Weekly round-up: October 25

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has launched an initiative in south-east Asia to help protect four species of endangered gibbon

Announced on International Gibbon Day, October 24, the €460,000 IUCN Save Our Species support fund will focus on the Cao Vit and Northern white-cheeked gibbon, both critically endangered, and the Northern yellow-cheeked crested and silvery gibbon.

A group of small apes comprising 20 species found in south and south-east Asia, gibbons are at risk due to poaching, habitat loss and trapping to be sold as pets on the black market. The Cao Vit, the world’s rarest ape, was thought to be extinct until 2002 – the IUCN estimates just 45 to 47 mature individuals remain in the wild.

Gibbons play a vital role in forest ecosystems through seed dispersal.

IUCN Asia programme coordinator Alexander McWilliam said: “Time is running out to conserve gibbons and their habitats. We need to act now and ensure that people and gibbons can live in harmony.”
Source IUCN

The World Wide Fund for Nature is calling on governments, manufacturers and fishers to help tackle the ‘immortal menace’ of ghost gear – fishing equipment that continues to catch and kill marine life for years after it has been lost or discarded.

The WWF estimates between 500,000 and one million tonnes of fishing gear enters the ocean every year, with 66 per cent of marine mammals, 50 per cent of sea birds and all species of marine turtle affected by ingestion or entanglement of the floating debris. 

In its report, Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris, the conservation organisation asks that governments join its Global Ghost Gear Initiative – an alliance committed to driving solutions to the issue – and support the establishment of a legally-binding global plastic pollution treaty.

It also calls on manufacturers to design fishing gear that is traceable, recyclable and biodegradable – to limit harm if lost at sea – while asking fishers to avoid fishing gear loss through best practices, and to report lost gear or retrieve it when safe to do so.

Director general of WWF International Marco Lambertini said: “This report unveils the impact and the tragic scale of this invisible ocean killer, and how it is linked to the practices of fishers and the fishing industry, as well as making it very clear that the current legal framework on marine plastic pollution and ghost gear is fragmented and ineffective. 

“This is a global problem that requires coordinated action across the world, which is why WWF urges governments and businesses to support the establishment of a new global UN treaty on plastic pollution that sets out global goals and binding targets for both land- and marine-based plastic pollution, which in turn can help drive robust local regulation of ghost gear. We must stop ghost gear from decimating marine life and drowning the ocean we all depend on once and for all.”
Source WWF

Nature has often inspired and guided science, offering practical solutions where man-made technology has failed. One recent example comes in the form of America’s diabolical ironclad beetle, an insect which can survive being run over by a car.

Researchers trying to discover the secret of the beetle’s immense strength found it could withstand a maximum force of 149 Newtons – about 39,000 times its own bodyweight. Using micro-computed tomography, the authors discovered three types of interface at key points in the beetle’s exoskeleton, where other species only have one, and interlocking, jigsaw-shaped structures between its elytra (the tough outer shell covering an insect’s wings), which combine to give the diabolical ironclad beetle its immense strength. 

Mimicking the structure for engineering applications, the study found the jigsaw-shaped interlocking joints were significantly stronger than others, and when they did fracture, did so in a more predictable and gradual manner, which could have significant benefits in construction.
Publication Nature

Common tern (Peter Pearsall/US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that have been banned for decades are still present in threatened common terns in the Great Lakes region in North America, a new study has found.

Metabolites of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – DDT – were found in the bodies of chicks, juveniles and adults along the Niagara River and the shore of Lake Eerie despite the insecticide having been banned in the US in 1972. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), found in flame retardant materials, have not been in use since 2013, while polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were phased out in the late 1970s, yet both were also recorded.

The study, published in Environment International, also found DDT metabolite DDE in local emerald shiners – one of the birds’ main food sources – while significant material transfer was also recorded between adults and chicks.

The authors write: “The birds in our study hatched with a high load of pollutants and started life at a disadvantage, as their energy had to shift from growth and development into detoxification, potentially taxing their livers. How this prenatal disadvantage plays out in the species’ fitness and survival is yet to be seen, as we do not know how many generations can survive this type of chemical loads. Overall, this study reveals the patterns and persistence of PCBs, PBDEs, and metabolites of DDT in wildlife from the Buffalo-Niagara region despite their ban and cease in production.”
Publication Environment International

Iberian lynx (Wikimedia Commons)

The population of the endangered Iberian lynx has increased to 885 according to the latest census, up from 94 in the first count in 2002.

Numbers plummeted at the end of last century following a catastrophic drop in the rabbit population – their main food source – due to government culls and disease, with habitat loss due to development compounding the issue. Populations also became isolated due to extensive motorway construction.

However, conservation efforts between Spanish and Portuguese authorities and NGOs are paying off.

Speaking to the Guardian, Miguel Ángel Simón, a recently-retired biologist who spent two decades working in lynx conservation, said: “Today, the situation is pretty good and I think we can be optimistic and fairly calm because we haven’t just recovered the population in Andalucía, we’ve also built populations in Portugal – where the lynx was extinct – and in Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha.”

The next step in conserving the species is to increase genetic diversity by connecting isolated populations.
Source The Guardian

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