Humans behind bird species’ loss

Further to the results of a study published towards the end of last year that estimated the extinction of 279 bird species and subspecies – principally from islands in the Pacific – had occurred during the last 500 years, more recent research that studied fossil records as well as evidence from mathematical modelling, has found that bird loss in the Pacific region is closer to 1000 species. The results of this study were published in the March issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and they confirm extinctions coincided with humans colonising the region approximately 4000 years ago. The research showed the subsequent disturbance of fragile ecosystems from a combination of deforestation, hunting, and the introduction of invasive species such as cats, rats, and pigs – together with the diseases they carried – drove the decline.

Co-authors of the report, Tim Blackburn, director of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology, and Richard Duncan, professor in conservation ecology at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology, led the research that widened the earlier study’s scale and extent of the extinctions by incorporating the use of bird fossils to calculate the results. These were collected from 41 remote islands in the eastern Pacific that were among the last to see human habitation. The collected data was used to create a mathematical model that estimated each island’s extinction rates, and showed the islands were once home to a total of 618 populations of 193 nonpasserine landbirds. This comprised 371 populations present at the time of European contact, and 247 populations known only as fossils. Continue reading Humans behind bird species’ loss

Extinction fears held for koala

Picture: Pumpmeup.

Developers may be placing koalas at their greatest ever risk of extinction according to conservation groups.

The ABC reported that it has obtained a copy of the Federal Government’s draft guidelines regarding how industry determines if its activities will affect habitat.

Critics of the guidelines claim the proposed amendments will give developers too much power. In NSW, Queensland and the ACT, developers are required to account for koala listings when making building applications.

The Australian Koala Foundation are campaigning against proposed changes in which developers will conduct their own sustainability assessments of habitat areas they wish to occupy.

The controversy comes in the wake of evidence that suggests koalas are extinct on the NSW far south coast. Continue reading Extinction fears held for koala

Public may have final say in extinction choices

Hugh Possingham

Which native species will survive for future generations is a dilemma that can be solved by society, not society, a leading ecologist has said.

Hugh Possingham, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) at the University of Queensland, said that world-first Australian research was showing that it was now possible to estimate how many species can be saved based on how much was spent on protecting them and their habitats.

For the first time we are starting to get a handle on the return on investment from conservation,” he said.

However, this also clearly shows that, at current levels of funding and current rates of extinction, we won’t be able to save everything.

It will come down to a public decision about what kind of Australia we really want, which native species we should strive to keep – and how many we feel we can afford to let go.” Continue reading Public may have final say in extinction choices

Fatal feeding the cause of mass deaths?

Saiga tatarica.A vet from London’s Royal Veterinary College believes overeating could be the reason why Kazakhstan’s critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) population has suffered its second mass die-off in a row.

At a critical disease workshop held recently in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, Richard Kock rejected the original diagnosis of pasteurellosis being the cause of death, and instead concluded the animals’ own hunger and thirst post calving, and a desire to feed on rich, moisture- laden pasture, was more likely to blame.

Both the 2010 and 2011 die-offs occurred during May, and primarily involved female saiga and their offspring. An area in the region’s Zhanibek location, long recognised as principal habitat for the Ural saiga population due to its having several low lying areas of rich pasture, was the site of both mass mortalities. However a herd of approximately 4000 animals that pastured elsewhere after calving this year, remained healthy and unaffected.

“I’m not convinced after examining the evidence that the cause for this mass die-off was pasteurellosis, or any other primary bacterial or viral transmissable contagious disease for that matter. The epidemiology doesn’t fit well. I suspect this is a die-off associated with the specific location, and pasture conditions at the time,” Kock said. Continue reading Fatal feeding the cause of mass deaths?

Javan rhino confirmed extinct in Vietnam

The Vietnamese subspecies of the Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was declared extinct in a report critical of Vietnam’s ‘poor protection and law enforcement’ that was jointly produced by the International Rhino Foundation and World Wildlife Fund.

Although widely believed to have perished during the Vietnam War, a rhino was hunted in the Cat Loc region of southern Vietnam in 1988, which led to the discovery of a small population of about 15 animals. The area was subsequently designated protected in 1992 and eventually incorporated into Cat Tien National Park, but despite conservation attempts by several organisations, the results of a 2004 survey identified only two individuals remained.

Further survey work by a research team from WWF and Cat Tien National Park, conducted between October 2009 and April 2010, involved the collection of 22 dung samples from the park’s core rhino area.

They were sent to Canada’s Queen’s University for genetic analysis, together with the skin and teeth samples from the mutilated body of a female Javan rhino, that was found soon after the official survey ended. The results confirmed that all the samples were from one individual. According to the WWF report the dead rhino was the probable victim of poaching: ‘a common problem in most protected areas in Vietnam that threatens the survival of many other species’.

WWF’s species program manager in the Greater Mekong Nick Cox said the report showed actions to save the Javan rhino in Vietnam were inadequate, and this continued situation would undoubtedly lead to the extinction of many more species from the country. Continue reading Javan rhino confirmed extinct in Vietnam