Thursday, February 20, 2014

Great Moments in Wildlife Science

An assortment of uplifting and amusing stories from the world of wildlife, generally related to the idea of endangered species, and rare, newly discovered spcies.

First, from my old stomping grounds in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the excellent news that a little baitfish that hardly anyone knew or cared about is ready to be taken off the endangered species list. From Science magazine:
Oregon Chub
A tiny minnow has bounced back from near-extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says populations of the Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) are healthy enough to remove the 9-cm-long fish from its list of threatened and endangered wildlife. Last week's announcement marks the first time an endangered fish has recovered enough to be delisted.

The chub lives in beaver ponds, oxbows, and calm streams of the Willamette River Valley of western Oregon. After the 1940s, populations plummeted from habitat damage by logging, pollution, and dams. When the fish was listed by FWS in 1993, only nine known populations remained. Predation by largemouth bass and other non-native fishes was the largest threat to the remaining chub.

Since then, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other groups started 20 new populations of the chub in predator-free ponds. And dozens of other surviving populations have been discovered in the wild. Changes to dam management have lowered the threat to remaining habitat. FWS will accept expert and public comment on its proposal to delist until 7 April.
It's interesting that "dozens" of other populations were discovered in the wild after the chub was listed. Maybe they didn't look so hard.

Also in the same Science, news from Mexico that the demise of the Axolotl in the wild may have been exaggerated: Salamander Sightings Prove Reports of Extinction Premature

The axolotl salamander's only known home in the wild, the Xochimilco canals of Mexico City, has become increasingly polluted, but recent reports of the amphibian's extinction have been (not-so-greatly) exaggerated.

Two weeks after announcing that months of searching the canals hadn't turned up any axolotls, scientists in Mexico City have some good news: two of the unique salamanders were spotted on 4 February. "There's been an alarming reduction in population density," says Luis Zambrano, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City who studies the axolotl. "But I can guarantee that [the axolotl] is not yet extinct" in the wild.

Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) have long intrigued scientists with their odd appearance, their impressive ability to regenerate limbs, and the fact that they don't undergo metamorphosis like other salamanders, instead retaining their feathery gills and other tadpolelike features into adulthood. Axolotls are popular pets and lab animals, but Zambrano says no reintroduction efforts with captive populations will be tried until scientists are positive the axolotl is "100% extinct" in the wild.
If I had a buck for every species that had been declared extinct, and then was rediscovered upon further exploration, I'd have, well, a few bucks.  Can we get Mexico to adopt the EPA?  I mean the whole thing.

Finally, a new little mouse-like marsupial has been discovered in Queensland, Australia, the Black Tailed Antechinus, to distinguish it, I suppose, from the Antechinuses with brown, pink, gray, or purple tails.  This would not make much in the way of news except that the males of the species have unusual mating habits; literally screwing themselves to death:
Black-Tailed Antechinus
Last year, Australian researchers found that the males died after mating because of the extreme stress of their breeding habits, overturning the previous belief that they died because of an altruistic intention to leave more food for their offspring.

The research found that the male mated "competitively" to try to promote their own genes and that the "frantic" breeding caused infections, internal bleeding, a disintegration of body tissue and eventually death.

"Each mating can take 12 to 14 hours and they do this over and over again," said biologist Dr Diana Fisher from the University of Queensland. "Even if they survived the breeding period, they would be infertile anyway... It's a bit distressing to see them die."
Haven't we all had that fantasy?  But the big question is whether they died smiling.

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