Friday, March 30, 2018

America’s wildlife in crisis

There is an extinction crisis within America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned.

One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups.

A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns.

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at riskunder the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society.

Analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out. Species have been battered by the destruction of forests, prairie and wetlands to make way for mass agriculture, urbanization, roads and mining. The use of pesticides in farming is linked to the decline of key pollinators such as bees. Improved transportation between states and from other countries has unleashed diseases such as fungal infections that have ravaged certain frogs and bats. Invasive species including feral hogs, nutria and emerald ash borers have torn apart wildlife habitats such as forests and riverbanks, often with little to slow them. Climate change is a further blow, with rising temperatures, sea level rise and altered rainfall all having consequences for species as diverse as bears, which are finding certain foodstuffs hard to come by, and monarch butterflies, which have seen their numbers drop by about 90% in recent decades and which are considered acutely sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

"America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered.

Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.
“Species are living in smaller patches of habitat and not interacting with other members,” said Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland. “Extinctions are ramping up, and if that continues it will be one for the history books for the whole planet. The world is getting very humanized and I’m very concerned about the cost to biodiversity. It’s a challenge that will face us throughout this century and beyond.”

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