In nature, it often pays to blend in to your background, especially if you’re a prey species like the deer mice used in this study. (Image Credit: David Cappaert, CC BY 2.0)
Linking a mutation to survival in wild mice (2018) Barret et al. Science, 363, p. 499-504.
A big part of ecological studies involves investigating how certain traits or behaviors work (adapted) or don’t work (maladapted) in a specific environment, while scientists who study genetics may investigate specific parts of the DNA that are under selection for specific values of a given trait. Surprisingly, not many studies investigate these two aspects of natural selection simultaneously, instead they will attribute selection to a specific trait value without knowing the genetic mechanisms behind it.
The authors of this study used a well-studied model system of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) to link these two aspects of ecology together, tying a mutation in a gene that codes for coat color into selection in the wild. The study took place in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, a relatively young region (in geological terms) where these mice are expected to have recently adapted to the environment due to strong selection for traits that promote their survival.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, 3 years before he passed away, rendering the species functionally extinct. But should species like this be the focus of our conservation efforts? (Image Credit: Make it Kenya, CC0 Creative Commons)
Last year saw the death of Sudan, the last known northern white rhinoceros in the world. The story went viral, with the usual bemoaning of the way humans treat our planet, followed shortly by the normal rush back into anonymity for the world’s biodiversity. We are currently part of the most dramatic mass extinction event that the planet has ever seen, and more of these stories crop up every year. But is it a problem that the alarm bells are only raised when a creature hits the critically endangered level? Do we need to start paying more attention to population declines before hey hit such low numbers? And how do we even prioritise conservation efforts?
The sumatran orangutan, one of many species facing extinction in the earth’s sixth mass extinction event (Image Credit: Mike Pennington, CC BY SA 2.0)
Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines (2017) Ceballos et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1704949114
The rate at which species and populations have been going extinct in the last couple of centuries has well and truly earned the title of the planet’s sixth mass extinction event. However, most people rarely realize the severity of the situation. Hearing about the loss of two vertebrate species a year or having the last of some far-off species die out doesn’t see to cause much concern in the general public.
A species extinction is always preceded by population declines and extinctions. Perhaps highlighting the state of natural communities at this level might put the severity of the situation in better context. For example, the Living Planet Index (LPI) estimates that between 1970 and 2012, wildlife abundance has decreased by 58%. This paper focuses on the state and trends of populations of vertebrates by analysing i) the proportion undergoing declines or shrinkages, ii) the global distribution of population reduction events and iii) the general scale of population declines among mammal populations.
The American Mink is pretty much a Norwegian mainstay these days. So what sort of impact have they had? (Image Credit: Ryzhkov Sergey, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Fur farming isn’t a topic we’ve had much cause to touch on so far in this series. But today, we look at a species that was introduced specifically for that purpose, whose presence in Europe is disliked by ecologists and animal rights activists alike.
The Indian Pond Heron, one species which could face population declines as a result of climate change (Image Credit: Dr Raju Kasambe CC BY-SA 4.0)
Rapid warming is associated with population decline among terrestrial birds and mammals globally (2018) Spooner et al., Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14361
The term climate change is almost ubiquitous these days. Humans tend to concentrate on how the warming of certain parts of the globe will affect them, but the species we share the globe with also experience a myriad of effects at the hands of climate change. These include rising temperatures constricting the ranges of some species and concurrently extending the range of others, who can move into areas that were previously too cold for them.
Whilst the focus of climate change has often been on species range shifts, the effects on species abundances are less well studied. This paper attempts to quantify the effects of climate change on a large number of bird and mammal species, whilst accounting for other factors which could affect species abundances, like rates of land use by humans, species body size, and whether or not the animals are in a protected area.