This woolly rhino baby, affectionately named Sasha by the man who found it, was the first young member of its species ever found. It’s unclear if it is male or female, but the horn size suggests it had been weaned by the time it died. It roamed the mammoth steppe, a dry, cold region from Spain to Siberia.
Scientists unearthed s squashed, mummified cat in eastern Siberia in 2017. It could either be a lynx kitten or a cave lion cub. Its coat is in beautiful condition, but we can’t be sure of the species as we don’t really know what a cave lion looked like.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…Ancient Coronavirus InfectionHumans have been battling dangerous viruses since the beginning of time. An ancient coronavirus may have infected the ancestors of people living in modern-day East Asia starting 25,000 years ago and for millennia afterward, according to a new study.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.463.0_en.html#goog_1699852498Volume 0% PLAY SOUND
Explorers unearthed two mammoth calves dating to about 40,000 years ago in two different areas of Siberia. Researchers took a closer look at the specimens using CT scans and discovered that both baby mammoths had choked on mud. The little mammoths appeared otherwise plump and healthy when they met their demise.
The most complete steppe bison specimen ever found is 9,000 years old. It has a complete heart, brain and digestive system, along with near-perfect blood vessels. Some organs have shrunk over time but are remarkable, nonetheless.
A two-month-old horse that died between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago made its way approximately 100 meters (328 feet) below the surface, deep in a Siberian crater. In life, the young horse stood almost 1 m (3 feet) tall, and its hooves are still intact, along with tiny hairs that are still visible inside the foal’s nostrils. Advertisement
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill Friday allowing the use of private funds to reimburse wolf hunters or trappers for their expenses — reminiscent of bounties that widely exterminated the species in the last century.
Hunting and livestock groups, and their Republican allies in the legislature, contend not enough of the 1,200 wolves in Montana are being killed by hunters to limit their impact on big game outfitters or cattle and sheep producers.
Last week, Gianforte signed bills to allow the snaring of wolves, in addition to trapping; and another one to extend the wolf hunting season.
Lawmakers have also forwarded to the governor a bill to allow individuals to kill an unlimited number of wolves, hunt at night with artificial lights and night vision scopes and use bait to lure wolves into traps.
In Idaho, a bill that would allow the state to hire private contractors to reduce the wolf population from about 1,500 to 150 is quickly moving through the legislature. It allows the use of night-vision equipment to kill wolves as well as hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, among other changes.
Backers cite cattle and sheep deaths that cost ranchers hundreds of thousands of dollars, while opponents say the legislation threatens a 2002 wolf management plan involving the federal government.
Climate change has threatened the existence of several living species, including humankind itself.
One author predicts that on the current course, climate change will lead to a mass extinction on Earth.
Still, there are people fighting to change course.
In the more than 4 billion year history of the Earth, there have been just five mass extinctions, most scientists agree. One science journalist is predicting the next one is already here — and all there is to do is slow it down.
“We are on the verge of another major mass extinction, unless we change course dramatically,” Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning “The Sixth Extinction,” told CBS. “The question of how much we’re responsible for it is pretty much 100%. We have no reason to believe we would be seeing these elevated extinction rates were it not for all the ways we are changing the planet faster than other species can evolve to adapt to.”
America is changing faster than ever!Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.
While her last book predicted that climate change would lead to mass extinction, Kolbert’s newest book, “Under a White Sky,” offers hope that humankind can change course. The book examines climate change efforts worldwide while also examining both the pros and cons of relying on technology to be the solution. Still, the New Yorker writer argues that something is better than nothing in this case.
“We have to realize that there’s a lot of damage that’s been done that’s kind of baked into this system,” Kolbert said. “We can leave a serious problem for our kids or we can leave a disastrous problem for our kids.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE RIGHT NOW
It’s here. SB314 “The Wolf Extermination” bill will he heard and voted on Tuesday afternoon, 4/13, in the Montana House of Representatives. It will then have a final hearing and vote most likely the following day before dying or going to Governor Gianforte.
SB314 by Rep. Bob Brown mandates the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission reduce wolves in our state down to the bare minimum, but no less than 15 breeding pairs in order to avoid re-listing. It enables them to do so by the “most liberal” and unethical methods such as hunting over bait, killing latter stage pregnant wolves, night hunting, night vision scopes, multiple wolves on one tag, and of course indiscriminate cruel traps and snares. One can easily anticipate killing contests inclusive of wolves.
Passage of SB314 will mean ~85-90% of wolves in Montana will have a legal and unjust target on their backs. Yet, they are having no difficulty killing wolves in Montana. Every year they break a new record. This 2020 wolf season was no exception. Hitting a new high, over 325 wolves were reported killed by trapping and hunting. This does not account for poaching, SB200 landowner wolf kills, highway mortality, etc. in which an estimated 500 wolves are killed every year in Montana. Depending on who is talking, Montana’s estimated wolf population is between 800-1200 wolves, or was.
SB314 takes the other trap and kill wolves bills, HB224 Wolf Snaring, HB225 Extended Wolf Season, SB267 Wolf Bounties, passing into law now in our state with Governor Gianforte’s signature and ties them all up in a bow requiring the Wildlife Commission implement these means, methods, and more, to exterminate wolves in Montana….but avoid the Feds.
In response to an email with the data, science, and our objections to SB314 we sent to all Montana Representatives, today, we already heard back from one. Rep. Gunderson, HD1, Libby, Montana. Gunderson Steven <firstname.lastname@example.org> Tue 4/13/2021 To: Trap Free Montana Public Lands TFMPL Thanks for reminding me of the many reasons to vote for Senator Brown’s bill!!
We have not received a reply in requesting his reasons.
Call the front desk and leave a message for up to 5 Representatives urging a NO on SB314. 1-406-444-4800
Also today, Tuesday, the 13th, HB367, by Rep Paul Fielder, Senate Fish & Game hearing is this afternoon and we will be testifying against it. They meet at 3pm. HB367 is to amend our Montana constitution making hunting, fishing and trapping a right and the preferred methods to manage wildlife in our state. In 2004, Montana voters overwhelming supported amending the constitution to preserve the opportunity to hunt and fish, not to trap. If this reaches the Senate floor and passes with 34 out of 50 Montana Senators it will go before Montana voters in November 2022.
Do not let up on contacting and urging our Montana Senators to Vote NO on HB367 a significant far reaching Constitutional amendment disastrous to wildlife and that will cost us a small fortune to defeat if it winds up going to the voters.
Snow leopards in the Himalayas, lemurs in Madagascar and elephants in central Africa: Some of Earth’s most beloved creatures are on a path to extinction, a new study shows, thanks to current greenhouse gas emissions. Unless humans stop pumping carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, researchers say the planet’s biodiversity will suffer devastating consequences.
In a study published Friday in the journal Biological Conservation, scientists warn that some of the richest concentrations of plants and animals on Earth will be “irreversibly ravaged” by global warming unless countries make a real effort toward their goals made under the 2015 Paris climate treaty. They report a high danger for extinction in almost 300 biodiversity “hot spots” if temperatures rise three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
So, which species will be hit hardest? Scientists point to endemic species: Plants and animals found exclusively in specific locations, like one country or one island — animals like snow leopards and forest elephants.
They found that endemic land species, specifically in biodiverse hot spots, are nearly three times as likely to suffer losses due to climate change than species that are more widespread, and 10 times more likely than invasive species.
“Climate change threatens areas overflowing with species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” lead author Stella Manes said in a statement. “The risk for such species to be lost forever increases more than 10-fold if we miss the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
Not all species face the same threat. In mountain regions, 84% of endemic species face extinction if Earth warms another two degrees, while that number rises to 100% on islands.
Overall, more than 90% of land-based endemic species and 95% of marine ones will be adversely affected. Mediterranean marine species are particularly vulnerable because they are trapped in an enclosed sea.
“By nature, these species cannot easily move to more favorable environments,” explains co-author Mark Costello.
Two out of three species in the tropics could perish due to climate change alone. And safe havens in biodiversity hot spots, which conservationists have worked to establish for years to protect these species, may prove useless in the face of climate change.
“Unfortunately, our study shows that those biodiversity rich-spots will not be able to act as species refugia from climate change,” said co-author Mariana Vale.
Scientists say every tenth of a degree matters to avoid the devastating consequences of a mass extinction event. But carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere continued to rise in 2020, with CO2 level reaching their highest point in 3.6 million years.
It’s less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.
But this Southeast Asian native stands out in one notable way: It sings like an angel.
“It’s arguably the most beautiful song of any bird,” says Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor Conservation Research Society and an expert on Asian songbirds. “It’s amazing,” he adds.
The bird’s beautiful voice serves a vital ecological purpose: Males use it to attract mates. The better the song, the greater the chance of finding a female and propagating the species.
But the song has also come with a terrible modern cost. Humans have come to value the bulbul’s calls so much that they’ve collected the birds from almost every inch of their habitat. Captured birds, quickly caged, have been shipped to markets throughout Southeast Asia. Due to this overwhelming commercial demand, the species has disappeared from most of its range and is now critically endangered. Only a few pocket populations continue to hang on.
And the straw-headed bulbul is far from alone in this decline. Practically every songbird species in Southeast Asia faces a similar predicament. Many birds face the very real risk of imminent extinction, leaving some forests in the region eerily silent.
Recent research finds that several songbirds have become perilously close to vanishing — if they haven’t been lost already.
One Indonesian bird, the Simeulue hill myna, has only just been described as genetically and morphologically unique from other lookalike species. It probably went extinct in the wild in the past two or three years, according to a paper published last spring in the journal Ibis. As the researchers wrote, “On multiple recent excursions to Simeulue, most recently in July 2018, we were unable to find the bird and learned from locals that there had been a great drive to catch the last survivors on the island in response to a wealthy person’s bounty on these birds.”
The paper calls this an “extinction-in-process” and warns that any remaining birds left in captivity may die without producing offspring. Even if they do manage to breed, the researchers fear they could be hybridized with other similar-in-appearance mynas, obscuring their genetic lineage.
That same phrase, extinction-in-process, has also been used to describe the Barusan shama, which according to a 2019 study published in the journal Forktail has become one of the most threatened of Asian songbirds due to rampant collection. It’s now gone from all but one island.
Like the Simeulue hill myna, the Barushan shama’s plight went virtually unnoticed for years because many taxonomists have classified it as a subspecies rather than a full species. Newer research finds that it’s a species with four subspecies, few of which may now survive.
Not that the species/subspecies disputes matter too much at this point.
“Taxonomic debates about the rank of these forms should not stand in the way of trying to ensure the survival of what is clearly an evolutionarily distinct lineage,” says Frank Rheindt, a biologist with National University of Singapore and senior or lead author on both of the papers.
So what happens to these birds once they’re taken from the wild?
That’s where the story gets even bleaker.
Songbirds are an important element of culture and tradition for many peoples in Southeast Asia. In Java, for example, it’s almost assumed that every household will have at least one pet songbird. The more birds, the more prestigious the home.
But wild songbirds in captivity…well, they don’t tend to last long.
“We’ve often called the caged songbird trade like cut flowers,” says Shepherd. “The birds look nice. They’re often inexpensive. You bring one home. It sits in a cage for a couple of days and it dies just like a cut flower. They’re not expected to live.”
And because many Asian cities feature massive markets full of birds that have been easily snatched from the wild — usually illegally — any bird that dies is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace.
Even bird traders don’t put much value on their stock, since a new supply of wild-caught birds always seems to be waiting in the wings.
“I’ve seen some cages where the surviving birds are all sitting on top of dead birds in the cages,” Shepherd says. “You can’t see the floor of the cage. It’s covered with a few layers of dead birds, and then there’s some sick and half-dead birds perched on top of them. And they cost the dealers next to nothing. So, you know, even if they sell a few, they think they must be covering their costs or you wouldn’t have a business model like that.”
Although all of this seems to favor low-cost disposability, some species are captive bred by the thousands, and prices can soar for the right birds.
As with so many other groups of heavily traded species, the rarest birds fetch higher prices from collectors — a “better get them before they’re gone” collector’s mentality that pushes prices higher, drives further poaching and drives birds even closer to extinction.
The Simeulue hill myna, for instance, might have sold for about $100-$150, “certainly if a foreigner or non-Simeulue person asks,” says Rheindt. “This is easily 2-4 monthly incomes for rural people on the island.”
The Caged Bird Sings
Along with its rarity, a bird’s appearance is clearly a valuable trait to collectors. Some of the birds are strikingly beautiful, like birds of paradise and the Javan white-eye.
But the quality that typically drives up a bird’s market price?
That, of course, would be the song.
A good song can earn a bird owner a big payday. Entire competitions have sprung up that offer cash prizes for the birds with the best songs — up to $50,000, according to some reports. On Java these events are known as Kicau-mania (“kicau” is Indonesian for “chirping”).
The bird doesn’t get much for his work. Perhaps some food and a chance to sing again.
But it can take a lot of human effort to inspire them to sing for their suppers.
“People will keep the male birds in captivity for a long time,” says Shepherd. “Some birds don’t want to sing in captivity and take a long time before they adjust to the point where they’ll start to sing. Then they’ll train the bird. They’ll keep it near other males so it sings more frequently, because they naturally compete with their songs.”
This forced companionship changes the very nature of the song.
“Some birds pick up notes and sounds from other species,” Shepherd says. “Some of the species that are disappearing, they’re just training birds. They’re not even the ones used in competition. They just keep them beside other the species that compete so they have a more complex and unique song in the competition.”
After that, it’s a bit like a dog show.
“Everybody takes their bird in a cage and there are songbird judges. They walk around and listen to the song and there’s big cash prizes for the bird with the best.” (Most recently, these competitions have moved online due to COVID-19.)
Through all of this, the gift nature gave these animals to help propagate their species — song — ends up driving them toward extinction.
This makes the trade similar to trophy hunting, which values the biggest animals or those with the most beautiful features. “The strongest bird in the wild, the one with the greatest song, would be the one that would pass on his genes,” Shepherd says. “Those are the ones being removed from the wild. So, you know, only inferior birds are left behind.”
Unlike trophy hunting, however, where an elephant’s tusks can theoretically trade hands in perpetuity, a bird’s song is ephemeral — sung once, then lost to time.
Shepherd says the Asian songbird crisis went virtually ignored for many years. Relatively few scientists studied it, and funding for conservation remained scarce. That’s been a costly delay.
“One of the interesting and sad things is that lot of the species that I worked on in the early Nineties, the ones I tried to raise the alarm on, are now gone or almost gone,” he says. “And then the ones I was working on that were extremely common at the time are now the next wave that’s disappearing.”
Fortunately, that’s started to change. For one thing, scientific research about the trade and affected species continues to pick up. One of the most worrying studies came out last August and found that Java now has more songbirds in cages than in its forests. The study found that one species, the Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla), now has fewer than 50 birds remaining in the wild, while 1.1 million live on the island in captivity.
Local groups have helped, too, which brings us back to the Simeulue hill myna and Barusan shama. A Simeulue-based organization called Ecosystemimpact set out to help the two birds at the beginning of 2020. Although their efforts were hampered by the COVID pandemic, they’re still trying to acquire any captive birds they can find to keep them out of the trade. If they do rescue any Simeulue hill mynas — such as four juvenile birds that reportedly recently turned up for sale on Facebook — they’ll need a permit from the government to breed them.
Even then, saving them from extinction won’t be easy.
“Hill myna are notoriously hard to breed, requiring large, tall aviaries with good vantage points over forested areas,” says program manager Tom Amey. “It’s not out of the question that hill myna will breed within our aviaries, but given their specific requirements, we feel it is unlikely.” They’re working on raising funding for new aviaries designed specifically for hill mynas.
They also hope to educate the community, to turn its love of captive birds into one that also supports wild populations.
“There is a distinct lack of bird song on Simeulue, especially within close to medium proximity of [human] habitation,” says Amey. “Our ambition is to bring the beautiful sounds of songbirds back to Simeulue’s forests and culture. Songbirds have played an important role in Simeulue culture and many members of the community wish to see them return.”https://www.instagram.com/p/BwMxmGahQZ2/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=13&wp=548&rd=https%3A%2F%2Ftherevelator.org&rp=%2Fasian-songbird-crisis%2F%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3Q8u8M27arScQoxAY0hnMENyNGO9pFIbiTrwoovUK1Qxm9eQZLsFKWxjw#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A6110.820000001695%2C%22ls%22%3A3848.984999989625%2C%22le%22%3A4061.6599999484606%7D
As with everything in the past year, progress to protect Asian songbirds has slowed down of late. “Unfortunately, the COVID crisis has been a huge, but legitimate, distraction from the global fight against extinction, and very little attention has been paid to such issues in the last few months,” says Rheindt.
Once the pandemic recedes, Shepherd suggests that tourism may play an important role in keeping birds alive, uncaged and in their natural habitats.
“There’s a very big birdwatching community,” he says, “and I think working with the community and with the birdwatching tour guides to raise awareness of the benefits of having songbirds around is important. The birdwatching industry’s worth millions. I think we need to raise awareness of the fact that you can lose your birds, but also awareness of the facts that having birds around is good for the environment, it’s good for your mental health, it’s good for all kinds of things — but it’s good for the economy.”
Until those messages resonate more than the ka-ching of a cash register, however, Asian songbirds will remain in crisis.
As Guardian Australia has reported, the last Christmas Island pipistrelle, a species of bat, died in 2009. It was followed by the sole remaining Christmas Island forest skink – the first Australian reptile known to have become extinct – in 2014. Both extinctions have previously been recorded by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The updated list means more than 10% of the 320 land mammals known to have lived in Australia in 1788 are extinct.Advertisement
The Wilderness Society’s Suzanne Milthorpe said there was “not another country, rich or poor, that has anything like this record” in mammal extinction. She said Haiti was next on the IUCN list for mammal extinctions with a total of nine.
Prof John Woinarski, a conservation biologist at Charles Darwin University who helped record the plight of many of the newly listed extinct species in two books, said the listings were “humbling and sobering”.
He said it was a reminder that extinction was a “likely event” after a species was listed as threatened if not enough was done to save it. “It is important to acknowledge that the losses have occurred and it’s a reminder that if we don’t manage our threatened species then extinction is the end result,” he said.
Woinarski said in almost all cases the most plausible explanation for their extinction was predation by feral cats, though introduced foxes, habitat destruction and fire may have played a role. “No other country has suffered anywhere near that number of mammal species extinctions over the past 200 years,” he said.
He said as museums had few-to-no records of the species, recording the extinctions often relied on knowledge shared by Indigenous elders living in remote parts of the country who had experienced them first-hand.
About 100 endemic Australian species have been listed as extinct by the government or the IUCN, but Woinarski said the real number was likely to be more than 10 times that once extinct invertebrates were counted. At least 50 invertebrate species on Christmas Island alone had not been seen for more than a century and were likely to be extinct, he said.
He said the first recorded modern extinction of an Australian reptile was “obviously a really lamentable landmark”. The Christmas Island forest skink was almost certainly killed by the accidental introduction of a predator from Asia, the wolf snake, in the 1970s.
He said the Christmas Island pipistrelle’s extinction was a result of a lack of government action, as it had been clear it was in rapid decline for two decades before it went extinct and the response was insufficient. There had never been an inquest or inquiry to find out what went wrong, he said.
“That was one we really should have been able to save,” he said.
Milthorpe, the Wilderness Society’s national environment laws campaign manager, said the updated list was a “devastating reality check on Australia’s environmental performance”. “It cements our reputation as the global leader in mammal extinctions,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a full response to the review from the Morrison government yet, only a disjointed attempt to devolve their environmental responsibilities to the states,” Milthorpe said. “Without the full package [of recommendations], Samuel made clear that extinction and a decline of our iconic natural areas will continue.”
Ley’s spokesperson said the minister had overseen a comprehensive review of the historical extinction list to accurately reflect the state of Australia’s mammals and provide an important record that could help improve the management of native plants and animals.
They said the government had “mobilised” more than $535m for projects to support threatened species and ecological communities since 2014, was preparing a 10-year threatened species strategy and introducing new predator-free safe havens.
“We are working to manage threats to native animals and plants on Christmas Island and across the rest of Australia, including supporting the recovery from the catastrophic black summer bushfires,” the spokesperson said.
Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said the Coalition was presiding over an “accelerating and disastrous extinction crisis”, and had slashed environment department funding since coming to power. “They have no solutions to this crisis and they just don’t care,” she said.
An analysis of coelacanth DNA suggests its genome has experienced some significant changes in recent evolutionary history, potentially dispelling the popular image of these iconic fish as being “living fossils.”
The discovery of a live coelacanth (pronounced “see-lah-kanth”) off the coast of South Africa in 1938 was quite the shock, as these animals were believed to be extinct. The large fish were thereafter referred to as “living fossils” owing to their uncanny resemblance to near-identical species spotted in the fossil record.
New research published in Molecular Biology and Evolution presents evidence showing that at least one species of coelacanth, formally known as Latimeria chalumnae, is not the living fossil it’s presumed to be, having acquired dozens of new genes in the past 23 million years—a surprising finding, and a far cry from the idea that the species has barely changed since its ancestors emerged over 300 million years ago. What’s more, the finding is further evidence that the living fossil concept is outdated and somewhat of a misnomer.
Not much is known about coelacanths, but they’re not particularly aggressive, and they’re actually somewhat social, Isaac Yellan, the first author of the new study, explained in an email. L. chalumnae lives in the Indian Ocean and the waters off the coast of southeast Africa, and, though not extinct, the fish is elusive and critically endangered, said Yellan, a graduate student with the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.
Yellan and his colleagues made the discovery while doing research into proteins that bind DNA, with a focus on a protein called CGG Binding Protein 1 (CGGBP1). Other researchers have studied the function of this protein in humans, but its role in evolutionary history is poorly understood, as is its apparent similarity to a specific family of transposons—DNA sequences capable of shifting positions within a genome. This led the team to study binding proteins in other species, in a journey that eventually led them to the idiosyncratic fish.
“The African coelacanth came into the picture when we started looking for CGGBPs [DNA binding proteins) in published genomes, and found out that it has 62 CGGBP genes—way more than any other vertebrate,” explained Yellan. “We then started to look into where this large gene family might have come from.”
As noted, the 62 genes are transposons, which are often referred to as “jumping genes,” because they “jump” around the genome, but they can also make copies of themselves. Transposons are considered parasitic genes, with the sole focus of self-replication, but some transposons can influence function. So, with 62 of these genes found in coelacanths, these jumping genes are probably playing an important role.
Indeed, the new paper is highlighting the dramatic influence transposons can have on a species’ overall genome and its ongoing evolution.
Transposons are “often parasitic and can be very harmful if they disrupt genes, but they sometimes do form cooperative relationships with their hosts,” said Yellan. “There are many different ways this can occur,” he said, and a limited amount of replication can increase the host’s genetic diversity. Sometimes, however, transposons lose their ability to replicate, “which their host can then take advantage of, as is the case with CGGBP1.”
This all sounds very freaky, but basically, the host species is sometimes able to leverage the situation, in which immobile transposons are retained due to their beneficial qualities. Think of it as another mechanism for evolution, an alternate form of mutation and selection. Such appears to be the case here, with the coelacanth’s unprecedented batch of 62 transposons, which are bona fide genes derived from immobile transposons, explained Yellan.
“I’d also want to point out the transposons we studied are no longer able to jump around in the coelacanth genome,” he added. “What remain are dead ‘fossils’ of their own, and the CGGBP genes.”
The researchers aren’t entirely sure what these 62 transposons are doing, but they’re probably playing a role in gene regulation, according to the paper.
Yellan and his colleagues, including molecular geneticist Tim Hughes, also from the University of Toronto, found related genes in the genomes of other animals, but the distribution of these genes pointed to an origin outside of common ancestors.
Indeed, some but not all transposons are acquired through interactions with other species, including distantly related species, in a process known as horizontal gene transfer. The authors can’t pinpoint the exact origin of the transposons documented in L. chalumnae, but they have some ideas.
“One way that transposons can be picked up and carried between species is through a parasitic intermediary host, such as a lamprey, which feeds on the blood of fish,” said Yellan. “This is supported by the fact that we found one of these transposons in a lamprey species, although we don’t know if coelacanths received it from the lamprey, or vice-versa.”
As the new paper also points out, these genes appeared at various points during the past 22.3 million years, a figure reached through a comparative analysis of the African fish with Latimeria menadoensis, its Indonesian counterpart (the only other extant species of coelacanth), as these two species of coelacanth diverged at that time.
Which leads us to the concept of living fossils—species whose genomes have barely changed over long periods of time. Other examples include the lungfish and tuatara (an animal that resembles the ancestor of both snakes and lizards), but, as Yellan explained, the genomes of these animals, like the coelacanth, aren’t static.
“Previous research has found that while coelacanth genes have evolved slowly compared to other fish, reptiles, and mammals, its genome as a whole has not evolved abnormally slowly and is hardly inert,” said Yellan.
To which he added: “I think that as more and more genomes are being published, the ‘living fossil’ concept is becoming increasingly something of a misconception, and I think many scientists would probably hesitate to assign it to any species.”
I always liked the concept of living fossils, but I’m sufficiently persuaded that it’s a bogus concept. Sure, animals can superficially resemble their distant ancestors, but it’s the parts beneath the hood that tell the whole story.
Humans are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than what is considered natural. Now, new research underscores the extent of the planet’s impoverishment.
Extinctions don’t just rob the planet of species but also of functional and phylogenetic diversity, the authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argue. “They are much newer ideas than species richness, so not as much exploration has been done about patterns of decline in these two metrics, particularly globally,” said Jedediah Brodie, first author of the study and conservation biologist at the University of Montana.
For example, rhinos loom large in public imagination but are, in fact, marching into oblivion. The Bornean rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), a subspecies of the Sumatran rhinoceros, has gone extinct in Malaysia. “It is such a tragedy because it’s an iconic and culturally important species,” Brodie said, “but also because they are super important both functionally and phylogenetically.”
Harvesting animals for subsistence or sale is the greatest threat to land-dwelling mammals, the new study found. About 15% of people in the world depend on wild animals, particularly vertebrates, for food. But hunting, illegal and legal, also feeds the global supply chain for wildlife and wildlife parts.
Rhino populations plummeted in the second half of the 20th century; they are heavily poached for their horns, and their ranges have shrunk dramatically over the decades. Of the five existing rhino species, three are critically endangered.
The study focused on terrestrial mammals, one of the most extensively studied groups. They used the IUCN Red List, the most widely cited and comprehensive compilation of endangered species and the threats they face.
By removing animals from their habitats, humans also remove them from ecosystems in which they evolved and play critical roles. To gauge the consequences is not a simple calculus.
“Say there are twenty species of grazing animals and only two species of seed-eating animals. If two species of the grazers go extinct, that doesn’t have that much impact on the functional diversity because there are still eighteen grazers left,” Brodie said. “But if the two species of seed-eating animals go extinct, it has a huge impact on functional diversity because all of a sudden you’ve lost this entire ecological function.”
In both cases, Brodie said, the species richness would decrease by two, but the effects would be very different.
Despite their fearsome reputation and bulk, rhinos, some of which can weigh as much as two cars, are herbivores. Bornean rhinos are one of the few large-bodied frugivores and herbivores on Borneo, an island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is also home to another herbivore, the island’s famous pygmy elephants. However, rhinos eat different plants than the elephants, so losing them would alter plant seed dispersal and plant evolution.
The research shows that extinctions driven by human activities lead to a more significant decline in functional diversity than if species were randomly going extinct.
“Some species groups are very vulnerable. Be an antelope, and people want to eat you. Be a parrot, and people want you as a pet. Live only on Cuba — as a subfamily of mammals does — and you’re in trouble,” said Stuart Leonard Pimm, an ecologist and leading authority on the extinction crisis, who was not involved in the recent study. “This leads to a disproportionate loss of ecological function as human actions drive species to extinction.”
The disappearance of species doesn’t just wipe away entire ecological functions. It also leads to the irredeemable loss of evolutionary history. Millions of years of evolution are encoded into species that coexist with humans today; to lose them is to lose that biological heritage.
The disappearance of the remaining five rhino species would sever an entire evolutionary lineage, the Rhinocerotidae family that arose about 40 million years ago, from the tree of life.
“They are the last remnants of what was a hugely diverse and amazing family found all across the world in the not too distant past,” Brodie said of Rhinocerotidae, which counts more than 40 extinct species.
But conservationists warn that it is not just wholesale extinctions that we should be worried about, but also disappearing populations — what Brodie and his co-authors call “biotic annihilation.” Only one in every 10 dramatic declines in populations results in extinctions, but those losses have repercussions for ecosystems which experience them.
“Species extinction is an endpoint, and it’s a really, really, bad endpoint. Before that happens, species will start to go extinct in individual countries first,” Brodie said. “The focus on population decline is really important because it’s in some ways a better illustrator of the magnitude of the extinction crisis.”
Their research maps out the relationship between species richness and functional and phylogenetic loss for individual countries to aid national-level policymaking.
The work shows that habitat destruction results in more functional diversity loss in Indonesia, Argentina and Venezuela. “This suggests that instead of focusing on harvest management and human diets, conservation actions in these areas might be better directed toward protected areas and land use policy to best conserve this component of biodiversity,” the researchers write.
The study also found that climate change is emerging as a major driver of biodiversity loss. What remains to be seen is how these relationships pan out for other animal groups, like reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Brodie, J. F., Williams, S., & Garner, B. (2021). The decline of mammal functional and evolutionary diversity worldwide. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(3). doi:10.1073/pnas.1921849118
Large ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest will break down very quickly if we cross their tipping point, explain researchers from Bangor University, Southampton University, and The School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.
Tipping points, in the context of environmental sciences, are thresholds beyond which natural systems need to change significantly in order to adapt to the status quo. In the case of the Amazon rainforest, for instance, this tipping point represents the amount of damage it can absorb before transitioning to a different type of ecosystem. That change may be right around the corner.
No more Amazon
“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for changes far sooner than expected,” says joint lead author Dr Simon Willcock of Bangor University’s School of Natural Sciences.
“These rapid changes to the world’s largest and most iconic ecosystems would impact the benefits which they provide us with, including everything from food and materials, to the oxygen and water we need for life.”
According to modeling based on real-world data, the team found that the Amazon forest would change into a savannah-like ecosystem (a mix of trees and grasses) within 50 years of passing the tipping point, which is blisteringly fast for an ecosystem so huge.about:blank
The study didn’t focus exclusively on the Amazon rainforest and is applicable to other large ecosystems around the world. With the recent fires in the Amazon and throughout Australia, the findings may be much more relevant to the present than we’d like.
Generally speaking, ecosystems that are dominated by a single species are much more fragile than diverse ones, which tend to be more robust. There are many ways to ‘do things right’ and prevent collapse in a diverse ecosystem, while there’s few or just one right way in simple ecosystems. For example, elephants are considered a ‘keystone’ species in their ecosystem because they hold a disproportionate amount of power to influence it; elephants can destroy plant life with relative impunity from predators, but they also act as a key seed dispersal mechanism. Things are all fine and dandy while there’s no crisis going on, but if a keystone species does disappear, the ecosystem at large would suffer profound — and quick — alterations.
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Biodiversity thus holds the key to preventing or mitigating such ecosystem collapses, the authors explain.
“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity,” says Dr Gregory Cooper, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, the study’s other joint lead author.
The authors explain that if you think of ecosystems in terms of size, each unit of size provides “an increasingly smaller unit of time taken for that system to collapse”. In other words, extra size provides diminishing returns for the ecosystem’s stability. A given ecosystem would still take more time to collapse than one half its size, but it won’t take twice as long to do it.
“We intuitively knew that big systems would collapse more slowly than small ones — due to the time it takes for impacts to diffuse across large distances,” explains Prof John Dearing, the paper’s corresponding author.
“But what was unexpected was the finding that big systems collapse much faster than you might expect — even the largest on Earth only taking possibly a few decades.”
Large ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest, the Caribbean coral reefs, or the Australian outback aren’t flawed in any way. But they have been left vulnerable by decades of human activity, which is most noticeable as a drop in biodiversity, the team expains.
“Worryingly, recent plot inventories from the Amazon show a declining rate of carbon sequestration, and there is growing evidence that further deforestation and degradation of the feedback between moisture formation and vegetation coverage may lead to a system-wide tipping point as soon as 2021,” the paper concludes.
The paper “Regime shifts occur disproportionately faster in larger ecosystems” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.about:blankPopular in the CommunityAdChoicesSponsoredIn a single spin, this wind turbine can power a home for a whole dayTreePlease use proper units. A 13MW turbine could produce 312 MWh in a day.Top CommentTop Comment2We probably aren’t the first civilization in the Milky Way. It’s just that the others are deadPopcorn”Intelligent life” that self-annihilates is not intelligent, and not worthy of the intelectual ranking we like to endow ourselves with. Tool mastery cannot be the definition of intelligence if it leads to self-annihilation. Unfortunately, our emotionally challenged species is on that path and seem determined to force the same fate on our earthly cohabitants. To call ourselves intelligent is both ironic, and scandalously chauvinistic. Self-annihilation in our case seems set to be an extinction resulting from chronic apathy and emotional inertia – more so than the nuclear holocaust we once feared would take us. Not only are we not intelligent, we are cowardly, greed-driven and unprincipled in our lack of resolve to, in the very least, prevent further loss of biodiversity, let alone coexist, cooperate, collaborate in a manner worthy of true intelligence…Top CommentTop Comment5We probably aren’t the first civilization in the Milky Way. It’s just that the others are deadSushi”self-replicating spacecraft traveling at one-tenth of the speed of light — admittedly a quick speed ” Admittedly? There’s virtually no chance that such technology is possible. “Humans are biased to think that other civilizations might behave just like us. As such, these inherent biases may cloud our judgment, believing that other civilizations might also nuke themselves out of existence.” They didn’t make that assumption. ” Over a long-enough timeframe, the probability of self-annihilation borders on certainty” is a fact regardless of how they behave. Anyway, this is all wildly speculative. My own speculation is that the arisal of technological civilizations is far far less likely than people assume … humans exist because of a whole set of freak historical accidents.Top CommentTop CommentEuropean rivers are fragmented by over one million barriersPalmtreeThank you for this very interesting article. Small correction however, the Vezins dam and the Sélune are in France, not in Belgium ;-)Top CommentTop CommentFace masks reduce new COVID cases by 45%FlaskThere are many studies that state the opposite: masks are completely inefficient. As Sweden shows, masks are not needed. But the most authoritative study on masks is the one that no scientific outlet allowed to publish until recently. Read this in the Annals of Internal Medicine: Effectiveness of Adding a Mask Recommendation to Other Public Health Measures to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Danish Mask Wearers.Top CommentTop Comment1