Weekly round-up: November 1

The rediscovery of two species was announced this week, the Voeltzkow’s chameleon and giant fox-spider, not seen since 1913 and 1993 respectively.

A number of Voeltzkow’s chameleons were found on an expedition in northwestern Madagascar, where the reptile was last seen more than a hundred years ago. The team’s study, published this week following their 2018 visit, also reveals that females have striking colouration which can change depending on their mood.

Expedition leader Frank Glaw, head of the Department of Vertebrates at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München, said: “Our efforts were entirely unsuccessful during most of the trip to find it where we thought it would most likely be. That was really frustrating, but the rediscovery during the last few days of the trip immediately changed everything and brought us an incredibly happy ending.”

A female Voeltzkow’s chameleon (Frank Glaw)

The chameleon is the sixth species to be found on Global Wildlife Conservation’s top 25 ‘Most Wanted’ list, with other members including the Somali Sengi, rediscovered in August, and the Fernandina Galapagos tortoise.

In Britain, a spider thought to be extinct in the country was rediscovered by Surrey Wildlife Trust on Ministry of Defence training grounds. The great fox-spider has only ever been found in Dorset and Surrey, but there have been no sightings of the eight-eyed arachnid in almost three decades.

However, Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Mike Waite spent two years searching for the elusive species – which is mainly nocturnal and named after its hunting style – before positively identifying a number of males and one female on the estate. 

The great fox-spider (Surrey Wildlife Trust)

Waite said: “The spider is at the very edge of its range in the UK, which accounts for its super rarity here. This formidable-looking creature is an impressive beast, perfectly camouflaged and also largely nocturnal, and for all its size it has been remarkably elusive.”
Source Global Wildlife Conservation/Surrey Wildlife Trust

The Trump administration has announced plans to remove the gray wolf’s endangered species status and thus its federal protection across the lower 48 states (all states excluding Alaska and Hawaii). 

The US Department of the Interior announced protection of the species would be handed to state and tribal management agencies, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) monitoring its numbers for five years. However, conservationists expressed alarm at the move, arguing that it allows resumption of the trapping and hunting that caused the species’ initial endangered status – the current population stands at around 6,000, covering 20 per cent of its historic range.

The gray wolf (Pixabay)

Congress had already removed the protection of gray wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, while the FWS downgraded their status in the Great Lakes region in 2011 – it was restored by the courts three years later.

Colette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity said: “The courts have repeatedly slammed the Fish and Wildlife Service for prematurely removing wolf protections, but the agency has now come back with its most egregious scheme yet. Once again, we’ll take it to the courts and do everything we can to stop this illegal effort to kill wolf protections.”

A study published this week also highlighted the administration’s “minimalist interpretation of the Endangered Species Act’s mandate”, whereby the gray wolf had been determined no longer at risk due to the strength of a single population – a precedent that, if applied generally, “would represent a significant scaling back of recovery efforts for widely distributed species that would increase both short-term vulnerability and long-term loss of adaptive potential”.

A few days earlier the US Forest Service rolled back its Roadless Rule in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, opening up the 17-million acre forest – often referred to as the ‘lungs of North America’ – to loggers. 

Sierra Club chapter director Andrea Feniger said:“Preserving the Tongass is a matter of survival. A standing healthy forest is absolutely essential to the subsistence survival of Indigenous peoples. It’s also essential for mitigating the climate crisis that threatens us all.  We will continue to fight for the Tongass and those who depend on it. We will challenge the lifting of restrictions against logging in the forest’s roadless areas at every turn.”
Source US Department of the Interior/Center for Biological Diversity/Sierra Club
Publication BioScience

A report from Rewilding Britain estimates that climate zones are migrating northwards at 5km a year – significantly faster than at the end of the last ice age – and calls for major rewilding efforts across the country to mitigate the effects.

It proposes the twin priorities of creating core rewilding areas across at least five per cent of Britain and establishing ‘natural dispersal corridors’ across 25 per cent of land to help movement and migration as temperatures warm.

In 2016, the Biodiversity Intactness Index ranked Britain 189th of 218 countries, highlighting the country’s fractured landscape and monoculture habitats.

The report concludes: “In the new age of climate and ecological emergency, connectivity is the key for climate adaptation. Rewilding can provide connectivity in a way that is most appropriate to a rapidly changing situation.”
Source Rewilding Britain

More than 200,000 tonnes of plastic is entering the Mediterranean each year, according to a new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Microplastics make up 94 per cent of the waste, with more than one million tonnes of particles now estimated to have accumulated in the Mediterranean basin. 

The study assessed 28,000km of coastline and 33 countries, with Egypt, Italy and Turkey found to have the highest plastic leakage per country (Montenegro recording the highest per capita).

Without better management and interventions, the report estimates annual plastic leakage will double by 2040.

Minna Epps, director of the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme, said: “Plastic pollution can cause long-term damage to terrestrial and marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Marine animals can get entangled or swallow plastic waste, and ultimately end up dying from exhaustion and starvation. Additionally, plastic waste releases chemical substances such as softeners or fire retardants into the environment, which can be harmful to both ecosystems and human health, especially in a semi-closed sea such as the Mediterranean. 

“As this report makes clear, current and planned measures are not enough to reduce plastic leakage and prevent these impacts.”
Source IUCN

Human ecological disruption and unsustainable consumption drive pandemic risk, states the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), adding that future pandemics will emerge more frequently and do more damage without a transformative change in approach from reaction to prevention.

It estimates up to 850,000 viruses that currently exist in birds and mammals could have the ability to affect humans, but that pandemic risk can be “significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions.”

The workshop on biodiversity and pandemics also estimates the cost of such measures to reduce the risk of future pandemics at about 100 times less than the cost of responding to them – with the predicted global cost of Covid-19 at $8-16 trillion by next July.

Dr Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of the IPBES workshop, said: “There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic – or of any modern pandemic. The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. 

“This is the path to pandemics.”
Source IBPS

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