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Concept: Endangered species


Whale watching has become increasingly popular as an ecotourism activity around the globe and is beneficial for environmental education and local economies. Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) comprise an endangered population that is frequently observed by a large whale watching fleet in the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia. One of the factors identified as a risk to recovery for the population is the effect of vessels and associated noise. An examination of the effects of vessels and associated noise on whale behavior utilized novel equipment to address limitations of previous studies. Digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) measured the noise levels the tagged whales received while laser positioning systems allowed collection of geo-referenced data for tagged whales and all vessels within 1000 m of the tagged whale. The objective of the current study was to compare vessel data and DTAG recordings to relate vessel traffic to the ambient noise received by tagged whales. Two analyses were conducted, one including all recording intervals, and one that excluded intervals when only the research vessel was present. For all data, significant predictors of noise levels were length (inverse relationship), number of propellers, and vessel speed, but only 15% of the variation in noise was explained by this model. When research-vessel-only intervals were excluded, vessel speed was the only significant predictor of noise levels, and explained 42% of the variation. Simple linear regressions (ignoring covariates) found that average vessel speed and number of propellers were the only significant correlates with noise levels. We conclude that vessel speed is the most important predictor of noise levels received by whales in this study. Thus, measures that reduce vessel speed in the vicinity of killer whales would reduce noise exposure in this population.

Concepts: Endangered species, Whale, Whale watching, Killer whale, Beached whale, Michael Bigg, Killer whales


Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Endangered species, Hunting, Dog, Gray Wolf, Canis, Endangered Species Act, Tiger


The Southern Resident killer whale population (Orcinus orca) was listed as endangered in 2005 and shows little sign of recovery. These fish eating whales feed primarily on endangered Chinook salmon. Population growth is constrained by low offspring production for the number of reproductive females in the population. Lack of prey, increased toxins and vessel disturbance have been listed as potential causes of the whale’s decline, but partitioning these pressures has been difficult. We validated and applied temporal measures of progesterone and testosterone metabolites to assess occurrence, stage and health of pregnancy from genotyped killer whale feces collected using detection dogs. Thyroid and glucocorticoid hormone metabolites were measured from these same samples to assess physiological stress. These methods enabled us to assess pregnancy occurrence and failure as well as how pregnancy success was temporally impacted by nutritional and other stressors, between 2008 and 2014. Up to 69% of all detectable pregnancies were unsuccessful; of these, up to 33% failed relatively late in gestation or immediately post-partum, when the cost is especially high. Low availability of Chinook salmon appears to be an important stressor among these fish-eating whales as well as a significant cause of late pregnancy failure, including unobserved perinatal loss. However, release of lipophilic toxicants during fat metabolism in the nutritionally deprived animals may also provide a contributor to these cumulative effects. Results point to the importance of promoting Chinook salmon recovery to enhance population growth of Southern Resident killer whales. The physiological measures used in this study can also be used to monitor the success of actions aimed at promoting adaptive management of this important apex predator to the Pacific Northwest.

Concepts: Endangered species, Whale, Killer whale, Beached whale, Michael Bigg


Our objective was to ascertain the population status of the Pygmy Three-toed Sloth, Bradypus pygmaeus, an IUCN Critically Endangered species, on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Bradypus pygmaeus are thought to be folivorous mangrove specialists; therefore we conducted a visual systematic survey of all 10 mangrove thickets on the island. The total mangrove habitat area was measured to be 1.67 ha, comprising 0.024% of the total island area. The population survey found low numbers of B. pygmaeus in the mangrove thickets and far lower numbers outside of them. The connectivity of subpopulations between these thickets on the island is not established, as B. pygmaeus movement data is still lacking. We found 79 individuals of B. pygmaeus; 70 were found in mangroves and 9 were observed just beyond the periphery of the mangroves in non-mangrove tree species. Low population number, habitat fragmentation and habitat loss could lead to inbreeding, a loss of genetic diversity, and extinction of B. pygmaeus.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Mammal, Endangered species, Extinction, Three-toed sloth, Pygmy Three-toed Sloth, Sloth, Pilosans


Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in the ocean, but their impacts on marine species are hotly debated. We evaluated marine fish statuses using conservation (Red List threatened or not) and fisheries (above or below reference points) metrics, compared their alignment, and diagnosed why discrepancies arise. Whereas only 13.5% of Red Listed marine fishes (n = 2952) are threatened, 40% and 21% of populations with stock assessments (n = 166) currently are below their more conservative and riskier reference points, respectively. Conservation and fisheries metrics aligned well (70.5% to 80.7%), despite their mathematical disconnect. Red Listings were not biased towards exaggerating threat status, and egregious errors, where populations were categorized at opposite extremes of fisheries and conservation metrics, were rare. Our analyses suggest conservation and fisheries scientists will agree on the statuses of exploited marine fishes in most cases, leaving only the question of appropriate management responses for populations of mutual concern still unresolved.

Concepts: Fish, Endangered species, Extinction, Ocean, Overfishing, Conservation, Population dynamics of fisheries, IUCN Red List


The red coral Corallium rubrum is a habitat-forming species with a prominent and structural role in mesophotic habitats, which sustains biodiversity hotspots. This precious coral is threatened by both over-exploitation and temperature driven mass mortality events. We report here that biocalcification, growth rates and polyps' (feeding) activity of Corallium rubrum are significantly reduced at pCO2 scenarios predicted for the end of this century (0.2 pH decrease). Since C. rubrum is a long-living species (>200 years), our results suggest that ocean acidification predicted for 2100 will significantly increases the risk of extinction of present populations. Given the functional role of these corals in the mesophotic zone, we predict that ocean acidification might have cascading effects on the functioning of these habitats worldwide.

Concepts: Coral, Endangered species, Anthozoa, Corallium, Ocean acidification, Corallium rubrum, Navaratna, Precious coral


Captive breeding and rearing are central elements in conservation, management, and recovery planning for many endangered species including Rio Grande Silvery Minnow, a North American freshwater cyprinid. Traditionally, the sole purpose of hatcheries was to produce as many fish as feasible for stocking and harvest. Production quotas are also an important consideration in hatchery programs for endangered species, but they must also maintain and maximize genetic diversity of fish produced through implementation of best breeding practices. Here, we assessed genetic outcomes and measures of productivity (number of eggs and larval viability) for three replicates of three mating designs that are used for this small, pelagic-spawning fish. These were 1) monogamous mating, 2) hormone-induced communal spawning, and 3) environmentally cued communal spawning. A total of 180 broodstock and 450 progeny were genotyped. Genetic diversity and egg productivity did not differ significantly among spawning designs (H e : F = 0.52, P = 0.67; H o : F = 0.12, P = 0.89; number of eggs: F = 3.59, P = 0.09), and there was evidence for variance in reproductive success among individuals in all three designs. Allelic richness declined from the broodstock to progeny generation in all breeding designs. There was no significant difference in the genetic effective size (regardless of the method used) among designs. Significantly more viable eggs were produced in environmentally cued communal spawn compared to the alternative strategies (F = 5.72, P = 0.04), but this strategy is the most difficult to implement.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Implementation, Design, Fishing, Conservation, Ex-situ conservation


Wildlife populations of conservation concern are limited in distribution, population size and persistence by various factors, including mortality. The fisher (Pekania pennanti), a North American mid-sized carnivore whose range in the western Pacific United States has retracted considerably in the past century, was proposed for threatened status protection in late 2014 under the United States Endangered Species Act by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in its West Coast Distinct Population Segment. We investigated mortality in 167 fishers from two genetically and geographically distinct sub-populations in California within this West Coast Distinct Population Segment using a combination of gross necropsy, histology, toxicology and molecular methods. Overall, predation (70%), natural disease (16%), toxicant poisoning (10%) and, less commonly, vehicular strike (2%) and other anthropogenic causes (2%) were causes of mortality observed. We documented both an increase in mortality to (57% increase) and exposure (6%) from pesticides in fishers in just the past three years, highlighting further that toxicants from marijuana cultivation still pose a threat. Additionally, exposure to multiple rodenticides significantly increased the likelihood of mortality from rodenticide poisoning. Poisoning was significantly more common in male than female fishers and was 7 times more likely than disease to kill males. Based on necropsy findings, suspected causes of mortality based on field evidence alone tended to underestimate the frequency of disease-related mortalities. This study is the first comprehensive investigation of mortality causes of fishers and provides essential information to assist in the conservation of this species.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, United States, Endangered species, California, Endangered Species Act, United States Fish and Wildlife Service


Understanding and sustaining biodiversity is a multi-disciplinary science that benefits highly from the creation of organized and accessible collections of biomaterials (Genome Resource Banks). Large cryo-collections are invaluable tools for understanding, cataloging, and protecting the genetic diversity of the world’s unique animals and plants. Specifically, the systematic collection and preservation of semen from rare species has been developed significantly in recent decades with some biobanks now being actively used for endangered species management and propagation (including the introduction of species such as the black-footed ferret and the giant panda). Innovations emerging from the growing field of male fertility preservation for humans, livestock species, and laboratory animals are also becoming relevant to the protection and the propagation of valuable domestic and wild species. These new approaches extend beyond the “classical” methods associated with sperm freezing to include testicular tissue preservation combined with xenografting or in vitro culture, all of which have potential for rescuing vast amounts of unused germplasm. There also are other options under development that are predicted to have a high impact within the next decade (stem cell technologies, bio-stabilization of sperm cells at ambient temperatures, and the use of genomics tools). However, biobanking efforts and new fertility preservation strategies have to expand the way beyond mammalian species, which will offer knowledge and tools to better manage species that serve as valuable biomedical models or require assistance to reverse endangerment.

Concepts: Cell, Biodiversity, Species, Sperm, Endangered species, Fertility, Spermatozoon, Giant Panda


The giant panda evolved from omnivorous bears. It lives on a bamboo-dominated diet at present, but it still retains a typical carnivorous digestive system and is genetically deficient in cellulose-digesting enzymes. To find out whether this endangered mammalian species, like other herbivores, has successfully developed a gut microbiota adapted to its fiber-rich diet, we conducted a 16S rRNA gene-based large-scale structural profiling of the giant panda fecal microbiota. Forty-five captive individuals were sampled in spring, summer, and late autumn within 1 year. Significant intraindividual variations in the diversity and structure of gut microbiota across seasons were observed in this population, which were even greater than the variations between individuals. Compared with published data sets involving 124 gut microbiota profiles from 54 mammalian species, these giant pandas, together with 9 captive and 7 wild individuals investigated previously, showed extremely low gut microbiota diversity and an overall structure that diverged from those of nonpanda herbivores but converged with those of carnivorous and omnivorous bears. The giant panda did not harbor putative cellulose-degrading phylotypes such as Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroides bacteria that are typically enriched in other herbivores, but instead, its microbiota was dominated by Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus bacteria. Members of the class Clostridia were common and abundant in the giant panda gut microbiota, but most of the members present were absent in other herbivores and were not phylogenetically related with known cellulolytic lineages. Therefore, the giant panda appears not to have evolved a gut microbiota compatible with its newly adopted diet, which may adversely influence the coevolutionary fitness of this herbivore.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Animal, Endangered species, Giant Panda, Omnivore, Carnivora, Bear