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Lemurs Are the World’s Most Endangered Mammals, But Planting Trees Can Help Save Them

Planting trees is the best gift you could give to the Earth.

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Photo Credit: Pexels

Andrea L. Baden, The Conversation

The island of Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa hosts at least 12,000 plant species and 700 vertebrate species, 80% to 90% of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Isolated for the last 88 million years and covering an area approximately the size of the northeastern United States, Madagascar is one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hot spots. Its island-wide species diversity is striking, but its tropical forest biodiversity is truly exceptional.

Sadly, human activities are ravaging tropical forests worldwide. Habitat fragmentation, over-harvesting of wood and other forest products, over-hunting, invasive species, pollution and climate change are depleting many of these forests’ native species.

Among these threats, climate change receives special attention because of its global reach. But in my research, I have found that in Madagascar it is not the dominant reason for species decline, although of course it’s an important long-term factor.

As a primatologist and lemur specialist, I study how human pressures affect Madagascar’s highly diverse and endemic signature species. In two recent studies, colleagues and I have found that in particular, the ruffed lemur – an important seed disperser and indicator of rainforest health – is being disproportionately impacted by human activities. Importantly, habitat loss is driving ruffed lemurs’ distributions and genetic health. These findings will be key to helping save them.

Deforestation from slash-and-burn agriculture in the peripheral zones of Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Nina Beeby/Ranomafana Ruffed Lemur Project, CC BY-ND
Deforestation from slash-and-burn agriculture in the peripheral zones of Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Nina Beeby/Ranomafana Ruffed Lemur Project, CC BY-ND
The Forest is Disappearing

Madagascar has lost nearly half (44%) of its forests within the last 60 years, largely due to slash-and-burn agriculture – known locally as “tavy” – and charcoal production. Habitat loss and fragmentation runs throughout Madagascar’s history, and the rates of change are staggering.

This destruction threatens Madagascar’s biodiversity and its human population. Nearly 50% of the country’s remaining forest is now located within 300 feet (100 meters) of an unforested area. Deforestation, illegal hunting and collection for the pet trade are pushing many species toward the brink of extinction.

In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 95% of Madagascar’s lemurs are now threatened, making them the world’s most endangered mammals. Pressure on Madagascar’s biodiversity has significantly increased over the last decade.

A red ruffed lemur, one of two Varecia species endemic to Madagascar. Varecia Garbutt, CC BY-ND
A red ruffed lemur, one of two Varecia species endemic to Madagascar. Varecia Garbutt, CC BY-ND
Deforestation Threatens Ruffed Lemur Survival

In a newly published study, climate scientist Toni Lyn Morelli, species distribution expert Adam Smith and I worked with 19 other researchers to study how deforestation and climate change will affect two critically endangered ruffed lemur species over the next century. Using combinations of different deforestation and climate change scenarios, we estimate that suitable rainforest habitat could be reduced by as much as 93%.

If left unchecked, deforestation alone could effectively eliminate ruffed lemurs’ entire eastern rainforest habitat and with it, the animals themselves. In sum, for these lemurs the effects of forest loss will outpace climate change.

But we also found that if current protected areas lose no more forest, climate change and deforestation outside of parks will reduce suitable habitat by only 62%. This means that maintaining and enhancing the integrity of protected areas will be essential for saving Madagascar’s rainforest habitats.

In a study published in November 2019, my colleagues and I showed that ruffed lemurs depend on habitat cover to survive. We investigated natural and human-caused impediments that prevent the lemurs from spreading across their range, and tracked the movement of their genes as they ranged between habitats and reproduced. This movement, known as gene flow, is important for maintaining genetic variability within populations, allowing lemurs to adapt to their ever-changing environments.

Warm colors indicate areas where lemurs can move about readily, which promotes genetic diversity; cool colors indicate areas where they are more constrained and less able to mate with members of other population groups. Baden et al. (2019), Nature Scientific Reports, CC BY-ND
Warm colors indicate areas where lemurs can move about readily, which promotes genetic diversity; cool colors indicate areas where they are more constrained and less able to mate with members of other population groups. Baden et al. (2019), Nature Scientific Reports, CC BY-ND

Based on this analysis, we parsed out which landscape variables – including rivers, elevation, roads, habitat quality and human population density – best explained gene flow in ruffed lemurs. We found that human activity was the best predictor of ruffed lemurs’ population structure and gene flow. Deforestation alongside human communities was the most significant barrier.

Taken together, these and other lines of evidence show that deforestation poses an imminent threat to conservation on Madagascar. Based on our projections, habitat loss is a more immediate threat to lemurs than climate change, at least in the immediate future.

This matters not only for lemurs, but also for other plants and animals in the areas where lemurs are found. The same is true at the global level: More than one-third (about 36.5%) of Earth’s plant species are exceedingly rare and disproportionately affected by human use of land. Regions where the most rare species live are experiencing higher levels of human impact.

Crisis Can Drive Conservation

Scientists have warned that the fate of Madagascar’s rich natural heritage hangs in the balance. Results from our work suggest that strengthening protected areas and reforestation efforts will help to mitigate this devastation while environmentalists work toward long-term solutions for curbing the runaway greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

A young woman participates in reforestation efforts in Kianjavato, Madagascar. Brittani Robertson/Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, CC BY-ND
A young woman participates in reforestation efforts in Kianjavato, Madagascar. Brittani Robertson/Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, CC BY-ND

Already, non-profits are working hard toward these goals. A partnership between Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr., founder of Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership and director of Conservation Genetics at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Arbor Day Foundation’s Plant Madagascar project has replanted nearly 3 million trees throughout Kianjavato, one region identified by our study. Members of Centre ValBio’s reforestation team – a non-profit based just outside of Ranomafana National Park that facilitates our ruffed lemur research – are following suit.

At an international conference in Nairobi earlier this year, Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, promised to reforest 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) every year for the next five years – the equivalent of 75,000 football fields. This commitment, while encouraging, unfortunately lacks a coherent implementation plan.

Our projections highlight areas of habitat persistence, as well as areas where ruffed lemurs could experience near-complete habitat loss or genetic isolation in the not-so-distant future. Lemurs are an effective indicator of total non-primate community richness in Madagascar, which is another way of saying that protecting lemurs will protect biodiversity. Our results can help pinpoint where to start.

By Andrea L. Baden | TheConversation.com | Creative Commons

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Half A Million Sharks Could Be Killed To Make COVID-19 Vaccine

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Half a Million Sharks Could Be Killed to Make COVID-19 Vaccine
Photo Credit: TMU

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline may need to slaughter half a million sharks to harvest squalene, an oil made in shark livers, to make a new line of COVID jabs. Glaxo mixes squalene with a witches’ brew of proprietary surfactants to produce its controversial AS03 vaccine adjuvant. Adjuvants are compounds that amplify immune response to hyperstimulate the immune system. They are associated with a variety of autoimmune diseases.

Scientific studies have linked squalene adjuvants to Gulf War syndrome and to a wave of debilitating neurological disorders including epidemics of narcolepsy caused by Glaxo’s H1N1 Pandemrix vaccine during the 2009 swine flu “pandemic.” One study showed a 13-fold increased risk of narcolepsy in children who received Pandemrix.

The devastating cascade of brain injuries to children and health care workers forced the termination of that Glaxo vaccine after European governments used only a small fraction of the jabs they had purchased from Glaxo. A recent study links squalene to carcinomas. In a bizarre and reckless twist, Glaxo has revived the dangerous adjuvant as its hall pass to the COVID-19 money orgy.

The company said it would manufacture a billion doses of this adjuvant for potential use in coronavirus vaccines. Around 3,000 sharks are needed to extract one ton of squalene.

Shark Allies, a California-based group, said Glaxo will kill around 250,000 sharks to make enough AS03 for the world’s population to receive one dose of its COVID-19 vaccine. If, as expected, two doses are needed, half a million sharks must die.

Glaxo declared that it would be producing 1 billion doses of AS03 “to support the development of multiple adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidates.”

Stay out of the water: does a prehistoric shark still live in the ocean? (Click here to read the full article!)

Glaxo has developed partnerships with multiple companies, including its behemoth rival Sanofi, China’s Clover Bio and Innovax Biotech in the city of Xiamen. Glaxo has also agreed to make the technology available to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations for COVID vaccines in Australia and elsewhere. Glaxo said it is focusing on what it considers a “proven technology” that will give the company “several shots on goal.”

Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. CHD is implementing many strategies, including legal, in an effort to defend the health of our children and obtain justice for those already injured. Your support is essential to CHD’s successful mission.

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Millions Of Dead Birds Fall From The Sky Across New Mexico And The Southwest

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Photo Credit: Unilad

Paul SeaburnGuest Writer

It is rarely, if ever, a good thing when something falls from the sky that isn’t precipitation-related. It’s worse when those things are living or sick – tragic and frightening when they’re already dead. The recent news out of New Mexico of dead birds falling from the sky across the state, and now across the entire Southwest, goes beyond tragic and frightening simply because of the sheer numbers.

“It’s just terrible. The number is in the six figures. Just by looking at the scope of what we’re seeing, we know this is a very large event, hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dead birds, and we’re looking at the higher end of that.”

Martha Desmond, a professor at the University of New Mexico in the fish, wildlife and conservation ecology department with expertise in ornithology, told CNN she was contacted in mid-August 2020 when a large number of dead birds were discovered at the US Army White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument. Dead birds at White Sands immediately raises suspicions of radiation poisoning (it was a primary location for the Manhattan Project) or military testing. However, before that could be confirmed, more dead birds appeared in Doña Ana County, Jemez Pueblo, Roswell, Socorro and other areas of New Mexico. (Sad photos here.)

We have been collecting dead birds (with appropriate permits) off the streets, on campus, at local golf courses, literally EVERYWHERE. (3/9) 

We have noticed that the majority of species collected are insectivores and long-distance migrants, such as swallows, wood-pewees, empidonax flycatchers, and warblers. (4/9) 

Another interesting note is that resident species, such as Curve-billed Thrashers, White-winged Doves, and Great-tailed Grackles do not seem to be impacted at all. (6/9)

Allison Salas, a graduate student at New Mexico State, joined Desmond in collecting and cataloguing the dead birds, which by the beginning of September were also being reported Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Mexico. She tweeted alerts on the dead birds, noting that they were all migrating insectivore species, not local species. Before you suggest smoke inhalation from the West Coast fires, Salas has already concluded that the fires may be the cause, but not necessarily the smoke.

“We have very little data, but suspect that the west coast fires, in combination with the local cold front we experienced last week, has altered the migration patterns of many migrants. On top of that, there is little food and water available here in the Chihuahuan Desert. (7/9)”

Desmond told CNN that the birds appear to have migrated early, before they had enough fat reserves built up. Weak and finding cold weather and a lack of insects on their stops in New Mexico to feed, they probably starved or died because they were too weak to keep flying – many of the bodies were extremely thin. However, the deaths started before the fires, so Desmond suspects there may be other causes that are not readily apparent. Not surprisingly, she thinks those causes will also be related to climate change. The study now has a name – the Southwest Avian Mortality Project – and, as of this writing, birds are still dying and being sent to the school.

Is there any good news? Anything?

That’s the sound of no birds chirping.

Recommended Articles by Paul Seaburn
About the Author

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as “The Tonight Show”, “Politically Incorrect” and an award-winning children’s program. He’s been published in “The New York Times” and “Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humour. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humour to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn’t always have to be serious.

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Endangered Orcas Have Begun Surrounding And Attacking Boats This Summer

Numerous cases of Orcas ramming boats have been reported, and some experts suggest that the orcas could be fighting back against perceived threats.

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Endangered Orcas Have Begun Surrounding And Attacking Boats This Sümter
Photo Credit: Getty

(TMU) – Numerous cases of Orcas ramming boats in the Gibraltar Strait near Spain and Portugal have been reported this summer, and some experts suggest that the orcas could be fighting back against perceived threats posed by fishing boats and other vessels. This type of behavior is very unusual for the species, which is typically known to be friendly and playful.

On July 29th, biology graduate Victoria Morris was on a sailboat off the coast of Spain when her crew was surrounded by a pod of about nine orcas. At first, the crew was interested to see such a strange natural phenomenon, but then the mood suddenly changed. The orcas began to aggressively ram into the boat in what seemed to be a coordinated attack.

In the deep: a pod of highly intelligent killer whales, or orcas. Constant harassment by boats affects their ability to hunt, and has a negative impact on their behaviour. Photograph: Rand McMeins/Getty Images

“They just started surrounding us in a circle, coming for the rudder and the keel. They really just were going for us, and there was definitely no playing,” Morris said during a CBC interview.

The orcas kept up their assault for about an hour until they caused some serious damage to the boat. According to the Guardian, this incident is just one of four similar cases that took place this summer.

Morris believes that the orcas were communicating to coordinate their attack, or in her words, they “orca-strated” it. She says that she heard whistling sounds during the attack, which she believed to be the orcas communicating.

“It was like a whistle, like a very, very loud whistle, and there was lots of them, maybe about four or five of them were doing it at the same time. And it was just so loud,” she said. “It was actually quite amazing to hear,” Morris explained.

She said that when her crew called for help, “it was almost like they didn’t believe us at first.”

“They asked us to repeat a quite a few times. Like, ‘Can you confirm that you are actually under attack by orcas?” she said.

The crew was eventually rescued and towed into the nearby town Barbate, where shocked onlookers observed a boat covered in bite marks.

Marine biologist Jörn Selling has suggested that possibly the orcas became comfortable with the quieter waters during the pandemic restrictions, and are now disturbed by the increase in traffic now that businesses are slowly going back to normal.

Morris believes the orcas seemed to be fighting back against something, and she hopes that these encounters could raise some awareness about what this species is facing.

“They do have the capacity to be angry and they’re very, very intelligent creatures and so it is very possible. But if that is true, then, you know, something needs to be done. I think as bad as it is that all these attacks have been happening, especially to us, but I think in a way it’s also a good thing because it’s turned the spotlight on the fact that there is a problem. Something has changed that’s causing them to do this,” Morris said.

The Gibraltar orcas are endangered, and it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 of them remaining in the wild.

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World’s Rarest Great Ape, Discovered 3 Years Ago, Is Fast Being Wiped Out By British Firm’s Goldmine

It is feared that the rarest great ape species on the planet could soon be made extinct by transnational mining operations.

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World’s rarest great ape, discovered 3 years ago, is fast being wiped out by British firm’s goldmine
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) When scientists discovered the Tapanuli Orangutan in 2017, they were ecstatic. After all, these rare primates were the first great ape species to be discovered in almost a century. But now, with only about 800 of the newly-identified animals remaining, it is feared that the rarest great ape species on the planet could soon be made extinct by transnational mining operations.

The Tapanuli orangutan can be found only in a single high-elevation forest in the Batang Toru Ecosystem, which lies in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The area is rich in biodiversity, with other highly endangered species like the Pangolin and Sumatran tiger calling it home.

However, the lush rainforest of Batang Toru is also the site of a major gold-mining project by Jardine Matheson, an Anglo multinational conglomerate whose dealings in Asia date back nearly 200 years, when it trafficked opium to China from colonial India to the Pearl River Delta and directly helped deliver Hong Kong to the British imperialists.

The Hong Kong-based transnational corporation now has extensive holdings across Southeast Asia and the world, including automobile companies, dairy farms, and ownership of the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain.

But ever since 2018, when Jardine Matheson bought the Martabe goldmine on Sumatra Island, the company has been expanding its operations deeper and deeper into the Tapanuli orangutans’ environment. This has entailed the destruction of the irreplaceable Tapanuli orangutan forest habitat with projects to expand mining infrastructure including the huge massive Batang Toru hydroelectric dam project, which is meant to power the smelters of the Martabe mine.

Scientists are now warning that the damage is so great that if only eight of the Tapanuli orangutans are killed each year, the genetic diversity of the isolated great ape species would decline to the point of no return over the next decade.

Conservationist group Mighty Earth has been organizing and advocating for an end to the destruction of the Tapanuli orangutan habitat by the Martabe gold-mining project and is demanding that Jardine Matheson halt the deliberate damage being done to the forest ecosystem.

“I think this is an issue of corporate responsibility,” campaign director Amanta Hurotwitz told The Telegraph. “You have a mine in the habitat of the most endangered species of great ape… If you are going to profit off this species you have a responsibility to take action to protect the species.

However, spokespeople for the transnational conglomerate strongly reject the claims, explaining that they strictly abide by the guidelines of local authorities, including any environmental regulations that are in place.

“The mine has not encroached on areas categorized as protected forest and has been clear on its commitment to protecting biodiversity,” a spokesperson said.

However, conservationists fear that the Tapanuli orangutan, whose unique genetic make-up and behavior delighted scientists and primatologists, could be forever lost due to the devastating carelessness and corruption that comes with corporate greed – especially in the case of such large-scale mining operations.

Hurotwitz urged the company to rethink its practices, noting that it is crucial that Jardine Matheson resolves to “work with scientists to mitigate the damage that has been done.”

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