Flightless bird provides ‘spark of hope’ amid environmental crisis | IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


Jhe Guam rail, a flightless bird typically about 30cm long, usually dull brown in color and adorned with black and white stripes, has become a rare achievement in recent conservation history.

Previously extinct in the wild, the bird was rescued by captive breeding programs and on Tuesday its status was updated on the IUCN Red List of Threatened to Critically Endangered species , along with nine others whose numbers have recently improved.

The Guam rail was preyed upon by the brown snake, an invasive species accidentally introduced to the US insular territory at the end of World War II. It is only the second bird in history to recover from extinction in the wild, after the California condor.

Other species whose status has been updated include the echoing parakeet, of which there are now over 750 in the wild, leading to a reclassification as a ‘vulnerable’ species, having was critically endangered more than ten years ago.

Australia’s freshwater fish, cod and pedder, also showed improvement, with the former moving from threatened to vulnerable and the latter from critically endangered to threatened, after many years of conservation efforts.

The 10 species showing recovered numbers were “a spark of hope amid the biodiversity crisis”, said Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, whose Red List is the global gold standard of data covering species on the edge. “[They] prove that nature will recover if given half a chance.

However, Red List data released on Tuesday also showed the decline of 73 species despite conservation efforts, and the list now has 112,432 species worldwide, of which more than 30,000 are on the brink of extinction.

The echo parakeet is now reclassified as ‘vulnerable’, an upgrade from ‘critically endangered’ over a decade ago. Photograph: Danita Delimont/Alamy

The IUCN update came as governments from more than 190 countries gathered in Madrid for two weeks of talks aimed at pushing global action on greenhouse gas emissions. Progress in the talks has been slow, despite public pressure, and activists have been frustrated that key issues such as the biodiversity crisis have received little official attention.

“The close ties between climate and biodiversity must be recognized at COP25 and there is a good reason for this: the impact that climate change will have on the ability of ecosystems to support plant and animal life, and the challenges biodiversity is already facing in a warming world are both vast,” said Gareth Redmond-King, climate change manager at WWF UK.

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Ecosystems are already under unprecedented pressure from human impacts, including habitat loss from encroaching urbanization and agriculture, pollution, hunting, overfishing and invasive species. . But the accelerating climate crisis is pushing nature to breaking point around the world, wiping out vital ecosystems, putting unbearable pressure on species and leading some experts to declare a sixth mass extinction.

“To avoid the worst of these impacts, we need to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5°C,” Redmond-King said. “There is no time for debate. Only a dramatic increase in the ambition of our collective response can avert the climate crisis in which we find ourselves.

One of the ironies of the UN climate talks is that protecting natural systems could provide a lifeline for humanity out of the climate crisis – yet it’s a lifeline that is often overlooked. during these annual talks. According to Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, the focus on “nature-based solutions” could make a marked difference in climate action. “We need to learn the lessons we have learned on the journey of climate change.”

She pointed to deforestation, which threatens species and accelerates the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Preserving forests is relatively cheap, but is the subject of tense debates at the COP25 talks, as some countries want to sell carbon credits from their standing forests, as well as count them towards their national emission reduction targets. . That argument has yet to be resolved, and perhaps not before the end of UN talks on Friday.

A koala sleeping in a eucalyptus.  The IUCN Red List update revealed that nearly 25% of all eucalyptus species are threatened with extinction.
A koala sleeping in a eucalyptus. The IUCN Red List update revealed that nearly 25% of all eucalyptus species are threatened with extinction. Photograph: Olga Mendenhall/Alamy

Marine biodiversity – which is threatened by climate degradation – was also supposed to be at the center of these talks, which were billed as the Blue COP when the venue was set for Santiago in Chile. The move to Madrid, forced by political unrest in Chile, resulted in a loss of some of that focus, frustrating ocean activists, who argued that protecting the oceans is vital for their ability to store carbon and to tackle the climate emergency.

Oceana, a marine NGO, has drawn attention to ‘blue forests’ made up of seaweed that are widespread across the planet and store carbon dioxide and provide a lifeline for the thousands of species that depend on it . “Blue forests are one of the main lungs of our oceans, and we must protect them as they deserve,” said Ricardo Aguilar, senior research director at Oceana in Europe. “Scientific reports tend to focus on terrestrial forests, but seaweed can account for up to one-fifth of the CO2 stored by the oceans. It is vital that decision-makers integrate their protection into international policies against the climate crisis.

Another study published at COP25, published in the journal Global Change Biology, illustrated how preserving mangroves can provide a key buffer against the impacts of global warming. Researchers have studied the Segara Anakan Lagoon in Java, Indonesia, and found it has enormous potential to store carbon, support biodiversity and protect against storms.

Kartika Anggi Hapsari, from the University of Göttingen and lead author of the study, said: “Our research shows that people need to prioritize mangrove ecosystems for conservation and restoration because mangroves are efficient carbon sinks. It is not enough to focus solely on reducing carbon emissions. Society must also identify efficient and natural ecosystems, such as those dominated by mangrove vegetation, to remove carbon [from the atmosphere].”

A short-tailed nurse shark
A short-tailed nurse shark, a species that has declined by around 80% in 30 years. Photography: Interfoto/Alamy

The next year will be crucial for acting on both the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis. The UK will host the upcoming UN climate talks, where nations will have to come up with dramatically improved targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to meet commitments in the climate change agreement. Paris of 2015.

Ahead of those talks, in Glasgow next November, the IUCN will hold its quadrennial World Conservation Congress in June and the UN Convention on Biodiversity will decide on new measures to preserve the species at a meeting in Kunming, China. , in October.

Activists hope the sequence of key meetings will lead to a greater focus on nature over the coming year, but stressed that more needs to be done to highlight the interconnectedness of these issues, rather than just them. let be considered in isolation.

This article was modified on December 11, 2019 because an earlier version referred to some experts declaring a fifth mass extinction. This has been corrected to say sixth.


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