Weekly round-up: January 10

Conservation efforts to protect the panda have been a success

The use of charismatic umbrella species as the focal point in conservation planning does not always benefit their neighbours according to a study by Michigan State University, which revealed efforts to protect the giant panda has not prevented habitat loss for other species.

Efforts to save the giant panda from extinction have been one of the conservation movement’s biggest successes, with the species reclassified from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable in 2016. 

However, in a study of nature reserves designed to protect panda habitat, it was found that both the Endangered forest musk deer and Vulnerable Asiatic black bear had lost more habitat inside reserves than outside over the past two decades.

Co-author Jianguo “Jack” Liu said: “The popularity of giant pandas, as of the popularity of other beloved threatened animals across the world, has generated tremendous advances in protecting forests and other fragile habitats.

“But this is an important reminder that it can’t assume that what’s good for a panda is automatically good for other species. Different species have specific needs and preferences.”
Publication Biological Conservation

The great white egret is no longer classed as rare in England or Wales following more than 8,300 recorded sightings in 2020, including over 2,300 ‘first reports’ – more than the total number spotted in 2013.

Numbers of the large, striking heron have increased rapidly across Europe in recent decades, from an estimated 150-200 breeding pairs in the early 1970s to up to 24,000 pairs by the turn of the century.

Great white egret numbers are soaring in England and Wales (Simerpreet Cheema/Pixabay)

Bird Guides, which monitors sightings, noted the great white egret will retain its scarcity status in Scotland and Ireland, where they remain elusive to birdwatchers.
Source Bird Guides

With just days left in power the Trump administration has continued its rollback of environmental regulations, removing liability for accidentally killing migratory birds from individuals and companies.

The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act has long ensured the oil and chemical industries were held responsible for unintentional birds deaths resulting from oil spills and other environmental disasters, but US Secretary of the Interior David L Bernhardt said removal of liability simply reaffirmed “the original meaning and intent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by making it clear that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will not prosecute landowners, industry and other individuals for accidentally killing a migratory bird”. 

Oil companies will no longer be held liable for bird deaths resulting from spills (Flickr)

While the law was primarily enacted to prevent poaching and over-hunting, the risk of significant fines for accidental deaths resulting from careless business practice led to voluntary safeguarding by the industries – which both the government and conservation organisations now expect to be removed over time. In a November environmental impact statement considering the amendment, the US Fish and Wildlife Service also noted that the removal of voluntary protections could also impact other animals.

A study released in September by the Audubon Society estimated US bird populations had fallen by three billion since 1970.
Source US Fish and Wildlife Service

The UK government has allowed for temporary use of a banned neonicotinoid on the 2021 sugar beet crop following an application by British Sugar and the National Farmers Union, a move denounced by The Wildlife Trusts.

Studies have long shown the risks to bees and other pollinating insects from neonicotinoids, with three – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – banned from use in the UK entirely in 2018. However, the government has granted emergency use of the latter due to proliferation of yellow beets virus resulting in reduced yield last year – it rejected a similar application for use of neonicotinoids in late 2018.

Numerous studies have highlighted the dangers of neonicotinoids to bees and other pollinators (Suzanne D Williams/Pixabay)

In a statement, The Wildlife Trusts said: “The Government knows the clear harm that neonicotinoid pesticides cause to bees and other pollinators and just three years ago supported restrictions on them across the European Union. 

“We need urgent action to restore the abundance of our insect populations, not broken promises that make the ecological crisis even worse. To reverse the decline of insects and allow them to thrive once more, we urgently need to stop all routine and unnecessary use of pesticides and start to build a nature recovery network by creating more and better connected, insect-friendly habitat.”

Conditions of use include the removal of flowering weeds within crops (sugar beet itself is non-flowering), but this will likely be achieved through the application of herbicide, and flowering crops are excluded from the treated land for 22 months – or 32 months for oilseed rape.

Across Britain a third of wild bee and hoverfly species have declined in recent decades. Neonicotinoids have been shown to impair bee cognition and their immune systems.

A 2018 Defra statement regarding the ban on neonicotinoids placed the value of the UK’s pollinators at £400-£680 million per year due to increased yield.
Source gov.uk

The platypus is a mammal, yet has a duck bill, webbed feet and lays eggs

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have mapped a complete platypus genome, helping to answer why the iconic duck-billed Australian mammal displays so many unusual characteristics – such as laying eggs but producing milk.

The research shows the platypus still holds on to one of three vitellogenin genes vital for the production of egg yolks, enabling it to lay eggs – chickens have three of the gene. However, in mammals these have been replaced by casein genes, in part responsible for the production of milk – the platypus also carries these genes, allowing for its rare combination.

Professor Guojie Zhang of the university’s department of biology said: “The complete genome has provided us with the answers to how a few of the platypus’s bizarre features emerged. At the same time, decoding the genome for platypus is important for improving our understanding of how other mammals evolved — including us humans. It holds the key as to why we and other eutheria mammals evolved to become animals that give birth to live young instead of egg-laying animals.

“The platypus belongs to the Mammalia class, but genetically, it is a mixture of mammals, birds and reptiles. It has preserved many of its ancestors’ original features — which probably contribute to its success in adapting to the environment they live in.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Source University of Copenhagen

The Marine Conservation Society is calling for a complete ban on bottom trawling across UK marine protected areas after a report revealed the practice is taking place in 98 per cent of MPAs.

Bottom trawling, which involves dragging a net across the sea bed, can cause significant damage to marine ecosystems, killing marine fauna and flora while also releasing significant volumes of stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

The society’s report, Marine Unprotected Areas, found bottom trawl and dredge vessels spent 89,894 hours operating inside UK MPAs between 2015 and 2018. Currently the practice is only banned across five per cent of UK MPAs, prompting many to brand them mere ‘paper parks’.

However, the report also reveals that in areas around the world with full protection, biodiversity has been found to increase by 21 per cent – while numerous studies and initiatives have found fish stocks around protected areas are larger and more sustainable, protecting jobs and food supply. A statement from the Marine Conservation Society adds: “With the powers provided by the new Fisheries Act 2020, the UK Governments can act more independently to recover our seas and combat climate change – starting with the banning of bottom trawling in these vulnerable areas of our seas.”
Source Marine Conservation Society

%d bloggers like this: