SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Threatened species

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As increasingly fragmented and isolated populations of threatened species become subjected to climate change, invasive species and other stressors, there is an urgent need to consider adaptive potential when making conservation decisions rather than focussing on past processes. In many cases, populations identified as unique and currently managed separately suffer increased risk of extinction through demographic and genetic processes. Other populations currently not at risk are likely to be on a trajectory where declines in population size and fitness soon appear inevitable.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Endangered species, Extinction, Conservation, Biodiversity Action Plan, IUCN Red List, Threatened species

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A clear understanding of population structure is essential for assessing conservation status and implementing management strategies. A small, non-migratory population of humpback whales in the Arabian Sea is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an assessment constrained by a lack of data, including limited understanding of its relationship to other populations. We analysed 11 microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA sequences extracted from 67 Arabian Sea humpback whale tissue samples and compared them to equivalent datasets from the Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific. Results show that the Arabian Sea population is highly distinct; estimates of gene flow and divergence times suggest a Southern Indian Ocean origin but indicate that it has been isolated for approximately 70,000 years, remarkable for a species that is typically highly migratory. Genetic diversity values are significantly lower than those obtained for Southern Hemisphere populations and signatures of ancient and recent genetic bottlenecks were identified. Our findings suggest this is the world’s most isolated humpback whale population, which, when combined with low population abundance estimates and anthropogenic threats, raises concern for its survival. We recommend an amendment of the status of the population to “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

Concepts: DNA, Endangered species, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Whale, Humpback whale, IUCN Red List, Threatened species

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Two processes for regional environmental assessment are currently underway: the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) and Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Both face constraints of data, time, capacity, and resources. To support these assessments, we disaggregate three global knowledge products according to their regions and subregions. These products are: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Key Biodiversity Areas (specifically Important Bird &Biodiversity Areas [IBAs], and Alliance for Zero Extinction [AZE] sites), and Protected Planet. We present fourteen Data citations: numbers of species occurring and percentages threatened; numbers of endemics and percentages threatened; downscaled Red List Indices for mammals, birds, and amphibians; numbers, mean sizes, and percentage coverages of IBAs and AZE sites; percentage coverage of land and sea by protected areas; and trends in percentages of IBAs and AZE sites wholly covered by protected areas. These data will inform the regional/subregional assessment chapters on the status of biodiversity, drivers of its decline, and institutional responses, and greatly facilitate comparability and consistency between the different regional/subregional assessments.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Endangered species, Conservation, IUCN Red List, Threatened species, Conservation Dependent, Least Concern

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Here, we report trading of endangered shark species in a world hotspot for elasmobranch conservation in Brazil. Data on shark fisheries are scarce in Brazil, although the northern and northeastern regions have the highest indices of shark bycatch. Harvest is made primarily with processed carcasses lacking head and fins, which hampers reliable species identification and law enforcement on illegal catches. We used partial sequences of two mitochondrial genes (COI and/or NADH2) to identify 17 shark species from 427 samples being harvested and marketed on the northern coast of Brazil. Nine species (53%) are listed under some extinction threat category according to Brazilian law and international authorities (IUCN - International Union for Conservation of Nature; CITES - Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The number increases to 13 (76%) if we also consider the Near Threatened category. Hammerhead sharks are under threat worldwide, and composed 18.7% of samples, with Sphyrna mokarran being the fourth most common species among samples. As illegal trade of threatened shark species is a worldwide conservation problem, molecular identification of processed meat or specimens lacking diagnostic body parts is a highly effective tool for species identification and law enforcement.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Conservation, Shark, IUCN Red List, Hammerhead shark, Threatened species

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Many bird populations worldwide are at risk of extinction, and rely heavily on protected area networks for their continued conservation. Tourism to these areas contributes to conservation by generating revenue for management. Here we quantify the contribution of tourism revenue for bird species in the IUCN Red List, using a simple accounting method. Relevant data are available for 90 (16%) of the 562 critically endangered and endangered species. Contributions of tourism to bird conservation are highest, 10-64%, in South America, Africa, and their neighbouring islands. Critically endangered bird species rely on tourism more heavily than endangered species (p<0.02). Many protected areas could also enhance their management budgets by promoting birdwatching tourism specifically.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Bird, Endangered species, Extinction, Conservation, IUCN Red List, Threatened species, Conservation status

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Biocultural knowledge provides valuable insight into ecological processes, and can guide conservation practitioners in local contexts. In many regions, however, such knowledge is underutilized due to its often-fragmented record in disparate sources. In this article, we review and apply ethnobiological knowledge to biodiversity conservation in the Eastern Himalayas. Using Sikkim, India as a case study, we: (i) traced the history and trends of ethnobiological documentation; (ii) identified priority species and habitat types; and, (iii) analyzed within and among community differences pertaining to species use and management. Our results revealed that Sikkim is a biocultural hotspot, where six ethnic communities and 1128 species engage in biocultural relationships. Since the mid-1800s, the number of ethnobiological publications from Sikkim has exponentially increased; however, our results also indicate that much of this knowledge is both unwritten and partitioned within an aging, gendered, and caste or ethnic group-specific stratum of society. Reviewed species were primarily wild or wild cultivated, native to subtropical and temperate forests, and pend IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessment. Our results demonstrate the value of engaging local knowledge holders as active participants in conservation, and suggest the need for further ethnobiological research in the Eastern Himalayas. Our interdisciplinary approach, which included rank indices and geospatial modelling, can help integrate diverse datasets into evidence-based policy.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Species, Ecology, Endangered species, Conservation, IUCN Red List, Threatened species

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Protected areas are critical for the conservation of many threatened species. Despite this, many protected areas are acutely underfunded, which reduces their effectiveness significantly. Tourism is one mechanism to promote and fund conservation in protected areas, but there are few studies analyzing its tangible conservation outcomes for threatened species. This study uses the 415 IUCN critically endangered frog species to evaluate the contribution of protected area tourism revenue to conservation. Contributions were calculated for each species as the proportion of geographic range inside protected areas multiplied by the proportion of protected area revenues derived from tourism. Geographic ranges were determined from IUCN Extent of Occurrence maps. Almost 60% (239) of critically endangered frog species occur in protected areas. Higher proportions of total range are protected in Nearctic, Australasian and Afrotopical regions. Tourism contributions to protected area budgets ranged from 5-100%. These financial contributions are highest for developing countries in the Afrotropical, Indomalayan and Neotropical regions. Data for both geographic range and budget are available for 201 critically endangered frog species with proportional contributions from tourism to species protection ranging from 0.8-99%. Tourism’s financial contributions to critically endangered frog species protection are highest in the Afrotropical region. This study uses a coarse measure but at the global scale it demonstrates that tourism has significant potential to contribute to global frog conservation efforts.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Frog, Conservation, Biodiversity Action Plan, IUCN Red List, Threatened species

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Separating myth and reality is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of laws. Section 7 of the US Endangered Species Act (Act) directs federal agencies to help conserve threatened and endangered species, including by consulting with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service on actions the agencies authorize, fund, or carry out. Consultations ensure that actions do not violate the Act’s prohibitions on “jeopardizing” listed species or “destroying or adversely modifying” these species' critical habitat. Because these prohibitions are broad, many people consider section 7 the primary tool for protecting species under the Act, whereas others believe section 7 severely impedes economic development. This decades-old controversy is driven primarily by the lack of data on implementation: past analyses are either over 25 y old or taxonomically restricted. We analyze data on all 88,290 consultations recorded by FWS from January 2008 through April 2015. In contrast to conventional wisdom about section 7 implementation, no project was stopped or extensively altered as a result of FWS finding jeopardy or adverse modification during this period. We also show that median consultation duration is far lower than the maximum allowed by the Act, and several factors drive variation in consultation duration. The results discredit many of the claims about the onerous nature of section 7 but also raise questions as to how federal agencies could apply this tool more effectively to conserve species. We build on the results to identify ways to improve the effectiveness of consultations for imperiled species conservation and increase the efficiency of consultations.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Endangered species, Conservation, Endangered Species Act, Threatened species, Recovery Plan, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

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Although prey species typically respond to the most limiting factors at coarse spatiotemporal scales while addressing biological requirements at finer scales, such behaviour may become challenging for species inhabiting human altered landscapes. We investigated how woodland caribou, a threatened species inhabiting North-American boreal forests, modified their fine-scale movements when confronted with forest management features (i.e. clearcuts and roads). We used GPS telemetry data collected between 2004 and 2010 on 49 female caribou in a managed area in Québec, Canada. Movements were studied using a use - availability design contrasting observed steps (i.e. line connecting two consecutive locations) with random steps (i.e. proxy of immediate habitat availability). Although caribou mostly avoided disturbances, individuals nonetheless modulated their fine-scale response to disturbances on a daily and annual basis, potentially compromising between risk avoidance in periods of higher vulnerability (i.e. calving, early and late winter) during the day and foraging activities in periods of higher energy requirements (i.e. spring, summer and rut) during dusk/dawn and at night. The local context in which females moved was shown to influence their decision to cross clearcut edges and roads. Indeed, although females typically avoided crossing clearcut edges and roads at low densities, crossing rates were found to rapidly increase in greater disturbance densities. In some instance, however, females were less likely to cross edges and roads as densities increased. Females may then be trapped and forced to use disturbed habitats, known to be associated with higher predation risk. We believe that further increases in anthropogenic disturbances could exacerbate such behavioural responses and ultimately lead to population level consequences.

Concepts: Predation, Forest, Finland, Taiga, Forests, Threatened species, Temporal scales, Siberia

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