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Could miniaturization be used to protect endangered large species?

Could miniaturization be used to protect endangered large species?


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In some animals (like dogs) size seems like it's controlled mostly by just a few genes (IGF1, and the genes that repress it). I'm curious:

(1) Does other miniaturization takes a similar route (for example, with pygmy hippos).

(2) Do we have the technology / knowledge to deliberately create "pygmy" animals?

(3) Is it possible that miniaturization could be a way to protect endangered large species? For example, we shrink them down so they need less room but they could still breed and preserve biodiversity. Also, later on there's always the possibility that we could gradually un-shrink the species if we get our act together and free up more habitat.

Note: I realize that they wouldn't be able to fill the same ecological niche at half the size.


Endangered Species

Some animals and plants in our world are very common, like houseflies, cats or daisies. They are not in danger of dying out. Other species are very rare. Sometimes only a few of them are left. Such species may disappear forever.

Ever since life on earth began, animals and plants have died out and new ones have appeared. Dinosaurs, for example, roamed the planet during the earth&rsquos middle ages. 65 million years ago they disappeared forever.

Animals and plants need each other to survive. They keep the world of nature in balance. If a certain plant dies out some animals may become extinct too, because they depend on the plant for food.

Why species become extinct

Long ago, most animals and plants became extinct because of natural events, like earthquakes or volcano eruptions. Climatic changes, like the beginning of the Ice Age, also led to the disappearance of certain species. Today, plants and animals are in danger mostly because of human beings.

Some plants and animals can survive in many areas. When they move to other places they adapt to their new environment very quickly. Others can only live in certain areas. We call such a living place a habitat. If a habitat is destroyed the species cannot find any more food or a place to live, sleep or have babies. So it dies out.

Habitats can be destroyed in many ways. More and more people live in our world. They need more space to live in. Rainforests, grasslands and other parts of nature are cleared and people start to settle there. They take away the natural home of plants and animals.

Pollution can also kill off certain species. Acid rain from factories goes down in rivers and lakes and can poison fish there.

The most endangered areas are the tropical rainforests. More than 50 % of all animals and plants live there. Every day, thousands of acres of rainforest are destroyed and many species become extinct every day.

Ever since man appeared on earth he has killed animals and gathered plants. They have been used for food, medicine, clothes and to make homes. Cheetahs, tigers and other wild cats have been killed for their skins. Whales have been hunted for centuries because of their oil and blubber.

Most animals today are protected by international law, but many, like the black rhinoceros and the African elephant are hunted illegally. Some species, like wolves, have been killed by humans because they were seen as a danger to farm animals.

Sometimes native animals become endangered when a new species comes to live in a place. Foxes were brought to Australia to kill off rabbits, which were seen as a pest. But instead of killing rabbits, the foxes killed kangaroos and other marsupials of Australia.

Parasites belong to the greatest threats to plants and animals. Tiny organisms, bacteria and fungi can destroy trees, kill birds and fish.

Protection

People have hurt plants and animals but they are also willing to help them survive. All over the world organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, the Rainforest Action Network or Friends of the Earth are helping to protect habitats. They raise money for their projects and make governments and the public listen to them. New laws have also been made to protect endangered plants and animals all over the world.


What WWF Is Doing

Rhinos

Rhinos were once widespread across Africa's savannas and Asia's tropical forests. But today very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Successful conservation efforts have helped subspecies like the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino, to increase in number. In Africa, black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century. Increasingly, rhinos are killed by poachers for their horns. WWF works to help governments and authorities crack down on wildlife crime. We set up training for law enforcement, track rhino movements via transmitters and set up hotlines&mdashall to help stop poachers and build a future in which the rhino can thrive.

Tigers

After a century of decline, tiger numbers are on the rise. At least 3,890 tigers remain in the wild, but much more work is needed to protect this species that&rsquos still vulnerable to extinction. Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. WWF believes we can save wild tigers. We have set a bold but achievable goal of Tx2: doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022, when the next Year of the Tiger is celebrated.

Polar Bears

Polar bears spend the majority of most of their lives on frozen Arctic sea ice. The loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change is now the greatest threat to their survival. WWF aims to sustainably preserve the rich biodiversity of polar bear habitats. We work with partners and local communities to establish a management plan for the &ldquoLast Ice Area&rdquo in Canada and Greenland&mdasha region scientists believe will be preserved as sea ice longer than anywhere else. The plan conserves habitat for all Arctic ice dependent species and protects the cultural heritage and economic needs of local people.

Orangutans

Orangutans have experienced sharp population declines. A century ago there was likely more than 230,000 orangutans in the wild. Today, the Bornean orangutan is estimated to number about 41,000 and the Sumatran about 7,500, and their habitats are fast disappearing. WWF has worked on orangutan conservation since the 1970s. Our efforts include conserving orangutan habitat, stopping poachers, promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture, and halting the orangutan pet trade.

Marine Turtles

Nearly all species of marine turtle are classified as endangered. Human activities&mdashhunting, poaching, habitat destruction and accidental capture in fishing gear&mdashhave tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners. WWF is committed to stop the decline of marine turtles and work for the recovery of the species. Our work to secure a future for this species includes eliminating marine turtle bycatch from fisheries, reducing the unsustainable harvest and illegal trade in marine turtles, and stemming the loss of critical marine turtle habitats.


The Science-Backed Reasons Why Saving Endangered Species Is Important

Keeping endangered species alive benefits our food sources, our environment, our health, and our economy.

Shutterstock

The importance of saving endangered species has been all over the news in recent years. But there are still those out there who wonder why, with approximately 7.8 million animal species on the planet, losing a few hundred or even a few thousand is such a big deal. Well, believe it or not, protecting endangered species has major implications that extend far beyond simply keeping cute animals alive. From their role in agricultural production to their contributions to medicine, these animals do far more than many of us realize. Here are some of the reasons why saving endangered species is of the utmost importance. And for more on how you can help, check out 17 Small Things You Can Do to Help Endangered Species.

iStock

Those species whose lives are on the line could potentially save your life down the road. Biological diversity has been vital to the development of all types of medicine. In fact, according to one 2012 paper published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, nearly half of all drugs created within the last 30 years "are either directly or indirectly from natural products." And these natural products are disappearing at a rapid rate, leaving the animals who live off them dying as a result.

"A few hundred wild species have stocked our pharmacies with antibiotics, anti-cancer agents, pain killers, and blood thinners," notes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The biochemistry of unexamined species is an unfathomed reservoir of new and potentially more effective substances." Basically, there's no telling what potentially life-saving sources could be lost as more plants and animals go extinct.

What we do know is that some of the animals on the verge of extinction harbor definitive medicinal resources. For example, the blood of a particular type of horseshoe crab that's on the decline due to overfishing has been used to detect harmful bacteria in medical devices and drugs. And an experimental drug derived from the saliva of Gila monsters, a venomous lizard in the Southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico, has been found to help people with type 2 diabetes keep their blood sugar at healthy levels, according to Michelle Magee, MD, director of the MedStar Diabetes Institute.

In short, every species lost is the loss of a wonder drug that may save human lives.

Shutterstock

There is no better way to track the health of our ecosystems and the species that live in them than through living organisms. For instance, freshwater mussels that filter water from the ocean are often the first to signal pollution issues, and the drop in population of peregrine falcons alerted the world to the dangers of DDT. These creatures often serve as "canaries in the coal mine," alerting us to dangerous environmental conditions when we would never realize otherwise. If these species go extinct, we lose these essential and natural monitors of our environment. And FYI, those freshwater mussels are at risk of disappearing. So, if you want to help keep the environment healthy, check out these 30 Easy Ways to Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly.

Shutterstock

Farmers frequently use insects to help ensure the health of their crops. Without them, that could mean less healthy food for us. "Farmers are using insects and other animals that prey on certain crop pests," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points out. "These are called 'biological controls,' and in many cases they are a safe, effective, and less expensive alternative to synthetic chemicals." Without animals naturally doing the dirty work of pesticides, we're exposing our crops, and thereby ourselves, to dangerous chemicals.

But, according to a 2019 meta-analysis published in the journal Biological Conservation, more than 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction. "Insects constitute the world's most abundant and speciose animal group and provide critical services within ecosystems," the study authors explain. Potential extinction, the researchers conclude, "cannot be ignored and should prompt decisive action to avert a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems."

Shutterstock

While endangered species provide seriously pivotal services, they're also quite the commodity, too. Ecotourism generates billions of dollars every year throughout the world—bird-watchers alone spend nearly $41 billion annually on travel and equipment. Though it's not often something that people think about, the less we do to protect animal species, the more we risk slashing an important sector of the economy. And for more on animals that need protecting, read up on All the Endangered Species in the World.


Environmental DNA: How a tool used to detect endangered wildlife ended up helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Looking for bits of DNA at the University of Florida. Credit: David Duffy, CC BY-ND

Imagine discovering an animal species you thought had gone extinct was still living—without laying eyes on it. Such was the case with the Brazilian frog species Megaelosia bocainensis, whose complete disappearance in 1968 led scientists to believe it had become extinct. But through a novel genetic detection technique, it was rediscovered in 2020.

Such discoveries are now possible thanks to a new approach that recovers and reads the trace amounts of DNA released into the environment by animals. It's called environmental DNA, or eDNA—and it takes advantage of the fact that every animal sheds DNA into its environment via skin, hair, scales, feces or bodily fluids as it moves through the world.

As wildlife biologists at the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience & Sea Turtle Hospital, we use eDNA to track a virus responsible for a sea turtle pandemic called fibropapillomatosis, which causes debilitating tumors. We also use eDNA to detect sea turtles in the wild.

But in 2020, human health researchers began repurposing eDNA techniques to track the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a prime example of how research in one area—wildlife conservation—can be adapted to another area—human disease mitigation. Going forward, we believe eDNA will prove to be an essential tool for monitoring both human and animal health.

From soil microbes to sea turtles

Scientists in the 1980s began hunting for microbe DNA in soil samples. Over the next 20 years, the technique was adapted for use with air and water samples, and scientists started using eDNA to detect larger animals and plants.

While the science behind eDNA techniques is complex, the actual process of collecting and testing a sample is relatively simple. Samples are filtered through very fine paper, which traps loose cells and strands of DNA. The techniques to read what DNA is present are the same as those used for tissue or blood samples, usually quantitative polymerase chain reaction or whole genome sequencing. Scientists can either read all of the DNA present from every organism—or target just the DNA from species of interest.

Scientists now routinely use eDNA to detect endangered wildlife and invasive species. The ability to tell whether an animal is present without ever needing to lay eyes or a lens on it is an incredible leap forward, decreasing the time, resources and human effort needed to monitor and protect vulnerable species.

However, to truly protect endangered species, it's not just the animals that need to be monitored, but the pathogens that threaten their survival. Environmental DNA is able to monitor the parasites, fungi and viruses that can cause disease in wildlife.

While scientists originally applied eDNA to human pathogen detection over a decade ago, it wasn't until the beginning of the current COVID-19 human pandemic that the repurposing of eDNA took off on a large scale, allowing the technology to make staggering advancements in very short order.

Coronavirus genomes consist not of DNA, but rather its cousin molecule, RNA. So researchers have rapidly optimized a variation of eDNA—eRNA—to detect coronavirus RNA in air and human wastewater.

For example, at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, researchers collected air samples from the hospital room of two COVID-19 patients. Using eRNA, they successfully isolated and sequenced the virus. Confirming air as a key route of transmission directly influenced public health guidelines.

When scientists apply eRNA to archived wastewater samples, the true dates of SARS-CoV-2 appearance can be detected. SARS-CoV-2 concentration in wastewater in Valencia, Spain, peaked on March 9, 2020, but the number of clinical cases didn't peak until the start of April 2020 because of the lag time between infection and severe clinical symptoms.

This sort of predictive monitoring has profound implications for health care systems, allowing time to prepare—not just for COVID-19, but for any future disease outbreaks that threaten human populations.

Intersection of diseases

It's vital that human and animal diseases are studied together. Sixty percent of emerging human pathogens come from animals—with many of these (42%) originating in wildlife populations, including Ebola, Zika, West Nile and Marburg viruses. Alternatively, people can also transmit pathogens to animals.

Medics, veterinarians and scientists call this convergence of human, animal and environmental well-being OneHealth or EcoHealth. Studying and treating human and wildlife disease together recognizes their commonalities and often yields breakthroughs.

With eDNA, all pathogens can be monitored in an environment regardless of where they come from. An integrated eDNA monitoring program could cost-effectively provide advanced warning of human, livestock and wildlife diseases.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


On Exploring Mars and Saving Endangered Species

Now that a helicopter has flown on Mars and oxygen is being manufactured there, children today might start imagining themselves on the Red Planet&mdashgoing to school, tending plants and playing sports in 38 percent of Earth gravity. It feels almost inevitable that humans will eventually land there, building small biospheres with plants, microbes, and humans intertwined in a tightly controlled ecosystem. When we go, we will bring some of Earth&rsquos species to Mars, such as the microbes on our skin, and we might even find some life already there.

Yet, if we do find organisms on Mars, they will likely fit into the same three categories of species in ecosystems here on Earth:

(1) Producers (e.g., plants, algae)

(2) Consumers (e.g. snails and squirrels to fish and humans) or

(3) Decomposers (e.g., fungi and many microbes).

All three types of creatures have been shuffling carbon, energy, and nutrients between each other on Earth for billions of years. For all of history, species in all of our planet&rsquos ecosystems could be placed neatly into one of these three buckets.

However, in 1796, that changed forever. In that year, Georges Cuvier gave a lecture in Paris, &ldquoOn the Species of Living and Fossil Elephants,&rdquo where he noted the curious fact that elephants he saw then were radically different from the ancient woolly mammoth fossils that had been found in the world. Since no living woolly mammoths could be found anywhere on Earth, he wondered, perhaps they were all gone? Not just one mammoth had died, or many, but all of the mammoths had perished, never to return again.

The simple, but powerful, concept of extinction was born. This work was noted by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species , where he proposed possible mechanisms for the birth, change, and death of species. This awareness of extinction led to an extraordinary new ability for humans, that is (as far as we know) still completely unique to humans we can monitor, prevent or accelerate extinction itself. We are &ldquoextinction aware.&rdquo

Sadly, even with &ldquoextinction awareness,&rdquo humanity&rsquos track record on preventing extinction is bad. We ate some species to extinction like the woolly mammoth, sea cow, and Eurasian auroch, and others we hunted to extinction like the dodo and passenger pigeon. It is now estimated that one million species may be lost due as a result of human activity, and one of every four birds in North America is now gone due to hunting and habitat destruction. The time for greater awareness of extinction has never been more urgent.

As the only species with an awareness of extinction, only we can prevent it. We thus represent a new, fourth category of species : Guardians.

Guardians of an ecosystem have a duty to serve as protectors of the life within it, as well as beyond it. Some of this we already do already today. We track and restrict invasive species across borders, nurture endangered species back to health, and set up nature preserves around the world. There is even an ongoing effort to bring back woolly mammoths from extinction with the Revive and Restore project.

While our duty as Guardians is self-appointed, the massive hubris of this effort does not obviate its absolute necessity. Also, only a self-aware species can become Guardians, so such a duty will likely always be self-appointed, and is the only duty that is activated upon awareness.

Fortunately, the act of going to Mars gives us a new lens through which we can better understand and protect life&rsquos fragility and to avoid extinction. Indeed, going to Mars is the best way to ensure humans and other organisms are present on more than one planet. Planetary Protection protocols, which prevent contamination to Mars (or vice versa) stipulate that we must go carefully and aim to disrupt as few places as possible.

Without any guidance or protection from a Guardian species, we know what happens. In an unguided, &ldquonatural&rdquo cycle of ecosystems, including invasive species and asteroids, massive waves of extinction and rebirth occur. Large extinctions thus far include (with the percent of species lost):

Ordovician-Silurian, 440 million years ago, (85 percent)

Devonian, 365 million years ago (75 percent),

Permian-Triassic, 260 million years ago (96 percent),

Triassic-Jurassic, 200 million years ago (80 percent),

Cretaceous-Paleogene, 65 million years ago (76 percent, including the dinosaurs).

So far, we have been lucky, but that luck will not last forever. Even if we have achieved perfect world peace and sustainability on Earth, eventually (about a billion years) the sun will further enlarge and start to char the Earth.

All ethical questions become crystal clear in the time frame of a billion years. If you value life, or anything that life creates, we will have to move beyond Earth. We will need to go to the Moon, then Mars, and then farther, to preserve life. And since life is not yet adapted or able to survive, we may need to engineer life in order to save it.

To become truly, sustainably multiplanetary and perhaps eventually multi-stellar, humankind must rely not only on rockets and computers and space habitats, but also upon the transformative power of genetic engineering to adapt terrestrial biology to the alien environments beyond Earth. Our duty to the stars requires considering and likely using the evolutionary lessons inscribed in the DNA of not only our species, but all others. We may need every adaptive trick from all the extremophiles we know of to survive the new planets we may encounter. We may need to re-activate capacity in our own DNA, like the ability to synthesize our own Vitamin C, which some primates still carry. Eventually, we can even learn from organisms that evolve and change on Mars, or other planets, and bring those lessons back home to survive.

All biology, given enough time, is space biology. Any goal of any kind requires survival to be enacted, and thus survival is the primordial duty and ethic antecedent to all others. Our duty is not only for our own survival, but for all species that exist, that have existed, and that will exist. We are the first, and thus far, the only, Guardians of life.

If we find no life on Mars, or anywhere else, then life is that much rarer and more precious. But, even if life is found on Mars, there too we have a Guardian duty to protect and preserve it, since it likely cannot do it by itself. This duty will give both a catalog of life, as well as an expanded genetic toolbox for survival. Each creature we come across in this universe or any creature that adapts and evolves on a new planet may hold the clues of adaptation and evolution to help other life (including us) avoid extinction.

Our role as Guardians, as this unique, fourth kind of species, is just starting as we explore Mars more and more, and as we continue to catalog and preserve Earth. This unparalleled time of space biology and planetary exploration (including exoplanet discovery) and genetic mapping is not Plan B. It is Plan A. It is our duty.

This is an opinion and analysis article.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Christopher E. Mason is a geneticist and computational biologist who has been a principal investigator and co-investigator of seven NASA missions and projects. He is a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, with affiliate appointments at the Meyer Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School, and the Consortium for Space Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He is author of The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds.


Conservation & Management

NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share responsibility for implementing the Endangered Species Act, which is the primary way the federal government protects species in danger of extinction. The purpose of the act is to conserve endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for endangered and threatened marine and anadromous species—from whales and seals to sharks, salmon, and corals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for terrestrial and freshwater species, but also has responsibility over several marine species like sea otters, manatees, and polar bears. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries also share jurisdiction over several other species such as sea turtles and Atlantic salmon.

Currently, NOAA Fisheries has jurisdiction over more than 160 endangered and threatened marine species under the ESA. Before an animal or plant species can receive the protections provided by the ESA, it must first be added to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants . Once a species is listed, several requirements and prohibitions are triggered to provide for the species’ conservation. Marine mammals that are listed as endangered or threatened are also considered "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Learn more about the ESA listing process.

An endangered listing prohibits the:

Import and export of the species.

Sale and/or offer to sell the species in interstate or foreign commerce.

Delivery, receipt, carriage, transport, or shipment of the species in (1) interstate or foreign commerce, and (2) the course of a commercial activity.

“Take” of the species (e.g., by harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting) within the United States, within U.S. territorial seas, or on the high seas.

These ESA prohibitions apply to all persons under U.S. jurisdiction, but permits may be issued to authorize specific prohibited activities. Learn more about endangered species permits.

For threatenedspecies, we may issue regulations deemed necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species. These regulations can extend some, or all, of the prohibitions that apply to endangered species to threatened species.

The ESA also requires us to:

Designate critical habitat for the conservation of the species.

Consult on federal actions that may affect a listed species, or its designated critical habitat, to minimize possible adverse effects.

Develop and implement species recovery plans.

Learn more about these topics below.

Critical Habitat

One of the main purposes of the ESA is to provide a means for conserving the ecosystems that threatened and endangered species depend upon for survival and recovery. When a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries must determine what areas meet the statutory definition of critical habitat:

Specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing that contain physical or biological features essential to conservation of the species, and that may require special management considerations or protection.

Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species if the agency determines they are essential for conservation of the species.

Critical habitat designations include areas or habitat features that support the life-history needs of the species, such as nursing, pupping or breeding sites, or foraging areas containing needed prey species. In other words, areas that are designated as critical habitat are necessary to support the species’ recovery.

Once critical habitat is designated, federal agencies are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat.

Critical habitat is not a sanctuary, refuge, or closed-area. Critical habitat does not affect land ownership or restrict private citizens’ use of the area. Critical habitat also does not mandate government or public access to private lands.

Consulting on Federal Actions

The ESA directs all federal agencies to work to conserve endangered and threatened species. Section 7 of the ESA, titled "Interagency Cooperation," requires that federal agency actions are not likely to jeopardize the existence of any ESA-listed species, or to destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat.

Under section 7, federal agencies must consult with NOAA Fisheries when any action they carry out, fund, or authorize (such as through a permit) may affect a listed species or their critical habitat. This process usually begins with the federal agency requesting an informal consultation with NOAA Fisheries in the early stages of project planning. During this consultation, we might discuss the types of listed species that live in the proposed action area and the effect the proposed action may have on those species.

Species Recovery Planning

Endangered and threatened species have different needs and may require different conservation strategies to achieve recovery. Recovery is the process of restoring listed species and their ecosystems to the point where they no longer require ESA protections. To recover a species, we work to:

Reduce or eliminate threats.

Restore or establish self-sustaining wild populations.

After a species has recovered, we:

Remove the species from the list because it has recovered to the point where they no longer need ESA protection—this is known as “delisting.”

Monitor the species status for no less than 5 years after delisting to ensure its recovery is sustained.

Conservation measures for endangered and threatened species may include conserving and restoring habitat, reducing entanglement or bycatch in fishing gear, preventing vessel strikes, and minimizing exposure to pollutants and chemical contaminants. Knowledge of the natural history of a species is essential to understanding its needs and developing effective and appropriate conservation measures.

Success Stories

The ESA has been successful in preventing species extinctions—less than 1 percent of the listed species have gone extinct. Although we have recovered and delisted only a small percentage of species since the ESA was enacted in 1973, hundreds of species would likely have gone extinct without the protections of the ESA.


Use of Long-Distance Migration Patterns of an Endangered Species to Inform Conservation Planning for the World's Largest Marine Protected Area

Address for correspondence: Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia, email [email protected] Search for more papers by this author

P.O. Box 1443, Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles

Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611 U.S.A.

Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Vic., 3280 Australia

Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2, 8PP United Kingdom

Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Vic., 3280 Australia

Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2, 8PP United Kingdom

Address for correspondence: Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia, email [email protected] Search for more papers by this author

P.O. Box 1443, Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles

Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611 U.S.A.

Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Warrnambool, Vic., 3280 Australia

Department of Biosciences, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2, 8PP United Kingdom

Abstract

Large marine protected areas (MPAs), each hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, have been set up by governments around the world over the last decade as part of efforts to reduce ocean biodiversity declines, yet their efficacy is hotly debated. The Chagos Archipelago MPA (640,000 km 2 ) (Indian Ocean) lies at the heart of this debate. We conducted the first satellite tracking of a migratory species, the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), within the MPA and assessed the species’ use of protected versus unprotected areas. We developed an approach to estimate length of residence within the MPA that may have utility across migratory taxa including tuna and sharks. We recorded the longest ever published migration for an adult cheloniid turtle (3979 km). Seven of 8 tracked individuals migrated to distant foraging grounds, often ≥1000 km outside the MPA. One turtle traveled to foraging grounds within the MPA. Thus, networks of small MPAs, developed synergistically with larger MPAs, may increase the amount of time migrating species spend within protected areas. The MPA will protect turtles during the breeding season and will protect some turtles on their foraging grounds within the MPA and others during the first part of their long-distance postbreeding oceanic migrations. International cooperation will be needed to develop the network of small MPAs needed to supplement the Chagos Archipelago MPA.

Uso de los Patrones de Migración a Larga Distancia de una Especie en Peligro de Extinción para Informar a la Planeación de la Conservación del Área Marina Protegida más Grande

Resumen

Las áreas marinas protegidas grandes (MPAs, en inglés), con cientos de miles de kilómetros cuadrados cada una, han sido establecidas por gobiernos alrededor del mundo a lo largo de la década pasada como parte de los esfuerzos para reducir las declinaciones de biodiversidad oceánica, sin embargo su efectividad sigue siendo tema de debate. La MPA del archipiélago de Chagos (640,000 km 2 ) (Océano Índico) yace al centro de este debate. Llevamos a cabo el primer rastreo satelital de una especie migratoria, la tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas), dentro de la MPA y evaluamos el uso de la especie de áreas protegidas y áreas no protegidas. Desarrollamos una estrategia para estimar la duración de residencia dentro de la MPA que podría tener utilidad para taxones migratorios, incluyendo atunes y tiburones. Registramos la migración más larga jamás publicada para un quelonio adulto (3979 Km). Siete de 8 individuos rastreados migraron a zonas de alimentación distantes, a menudo ≥ 1000 Km fuera de la MPA. Una de las tortugas viajó a zonas de alimentación dentro de la MPA. Así, las redes de pequeñas MPAs, desarrolladas sinérgicamente con MPAs más grandes puede incrementar la cantidad de tiempo que las especies migratorias pasan dentro de áreas protegidas. La MPA protegerá a las tortugas durante la temporada reproductiva y protegerá a algunas tortugas en sus zonas de alimentación dentro de la MPA y a otras durante la primera parte de sus migraciones pos-reproductivas de larga distancia. Se necesitará cooperación internacional para desarrollar la red de pequeñas MPAs necesarias para complementar la MPA del archipiélago Chagos.


The Role of Zoos and Captive Breeding

Figure 7. Zoos and captive breeding programs help preserve many endangered species, such as this golden lion tamarin. (credit: Garrett Ziegler)

Zoos have sought to play a role in conservation efforts both through captive breeding programs and education (Figure 7). The transformation of the missions of zoos from collection and exhibition facilities to organizations that are dedicated to conservation is ongoing. In general, it has been recognized that, except in some specific targeted cases, captive breeding programs for endangered species are inefficient and often prone to failure when the species are reintroduced to the wild. Zoo facilities are far too limited to contemplate captive breeding programs for the numbers of species that are now at risk. Education, on the other hand, is a potential positive impact of zoos on conservation efforts, particularly given the global trend to urbanization and the consequent reduction in contacts between people and wildlife. A number of studies have been performed to look at the effectiveness of zoos on people’s attitudes and actions regarding conservation and at present, the results tend to be mixed.

Suggested Supplemental Reading:

Quammen. 2019. Saving Africa’s Parks. National Geographic. December

Attribution

Preserving Biodiversity by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0 . Modified from the original by Matthew R. Fisher.


What is the point of saving endangered species?

It will cost billions of dollars to save all the world's threatened species. What's in it for us?

In 1981, mountain gorillas were at rock-bottom. Confined to a small mountain range in central Africa, with humans encroaching on their habitat bringing poaching and civil war, their population was estimated at just 254. They would all have fitted into a single Boeing 747.

Today things look a little better. A survey in 2012 reported that the population was up to 880. That is a big improvement, but it's still only two Boeing 747s of mountain gorillas. They remain critically endangered.

We hear similar tales of woe all the time, from all around the world. Whether it's tigers, pandas, California condors or coral reefs, much of the world's wildlife is under threat. It's initially upsetting, and eventually just numbing.

Is it worth worrying about it all? Sure, it will be sad if there aren't any more cute pandas on the planet, but it's not like we depend on them. Besides, surely it's more important to take care of humans &ndash who, let's face it, have their own problems to worry about &ndash than to spend millions of dollars preserving animals. What, in short, is the point of conservation?

On the face of it, there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn't bother to save endangered species. The most obvious is the staggering cost involved.

One study in 2012 estimated that it would cost $76 billion (£49 billion) a year to preserve threatened land animals. Saving all the endangered marine species might well cost far more. Why should we spend all that money on wildlife when we could spend it to stop people dying of starvation or disease?

It can be particularly hard to understand why anyone would want to preserve animals like wolves, which pose a threat both to people and livestock. Surely there are some species we would be better off without.

Species go extinct all the time anyway. As well as individual species dying out, there have been five mass extinctions that obliterated swathes of species. The most recent one, 65 million years ago, took out the dinosaurs.

The extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century

If extinction is a natural process that goes on even in the absence of humans, why should we stop it?

One answer is that species are now going extinct far faster than they used to. A recent study estimated that the extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century, and we seem to be to blame.

But beyond that, there's a simple reason to save species: because we want to.

Many of us love the natural world. We think animals are cute, majestic, or just plain fascinating. We love walking in the dappled sunlight of an old forest, or scuba-diving over a coral reef. Who doesn't think mountain gorillas are awesome?

The fact that some of us find nature beautiful, by itself, won't do

Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat.

The first problem with this argument is that it spells doom for all those animals and plants that people are less fond of: the ugly, the smelly and the just plain obscure. If we don't find them appealing, they're out.

More fundamentally, it comes from a position of luxury and privilege. It's all very well for a moneyed person in the western world to want to preserve tigers because they're nice to look at, but that doesn't cut much ice with a villager in rural India whose family is in danger from one.

So the fact that some of us find nature beautiful, by itself, won't do. There needs to be a more practical reason to keep species around.

You often hear it said that we should keep ecosystems like rainforests because they probably contain useful things, in particular medicines. The classic challenge is "what if a plant goes extinct that could be the cure for cancer?"

What happens to all the species that don't make useful things like medicines?

The practice of exploring nature to find commercially useful products is called bioprospecting. It does sometimes lead to useful new things, but it comes with a host of problems.

The first is that we have plenty of ways to find new medicines, which don't involve trekking through thousands of miles of dangerous jungle in the faint hope of finding a miracle plant.

There is also the matter of who controls the knowledge. Often, local people are already aware of the medicinal uses of plants, and object to outsiders trying to co-opt them. Legal battles have been fought over this.

And again, what happens to all the species that don't make useful things like medicines? The blood of mountain gorillas is unlikely to contain a cure for cancer. So this argument, while it has some force, doesn't get us very far.

The big leap forward came in the 1990s, when biologists started outlining all the ways animals and plants benefit us just by being there. These benefits, which most of us take for granted, are called "ecosystem services".

Many of our crop plants rely on these insects to produce seeds

Some of these services are obvious. For instance, there are plants and animals that we eat. Meanwhile, photosynthetic plankton in the sea, and green plants, provide us with the oxygen we breathe.

These are quite direct, but sometimes the services provided can be more subtle. Pollinating insects like bumblebees are an obvious example.

Many of our crop plants rely on these insects to produce seeds, and would not survive &ndash let alone provide us with food &ndash without them. This is why the decline in pollinating insects has provoked so much concern.

To understand how much we rely on ecosystem services, imagine a world where humans are the only species &ndash perhaps in a spaceship far from Earth.

It is far easier to let the existing wildlife do them for us

There are no plants releasing oxygen, so you have to engineer a way to make it yourself. So straight away you need a chemical processing plant on board your ship. That same plant will have to make water too.

There is also nothing to eat, so you must artificially make food. You could synthesise chemicals like sugars and fats, but making it appetising would be extremely hard. As of 2015, we can't even make an artificial burger that everyone finds convincing.

Let's not even get started on the microorganisms living in your gut, many of which are beneficial. The point is that, while we could in theory do all these things artificially, it would be very difficult. It is far easier to let the existing wildlife do them for us.

The scale of these ecosystem services, when you add them up, turns out to be extraordinarily large.

In 1997, ecologist Robert Costanza and his colleagues estimated that the biosphere provides services worth around $33 trillion a year. For comparison, they noted that the entire global economy at the time produced around $18 trillion a year.

Unchecked species loss would wipe 18% off global economic output by 2050

Five years later, the team took the argument a step further by asking how much we would gain by conserving biodiversity. They concluded that the benefits would outweigh the costs by a factor of 100. In other words, conserving nature is a staggeringly good investment.

By contrast, letting species decline and go extinct looks like a bad move. A 2010 study concluded that unchecked species loss would wipe 18% off global economic output by 2050.

You may perhaps be feeling that all this talk of economics and growth is strange. It's all rather cold and heartless, without any of the love for the natural world that we were talking about earlier. Well, many environmentalists feel the same way.

The environmentalist journalist George Monbiot has been a particularly vocal critic.

Monbiot argues that the valuations are unreliable, which allows those in power to rig the accounting however they see fit. If someone wants to build a road through an important habitat, they can simply overestimate the benefits of the road and downplay those from the wildlife.

Many conservation groups now support putting a value on ecosystems

He may well be right that any such system would be open to abuse. The counter-argument is that without such a system, the abuse happens anyway &ndash which is why many conservation groups now support putting a value on ecosystems.

In fact, one of the good things about the idea of ecosystem services is that it is all-encompassing. As a result, the weaker arguments we mentioned before now start to make some sense.

Take the idea that nature is beautiful and we should preserve it for its aesthetics and wonder. Our pleasure at the beauty of nature can now be thought of as an ecosystem service. Nature provides us with beauty.

If we value something and are prepared to pay to have it, then it has value

You may well ask how we can put a price on that. How do you objectively measure beauty?

Well, you can't, but that doesn't stop us deciding what it's worth. We do it all the time with paintings, music and other forms of art. If we value something and are prepared to pay to have it, then it has value.

To do the same thing with nature, we just need a system that allows us to pay to experience it.

One simple example is safari holidays that take tourists to see mountain gorillas. This is called ecotourism.

Ecotourism offers a way to make the beauty of nature pay for itself

The people running those holidays have a clear incentive to keep the animals safe. The gorillas are their livelihood, and running these tours may well pay better than other occupations like farming.

Of course, this idea has its difficulties. Tourists bring unfamiliar diseases with them, which can pose a threat to the gorillas &ndash although facemasks can help. Too many visitors can also disrupt gorilla societies.

But in principle, ecotourism offers a way to make the beauty of nature pay for itself.

This sort of thinking turns our ideas about conservation on their heads, according to the conservation biologist Georgina Mace of University College London in the UK.

You don't have to care about mountain gorillas

Go back to the 1960s, and we were being told to preserve wildlife simply for its own sake. Mace calls this line of thinking "nature for itself".

Fast forward to the 2000s and we are now talking about "nature for people", thanks to the idea of ecosystem services. Even if you don't buy the moral argument that "wild things and places have incalculable intrinsic value", there are hard-nosed practical reasons to save them. You don't have to care about mountain gorillas to appreciate the value of a strong ecotourism industry.

Still, at first glance it does seem like the idea of ecosystem services should push us towards a rather selective approach to conservation. "Let's keep the things the tourists will go and see, and the things that pollinate our crops or otherwise make themselves useful, and the rest can go hang."

But there is another way of looking at it.

Let's consider the mountain gorillas. They live in a mountain range where the trees are covered with thick forests. If we want to preserve the gorillas, we also have to preserve the ecosystem they live in.

Some of this is obvious. The gorillas need plants to eat, so we must ensure those are there.

But we also can't let the area be overrun by inedible weeds. That in turn means keeping most of the other animals, as they will shape the plant community.

Maybe those gorillas aren't such a good investment after all

The mountain gorillas are part of a wider network of species, and it's difficult to separate them from it. Wiping out one of these species might not make much difference, or then again it might cause a chain reaction that alters the entire ecosystem. It's hard to predict the effect of killing off a species unless you go ahead and kill it &ndash and then it's too late to reverse it.

So if we decide to save the mountain gorillas, by extension we are also choosing to preserve the particular habitat they live in and the majority of the species that live alongside them.

At this point many people balk. It's one thing to pay to save awesome mountain gorillas, they say, but now we have to pay out to save a bunch of trees, shrubs and insects too? Maybe those gorillas aren't such a good investment after all.

However, there are good reasons to keep the forests, and not just because they support the mountain gorillas.

Forests on hillsides provide a number of useful services that we don't always appreciate. In particular, they help ensure a regular water supply.

A tiny, obscure worm may not be doing anything that's obviously useful to humans

Everyone knows that the weather is changeable. Sometimes you get too much rain, which means floods. At other times there isn't enough, which means drought. Both are dangerous.

Trees on the hills help smooth this out, ensuring a more reliable supply of fresh water. This is good news for people living on the lowlands.

For this to really work, the forest needs to be reasonably stable. It's no use if it sometimes dies back suddenly just when really heavy rains come. It needs to be resilient.

Ecologists have amassed evidence that ecosystems with a wider range of species are more stable and resilient, and less prone to sudden die-backs. This has a startling implication. A tiny, obscure worm may not be doing anything that's obviously useful to humans, but it is probably supporting the ecosystem it lives in &ndash and that ecosystem will be providing services.

Whether you put it in economic terms or not, science is telling us that ecosystems provide us with a host of things we can't do without, and that the more diverse each ecosystem is, the better.

We can't preserve nature without first figuring out how doing so will be good for humans

So for our own good &ndash both in terms of practical things like food and water, and less physical needs like beauty &ndash we should protect them.

Of course, human society is part of the ecosystem too, and you won't find many people willing to get rid of us. As a result, many conservationists now say that we can't preserve nature without first figuring out how doing so will be good for humans, because any conservation scheme needs popular support.

Equally, we can't take care of ourselves without also preserving nature, because we need it for so many things. In specific situations we might choose to favour one or the other, but overall we have to do both.

This is a new way of thinking about conservation. It's not "nature for itself", because it's explicitly about helping people. It's also not quite "nature for people", because it's not just a matter of the direct goods that ecosystems offer us.

It does mean ensuring that ecosystems are as rich and diverse as possible

Instead it's about seeing human society and wild ecosystems as one inseparable whole. Mace has called this perspective "nature and people".

This doesn't mean preserving every last species, which we couldn't do even if we tried. It's also not about keeping things exactly the same, because that's impossible too.

But it does mean ensuring that ecosystems are as rich and diverse as possible. That will be good for them, and good for us.


Opinion: It's Time to Stop Thinking That All Non-Native Species Are Evil

How can we best come to terms with the exotic species that surround us?

What should be done with the wattle-necked softshell turtles on the Hawaiian island of Kauai?

The turtles came from China, starting in the 1850s, brought by sugarcane farmers who liked them as soup. Today, they're endangered in China and considered invasive—the term for non-native species that cause undesirable effects—in Kauai. But conservationists don't believe the animals are safe from hunting in their home range, so there's little point in boxing them up and sending them back.

It's a head scratcher: Should we remove the turtles from Kauai to preserve the native ecosystem there—the turtles could potentially eat native fish—and risk the extinction of their species, or should we keep them alive in Hawaii?

Those kinds of knotty questions are becoming more commonplace in ecology, as global change accelerates. And so a new attitude is emerging that's less reflexively hostile toward invaders. It was much in evidence at a symposium held last week at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana. I participated as a journalist but not a disinterested observer: I've argued in the past that it's time for a more nuanced approach to the non-native plants and animals among us.

Invasive species are scary. It was ecologist Charles Elton, back in the 1950s, who introduced the militaristic "invasion" metaphor to describe exotic plants and animals—but there's no question some can be extremely destructive.

The brown tree snake has eaten a dozen kinds of forest birds in Guam to extinction zebra mussels clog pipes around the Great Lakes the common house cat turns out to be, in Australia, a mercilessly effective killer of cute, fluffy marsupials like the bilby and the numbat.

As scientists have sounded the alarm about these pests, the public has gotten the message. Citizen groups rip out non-native plants. Native gardens have become increasingly popular, both as ways to celebrate the unique flora of each region and as tiny hot spots of diversity. Native trees provide food for native bugs, which feed native birds. Food chains developed over thousands of years of co-evolution unfold in our backyards. We're even going native in the kitchen, with fine restaurants increasingly focused around locally hunted, foraged, and grown ingredients.

So we've learned, scientists and lay people alike, that native species are good and non-natives are bad.

Julian Olden, a biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who co-organized the symposium, recently polled nearly 2,000 ecologists. Among his findings: A substantial number of them said they would immediately eradicate a hypothetical non-native forest plant, even if it were shown to have no effect on the forest. Olden calls this the "guilty even when proven innocent" approach.

That kind of approach is not very useful on a rapidly changing planet.

Climate change is making it harder even to decide who the invaders are.

How, scientists at the symposium wondered, do you define "native" on a warming planet, when plants and animals are already moving toward the poles or up mountainsides in search of climate conditions they can tolerate? Should we consider them "invasive" in their new homes? Regardless of what we label them, conservationists will be reluctant to remove them from their new environs—to do so would stymie their chances of adapting to the warmer future we're creating.

And then there are the non-natives that we actually like. Most domestic crops are exotic in most of the places they're grown, but there are even wild exotics that "do good," forming useful relationships with native species.

Edwin Grosholz of the University of California, Davis, told the recent symposium about one such relationship. On beaches in his state, non-native spartina grass has become important habitat for the endangered California clapper rail, a plump shorebird with a downward curving bill more at home on land than in the air. A project to rip out and poison the spartina—which grows in dense swaths that exclude many other shorebirds—saw clapper rail numbers go tumbling downward.

There are other examples like that. The endangered southwestern willow flycatcher nests in "invasive" tamarisk shrubs. Many native (and beautiful) Hawaiian flowers are now pollinated by the Japanese white-eye bird—because the native pollinators have been driven extinct by other non-native species.

Should we impose further risk on already endangered natives by severing these relationships? Or should we admire the resilience of nature and let such "well-behaved" exotics stay?

Weirdest of all is the puzzle of the invasive species that are themselves endangered, like the wattle-necked turtle. Dov Sax, an ecologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and symposium co-organizer, reported that 15 percent of mammals and 10 percent of birds that have been introduced in non-native habitats are under threat in their home ranges.

Hippos, vulnerable to extinction in sub-Saharan Africa, are multiplying in the lakes of Colombia, after being imported by drug lord Pablo Escobar. The red-crowned Amazon parrot is endangered in its home in northeast Mexico, but flourishes in noisy flocks in cities in California and Hawaii. What do we do with such cases?

Leave them alone, more and more conservationists are arguing, and stop focusing obsessively on categorizing species as native or non-native. Mark Davis, an ecologist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, once considered himself an "invasion biologist"—but not anymore. "I am actively trying to get the field to retire the invader narrative," he said in Missoula.

A Good Thing, Not the Only Thing

After all, nativeness is just one environmental value, and arguably not as important as preventing extinctions and preserving biodiversity. In some cases we can best serve biodiversity by leaving the non-natives alone or even—brace yourself, now—introducing them on purpose.

This is the thinking behind, for example, installing the Aldabra tortoise on the islands of Mauritius. The islands lost their own large tortoises, and the fruiting plants that formerly had their seeds moved around by these fruit-loving reptiles have been on the decline. A tortoise that's related to the island's large tortoises—a non-native from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean that was intentionally introduced in 2004—is now handling some of that work.

Most of the time, for the time being, conserving species still means focusing on supporting them in their historical habitats, planting natives and removing non-natives. We can and should do that in places where it is feasible and important to us.

As native gardening guru Douglas Tallamy has shown us, nothing beats a native tree for supporting biodiversity. Keeping whole landscapes completely native will require more and more active management as time goes on—but for some special places, it will probably be worth it.

But the weirder, tougher cases will keep coming up. As climate changes, as the species we've already moved around establish themselves in their new homes, we'll be called on more and more to choose between the needs of a threatened species and the historical continuity of an ecosystem.

Which matters most to you is a personal decision. For me, though I highly value the particular distribution of life that makes each place unique, species survival trumps historical fidelity. Ultimately, I care more that species exist than that they stay where they're "supposed" to be. Let the turtles stay on Kauai.

I also believe that hating non-native species is counterproductive and unfair. Even the deadly tree snakes in Guam, responsible as a species for so many extinctions, are not evil as individuals. They have no idea they aren't in the right place. They're just snakes being snakes.

It makes more sense to be angry at the humans who moved a harmful species to a new place—but in general, harmful introductions were accidents or were undertaken by people who meant well.

And most of the extinctions and population declines that mar our beautiful Earth aren't caused by exotic species. They're due to development that is destroying habitat, often needlessly. That's the real bad guy. If you must hate something, hate mindless development.

When my kids and I see Queen Anne's lace by the roadside or the lemony yellow flowers of the common mullein—both very common non-native weeds in the United States—I don't scowl. I don't see those flowers as evil villains or even as a blemish on the landscape. They're unlikely to drive any other species extinct. They don't know they're on the wrong continent. And no matter where they are, they're still beautiful.


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