Charlie Cooper was formerly Media Relations Manager at Fauna & Flora International
The lunar Year of the Tiger has just dawned and it’s also a landmark year for tiger conservation. In this week’s nature news, we start with an important new piece by leading NGOs on the future of the species, before some fascinating (and worrying) research on trees, the Great Barrier Reef and climate change. Oh, and stick around till the end for some great ‘hare and bear’ content.
A second Global Tiger Summit is expected in Vladivostok, Russia in September this year; 12 years on from the launch of the ‘TX2’, a plan by the 13 countries with wild tiger populations to double the total global number by the next lunar Year of the Tiger (i.e. now).
FFI, alongside six other leading NGOs, is signatory to this must-read piece in Mongabay, setting out the recommendations of the ‘Coalition for Securing a Viable Future for the Tiger’ in this summit year and beyond.
“In the past 12 years, tiger numbers have increased significantly in some areas, while tigers have disappeared from others,” the authors, including FFI’s Debbie Martyr, write. “Overall, this first phase of the Global Tiger Recovery Program shows that tiger numbers can be restored but that progress is hard-won and fragile.”
They set out four key goals for the next 12 years: increase all existing populations; manage environments to encourage tiger range expansions; reintroduce tigers to countries and landscapes where populations have been lost; and restore ecological diversity within the tiger’s indigenous range.
The coalition’s vision for the future of tiger conservation is also covered in the New Statesman, where India Bourke looks at why the resurgence of the big cat could hold hope for us all.
Most us will have noticed trees blossoming and flowers seeming to appear earlier and earlier in the spring. Now a comprehensive UK study of observations dating back to the 18th century appears to confirm this is indeed the case – with climate change to blame.
Researchers led by the University of Cambridge’s Professor Ulf Büntgen analysed the citizen science database ‘Nature’s Calendar’, assessing 400,000 records of the first flowering dates of 406 species of tree, shrub, herb and climber in the UK. They calculated that first flowerings in the period 1986-2019 were on average a full month earlier than the period 1752-1986.
Comparisons with monthly climate records show a strong correlation with warming temperatures. Early blooming poses problems to wildlife because of so-called ‘ecological mismatch’ – species falling out of sync with one another so that plants are flowering too early to be a significant food source for an insect, for instance, that emerges a few weeks later, with knock-on effects along the food chain. Sara Rigby has a write-up for BBC Science Focus Magazine.
Two pieces of interesting tree research making the news this week. A new study has estimated that there are 14% more tree species in the world than we thought, according to Helen Briggs’ story for the BBC. And in Science, Elizabeth Pennisi covers new research on ancient trees and their importance to overall forest health. “Ancient trees are an irreplaceable hub of biodiversity,” says conservation ecologist Gianluca Piovesan, a co-author of the latter study. “We absolutely must preserve old-growth forests and ancient trees to transition to an ecologically sound future.”
New research suggests that rare and ancient trees, such as those often found in old-growth mangrove forests, are crucial to forest health. Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones/FFI
More important coverage on plastic pellets (or nurdles) described in this in-depth piece by the Telegraph’s Joe Shute as a “far more insidious threat” than the better-known problem of larger plastic items littering the ocean. “Pellets have been found on every continent apart from Antarctica,” Shute writes. “They have been discovered from the Galápagos Islands to the Arctic Circle, and are ingested by hundreds of marine species, who mistake the toxic plastic for food.”
Worrying news from Australia, reported by Graham Readfearn in the Guardian, on new temperature records above the Great Barrier Reef. “In the three months leading up to 14 December, an analysis from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) says heat stress over the corals reached a level ‘unprecedented in the satellite record’ for that time of year,” Readfearn writes, noting scientists’ fears that renewed heat pressure could put the coral reef at risk of another mass bleaching.
The Great Barrier Reef has seen five mass bleaching events caused by rising ocean temperatures, most recently in 2020. Credit: The Ocean Agency – Ocean Image Bank
Brilliant finding in the journal Ecology, reported by Arianna Remmel in ScienceNews, that a female Arctic hare has been recorded covering 388km in 49 days, the longest distance ever recorded by a hare (or indeed a rabbit or any other similar species). That’s roughly equivalent to a one-way trip from London to Paris. Well done that hare.
Extraordinary photo essay in the Guardian by wildlife photographer Dmitry Kokh, who stumbled across the other-worldly sight of around 20 polar bears occupying an abandoned Soviet-era weather station on Kolyuchin island, while on an expedition in the Chukchi Sea. In shots that look like a scene from Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights come to life, Kokh captures the unusual behaviour, which one expert puts down to the bears’ natural curiosity as a species.
“I think that sooner or later all human-made things on Earth will cease to exist – buildings, cars and computers will all meet their end. But life is eternal,” Kokh reflects. “These bears will continue to hunt, swim among ice floes and explore islands even when civilization ceases to exist.”
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