Lion conservation requires effective international cooperation

Lions belong to the world’s most charismatic megafauna. However, lion numbers and range have declined alarmingly over the last two decades.

“To turn the tide, international cooperation is crucial,” says a team of lawyers, conservation biologists and social scientists.

In their recently published review article in the journal Nature Conservation, they assess the current and potential future role of international treaties regarding lion conservation.

Kruger 1To conduct this study, international wildlife lawyers Arie Trouwborst and Melissa Lewis from Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands teamed up with lion experts David Macdonald, Amy Dickman and other scientists from the University of Oxford‘s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) – the research group that made Cecil the lion famous.

Their analysis clearly shows the importance of various global and regional treaties for lion conservation.

For instance, dozens of important lion areas have received international protection under treaties like the World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Wetlands Convention, whereas trade in lion bones and hunting trophies is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“There is still much room for improvement in the way the international commitments of lion range states are applied on the ground,” the review notes.

However, the authors conclude that it is worthwhile to invest in such improvements, and stress the importance of strategies involving the local people who live alongside lions. The review offers many concrete recommendations for optimising the contributions of the various treaties to lion conservation.

A particularly important recommendation is to formally list lions under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A proposal to list lions is on the agenda of the next intergovernmental summit of the parties to the CMS in October this year.

As lead author Arie Trouwborst explains:

“Listing the lion would raise the profile of this iconic species, and would moreover enable the CMS to provide a framework for coordinating and assisting conservation efforts in the 25 countries where lions still occur in the wild.”Imfolozi 3

According to David Macdonald, Director of WildCRU:

“Biology is necessary, but not sufficient, to inform and deliver wildlife conservation. Our approach at the WildCRU in Oxford is holistic – this new partnership with international lawyers is a symbol of our determination to embrace knowledge from every discipline, leaving no stone unturned in our quest to conserve these iconic animals.”

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Original source:

Trouwborst A, Lewis M, Burnham D, Dickman A, Hinks A, Hodgetts T, Macdonald E, Macdonald D (2017) International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore. Nature Conservation 21: 83-128. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.21.13690

Conservation and nameless earthworms: Assessors in the dark?

Species that live exclusively in a single region are at a particular risk of extinction. However, for them to be protected, thorough assessments of the environmental impacts need to be performed.

There are more than 100 earthworm species living in the soil and dead wood of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Most of them live exclusively in small regions in the province, which makes them extremely vulnerable.

To scientists Dr Adrian J. Armstrong, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and Ms Thembeka Nxele, KwaZulu-Natal Museum, the problem is twofold. Firstly, they note that the expression “out of sight, out of mind” is very suitable for the case of the endemic earthworms in South Africa. Secondly, they point out that the lack of common names for these species is a stumbling block that hinders their inclusion in conservation assessments.

As a result, the researchers try to rectify this situation by assigning standardised English names to the endemic earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal. Their article is published in the open access journal African Invertebrates.

Scientific names are often intractable to non-specialists, and the lack of common names leaves environmental assessors in the dark when they need to figure out which earthworms may occur at a development site. In the meantime, it has been found that about 50% of the native vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal has already been removed as a result of infrastructure construction and the figure is rising.

“The indigenous earthworms generally don’t survive in developed areas,” say the authors.

For instance, the informal use of an English name (green giant wrinkled earthworm) for the species Microchaetus papillatus, has facilitated the inclusion of this species in environmental impact assessments in KwaZulu-Natal.

While the green giant wrinkled earthworm does occur in a relatively large and rapidly developing area in KwaZulu-Natal, other species live in smaller areas that have been urbanised even more.

The extinction of these earthworms is not only undesirable from the point of view of biodiversity advocates – the role of this group of soil organisms is impossible to replace fully with non-native earthworms. For example, some of the large indigenous earthworms (more than 1 m in length) burrow much deeper than the non-native species, thereby enriching and aerating the soil at greater depth.

The authors are hopeful that by giving the indigenous earthworms in KwaZulu-Natal common names, the threatened and endemic species will be conserved through inclusion in environmental impact assessments. Furthermore, they believe that earthworms could draw attention to the areas where they occur whenever a choice for new protected areas is to be made.

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Original source:

Armstrong AJ, Nxele TC (2017) English names of the megadrile earthworms (Oligochaeta) of KwaZulu-Natal. African Invertebrates 58(2): 11-20. https://doi.org/10.3897/AfrInvertebr.58.13226

New species of moth named in honor of Donald Trump ahead of his swearing-in as president

Days before Donald J. Trump steps forward on the Inaugural platform in Washington to assume the role of the 45th President of the United States of America, evolutionary biologist and systematist Dr. Vazrick Nazari named a new species in his honour. The author, whose publication can be found in the open access journal ZooKeys, hopes that the fame around the new moth will successfully point to the critical need for further conservation efforts for fragile areas such as the habitat of the new species.

While going through material borrowed from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, Dr. Vazrick Nazari stumbled across a few specimens that did not match any previously known species. Following thorough analysis of these moths, as well as material from other institutions, the scientist confirmed he had discovered the second species of a genus of twirler moths.

image 2While both species in the genus share a habitat, stretching across the states of California, USA, and Baja California, Mexico, one can easily tell them apart. The new moth, officially described as Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, stands out with yellowish-white scales present on the head in adults. In fact, it was in these scales that the author found an amusing reference to Mr. Trump’s hairstyle and turned it into an additional justification for its name.

Donald Trump’s flying namesake is announced only a month following the recently described species of basslet named after predecessor President Barack Obama, also published in ZooKeys. The fish is only known from coral reefs in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Northwestern Hawaii, a nature reserve which the 44th President of the United States of America expanded to become the largest protected marine area in the world.

Being a substantially urbanized and populated area, the habitat of N. donaldtrumpi is also under serious threat.

“The discovery of this distinct micro-moth in the densely populated and otherwise zoologically well-studied southern California underscores the importance of conservation of the fragile habitats that still contain undescribed and threatened species, and highlights the paucity of interest in species-level taxonomy of smaller faunal elements in North America,” says discoverer Dr. Vazrick Nazari. “By naming this species after the 45th President of the United States, I hope to bring some public attention to, and interest in, the importance of alpha-taxonomy in better understanding the neglected micro-fauna component of the North American biodiversity.”

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Original source:

Nazari V (2017) Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae). ZooKeys 646: 79-94. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.646.11411

Bee populations expanded during global warming after the last Ice Age

The Australian small carpenter bee populations appear to have dramatically flourished in the period of global warming following the last Ice Age some 18,000 years ago.

The bee species is found in sub-tropical, coastal and desert areas from the north-east to the south of Australia. Researchers Rebecca Dew and Michael Schwarz from the Flinders University of South Australia teamed up with Sandra Rehan, the University of New Hampshire, USA, to model its past responses to climate change with the help of DNA sequences. Their findings are published in the open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

“You see a rapid increase in population size from about 18,000 years ago, just as the climate began warming up after the last Ice Age,” says lead author Rebecca Dew. “This matches the findings from two previous studies on bees from North America and Fiji.”

“It is really interesting that you see very similar patterns in bees around the world,” adds Rebecca. “Different climate, different environment, but the bees have responded in the same way at around the same time.”

In the face of future global warming these finding could be a good sign for some of our bees.

However, the news may not all be positive. There are other studies showing that some rare and ancient tropical bees require cool climate and, as a result, are already restricted to the highest mountain peaks of Fiji. For these species, climate warming could spell their eventual extinction.

“We now know that climate change impacts bees in major ways,” says Rebecca, “but the challenge will be to predict how those impacts play out. They are likely to be both positive and negative, and we need to know how this mix will unfold.”

Bees are major pollinators and are critical for many plants, ecosystems, and agricultural crops.Image2

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Original source:

Dew RM, Rehan SM, Schwarz MP (2016) Biogeography and demography of an Australian native bee Ceratina australensis (Hymenoptera, Apidae) since the last glacial maximum. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 49: 25-41. doi: 10.3897/JHR.49.8066