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Unsustainable food systems threaten wild crop and dolphin species

04 December 2017
Aegilops sharonensis_© Ori Fragman-Sapir

Tokyo, Japan, 5 December 2017 (IUCN) – Species of wild rice, wheat and yam are threatened by overly intensive agricultural production and urban expansion, whilst poor fishing practices have caused steep declines in the Irrawaddy Dolphin and Finless Porpoise, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Today’s Red List update also reveals that a drying climate is pushing the Ringtail Possum to the brink of extinction.

Three reptile species found only on an Australian island – the Christmas Island Whiptail-skink, the Blue-tailed Skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) and the Lister’s Gecko – have gone extinct, according to the update. But in New Zealand, conservation efforts have improved the situation for two species of Kiwi.

“Healthy, species-rich ecosystems are fundamental to our ability to feed the world’s growing population and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – to end hunger by 2030,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “Wild crop species, for example, maintain genetic diversity of agricultural crops that can adapt to a changing climate and ensure food and nutritional security. Today’s IUCN Red List update raises the alarm about their decline and stresses the urgency to address it – for the sake of our own future.”

Unsustainable agriculture and urbanisation threaten wild crop species
Oryza rufipogon_© Emma Cooper. CC BY-NCTwenty-six species of wild wheat, 25 species of wild rice and 44 species of wild yam have been assessed for The IUCN Red List, many for the first time, thanks to funding from the IUCN–Toyota strategic partnership to expand knowledge of threats to global biodiversity. In total, three species of wild rice, two species of wild wheat and 17 wild yam species are threatened. Deforestation and urban expansion alongside pressures from intensive agriculture, particularly over-grazing and extensive use of herbicides, are the primary threats to these species.

Cross-breeding modern crop cultivars with crop wild relatives adds necessary genetic diversity, improving resistance to drought, disease and pests – all of which are likely to become increasing problems in a changing climate. A recent study has found that almost three-quarters (72%) of crop wild relatives are not adequately preserved in gene banks and conservation in situ in the wild remains challenging. Crop wild relatives are highly economically valuable, contributing US$115 billion annually to the global economy, and there is potential to significantly expand this in future.

Triticum turgidum_© Barbara Ender Jones“The genetic diversity provided by crop wild relatives will allow us to develop more resilient crops in the era of climate change, helping ensure food security. We ignore the fate of these species at our own peril,” explains Nigel Maxted, Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Crop Wild Relative Specialist Group. “Assessing crop wild relatives for The IUCN Red List gives us in-depth information on the threats these species face.

Thanks to the new assessments, we can now act systematically to conserve crop wild relatives by reducing overly intensive agricultural practices such as overgrazing and indiscriminate herbicide use.”

Climate change threat to Australian Ringtail Possum
Australia’s increasingly dry and hot climate has led to a dramatic decline of the Western Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis), which has moved from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered due to a fall in species numbers by over 80% in the past ten years.

The Possum was once widespread in peppermint (Agonis flexuosa) and tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) forests in Western Australia but is now limited to fragmented coastal habitats. Attempts to re-establish the species in Lane-Poole Conservation Park, about 100 km south of Perth, have failed largely due to poor food quality resulting from a drying climate. Western Ringtail Possums require relatively high-quality food – particularly peppermint leaves – due to their specialised digestive systems.

The Western Ringtail Possum is susceptible to heat stress and can overheat at temperatures above 35ºC, increasingly common in this part of Australia. Possum numbers have also been impacted by urban development and predation from the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cats (Felis catus), logging, fire outbreaks and inappropriate fire management regimes.

Asian dolphin and porpoise species threatened by unsustainable fishing
Irrawaddy Dolphin_Orcaella brevirostris_©Isabel Beasley The Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis) have both declined, moving from the Vulnerable to the Endangered category. Numbers more than halved over the past 60 years for the Irrawaddy Dolphin, and over the past 45 years for the Finless Porpoise.

Both species live only in shallow waters near shore, and both have populations confined to freshwater systems, which makes them extremely vulnerable to human activities. They are prone to accidental entanglement in non-selective fishing nets – the primary cause of their decline. Further causes of decline include the overfishing of prey and habitat destruction.

“The Irrawaddy Dolphin is revered by many communities and dolphin tourism is an important feature of local economies in parts of India and Cambodia,” says Randall Reeves, Chair of the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group. “While the protected status of both species means that deliberate hunting or capture is rare or non-existent, protection from entanglement and other threats is either lacking entirely or largely ineffective. Without practical solutions to this problem, the declines of dolphins and porpoises are bound to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoise_Neophocaena asiaeorientalis_© Xiaoqiang WangIn the Mekong River, the majority of Irrawaddy Dolphin deaths in recent years have been caused by entanglement in gillnets ̶ ‘curtains’ of fishing net that hang in the water. Gillnets are the largest global threat to marine mammals. Efforts to ban or at least manage their use have, in many areas, been ineffective, resulting in declines of many species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, including the Critically Endangered Vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) and the Baiji dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), which is listed as Critically Endangered but likely already Extinct.

Invasive species and habitat loss pushing Japanese reptiles towards extinction
One-third of the 46 endemic Japanese snakes and lizards newly assessed for The IUCN Red List are listed as threatened. Populations of these reptiles are small and fragmented, which increases their vulnerability to changes in habitat. Across Japan, species declines have been accelerated by habitat loss resulting from unsustainable agriculture and urban development. Collection for the pet trade and threats from invasive species, such as the Indian Peacock (Pavo cristatus) and the introduction of the Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi) to some of the smaller Japanese islands, are also to blame.

Banded Ground Gecko_Goniurosaurs splendens_© Shusaku Sugimoto Now listed as Critically Endangered, the Kikuzato’s Stream Snake (Opisthotropis kikuzatoi), endemic to Kumejima Island and the rarest of all snakes in Japan, was relatively common until the mid-1990s. This species declined dramatically over the past 15 years due to predation from the invasive Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Japanese Weasel and Indian Peacock, with the snake’s small and fragmented range accelerating the decline. Pollution and incidental capture as bycatch have also impacted species numbers.

Similar threats also affect the Banded Ground Gecko (Goniurosaurus splendens), endemic to Tokunoshima Island and Miyako Grass Lizard (Takydromus toyamai), endemic to the Miyako Islands, both of which enter The IUCN Red List as Endangered. Funding from the IUCN–Toyota partnership has enabled the assessments of these Japanese reptile species.

Mysterious extinctions on Australia’s Christmas Island
Three reptile species endemic to an Australian island have gone extinct in the wild – Lister’s Gecko (Lepidodactylus listeri) – and two scincid lizards, the Blue-tailed Skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) and the Christmas Island Forest-skink (Emoia nativitatis).

Christmas Island Forest Skink_Emoia nativitatis_© Harold G. CoggerOverall, populations of Christmas Island reptiles have declined rapidly since the 1970s. While the reason for their decline remains unclear, predation by the invasive Wolf Snake (Lycodon capucinus), introduced to the island in the mid-1980s may be to blame. The introduction of a novel disease and changes in island ecology following the introduction of the Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) may have placed further pressure on these reptile species. Efforts to establish a captive breeding programme for the Forest Skink failed in 2013 and the species has now been moved from Critically Endangered to Extinct. Although captive breeding populations are now well-established for the Lister’s Gecko and the Blue-tailed Skink, both species have been declared Extinct in the Wild.

Island populations of endemic species are particularly susceptible to decline due to their small populations, limited genetic diversity, lack of immunity to novel diseases and naivety towards introduced predators, according to the Red List.

Kiwi species recover as conservation efforts pay off
Northern Brown Kiwi_Apteryx mantelli_© Neil Robert HuttonIntensive predator control on small New Zealand islands has led to the re-categorisation of the Okarito Kiwi (Apteryx rowi) and the Northern Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) from Endangered to Vulnerable, according to today’s Red List update.

Both species of Kiwi have been facing threats including habitat loss and predation by introduced mammals, such as stoats (Mustela erminea) and feral cats. The Northern Brown Kiwi is also threatened by predation from ferrets (Mustela furo) and dogs.

Government and community conservation efforts have focused on predator control, and removing and incubating eggs for release into the wild. The Okarito Kiwi has increased from 160 individuals in 1995 to between 400 and 450 adults today. Overall, Northern Brown Kiwi populations are estimated to be growing by over 2% per annum, although unmanaged populations continue to decline.

The re-categorisation of the Kiwis forms part of a wider assessment of New Zealand birds, which highlights that many endemic species are in decline, often as a result of invasive species.

 

For more information or interviews please contact:
Elaine Paterson, IUCN Global Species Programme, t +44 (0)1223 881128, email elaine.paterson@iucn.org
Goska Bonnaveira, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 792760185, email goska.bonnaveira@iucn.org
Cheryl-Samantha MacSharry, IUCN Media Relations, t +44 (0)1223 881128, email samantha.macsharry@iucn.org – based in Japan for the week commencing 04/12/17

 

 

Mexicos largest Marine Protected Area: Revillagigedo, the Mexican Galapagos

29 November 2017
Photo: Jean Louis Ferretti

On 24 November 2017, Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, signed a decree creating Mexico's largest marine reserve to date, covering 150,000 square kilometres around the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a volcanic archipelago 240 miles southwest of the Baja Peninsula.

Inscribed as a World Heritage Site in July 2016, the Revillagigedo Archipelago was declared a national park of Mexico in November 2017. The presidential declaration bans fishing, mining, and tourism development in the reserve and on the islands, creating the largest no-fishing area of North America.

The Revillagigedo Archipelago comprehends four islands – Clarión, Socorro, San Benedicto y Roca Partida – which are found at 540 Km from Los Cabos in Baja California Sur and at 890 Km from Manzanillo in Colima. Located in the convergence of two ocean currents, the area is a gigantic hub for open water and migratory species and is home to 233 species of plants and almost 750 species of animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and fish including 26 species of endemic fish. It is also a wintering and calving area for the humpback whale. It will also help maintain the connectivity of the Pacific Ocean's ecosystems, including other protected areas in that extensive marine corridor, such as Clipperton Atoll, the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island, in Costa Rica.

The Declaration to enlarge the Revillagegido NP is a welcome step towards achieving Aichi Target 11Photo: Andrew Rhodes

Photo: Andrew RhodesThe area has suffered from industrial fishing, climate change and hurricanes affecting its wildlife.  The complete elimination of fishing, mining and tourism activities is expected to help the area recover, while contributing towards climate change mitigation. "I want to make clear that we will protect Mexico's natural heritage. Fishing that is not sustainable, is not admissible" stated President Peña Nieto

“With the creation of the reserve, Mexico has protected almost 23 percent of its marine territory,” says Dan Laffoley, IUCN WCPA Marine Vice Chair. “This brings us one significant step closer to reaching Aichi Target 11.”

Revillagigedo is already listed on Protected Planet, the World Database on Protected Areas as a Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage site, and a Ramsar site.

Recently established large-scale marine reserves include the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii (1,510,000 square kilometres), the Antarctica’s Ross Sea (965,606 square kilometres) and two new reserves in Chile the size of France.

 

 

Important new breeding sites of mythical ibis discovered

24 November 2017
Although Critically Endangered, the Northern Bald Ibis could be in recovery © Vincent Legrand/Agam

 

It has had a dramatic history and was almost lost to extinction. Now, this Critically Endangered bird is bouncing back with record breeding success in Morocco in 2017.

As the day drew to a close, the orange light reflecting from the Atlantic seemed to soften the texture of the sun-baked Moroccan cliffs so much so they looked like they could crumble in an instant. There the birds were: perched on a couple of sloping, sandstone ledges, an entire colony of about 20 settling in for the night, low squawks and rustles heard above the scouring waves only a few metres below. Birds often nest in precarious places, and despite the cliffs in Tamri, southwest Morocco, actually being pretty strong, by knowing this species’ Critically Endangered status, you cannot help but feel a little worried for these large, iridescent-black creatures.

Throughout history, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has had a turbulent relationship with humans. This mythical bald bird with a punkish crest once had an extensive range that spread across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and has been idolised by humans as symbols of fertility and virtue, even mummified to accompany Ancient Egyptian royalty.

Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco
Yet it has lost its feeding areas to land-use changes, its nest sites have been built on or disturbed, and it has also been poisoned by pesticides, hunted, persecuted, collected in a gold rush for museums, and a dramatic range-reduction resulted in an all-time population low at the end of the 20th century with only 59 breeding pairs remaining in 1997. Today, almost all remaining wild birds are restricted to Morocco.

Monitoring Northern Bald Ibis on Moroccan coasts © Louis Marie PréauA local man approaches with a GREPOM (BirdLife in Morocco) cap to watch the colony, having arrived on a motorbike at the exact time the flock landed in the area. He’s a warden, coordinated by Souss-Massa National Park, and trained to prevent disturbance of the ibises at the colony and surrounding fields where they feed on lizards, scorpions and beetles. He also provides safe drinking water and sees off any threats.

They’re social birds, easily spooked, so this work has really boosted the global population of wild Northern Bald Ibis in recent years, bringing it up to 600 birds for the first time in modern history — thanks to long-lasting commitment from BirdLife, and recently, to GREPOM and the Moroccan government protecting colonies at Souss-Massa National Park, and this smaller site at Tamri. GREPOM have also undertaken public awareness work to help raise the profile of such an important species.

“With great cooperation between BirdLife and the Moroccan government, the colonies started to look crowded”, says Chris Bowden, AEWA Coordinator for the species on behalf of BirdLife. “Perhaps along the coast a new colony would form.” Something every conservationist would delight in saying. But don’t count your colonies until your ibises have hatched: with better official protection still needed for the colony at Tamri, for example, nothing could be certain for a species that has been listed in the highest category of threat on the Red List for over 30 years.

A few tentative reports came in. Then: “We found what we’d been waiting for: a new colony!” said Halima Bousadik, GREPOM, who co-authored the paper heralding the welcome news. During the 2017 reproductive season, two new breeding sites were discovered on two distinct coastal cliffs north of Tamri, with adults incubating at least three confirmed active nests and totalling a new record of 122 wild breeding pairs.

“The importance of this news is that, with a steady population increase, Northern Bald Ibis are now exiting their ‘comfort zone’ of the guarded sites, giving us a lot of hope for more similar discoveries”, said Jorge F. Orueta, SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), who has worked on the species since 2000. “We now need to check all suitable sites in the region, and implement a GPS tracking programme to learn their movements.”

A story of East and West
The wild Moroccan birds are those remaining from a western population that used to range throughout northwest Africa but are now restricted to wandering locally. This year, a flock of 11 to 15 ibises was also seen at the northern edge of the known breeding range. But what of the historical eastern population?

REPOM and SEO/BirdLife release a satellite-tagged juvenile Northern Bald Ibis in Morocco © Víctor G. MatarranzA semi-wild, but substantial breeding colony still exists in Birecik, Turkey. It’s a catch-22 because the birds need to be fully released so their migratory habits are restored, but at the start of winter, a team led by the Turkish government has to put them in captivity else they will fly into bullets over Syria or be subject to illegal hunting further south in Arabia. When they are free to roam in the summer, these birds face threats of disturbance, electrocution or collision with power lines.

The Syrian conflict has brought added complications, increased disturbance and the possibility of persecution, as large numbers of refugees have settled in around Birecik (more than 400,000 in Urfa Province at present), occupying areas used by feeding ibises.

However, one Syrian refugee, a warden who worked with a small relict Northern Bald Ibis colony in Syria, has joined Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey), where his unique situation may be the key to protecting ibises once more. And, with conservation programmes to control threats and return the birds to fully wild status, there is no reason why this eastern population should not eventually roam free once again — hopefully remembering their migration route to Ethiopia. Sadly though, for the one wild female, and a handful of Syrian birds that remained in captivity in Palmyra, the faint light of hope for them is likely extinguished.

Elsewhere, in the Austrian Alps, and southern Spain, two separate re-introduction programmes have released substantial captive-reared birds with the hope they establish again in Europe.

With new colonies and an international effort, it’s a new phase in the species’ conservation
Whilst, then, probably all wild Northern Bald Ibis are now found in Morocco, the species’ conservation is once again becoming an international effort. Hope is far from lost for the Turkish population, and many countries are joining the effort across the bird’s historical range, with support, both financial and technical, coming through SEO/BirdLife, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), SVS-BirdLife Switzerland and VBN (BirdLife in the Netherlands). The work is carried out in Morocco with the High Commission for Water and Forest and Fight Against Desertification (Government of Morocco).

The Northern Bald Ibis International Working Group has just held its second-ever meeting, as part of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). Held in Sous Massa National Park, attendee conservationists from all ibis territories are now equipped with an updated International Single Species Action Plan to continue the trend.

Leaving the cliffs of Tamri, it strikes you that those who wish to call the Northern Bald Ibis “ugly” haven’t seen healthy birds up close in their natural habitat; haven’t seen how the light shimmers green against their magnificent black flanks. With news of new colonies, and a new phase in ibis conservation, perhaps history will repeat itself and the Northern Bald Ibis will once again be idolised throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

This story was written By Shaun Hurrell, and was featured originally on the Birdlife website. To see the story in its original setting please click here.

 

 

Unregulated wild collection and habitat loss lead to Vulnerable status for medicinal Goldenseal

17 November 2017
Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ saw Goldenseal classified as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List in a move that highlights concerns about the medicinal plant’s decline.

The IUCN Red List now includes 87,967 different wildlife species, of which 25,062 (approximately 28%), fall with one of the the three "Threatened" categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a long-lived perennial plant native to North America (USA and Canada) where it has undergone a decline in both its distribution and the quality of its habitat.

The plant is widely used medicinally amongst rural communities and national consumers alike given its high concentration of medicinally-active alkaloids. Its applications include treating colds and other respiratory conditions as well as curing digestive disorders such as stomach pain and swelling, diarrhoea and constipation.

“Goldenseal was widespread in eastern North American forests two centuries ago, and it has long been prized for its medicinal use,” says Leah Oliver, Senior Research Botanist with NatureServe who led the assessment.

“The main threats to Goldenseal are unregulated wild collection combined with the historic and continuing loss of its forest habitat.  However, there is a growing international market for cultivated Goldenseal, and wild-collection may be sustainable if it is carefully managed and contributes to the protection of forest habitat. These activities may slow the decline of the species.”

“Medicinal plants, including Goldenseal, are an important use of the earth’s amazing biological diversity—not just for human health,” says Danna Leaman, Co-chair of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

“Many subsistence incomes, as well as some substantial fortunes, continue to be made from their commercial value.  Survival of the companies and markets that rely on these species depends on adoption of sustainable wild harvest methods and habitat protection.  We are undertaking global Red List assessments of many North American medicinal plants to identify the need for sustainable wild harvest before a species becomes threatened with extinction.”

National and international demand for Goldenseal continues to rise.  The species is designated as Threatened and is protected by national legislation in Canada, but is not protected in the United States.  International trade requires a permit and is monitored by both countries under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).  

“Goldenseal is an important species within the medicinal plant trade, both commercially and within local communities,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna, TRAFFIC’s Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Programme Leader.

“Its listing as Vulnerable to extinction should alert the industry associated with the wild harvest of Goldenseal to the urgent need for implementing sustainable wild harvesting practices—there has never been a greater need for sustainability certification systems like the FairWild Standard, which have already been instrumental in protecting other threatened plant species from over-exploitation.”

The FairWild Standard was established by TRAFFIC, IUCN, and WWF, in partnership with industry and other organizations concerned about the unsustainable sourcing of wild plant ingredients. It provides the necessary safeguards and frameworks to enable sustainable wild collection and ensure the long-term survival of wild plant species as well as fair pay and good working conditions for plant harvesters.

“FairWild Certification schemes can also give rural collectors and communities access to commercial markets to help them reap the rewards of sustainable wild harvesting,” says Timoshyna.

“It is time that sustainable certification systems become a requirement rather than just an appendage to any form of wild plant collection. Otherwise, we may see many more species declining, or disappearing completely, from the wild.”

 

 

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