Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Portland, OR, United States

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Portland, OR, United States
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News Article | March 23, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered, the first and foremost local bee to be included in the list of endangered species. The USFWS presented a regulation on Jan. 11 to add the rusty patched bumblebee to the list of endangered species. The officials of USFWS said that they are unsure about the reasons behind the reduction of these bees, but the species is facing potential threat. Serina Jepson, director at the Xerces Society, stated that several possible reasons could exist behind the disappearance of the bees. "Disease and pesticides are the two biggest threats to the existence of the rusty patched bumblebee, compounded by loss of habitat," said Jepson. She also added that the most concerning matter is the constant usage of strong, enduring, and extremely poisonous pesticides in areas inhabited by the bees. This is a powerful and long-lasting risk to their existence. Many settlements of the rusty patched bumblebee have dropped significantly by 87 percent since the 1990s. Development of human society over the habitats of the bees may be a cause for their disappearance, along with climate change. In the past, the upper part of the Midwest and 31 states across the United States had a thriving population of these bees. Bee colonies used to exist in some parts of Southern Canada as well. Presently, the population of bees could be found only in 13 states. These states include Indiana, Maryland, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Minnesota, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. A part of Canada also has some remaining colonies of the bees. "Bumblebees are among the most widely recognized and well-understood group of native pollinators in North America," said Eric Lee-Mäder, co-director of the pollinator program at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He also added that bees contribute greatly in the pollination process of several fruits and vegetables, including melon, cranberry, blueberry, squash, clover, greenhouse tomato, and pepper along with several wildflowers. Lee-Mäder thinks that the extinction of the bees could impact the pollination of crops, which would be a massive financial blow. There are native pollinators available in the United States, but their annual cost will be $9 billion or even more. Several plans and efforts have been made to save the endangered bees. According to the USFWS, the plan is in a good condition. Several agricultural communities all over the country have come forward to help the bees survive against the odds. The communities are protecting as well as restoring thousands of acres of habitat for the bees to thrive. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

News Article | May 9, 2017
Site: www.sciencemag.org

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. "If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen," says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. "I'm a very data-driven person," says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. "But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don't see that mess anymore." Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. "I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects." Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: "I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean." Though observations about splattered bugs aren't scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. "We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species," which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers. Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s. Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites. Such losses reverberate up the food chain. "If you're an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering," says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. "One almost hopes that it's not representative—that it's some strange artifact." No one knows how broadly representative the data are of trends elsewhere. But the specificity of the observations offers a unique window into the state of some of the planet's less appreciated species. Germany's "Red List" of endangered insects doesn't look alarming at first glance, says Sorg, who curates the Krefeld society's extensive collection of insect specimens. Few species are listed as extinct because they are still found in one or two sites. But that obscures the fact that many have disappeared from large areas where they were once common. Across Germany, only three bumble bee species have vanished, but the Krefeld region has lost more than half the two dozen bumble bee species that society members documented early in the 20th century. Members of the Krefeld society have been observing, recording, and collecting insects from the region—and around the world—since 1905. Some of the roughly 50 members—including teachers, telecommunication technicians, and a book publisher—have become world experts on their favorite insects. Siegfried Cymorek, for instance, who was active in the society from the 1950s through the 1980s, never completed high school. He was drafted into the army as a teenager, and after the war he worked in the wood-protection division at a local chemical plant. But because of his extensive knowledge of wood-boring beetles, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1979. Over the years, members have written more than 2000 publications on insect taxonomy, ecology, and behavior. The society's headquarters is a former school in the center of Krefeld, an industrial town on the banks of the Rhine that was once famous for producing silk. Disused classrooms store more than a million insect specimens individually pinned and named in display cases. Most were collected nearby, but some come from more exotic locales. Among them are those from the collection of a local priest, an active member in the 1940s and 1950s, who persuaded colleagues at mission stations around the world to send him specimens. (The society's collection and archive are under historical preservation protection.) Tens of millions more insects float in carefully labeled bottles of alcohol—the yield from the society's monitoring projects in nature reserves around the region. The reserves, set aside for their local ecological value, are not pristine wilderness but "seminatural" habitats, such as former hay meadows, full of wildflowers, birds, small mammals—and insects. Some even include parts of agricultural fields, which farmers are free to farm with conventional methods. Heinz Schwan, a retired chemist and longtime society member who has weighed thousands of trap samples, says the society began collecting long-term records of insect abundance partly by chance. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, local authorities asked the group for help evaluating how different strategies for managing the reserves affected insect populations and diversity. The members monitored each site only once every few years, but they set up identical insect traps in the same place each time to ensure clean comparisons. Because commercially available traps vary in ways that affect the catch, the group makes their own. Named for the Swedish entomologist René Malaise, who developed the basic design in the 1930s, each trap resembles a floating tent. Black mesh fabric forms the base, topped by a tent of white fabric and, at the summit, a collection container—a plastic jar with an opening into another jar of alcohol. Insects trapped in the fabric fly up to the jar, where the vapors gradually inebriate them and they fall into the alcohol. The traps collect mainly species that fly a meter or so above the ground. For people who worry that the traps themselves might deplete insect populations, Sorg notes that each trap catches just a few grams per day—equivalent to the daily diet of a shrew. Sorg says society members saved all the samples because even in the 1980s they recognized that each represented a snapshot of potentially intriguing insect populations. "We found it fascinating—despite the fact that in 1982 the term ‘biodiversity' barely existed," he says. Many samples have not yet been sorted and cataloged—a painstaking labor of love done with tweezers and a microscope. Nor have the group's full findings been published. But some of the data are emerging piecemeal in talks by society members and at a hearing at the German Bundestag, the national parliament, and they are unsettling. Beyond the striking drop in overall insect biomass, the data point to losses in overlooked groups for which almost no one has kept records. In the Krefeld data, hover flies—important pollinators often mistaken for bees—show a particularly steep decline. In 1989, the group's traps in one reserve collected 17,291 hover flies from 143 species. In 2014, at the same locations, they found only 2737 individuals from 104 species. Since their initial findings in 2013, the group has installed more traps each year. Working with researchers at several universities, society members are looking for correlations with weather, changes in vegetation, and other factors. No simple cause has yet emerged. Even in reserves where plant diversity and abundance have improved, Sorg says, "the insect numbers still plunged." Changes in land use surrounding the reserves are probably playing a role. "We've lost huge amounts of habitat, which has certainly contributed to all these declines," Goulson says. "If we turn all the seminatural habitats to wheat and cornfields, then there will be virtually no life in those fields." As fields expand and hedgerows disappear, the isolated islands of habitat left can support fewer species. Increased fertilizer on remaining grazing lands favors grasses over the diverse wildflowers that many insects prefer. And when development replaces countryside, streets and buildings generate light pollution that leads nocturnal insects astray and interrupts their mating. Neonicotinoid pesticides, already implicated in the widespread crash of bee populations, are another prime suspect. Introduced in the 1980s, they are now the world's most popular insecticides, initially viewed as relatively benign because they are often applied directly to seeds rather than sprayed. But because they are water soluble, they don't stay put in the fields where they are used. Goulson and his colleagues reported in 2015 that nectar and pollen from wildflowers next to treated fields can have higher concentrations of neonicotinoids than the crop plants. Although initial safety studies showed that allowable levels of the compounds didn't kill honey bees directly, they do affect the insects' abilities to navigate and communicate, according to later research. Researchers found similar effects in wild solitary bees and bumble bees. Less is known about how those chemicals affect other insects, but new studies of parasitoid wasps suggest those effects could be significant. Those solitary wasps play multiple roles in ecosystems—as pollinators, predators of other insects, and prey for larger animals. A team from the University of Regensburg in Germany reported in Scientific Reports in February that exposing the wasp Nasonia vitripennis to just 1 nanogram of one common neonicotinoid cut mating rates by more than half and decreased females' ability to find hosts. "It's as if the [exposed] insect is dead" from a population point of view because it can't produce offspring, says Lars Krogmann, an entomologist at the Stuttgart Natural History Museum in Germany. No one can prove that the pesticides are to blame for the decline, however. "There is no data on insecticide levels, especially in nature reserves," Sorg says. The group has tried to find out what kinds of pesticides are used in fields near the reserves, but that has proved difficult, he says. "We simply don't know what the drivers are" in the Krefeld data, Goulson says. "It's not an experiment. It's an observation of this massive decline. The data themselves are strong. Understanding it and knowing what to do about it is difficult." The factors causing trouble for the hover flies, moths, and bumble bees in Germany are probably at work elsewhere, if clean windshields are any indication. Since 1968, scientists at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research center in Harpenden, U.K., have operated a system of suction traps—12-meter-long suction tubes pointing skyward. Set up in fields to monitor agricultural pests, the traps capture all manner of insects that happen to fly over them; they are "effectively upside-down Hoovers running 24/7, continually sampling the air for migrating insects," says James Bell, who heads the Rothamsted Insect Survey. Between 1970 and 2002, the biomass caught in the traps in southern England did not decline significantly. Catches in southern Scotland, however, declined by more than two-thirds during the same period. Bell notes that overall numbers in Scotland were much higher at the start of the study. "It might be that much of the [insect] abundance in southern England had already been lost" by 1970, he says, after the dramatic postwar changes in agriculture and land use. The stable catches in southern England are in part due to constant levels of pests such as aphids, which can thrive when their insect predators are removed. Such species can take advantage of a variety of environments, move large distances, and reproduce multiple times per year. Some can even benefit from pesticides because they reproduce quickly enough to develop resistance, whereas their predators decline. "So lots of insects will do great, but the insects that we love may not," Black says. Other, more visible creatures may be feeling the effects of the insect losses. Across North America and Europe, species of birds that eat flying insects, such as larks, swallows, and swifts, are in steep decline. Habitat loss certainly plays a role, Nocera says, "but the obvious factor that ties them all together is their diet." Some intriguing, although indirect, clues come from a rare ecological treasure: decades' worth of stratified bird droppings. Nocera and his colleagues have been probing disused chimneys across Canada in which chimney swifts have built their nests for generations. From the droppings, he and his colleagues can reconstruct the diets of the birds, which eat almost exclusively insects caught on the wing. The layers revealed a striking change in the birds' diets in the 1940s, around the time DDT was introduced. The proportion of beetle remains dropped off, suggesting the birds were eating smaller insects—and getting fewer calories per catch. The proportion of beetle parts increased slightly again after DDT was banned in the 1970s but never reached its earlier levels. The lack of direct data on insect populations is frustrating, Nocera says. "It's all correlative. We know that insect populations could have changed to create the population decline we have now. But we don't have the data, and we never will, because we can't go back in time." Sorg and Wägele agree. "We deeply regret that we did not set up more traps 20 or 30 years ago," Sorg says. He and other Krefeld society members are now working with Wägele's group to develop what they wish they had had earlier: a system of automated monitoring stations they hope will combine audio recordings, camera traps, pollen and spore filters, and automated insect traps into a "biodiversity weather station". Instead of tedious manual analysis, they hope to use automated sequencing and genetic barcoding to analyze the insect samples. Such data could help pinpoint what is causing the decline—and where efforts to reverse it might work best. Paying attention to what E. O. Wilson calls "the little things that run the world" is worthwhile, Sorg says. "We won't exterminate all insects. That's nonsense. Vertebrates would die out first. But we can cause massive damage to biodiversity—damage that harms us."

Decourtye A.,ACTA | Mader E.,Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation | Mader E.,University of Minnesota | Desneux N.,French National Institute for Agricultural Research
Apidologie | Year: 2010

Honey bee populations have experienced serious losses in Europe and North America. These losses highlight the potential risk to our agricultural systems that could result from loss of pollination. These losses include direct economic repercussions to multiple industries (beekeeping, fruit, vegetable, forage seed, oil seed and biofuel crops), and corresponding threats to human nutrition. Reasons for the losses are varied but include a lack of diverse nectar and pollen resources within intensively farmed agricultural landscapes. Focusing primarily on Europe and the USA, we review the potential approaches to provide and maintain diverse floral resources for honey bees, giving particular consideration to herbaceous plants ("forbs"). These approaches include the cultivation and maintenance of "bee pastures", consisting of diverse native or non-native flower-rich plantings maintained in fallow areas, field margins, and conservation buffer strips to sustain bee populations, support honey bee health, and aid beekeeping activities. Within this review we examine specific governmental policy initiatives to support these efforts in the USA and Europe. © 2010 INRA/DIB-AGIB/EDP Sciences.

Kremen C.,University of California at Berkeley | Ullman K.S.,Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation | Ullman K.S.,University of California at Davis | Thorp R.W.,University of California at Davis
Conservation Biology | Year: 2011

Concerns about pollinator declines have grown in recent years, yet the ability to detect changes in abundance, taxonomic richness, and composition of pollinator communities is hampered severely by the lack of data over space and time. Citizen scientists may be able to extend the spatial and temporal extent of pollinator monitoring programs. We developed a citizen-science monitoring protocol in which we trained 13 citizen scientists to observe and classify floral visitors at the resolution of orders or super families (e.g., bee, wasp, fly) and at finer resolution within bees (superfamily Apoidea) only. We evaluated the protocol by comparing data collected simultaneously at 17 sites by citizen scientists (observational data set) and by professionals (specimen-based data set). The sites differed with respect to the presence and age of hedgerows planted to improve habitat quality for pollinators. We found significant, positive correlations among the two data sets for higher level taxonomic composition, honey bee (Apis mellifera) abundance, non-Apis bee abundance, bee richness, and bee community similarity. Results for both data sets also showed similar trends (or lack thereof) in these metrics among sites differing in the presence and age of hedgerows. Nevertheless, citizen scientists did not observe approximately half of the bee groups collected by professional scientists at the same sites. Thus, the utility of citizen-science observational data may be restricted to detection of community-level changes in abundance, richness, or similarity over space and time, and citizen-science observations may not reliably reflect the abundance or frequency of occurrence of specific pollinator species or groups. ©2011 Society for Conservation Biology.

Black S.H.,Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation | Kulakowski D.,Clark University | Noon B.R.,Colorado State University | Dellasala D.A.,Geos Institute
Natural Areas Journal | Year: 2013

Appropriate response to recent, widespread bark beetle (Dendroctonus spp.) outbreaks in the western United States has been the subject of much debate in scientific and policy circles. Among the proposed responses have been landscape-level mechanical treatments to prevent the further spread of outbreaks and to reduce the fire risk that is believed to be associated with insect-killed trees. We review the literature on the efficacy of silvicutural practices to control outbreaks and on fire risk following bark beetle outbreaks in several forest types. While research is ongoing and important questions remain unresolved, to date most available evidence indicates that bark beetle outbreaks do not substantially increase the risk of active crown fire in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and spruce (Picea engelmannii)-fir (Abies spp.) forests under most conditions. Instead, active crown fires in these forest types are primarily contingent on dry conditions rather than variations in stand structure, such as those brought about by outbreaks. Preemptive thinning may reduce susceptibility to small outbreaks but is unlikely to reduce susceptibility to large, landscape-scale epidemics. Once beetle populations reach widespread epidemic levels, silvicultural strategies aimed at stopping them are not likely to reduce forest susceptibility to outbreaks. Furthermore, such silvicultural treatments could have substantial, unintended short- and long-term ecological costs associated with road access and an overall degradation of natural areas.

Fowler J.,Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Northeastern Naturalist | Year: 2016

Habitat conservation is performed in North America to support populations of managed and wild pollinators. The current recommended plant selections for northeastern pollinator habitats primarily provide resources for common or generalist pollinators. However, such plants may not benefit uncommon or rare northeastern specialist pollinators, whose populations are susceptible to harm from anthropogenic threats. This manuscript presents the first catalog of native specialist bees and associated host plants for the Northeast. Approximately 15% of northeastern native bee species are pollen specialists, represented by 6 families, 15 genera, and 61 species of bees that restrict pollen foraging to 23 families, 33 genera, and 201 possible species of native host plants. Specialist bees are associated with non-graminoid forbs and non-coniferous woody plants in nearly all major northeastern terrestrial and wetland habitats. Herein, I identify and discuss vulnerable bee-plant associations and suggest greater emphasis on research and restoration efforts. I recommend that northeastern pollinator-conservation practice specifically target specialist bees.

News Article | November 25, 2015
Site: www.techtimes.com

Gardeners don’t have to shift to a beekeeping career to help the world’s bee population. The trick: plant more flowers and establish a better plant-honeybee relationship. Plants rich in pollen and nectar need bees’ buzzing action, too. Although bees tend to target a single flower species during a foraging session, they do promote cross-pollination by moving from one plant to another. Cross-pollination translates to greater genetic variation, according to the fact sheet of the Missouri Botanical Garden, and so one can expect stronger and more vigorous plants in return. Master beekeeper Jim Tunnell said that while not all gardeners are cut out to be beekeepers, the long-term wellness of bees along with other pollinators are everyone’s concern. "I think it's always a good thing to keep the pollinators in mind when we plant our gardens," he urged. Here is how it works: bees gather nectar, pollen and water for making honey and survival in general. Pollen feeds them, water is tasked to cool the hives and dilute the honey for bee feeding and the nectar is stocked for overwintering – a time when they are faced with dormant flowering plants. White, yellow, blue and violet flowers tend to get honeybees’ attention, while more open flowers such as cosmos and sunflowers make syrup and pollen easier to collect. Tunnell reminded, however, that a beehive’s foraging spot can span a number of miles in different directions. "If you define 'surrounded by pollinator-friendly perennials' as a yard filled with such plants, that is woefully inadequate for a single beehive,” he explained. Here’s a tip for gardeners: focus on planting for availability and not just mere quantity. Implement what is known as succession planting using species blooming from early springtime to late autumn, as pollinators’ food supply is specifically scarce in the early and latter parts of the year. Mace Vaughan, spokesperson for Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, considers this move critically important. Honeybee hives delivering greater pollen diversity, he said, are more vigorous and better cope with forces such as pests, disease and even pesticides. Vaughan added that since bees are active all year, natural nectar or pollen supply can run low at certain times. To help honeybee hives better thrive, gardeners should work to have blooms consistently available during the entire growing season. Native plants emerge as the best option at times – they create plenty of nectar and pollen and are low-maintenance. But give chance to non-native ones as well, added Vaughan. "Lawns full of clover or crop fields full of buckwheat or phacelia can be very valuable and inexpensive to establish," he said.

News Article | April 19, 2016
Site: phys.org

"But the situation isn't hopeless," says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in Portland, Oregon. "Anybody—gardeners or butterfly lovers—can make an oasis in their landscape for these important animals. It doesn't matter if you have a tiny lot or a farmyard. A little effort can help a lot." Besides their beauty, butterflies and moths play a significant role in the pollination of flowering plants, 80 percent of which rely on animals—mostly insects—to move their pollen from plant to plant, the Xerces Society says. Butterflies and moths also serve as an important food source for other animals. Yet in the United States alone, at least five butterfly species have gone extinct since 1950; an additional 25 are listed as endangered nationwide, and four are listed as threatened, according to Xerces in its new guide, "Gardening for Butterflies" (Timber Press, 2016). Federal protection is being sought for the monarch butterfly population, which has plunged 90 percent in North America in less than 20 years. "During the same period, it is estimated that these once-common, iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat—an area about the size of Texas—including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds," the Center for Biological Diversity says. Just as significant has been the near elimination in farm fields of milkweed, the exclusive food of monarch caterpillars. Donald Lewis, a professor and extension entomologist with Iowa State University, cites a 2012 study that documented an 81 percent decline in milkweeds in agricultural fields from 1999 to 2010. "The cure for butterfly and pollinator preservation, conservation and improvement is to create biodiversity, which, of course, is at odds with most farming, urban sprawl and commercial development," Lewis said. "But it is our goal." Nurture, enrich and diversify your home habitat, entomologists say. Planting pollinator gardens that emphasize nectar plants that bloom year-round for bees, wasps and other wildlife is a good first step. Butterfly gardens take that a stage further by adding host plants suitable for hungry caterpillars. "Since butterfly larvae are picky eaters, it takes a variety of food plants," Lewis said. Butterfly gardens should be located where they'll get at least six hours of sun per day. They should contain at least four annual, biennial or perennial nectar plant species, and at least 10 milkweed plants of two or more types. Ironically, beware the invasive butterfly bush, which has been listed as a noxious weed in several states. And think twice about the mass release of butterflies. "Xerces is taking a stand that we should not be moving or releasing butterflies for such things as weddings, out of a concern for possible diseases," Black said. "We have a sense that the same issues that are happening with bees are happening with butterflies." More information: For more about creating butterfly gardens, see this University of Kentucky fact sheet: entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef006

News Article | October 27, 2015
Site: www.reuters.com

Monarch butterflies rest on a tree at the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan November 27, 2013. A Monarch butterfly rests on moss at the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan November 27, 2013. A Monarch butterfly flies at the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary on a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan November 27, 2013. As a result, the monarchs, unique among butterflies for the regularity and breadth of their annual migration, diverted from their usual route and found refuge in ravines in Nuevo Leon state in northern Mexico, conservation authorities said on Monday. Patricia, one of the most powerful storms on record packing 165 mph (266 kph) winds, carved a swathe through relatively remote parts of rural Mexico last week. "When they started to feel the humidity from the west, the push from the Pacific with the wind and humidity from Patricia, the Monarchs moved their route east," Gloria Tavera, a regional head of the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (Conanp), said. Tavera added that the butterflies, which migrate thousands of miles from Mexico, across the United States to Canada, and then back again, will take up their usual route again when the climate returns to normal. Monarch populations are estimated to have fallen by as much as 80 percent in the past two decades because of destruction of milkweed plants they depend on to lay their eggs and nourish hatching larvae, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

News Article | December 20, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The news about endangered species tends to be pretty bleak. That definitely proved true in 2016, but the past year also saw quite a few successes. Here are some of the best news stories from 2016, as chosen from the “Extinction Countdown” archives and by experts and conservation groups around the globe. The illegal wildlife trade affects hundreds of species around the world and has put quite a few on the fast track toward extinction. Luckily, several of them received important support at this fall’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which banned or limited international trade for several imperiled species, including pangolins, the African grey parrot, and several kinds of sharks. “Almost all of the decisions were really based on science,” says Susan Lieberman, vice president for international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “You have to celebrate when that happens.” Of course, what makes the CITES action good news is that we’re stepping up to help species that have become critically imperiled. “It’s good news that governments are recognizing the risks these species are in,” Lieberman says. “It’s bad news because the situation for these species is really horrible.” Outside of CITES, elephants also got a boost when the U.S. adopted tighter regulations in the trade of ivory. “The new regulations will make it much harder for criminals to use the United States as a staging ground for illegal ivory trade,” Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at WWF, said this past June. “They also send a strong signal to the international community that the U.S. is committed to doing its part to save elephants in the wild.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a number of Endangered Species Act success stories this year, but the best was probably April's announcement that three subspecies of island fox native to California's Channel Islands had recovered and are now no longer considered to be at risk. This marked the fasted recovery under the ESA to date and reflects 12 years of intense conservation efforts by several dedicated partners on the federal, state and local level. Some of the biggest species and most recognizable species on the planet had a few minor victories in 2016. Most recently, the recognition that giraffes are an endangered species made news around the world. That might seem like bad news, but the public outcry may be what we need to finally get conservation efforts moving in the right direction. Zhou Fei, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office in Beijing, says one of the best stories of the year is that giant panda populations improved enough that the IUCN Red List now considers the iconic animals to be no longer endangered. (They’re now listed as vulnerable to extinction.) Others have expressed worry that this categorization change will lessen our ability to protect pandas moving forward, but it’s still pretty good news. Orangutans had a bad year (more on that in our “worst of 2016” article), but there were bright spots. “The best orangutan conservation story of 2016 is the successful continuation of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation's release program,” says Richard Zimmerman, executive director of Orangutan Outreach. “They've now released 250 orangutans into safe, secure forests. The majority of these orangutans were rescued orphans who were rehabilitated over many years. Due to a lack of available forest they were forced to remain in cages and wait to be released.” Several other rescue and release expeditions in other locations helped even more of these imperiled apes, although Zimmerman noted that “there are still hundreds of orangutans waiting to be released and we expect the expeditions to continue in coming years. These releases are quite expensive and require a lot of coordination on the ground.” Finally, experts from the NRDC pointed to a “decades-in-the-making breakthrough agreement on sonar safeguards for whales and our oceans.” With so many cetacean species in decline, this easing of at least one of the pressures affecting them can only help. Our feathered friends got several bits of good news this year. Most notably, five captive-born Hawaiian crows—a species that went extinct in the wild decades ago—made their triumphant return to a protected Hawaiian park a few days ago. Expect to hear a lot more about this story in the coming year. Another Hawaiian species, the Akikiki, has been immortalized in space, with an asteroid permanently named after the tiny endangered birds. That may not have directly helped efforts to conserve the species, but it did bring them international (if not interstellar) recognition. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, every single kakapo (a large, flightless, critically endangered parrot) has had its genome sequenced, an effort that will help to increase the species’ population in the coming decades. (This year’s record breeding season also gave kakapo numbers a much-needed boost.) A few smaller creatures belong on our list, as well. “This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally took bees seriously,” says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees received endangered species status, and similar protection has been proposed for the rusty-patched bumblebee. “That’s pretty big,” Black says. “We’ve never had a bee listed before.” Amphibians, many of which are being wiped out by the deadly chytrid fungus, had at least one success story this year. “I was really heartened by the study that Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs are holding their own against the chytrid fungus,” says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Meanwhile, desert tortoises and other species benefitted from the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which promoted clean energy development in the California desert while protecting local wildlife. “This plan will enable us to combat climate change, which is a threat to wildlife, habitat and landscapes worldwide, while preserving important habitats,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a blueprint for other states, the nation and the world to consider as we all work together to fight climate change and race against extinction.” On a broader level, many species benefitted from efforts to preserve entire ecosystems. “Globally, protected areas continue to expand, both on land and especially in the ocean,” says Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation at Duke University and president of Saving Species. “There is widespread agreement that these are the best solution to protect biodiversity.” Pimm reports that his own team’s efforts are paying off. “We don’t help our donors buy a lot of land, but we help them buy land strategically.  We are now connecting formerly isolated fragments of habitat to create large, continuous habitats in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, India, and Sumatra.” Obviously there were other endangered species successes over the course of 2016. What would you add to this list? Add your comments below, or discuss things on Twitter under the hashtag #extinction2016.

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