Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary
Aug21

Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary

The 98th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America commemorated this year’s 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with an Ignite session that brought together a diverse group of panelists to give an overview of the landmark law, its accomplishments and insights into various methods to improve species recovery. Daniel Evans, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the USDA Forest Service, took the lead in organizing  The Endangered Species Act turns 40: Lessons learned for conservation of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Evans outlined the four main causes of species’ decline: habitat destruction/degradation, introduction of exotic/invasive species, pollution and overexploitation.  He explained that the Endangered Species Act has stymied a great deal of exploitation, which was the single biggest driver of species decline during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, he noted that the three other causes remain with habitat destruction and degradation being the biggest driver of extinction. Camille Parmesan, with the University of Texas, proposed coping with habitat fragmentation by transplanting certain endangered and threatened species to less imperiled areas.. As an example, she referenced her research on how climate change has altered the geographical range of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). Sylvia Fallon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) land and wildlife program, gave an overview of contemporary legislative attempts at the federal level to alter enforcement of the law. She noted that while the majority of unprecedented efforts to legislatively delist species have come from Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Democrats pushed legislative language co-authored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to remove federal protections for gay wolves in Montana and Idaho. The incentive for pushing this measure was to give Senator Tester a legislative victory he could promote at home in hopes of bolstering his 2012 re-election efforts, which were ultimately successful. Fallon noted that while prior attempts to weaken the scope of the law from Members such as former Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) failed, current budget constraints are likely to motivate Members of Congress to continue to pursue legislative efforts to alter federal protections for endangered species in the name of deficit reduction.   The current political climate and pressure from Congress may also motivate the administration to delay decisions on listing certain species, said Fallon. Mark Schwartz, of the University of California-Davis, suggested that, given current funding constraints, we need to generate alternative methods to sustain imperiled species. Schwartz also cited various factors which result in uneven funding for animal and plant species.  Among them: congressional priorities, agency decisions and the general popularity of furry and “cute” species over scaly or otherwise less appealing...

Read More

It takes more than climate change to cause amphibian decline

This post contributed by Monica Kanojia, Administrative Assistant/Governance for ESA. Amphibians have been around for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived numerous extinction events and yet somehow, in the past two decades, their numbers have been in severe decline. The population changes have been linked to many factors, including climate change and disease, habitat destruction and water pollution. Studies indicate that amphibians are sensitive to all of the proposed variables—not just one root cause. A unique quality of amphibian biology is their transdermal water uptake ability. Transdermal uptake allows for nutrients to be delivered across the skin. For example, the skin of a frog allows for the direct exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and water from the environment. While in ideal situations this would be beneficial, it currently poses a threat to amphibian populations. Overexposure to any nutrient can be lethal to an organism. With increased rates of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, heavily polluted water and loss of water, amphibians’ ability to survive is diminishing. A majority of amphibian species go through reproductive and developmental stages that require a body of water. The eggs of amphibians are not as resilient as reptile or bird eggs because they are jelly coated and unsuitable for development on land; therefore, amphibians must return to water to reproduce. Increased agricultural and industrial run off and poor waste management has led to a decline in the quality of water available for amphibians. The main types of chemical contaminants affecting amphibian environments are pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals, increasingly acidic water and nitrogen pollution. According to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by Tyrone Hayes from the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues, pesticides commonly used in cornfields in the western United States have adverse affects on amphibian larval growth and development, immune system and the size prior to and after metamorphosis. High levels of pesticides enter streams and groundwater as water runs off of farms, ranches, golf courses and suburban areas. While organic and low-risk pesticide use is encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it remains predominantly unregulated… That is, the EPA lists guidelines for how to safely use pesticides for commercial and agricultural needs, but it does not strictly regulate what can and cannot be used. Herbicides, on the other hand, are made to disrupt photosynthesis capabilities of plants and were thought to have little to no effect on fish and wildlife.  But, as Science Daily reported in 2008, studies have revealed otherwise. For example, atrazine—one of the most commonly used herbicides on golf courses, home lawns and soybean and corn crops—is responsible for lethal changes...

Read More

When habitat destruction is extremely subtle

When it comes to habitat destruction, startling events like oil spills and deforestation are certain to grab the headlines. Yet as a new study in the journal Animal Conservation shows, sometimes habitat destruction can be so subtle that it passes under the eyes of all but the most astute scientists. David Pike and fellow researchers from the University of Sydney look at the case of reptiles in outcrops and find that people moving rocks less than 30 centimeters out of place can ruin the habitat for species like the endangered broad-headed snake that shelter in narrow crevices.

Read More