Monarch butterfly news


This video is called Monarch Mania! Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle.

From mongabay.com:

Monarch butterfly population rises a little, but still perilously low

Jeremy Hance

January 28, 2015

The world’s migrating monarch butterfly population has bounced back slightly from its record low last year, but the new numbers are still the second smallest on record. According to WWF-Mexico and the Mexican government, butterflies covered 2.79 acres (1.13 hectares) in nine colonies this year in the Mexican forests where the insects overwinter. This is a 69 percent increase from last year’s nadir of just 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares), however, the new numbers remain hugely concerning.

“The population increase is welcome news, but the monarch must reach a much larger population size to be able to bounce back from ups and downs,” said researcher Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity, adding that “this much-loved butterfly still needs Endangered Species Act protection to ensure that it’s around for future generations.”

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would consider adding the vanishing insect under the country’s Endangered Species Act. Currently, the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is not at risk of extinction, but its migration is. Monarch butterflies in the Eastern U.S. are famous for their epic migration spanning some 1,900 to 4,500 kilometers (1,200 to 2,800 miles) from Canada to the mountains of central Mexico every year. Each migration takes several monarch generations to complete, often three to four.

In the 1990s—when scientists first started counting the area filled by migrating monarch butterflies in Mexico—the overwintering habitat never dipped below 13 acres (five hectares). The largest population covered 44.95 acres (18.19 hectares) in 1993. But the trend over the last decade has been one of extensive decline, with various rises and falls.

A decade ago, conservationists were largely concerned with deforestation and illegal logging in Mexico’s overwintering forests. However, due to work by indigenous groups, locals, and the Mexican government that threat has been largely neutralized, at least for the time being. Today the biggest threat is the loss of food and habitat across the U.S. and Canada due to herbicides and increasingly intensified agriculture.

According to WWF, herbicide use in the U.S. for soy and corn killed off 58 percent of the country’s milkweed from 1999 to 2010, resulting in a monarch decline of 81 percent. The development of genetically modified crops has exacerbated the situation as these crops are resistant to the popular herbicide, Roundup. However, Roundup and other herbicides containing glyphosate decimate milkweed populations. Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed solely on milkweed, meaning the species requires a road of milkweed from Canada through Eastern and Central U.S. down to Mexico in order to survive. But agriculture policy in the last couple decades, especially in the U.S., has resulted in a massively fragmented milkweed route.

“The 2.79 acres occupied by monarchs this winter should serve as additional motivation for the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to translate the commitment they made in Mexico in February 2014, to concrete and immediate actions,” said Omar Vidal, Director General of WWF-Mexico. “It is crucial that we restore and protect the habitat of this iconic species in all three countries, but above all that we limit the use of herbicide and land conversion in the United States and maintain efforts to avoid deforestation in Mexico.”

Conservationists say that planting milkweed in gardens may benefit the monarch, however gardeners must plant the right variety of milkweed and make sure the milkweed hasn’t been coated with a popular insecticide in the neonicotinoid family. Research has shown that neonicotinoids may harm pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

Monarch butterflies aren’t the only pollinators in trouble, many of the world’s pollinators have undergone drastic declines in recent decades. Experts point to possible impacts such as pesticides, habitat loss, and disease.

For monarch butterflies, loss of migration means more disease: here.

Monsanto’s Roundup system threatens extinction of monarch butterflies – report.

Burrowing owls flying from Montana to Mexico


This video from the USA is called Burrowing Owl Family with 5 Owlets.

From the Billings Gazette in the USA:

Burrowing owls flew almost 2,000 miles, study finds

By Brett French

Just like retirees traveling south to escape the snowy winter, two female burrowing owls have been documented traveling almost 2,000 miles to central Mexico from Eastern Montana for the first time.

“Now we’re learning more about how incredible these birds are,” said David Johnson, of the Global Owl Project.

Last year, GLOW fitted 30 burrowing owls in the Northwest and Canada — including three from the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana — with tiny backpacks containing satellite transmitters. The devices track their migration routes and destinations in an attempt to give researchers insight into the birds’ population decline.

No one has completed a survey to arrive at a population number for the birds in Montana, according to Steve Huffman, executive director of Montana Audubon. “If you polled a bunch of owl experts, though, you’d probably find the range of the species is declining and Montana is no exception to that,” he said.

In Canada the bird is listed as an endangered species because of “habitat loss and fragmentation, road kills, pesticides, food shortage, fewer burrow providers and mortality on migration and wintering areas,” according to Parks Canada.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks lists the bird as “potentially at risk because of limited and/or declining numbers, range and/or habitat, even though it may be abundant in some areas.” The Forest Service and BLM consider the owl a sensitive species.

With its burrowing owl migration study, Johnson said GLOW is hoping to keep the birds off the endangered species list in the United States by developing conservation strategies.

Unique bird

Burrowing owls date back in the fossil record millions of years, Johnson said. They may be one of the very few birds to nest underground, an adaptation to their prairie home where few trees exist.

Instead, the birds use abandoned badger, swift fox and prairie dog dens to nest in, often as far as 10 feet underground to escape the reach of predators like coyotes.

The owls are small, averaging about 9.5 inches long with 21-inch wingspans and tipping the scales at only 5 ounces. In addition to bugs, the owls will eat small mammals like mice and voles, birds, reptiles and snakes.

Most of the owls live about five to six years. The females migrate south around October to stay healthy for the spring breeding season when they return north. The exception is California’s burrowing owls, which reside there year-round.

“One of the things I’ve learned is how incredibly tough these birds are,” Johnson said.

When initially fitted with transmitters, the antenna was made of 70-pound test fishing line. The birds chewed through that, so Teflon tubing was substituted for the line. The satellite transmitters are expensive, costing $3,500 apiece, but they provide a clearer picture of the birds’ migration.

Every 48 hours the solar-charged devices turn on for 10 hours and send a signal every minute before going silent for another 48 hours. From these transmissions, Johnson has learned that the birds travel about 100 to 200 miles in a night, averaging 30 mph.

“When they migrate it seems to be pretty darn direct,” he said. “They don’t waste time.”

CMR biologist Randy Matchett watched the migration data pop up on his computer screen, impressing him with the birds’ speed and ability to fly high. Although the transmitters don’t contain an altimeter, it was evident by their route that the owls were flying over 10,000-foot peaks, he said.

“Everyone knows birds migrate long distances, but it is kind of neat to watch it alive in real time,” Matchett said.

Johnson said one of the surprises GLOW discovered when tagging some burrowing owls in Oregon was that a male flew north, rather than south, for the winter.

“The male’s goal was to go someplace to tough it out and get the best burrow” for the following spring’s mating season, Johnson said. “As the males get older, they get tougher.”

Newer gear

The satellite transmitters are a big step up from the old technology. As far back as 1912, ornithologists captured and placed numbered bands on birds to try to track them. Trouble is, the bands could only be recovered if the bird was recaptured or found dead, and they were no help in identifying migration routes.

Bands were more recently replaced by tiny light-sensitive monitors that could track the duration of sunlight hitting them, giving researchers an indication of where the birds had gone based on the length of days at different latitudes. The transmitters are relatively inexpensive — about $200 — compared to satellite trackers, but again they gave only a vague indication of migration routes and the birds had to be recaptured to recover the data.

The more expensive satellite transmitters – which weigh in at 6 grams compared to 3.2 grams for the ambient light geolocators – track the birds’ location within 150 meters, the battery’s voltage and the temperature. The units also have small solar cells to recharge the battery.

“It’s amazing it works at all, actually,” Johnson said.

Southbound

The Montana owls migrated south by traveling east of the Rocky Mountains to north of Mexico City. One has settled northeast of Guadalajara and the other is in the state of Durango. The third Montana owl was found dead before it left, possibly dinner for a predator.

Off the 22 GLOW-tagged owls that started their migration in October, 17 are now in Mexico. By March or April, the urge to fly north should send them migrating again.

“Now we’ll wait to see how they come back,” Johnson said.

Showing just how amazing the birds are, in 2013 a burrowing owl captured near Baker, Ore., came back to the exact same burrow after wintering south of San Francisco.

As a follow-up to the satellite transmissions, Johnson said GLOW will be examining the habitat conditions where the owls are wintering.

The study of owls has been a personal mission for the 58-year-old Johnson since a screech owl landed on his tent when he was an 11-year-old boy in Minnesota.

“It called for 20 minutes. Ever since then I’ve seen owls as close friends,” he said. “So I say I didn’t pick owls, they picked me.”

Since 1976 he’s been working on owl projects full time.

“I’m going to work on conservation of owls till my last breath,” he said. “Because the more I’ve studied and observed them, the more impassioned I’ve become.”

Monarch butterfly migration news


This video, in Spanish is about the Sierra Gorda nature reserve in Mexico.

From the World Land Trust:

Monarch Butterflies appear in large numbers in Sierra Gorda

27 November, 2014 – 12:51

Although three weeks late, Monarch Butterflies have started to appear all over Sierra Gorda, stopping off on their long migration to the fir forests further south.

Roberto Pedraza, Technical Officer of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, World Land Trust’s (WLT) conservation partner in Mexico took this photograph on 22 November 2014.

He told us: “As you know, Monarch Butterflies are extremely endangered thanks to logging, government ‘protected areas’ that aren’t protected, and industrialised agriculture in the US and Canada.”

Roberto found the big group of the butterflies in the highlands of Sierra Gorda. There were so many of them that the branches of the cedar were bowing under the weight.

He noticed that they had returned to the same place that he remembered them visiting when he was a child.

“When I was young, the oak branches bent under the weight of the butterflies. Now there is a cedar in the same spot, and the same oaks with some butterflies. Unfortunately they are nothing compared with their former numbers, but it’s amazing how they ‘remember’ their wintering grounds in central Mexico, and the good spots to have a nap and a rest during the long journey.”

Traditionally Monarch Butterflies arrive in Mexico on the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on the first two days of November, and according to Mexican folklore they are said to represent the souls of the dead.

More information

WLT has funded land purchase and conservation in Sierra Gorda since 2007. You can help save more habitat for Monarch Butterflies by making a donation to WLT’s Buy an Acre appeal.

Young hammerhead sharks, new research


This video is called Shark Academy: Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.

From Wildlife Extra:

Endangered juvenile sharks migrate into unprotected waters

The movements of a young female Hammerhead Shark have been tracked for the first time, revealing vulnerable gaps in the present protection plans.

Hammerhead Sharks are listed as threatened with the IUCN and numbers have declined by more than 90 percent in some parts of the world, particularly Scalloped Hammerhead sharks, found in the Gulf of California, Mexico.

These are susceptible to being caught by fishing nets while moving into the open sea, but little information exists on their exact movements, especially those of juvenile sharks as they go through the critical period of adolescence.

Current protection plans prohibit commercial fishing from large vessels within 50 nautical miles of the coast. However, findings from this study reveals the young sharks venture into the open seas to fish, meaning they are still vulnerable to being caught in fishing nets.

Researchers from the Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Mexico and the University of California, Davis, USA tagged three live juvenile hammerhead sharks in Mexico’s Gulf of California so they could be tracked through adolescence.

The results of one of these tags, which was downloaded after fishermen caught one of the sharks, revealed the female shark travelled 3,350 km, and helped pinpoint potential key sites needing protection.

She was found to swim within a school of fellow hammerheads at an offshore island during the day, but migrated away at night, diving to greater depths to feed on fish and squid, sometimes as deep as 270m.

This behaviour, the scientists believe, maximises her foraging opportunities and continuing growth, and partially explains the early migration of this juvenile female to off-shore waters for richer food. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark pups have high metabolic rates and as they grow older require higher ration levels to fulfil their energetic needs.

Study author Mauricio Hoyos from Pelagios Kakunjá (a Mexican NGO) said “The key to protecting this species is detecting their nursery grounds and protecting them in their more vulnerable stages. This is the first time ever that we have an idea of the behaviour of this life stage in this zone and this information will be important to design management plans to protect this species in Mexico.”

The research suggests that juvenile female hammerheads are trading off the risks of greater exposure to predators in the open sea, with better food sourcing opportunities.

However their ventures to the open sea means current management measures for sharks set by the Mexican government may not be sufficient for the conservation of this species.

This new information highlights hammerhead sharks may still be in danger, due to their use of both coastal and offshore waters during early life stages. The researchers say that coastal nursery grounds and offshore refuge areas for scalloped hammerheads are therefore critical habitats where protected marine reserves should be sited.

Study author James Ketchum from Pelagios Kakunjá (a Mexican NGO) said: “For the first time, we’ve seen the shift from a coastal-inhabiting juvenile to a migratory adolescent that remains mostly offshore in order to maximise growth and reproductive potential. Because of their dependence on both coastal and offshore waters during their early life-stages, we think that they may be more susceptible to fisheries than previously thought, and current protective measures in Mexico may unfortunately be insufficient.”

New Marine Protected Area in Bangladesh


This video from the USA about Mexico is called Marine Protected Areas: A Success Story – Perspectives on Ocean Science.

From Wildlife Extra:

First ever Marine Protected Area for Bangladesh

Bangladesh has created its first marine protected area that will now safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other oceanic species.

Bordering the territorial waters of India, the Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area (SoNG MPA) spans some 672 square miles (1,738 square kilometres and is more than 900 meters deep.

The waters are home to large numbers of Irrawaddy Dolphins, Finless Porpoises, Pacific Humpback Dolphins, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins, and what may be a resident population of Bryde’s Whales.

“The SoNG MPA supports an astonishing diversity of dolphins, porpoises and whales including species in need of immediate protection,” said Rubaiyat Mansur of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project.

“Declaration of Bangladesh’s first Marine Protected Area shows our country’s commitment to saving its natural resources and wonders.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project has worked along with the Government of Bangladesh since 2004 to ensure the long-term protection of the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in waters of Bangladesh through collaborative efforts with local communities.

“Marine protected areas that conserve cetaceans and other marine life are extremely important steps in saving vital marine ecosystems that support hundreds of thousands of people,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program. “Safeguarding these species and natural resources will become even more important in the years to come, particularly due to the challenges of climate change.”