White-nose syndrome still devastating bats and challenging scientists

In an effort to conserve and research the endangered Virginia big-eared bat, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo took in 40 bats in November 2009. The goal was to establish a security population and to scientifically develop husbandry practices in a subspecies that researchers have not attempted to conserve before.

Read More

New spider species an homage to David Bowie

Here’s an interesting tidbit for your Friday. A new species of sparassid spider (pictured) from Malaysia has been named after David Bowie. Peter Jäger, an arachnologist at the Senckenberg research institute in Germany, says he named the spider —  Heteropoda davidbowie — after the English rock star in an effort to raise awareness about endangered spiders. Bowie’s 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, earned him this honor. It’s tough for spiders to make endangered species lists, Jäger says, so they can use all the publicity they can get. The Guardian reports that there are fewer than 500 individuals of H. davidbowie left in the wild, as its island habitat is cleared for...

Read More

New love for the endangered uglies?

The California Condor has enjoyed a comeback despite its relative ugliness. So-called charismatic megafauna have traditionally captured the attention of the public, becoming the poster children for zoos, aquariums and conservation organizations. This public affection for attractive animals has also translated into legislation: Cuddly and economically important animals get more money under the Endangered Species Act, regardless of their level of jeopardy. As a great front-page article in The Washington Post points out, of the about 1,300 species on the list, only 15 are considered recovered, 10 of which are “animals that would look good on a T-shirt”. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has apparently said that they are making an effort to curtail this discrimination, and will instead allocate funds to species most at risk and/or the center of legal disputes. The article points out the controversial story of the Delta smelt, a small endangered fish that lives in the San Francisco Bay and a river delta feeding into it. Federal legislation protecting the fish prevents this drought-plagued area from using water from the river’s outlet in order to protect the fish. Environmentalists say the commercially non-viable fish is a bioindicator of the river’s health; local lawmakers, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), have tried to block the legislation. Ecologists often have the good of an ecosystem at heart, and we believe, based on science, that evolution has produced food webs and community structure that are interconnected, making each member crucial to the health of an ecosystem. But can we always say that protecting a rare species is worth the cost it creates to humans? Could we let the Delta smelt go if it meant, as some report, the livelihood of 40 percent of farmers in California’s central valley? Read more at the Post, and also check out the Endangered Ugly Things...

Read More

A blow to endangered species

Today the Bush administration confirmed legislation changes that will eliminate the need for federal agencies to consult with scientists on projects that might cause harm to endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service provided advice on whether government projects would pose a threat to endangered species. Today’s rule change eliminated this scientific review process, giving full decision on the risk of a project to the Department of the Interior. Today’s ruling represents a major step backward in the protection of our nation’s natural resources and the ecosystem services they provide.  ESA released a statement in August denouncing the proposed legislation and encouraging public comment.  Our president, Sunny Power, had this to say: The concept of independent scientific review has been in practice since the 18th century and is crucial to ensuring that ideas and proposed work are scientifically sound. This overhaul of the Endangered Species Act would place the fate of rare species in the hands of government stakeholders who are not qualified to assess the environmental impacts of their activities. The silver lining is that since this legislation is a rule, not an act, the new administration will have the power to overturn it.  As scientists, our duty now is to ensure that this happens, and happens with speed.  Here are some things you can do as an ecologist: •    Write an editorial for your local newspaper about why this legislation undermines the protection of our natural resources. •    Send a letter to your representative and senators asking them to speak out against this legislation. •    Talk to your colleagues at your institution and across the country, and ask them to do the...

Read More