Building an Ark for the Anthropocene
by Jim Robbins
We are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch — on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out.
As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out…
(read more: NY Times)
illustration by Jason Holley

Building an Ark for the Anthropocene

by Jim Robbins

We are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch — on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out.

As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out…

(read more: NY Times)

illustration by Jason Holley

Tomb goods and historical texts show how a drying climate and an expanding human population took their toll on the region’s wildlife

Results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer an unprecedented glimpse into the ways population growth and climate change can influence an ecosystem over millennia—perhaps giving scientists crucial insight into the long-term impacts of modern human activities...
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The last lonely passenger pigeon died in 1914. Her stuffed body is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. I’ve seen her. It’s a sad exhibit.

But what if passenger pigeons could be reincarnated?

That’s the idea behind de-extinction. Take DNA harvested from museum specimens and…

Humans Blamed for Extinction of Mammoths, Mastodons & Giant Sloths, in New Study
by Stephanie Pappas
The latest volley in a long-running debate over why woolly mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons and cave lions died out worldwide suggests that humans are to blame.

A new global look at the extinctions of large mammals over the past 130,000 years finds that the loss of species correlates more closely with the arrival of humans than with changes in climate, which some studies have cited as a possible culprit.
Nonetheless, the paper is unlikely to settle the debate over what really caused the Quaternary extinction, a die-off of large mammals worldwide at the end of the Pleistocene epoch about 12,000 years ago. It is, however, one of the first fine-grained, yet global, look at how and when species died.
"The evidence really strongly suggests that people were the defining factor," said study leader Chris Sandom, co-founder of the consulting firm Wild Business Ltd., who completed the work as a postdoctoral researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark…
(read more: Live Science)
image: Jonathan S. Blair/National Geo

Humans Blamed for Extinction of Mammoths, Mastodons & Giant Sloths, in New Study

by Stephanie Pappas

The latest volley in a long-running debate over why woolly mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons and cave lions died out worldwide suggests that humans are to blame.

A new global look at the extinctions of large mammals over the past 130,000 years finds that the loss of species correlates more closely with the arrival of humans than with changes in climate, which some studies have cited as a possible culprit.

Nonetheless, the paper is unlikely to settle the debate over what really caused the Quaternary extinction, a die-off of large mammals worldwide at the end of the Pleistocene epoch about 12,000 years ago. It is, however, one of the first fine-grained, yet global, look at how and when species died.

"The evidence really strongly suggests that people were the defining factor," said study leader Chris Sandom, co-founder of the consulting firm Wild Business Ltd., who completed the work as a postdoctoral researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark…

(read more: Live Science)

image: Jonathan S. Blair/National Geo

Climate Change Could Be the End for the Tuatara
by Olivia Wannan
Male tuatara can expect lonely love lives as the climate warms - before they eventually become extinct.

Males are already starting to outnumber females on Cook Strait’s North Brother Island, Victoria University researchers have found. The issue stems from how the gender of these reptiles is determined in the eggs.
Clutches exposed to warmer temperatures produce male hatchlings. Because of this, rising temperatures from climate change could lead to disastrous results for the island population, researcher Nicky Nelson said…
(read more: Stuff.co.nz)

Climate Change Could Be the End for the Tuatara

by Olivia Wannan

Male tuatara can expect lonely love lives as the climate warms - before they eventually become extinct.

Males are already starting to outnumber females on Cook Strait’s North Brother Island, Victoria University researchers have found. The issue stems from how the gender of these reptiles is determined in the eggs.

Clutches exposed to warmer temperatures produce male hatchlings. Because of this, rising temperatures from climate change could lead to disastrous results for the island population, researcher Nicky Nelson said…

(read more: Stuff.co.nz)

New Research Finds That Humans Are Responsible for Extinction of Giant Birds on New Zealand
by Jeremy Hance
Moas were a diverse group of flightless birds that ruled over New Zealand up to the arrival of humans, the biggest of these mega-birds stood around 3.5 meters (12 feet) with outstretched neck. While the whole moa family—comprised of nine species—vanished shortly after the arrival of people on New Zealand in the 13th Century, scientists have long debated why the big birds went extinct. Some theories contend that the birds were already in decline due to environmental changes or volcanic activity before humans first stepped on New Zealand’s beaches. But a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds no evidence of said decline, instead pointing the finger squarely at us.  To find the moa’s smoking gun, scientists analyzed two different sets of DNA from 281 specimens made up of four species: the South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus), the biggest of the family; the heavy-footed moa (Pachyornis elephantopus); the eastern moa (Emeus crassus); and the coastal moa (Euryapteryx curtus). Instead of showing a slow, genetic decline, the DNA told a different story: moas were thriving even as humans arrived…
(read more: MongaBay)
illustration by MIchael B.H./Wikimedia Commons

New Research Finds That Humans Are Responsible for Extinction of Giant Birds on New Zealand

by Jeremy Hance

Moas were a diverse group of flightless birds that ruled over New Zealand up to the arrival of humans, the biggest of these mega-birds stood around 3.5 meters (12 feet) with outstretched neck. While the whole moa family—comprised of nine species—vanished shortly after the arrival of people on New Zealand in the 13th Century, scientists have long debated why the big birds went extinct. Some theories contend that the birds were already in decline due to environmental changes or volcanic activity before humans first stepped on New Zealand’s beaches. But a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds no evidence of said decline, instead pointing the finger squarely at us.

To find the moa’s smoking gun, scientists analyzed two different sets of DNA from 281 specimens made up of four species: the South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus), the biggest of the family; the heavy-footed moa (Pachyornis elephantopus); the eastern moa (Emeus crassus); and the coastal moa (Euryapteryx curtus). Instead of showing a slow, genetic decline, the DNA told a different story: moas were thriving even as humans arrived…

(read more: MongaBay)

illustration by MIchael B.H./Wikimedia Commons

From the lynx to the lion-tailed macaque, these animals have survived outrageous odds.

Take a look at the state of wildlife welfare, and you will see that the biggest threats to animals’ existence are us. Between poaching and the destruction of habitats by industry and climate change, humans are drastically reducing important habitats and the creatures that dwell in them. The species in this gallery have had dangerous brushes with extinction, but because of the tireless work of conservation groups and recovery programs, they are still among us. Here we celebrate their survival!

Seeking a Break in a 252 Million-Year-Old Mass Killing

A Geologist Investigates a Mass Extinction at the End of the Permian Period

by Carl Zimmer

Sam Bowring is officially a geologist at M.I.T. Unofficially, he’s a homicide detective trying to solve the ultimate cold case. Dr. Bowring wants to understand how an estimated 96 percent of all species on Earth became extinct at the end of the Permian Period 252 million years ago. It was the biggest of the five mass extinctions recorded in the fossil record. But because this killing happened so long ago, the culprit has evaded discovery for decades.

Dr. Bowring and his colleagues have now gotten an important break in the case. They’ve made the most precise measurement yet of how long it took for all those species to become extinct. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report that the extinction took less than about 60,000 years. That’s a geological blink of an eye — a fact that will help scientists evaluate different hypotheses for what triggered the mass extinction.

For now, however, the new result has Dr. Bowring puzzled. “I just think there’s probably something really fundamental that we don’t understand,” he said…

(read more: NY Times)

Images:

T - Skull of Dinogorgon in South Africa. Many such mammal-like species became extinct 252 million years ago. Photo by Jonathan Blair/National Geographic

B -  Fossils of extinct squidlike creatures called ammonites located in a rock layer very close to the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods. Credit: Seth Burgess

Bringing the Millerbird Back to Laysan Island
A project to reintroduce these little brown birds helps protect them from extinction.
by Emma Bryce
In 2011 a rescue mission more than 30 years in the making began to unfold in the Pacific Islands. Scientists were embarking on an expedition to reintroduce the Millerbird to a northwest Hawaiian atoll called Laysan Island. The nondescript little brown bird was last seen there in 1923, after having its habitat destroyed by introduced rabbits and livestock.
The biologists planned to capture birds from a nearby rocky outcrop called Nihoa Island—the Millers’ last stronghold—and transport them nearly 650 miles by boat to Laysan’s shore. The stakes were high: There were only about 800 Millers left, and moving even a small number of them seemed risky. But it was worth it, they decided.
"We believed that if the birds survived the trip, they would flourish," says Sheldon Plentovich, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restoration ecologist, who planned the translocation.
The expedition made the three-day voyage twice, carrying a total of 50 birds, which appeared “unflappable,” says Plentovich. “Even in the boat, they were eating the whole time.” In the end, they all survived, and Laysan now supports more than 125 individuals…
(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)
illustration by John Gerard Keulemans

Bringing the Millerbird Back to Laysan Island

A project to reintroduce these little brown birds helps protect them from extinction.

by Emma Bryce

In 2011 a rescue mission more than 30 years in the making began to unfold in the Pacific Islands. Scientists were embarking on an expedition to reintroduce the Millerbird to a northwest Hawaiian atoll called Laysan Island. The nondescript little brown bird was last seen there in 1923, after having its habitat destroyed by introduced rabbits and livestock.

The biologists planned to capture birds from a nearby rocky outcrop called Nihoa Island—the Millers’ last stronghold—and transport them nearly 650 miles by boat to Laysan’s shore. The stakes were high: There were only about 800 Millers left, and moving even a small number of them seemed risky. But it was worth it, they decided.

"We believed that if the birds survived the trip, they would flourish," says Sheldon Plentovich, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restoration ecologist, who planned the translocation.

The expedition made the three-day voyage twice, carrying a total of 50 birds, which appeared “unflappable,” says Plentovich. “Even in the boat, they were eating the whole time.” In the end, they all survived, and Laysan now supports more than 125 individuals…

(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)

illustration by John Gerard Keulemans

End-Permian extinction happened in 60,000 years—much faster than earlier estimates, MIT study says The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of life on land—including the largest insects known to have inhabited the Earth. Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction, including an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, or a cataclysmic cascade of environmental events. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.
Now researchers at MIT have determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years—practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective. The new timescale is based on more precise dating techniques, and indicates that the most severe extinction in history may have happened more than 10 times faster than scientists had previously thought…
(read more: PhysOrg) (Image: © John Sibbick / Natural History Museum)

End-Permian extinction happened in 60,000 years—much faster than earlier estimates, MIT study says

The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of life on land—including the largest insects known to have inhabited the Earth. Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction, including an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, or a cataclysmic cascade of environmental events. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.

Now researchers at MIT have determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years—practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective. The new timescale is based on more precise dating techniques, and indicates that the most severe extinction in history may have happened more than 10 times faster than scientists had previously thought…

(read more: PhysOrg)

(Image: © John Sibbick / Natural History Museum)

Excerpt from The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Writer Elizabeth Kolbert travels the globe investigating evidence that a mass extinction is underway.
The Icelandic Institute of Natural History occupies a new building on a lonely hillside outside Reykjavik. The building has a tilted roof and tilted glass walls and looks a bit like the prow of a ship. It was designed as a research facility, with no public access, which means that a special appointment is needed to see any of the specimens in the institute’s collection. These specimens, as I learned on the day of my own appointment, include: a stuffed tiger, a stuffed kangaroo, and a cabinet full of stuffed birds of paradise.
The reason I’d arranged to visit the institute was to see its great auk. Iceland enjoys the dubious distinction of being the bird’s last known home, and the specimen I’d come to look at was killed somewhere in the country—no one is sure of the exact spot—in the summer of 1821…
(read more: Audubon Magazine)
image of Great Auks by John James Audubon

Excerpt from The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Writer Elizabeth Kolbert travels the globe investigating evidence that a mass extinction is underway.

The Icelandic Institute of Natural History occupies a new building on a lonely hillside outside Reykjavik. The building has a tilted roof and tilted glass walls and looks a bit like the prow of a ship. It was designed as a research facility, with no public access, which means that a special appointment is needed to see any of the specimens in the institute’s collection. These specimens, as I learned on the day of my own appointment, include: a stuffed tiger, a stuffed kangaroo, and a cabinet full of stuffed birds of paradise.

The reason I’d arranged to visit the institute was to see its great auk. Iceland enjoys the dubious distinction of being the bird’s last known home, and the specimen I’d come to look at was killed somewhere in the country—no one is sure of the exact spot—in the summer of 1821…

(read more: Audubon Magazine)

image of Great Auks by John James Audubon