,” states ecologist Douglas McCauley. McCauley shines light on the sudden realization of how resurrection may be exciting, yet also very demanding and potentially harmful. Due to tight funds, it is believed that resurrection of one extinct animal can harm the life that is already struggling to be sustained on earth.

In order to reach this financial conclusion, researchers sought out databases in New Zealand, Australia, and New South Wales that are responsible for tracking the cost of conserving endangered animals. With this information from the databases, the researcher team believed that it would cost just as much, if not more, to maintain a resurrected species as it would an endangered species. What this means is, that the already tight funds that conservationists have to support endangered animals would be stretched immensely in order to fund the conservation of a newly resurrected wooly mammoth species, for example. Schultz writes, “The result, the team calculates, would be an overall loss of biodiversity—roughly two species would go extinct for every one that could be revived.” Because of the world’s budget for species preservation, and as author and biologist Joseph Bennet says, “It’s better to spend the money on the living than the dead.”

With that being said, it appears that our excitement around bringing the dead back to life has been faded by the the reality of our world’s finances. Though the study of extinction is still vast, perplexing, and amazing, the application of our resurrecting abilities may not happen anytime soon. Would you like to someday walk on the earth with our old prehistoric animal friends or would you rather save the world’s endangered species first?

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-resurrecting-extinct-species-terrible.html

 

SAVE THE BEES!

What is happening to bees?

The media has been buzzing lately about bees! Pesticides and fungicides have long been thought to be problematic for our yellow, fuzzy, pollinator friends, but never more-so then now; 7 species of bees have been officially placed on the US Endangered Species List. In fact, a UN sponsored report revealed that over 40% of pollinator species such as bees and butterflies are facing extinction. This is an incredibly dangerous statistic, as 75% of the world’s food supply depends at least partly on pollination.

This rapid decline is forcing scientists to reexamine the use of pesticides on crops and bee colonies, and begin to think holistically. It’s a concept reminiscent of cancer research, calculating the “exposome,” or the net amount of pesticides an organism is exposed to over its lifetime.

When investigating the health of bees it is important to consider the colony as a single “super-organism” led by the queen bee, rather than individuals. On average, a queen bee will live for around two years, but lately queens haven’t been making it through a single season. Sometimes, the colony is able to replace her, but often they cannot. The loss of a queen can end in death for the entire colony.

Why is this happening?

After following almost a hundred colonies owned by three different beekeepers, for a full agricultural season, researchers from the University of Maryland found a total of 93 different pesticide compounds that came in contact with the bees. Some of these accumulated in wax, pollen and even the bodies of Nurse Bees. After further tests, they found between 5 and 20 different pesticide residues in every sample that exceeded the “hazard quotient”, or amount of a toxin an organism can handle. One surprising finding concerns fungicides, an alternative long thought to have been bee-friendly. In fact, these fungicides tended to have even more deadly effects on Queen Bees.

What can we do?

Ultimately, these findings, coupled with the rapid decline of bee population nationally shows us that we as humans are undeniably at least partly responsible for the decline of bee population. Bees are crucial to our way of life, and we should do everything we can to protect them. By supporting sustainable agriculture practices, and farms that use alternative forms of pest and fungus control, you too can do your part to save the bees.

 

The Moral Roots of Trees

By Richard Sniezko

By Richard Sniezko

Recently in Southern Utah it has come to the attention of many ecologists that the tree species, whitebark pines, is on the cusp of becoming an endangered species due to climate changes and droughts in the south. As a quick solution, some members of the scientific community have suggested “assisted migration” whereas humans would restore the whitebark pine population by dispersing its seeds from areas of the hot south to more adaptable, cooler weather up north.

To put this proposition to the test, graduate student, Sierra McLane, under Dr. Sally Aitken of the University of British Columbia, conducted a study and spread the seeds of whitebark pines throughout much cooler and consistent weather of the British Columbian mountain ranges. As a result, 20% of the seeds germinated and continue to grow here, allowing McLane to affirm that whitebark pines would successfully grow in the colder climate.

Despite her evidence, McLane, along with many other scientists’ “assisted migration” is bound more by an ethical dilemma than biological. Although it is clear that these whitebark pines are a crucial species to provide animals, like bears and birds, with food and shelter, some scientists are skeptical over how easily these animals will be able to adapt to the change in their location and others are morally conflicted over whether humans should interfere with nature thus changing the future. While assisted migration continues be deliberated by scientists as a possible solution to the threatened whitebark pine tree population, what is your attitude on the subject? Do you believe it is our moral responsibility to “take care” of the environment or should we not interfere with the natural selection of wildlife?

Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/science/under-theat-flight-may-be-best-response-for-trees.html?ref=science&_r=0

 

Koala Chlamydia

Photo Credit: Jonathon D. Colman

For generations the koala bear has been a cuddly mascot from down under, bringing in approximately $1 billion in tourism to the Australian economy a  year, but the species is being plagued by a heinous disease: Chlamydia. Yes, that’s right, Chlamydia. Studies show that between 50 to 80% of koala bears are infected with the bacterial infection which causes conjunctivitis, incontinence, prostatitis, infertility, and kidney damage.

According to recent reports, the sexually transmitted disease has caused serious population damage over the last decade. In 2003, studies showed that the koala population was at approximately 100,000, but the 2009 survey reported a drop to as few as 43,000 koalas in the wild. Experts fear that if these numbers continue to fall at the current rate, the koala will reach extinction within a mere 30 years.

And, with the disease spreading faster than ever, there is little conservationists can do to treat the infected population due to the absence of a vaccine. Unfortunately, however, a small percent of koalas is being treated with long-term antibiotics and anti-inflammatories in order to provide temporary relief to the suffering animals. But as the disease continues to run rampant, there seems to be little hope for the koala bear’s survival, which raises the question: why now?

Some experts believe for the combination of climate change and human development of koala bear natural habitat have increased the disease’s ability to spread among individuals. Climate change has caused heat waves and drought to sweep across much of the eucalyptus forests where koalas live and has resulted in the overall weakening of many koala populations unable to cope with such temperatures. In recent years, the species has also lost inordinate amounts of their habitat to human development which pushes them into a smaller and smaller region. This encroachment forces koalas into closer quarters, which, along with their already weakened state caused by climate change, results in the extremely rapid spread of Chlamydia among individuals.

But if the extinction is so pressing and the situation is so bad, why hasn’t the Australian government stepped in? Well until recently Australia officials have been avoiding taking action, but just this summer the Australian senate has finally agreed to address the problem and evaluate whether or not the koala bear should be an endangered animal under the protection of national law. Unfortunately, the process is taking longer than anticipated. A decision was supposed to be in by August, but here we are in mid-October and the koala bears are still unprotected by the government. How many more koala’s will have to die before the Australian senate takes action? And if they do take action, will it be too late to save the iconic marsupial from down under?

 

For more information on the current situation go to:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/6537179/Koalas-extinct-within-30-years-after-chlamydia-outbreak.html

http://www.aolnews.com/2010/09/17/koala-population-ravaged-by-chlamydia/

http://www.worldcrunch.com/climate-change-and-chlamydia-may-be-too-much-australia-s-koalas-bear/3267

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/14/koalas-chlamydia-climate-change_n_876937.html

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~koalas/factsprobs.html

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/travel-outdoors/chlamydia-deforestation-australia-koalas.html

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