New Caribbean black iguana species discovery

This 15 April 2020 video in Spanish is about the new discovery of a new Caribbean black iguana species.

From ScienceDaily:

A new species of black endemic iguanas in Caribbeans is proposed for urgent conservation

April 14, 2020

A newly discovered endemic species of melanistic black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), appears to be threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade) and both competition and hybridization from escaped or released invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America. International research group calls for urgent conservation measures in the article, recently published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

So far, there have been three species of iguana known from The Lesser Antilles: the Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima), a species endemic to the northernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles; and two introduced ones: the common iguana (Iguana iguana iguana) from South America and the green iguana (Iguana rhinolopha) from Central America.

The newly described species is characterised with private microsatellite alleles, unique mitochondrial ND4 haplotypes and a distinctive black spot between the eye and the ear cavity (tympanum). Juveniles and young adults have a dorsal carpet pattern, the colouration is darkening with aging (except for the anterior part of the snout).

It has already occurred before in Guadeloupe that Common Green Iguana displaced the Lesser Antilles iguanas through competition and hybridization which is on the way also in the Lesser Antilles. Potentially invasive common iguanas from the Central and South American lineages are likely to invade other islands and need to be differentiated from the endemic melanistic iguanas of the area.

The IUCN Red List lists the green iguana to be of “Least Concern”, but failed to differentiate between populations, some of which are threatened by extinction. With the new taxonomic proposal, these endemic insular populations can be considered as a conservation unit with their own assessments.

“With the increase in trade and shipping in the Caribbean region and post-hurricane restoration activities, it is very likely that there will be new opportunities for invasive iguanas to colonize new islands inhabited by endemic lineages,” shares the lead researcher prof. Frédéric Grandjean from the University of Poitiers (France).

Scientists describe the common melanistic iguanas from the islands of Saba and Montserrat as a new taxon and aim to establish its relationships with other green iguanas. That can help conservationists to accurately differentiate this endemic lineage from invasive iguanas and investigate its ecology and biology population on these two very small islands that are subject to a range of environmental disturbances including hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“Priority actions for the conservation of the species Iguana melanoderma are biosecurity, minimization of hunting, and habitat conservation. The maritime and airport authorities of both islands must be vigilant about the movements of iguanas, or their sub-products, in either direction, even if the animals remain within the same nation’s territory. Capacity-building and awareness-raising should strengthen the islands’ biosecurity system and could enhance pride in this flagship species,” concludes Prof. Grandjean.

The key stakeholders in conservation efforts for the area are the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), the Montserrat National Trust (MNT) and the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), which, the research team hope, could take measures in order to protect the flagship insular iguana species, mainly against alien iguanas.

Good Montserrat oriole news

This video from Montserrat island in the Caribbean says about itself:

21 November 2010

James ‘Scriber’ Daley takes a group on a hike through the Centre Hills looking for game but end up finding the national bird, the Montserrat Oriole.

From BirdLife:

The Montserrat Oriole is no longer Critically Endangered

By Shaun Hurrell & Sarah Havery, 20 Jan 2017

With two thirds of its suitable forest habitat completely destroyed, the population of Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi dramatically declined after a series of volcanic eruptions during the late 1990s, and suffered from the impact of invasive species. Here’s how RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and partners turned things around.

Found on the southern part the UK Overseas Territory of Montserrat Island in the Caribbean, the Soufrière Hills volcano is one that is certainly not extinct. Many cannot forget the vicious phreatic eruptions that started in 1995: smoke, steam and lava bellowed out of the tiny Lesser Antillean island, wiping out villages, destroying much of the island’s lush forest and gradually burying the capital city, Plymouth, under mudflows.

Years after the tragedy, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants became accustomed to the smell of sulphur as they continued their lives beyond the “exclusion zone” of relative safety. But with two thirds of its suitable forest habitat completely destroyed, the population of Montserrat Oriole dramatically declined. Regular ash fall and subsequent dry years then reduced this endemic bird’s survival and productivity.

Back in the late 1990s, the RSPB worked with international partners, notably Durrell Wildlife and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, to mount a rescue of some orioles into ex situ care, ensuring the species was not lost forever. Back on the island, the oriole remained at a stronghold in the Centre Hills, but further eruptions in 2001 and 2003 caused heavy ash fall there too, and the population continued to dwindle.

As is the case on most islands around the world, invasive species are a problem for the Montserrat Oriole, with feral pigs destroying its habitat, and rats predating its nests. The RSPB supported local partners Montserrat National Trust and the Department of Environment to designate the Centre Hills as a protected area in 2014, while a management plan is controlling the impact of feral pigs.

Since 2010 there has been a reduction in volcanic activity, and improved efforts in surveying since 2011 have shown that the oriole’s population is currently stable or mildly increasing. Now with a population of over 500 adults, the Montserrat Oriole no longer meets the criteria for Critically Endangered.

Over half of the 100km2 island is still an exclusion zone, which should mean little disturbance for the bird. Montserrat has not been as developed as many of the islands of the Caribbean have been, so still has significant forested areas.

“The future population size of the Montserrat Oriole will always fluctuate, owing to the strong influence of rainfall on productivity and the vagaries of an active volcano,” says Steffen Oppel, Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB.

“But, as long as the existing forest can be fully protected, the probability of extinction is fairly low over the next decade.”

Another island-endemic species found in a UK Overseas Territory (Saint Helena in the [Atlantic]), the St Helena Plover, has also been downlisted from Critically Endangered thanks to the work of the RSPB and local partners. That leaves the UK with only two more Critically Endangered bird species: Tristan Albatross and Gough Bunting, at risk from invasive species on islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Find out more in the December issue of the BirdLife Magazine.

Living in such difficult places with the threat of non-native species means both the Montserrat Oriole and St Helena Plover will probably always be vulnerable to extinction. But for now the RSPB and partners breathe a small breath of relief that these species are no longer Critically Endangered.

Rare squid beaches in Belgium

This video, recorded in the Caribbean, says about itself:

Rare Glimpse of a Neon Flying Squid

28 October 2013

The Nautilus team spotted this fast Neon Flying Squid woosh past Argus Cam on their dive to Montserrat.

VLIZ & Natuurpunt (Belgium) reported on Saturday 15 November 2014 (translated):

An European flying squid was found Tuesday on the beach of Nieuwpoort. This squid species lives normally lives far away at sea and visits coastal waters only rarely. A find on a beach is very remarkable. Possibly the extraordinary observation has a connection with the pod of long-finned pilot whales which was spotted yesterday off the coast.

Long-finned pilot whales feed on squid.

Save Montserrat’s rare frogs

This video is about mountain chicken frogs.

From BirdLife:

Mountain Chicken’s portrait

Wed, Jul 4, 2012

The Mountain Chicken Project, funded by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative and executed by the Department of Environment of Montserrat and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, is pleased to announce the publication of a poster and a brochure aimed at raising awareness of the Critically Endangered Mountain Chicken Leptodactylus fallax on Montserrat.

The Mountain Chicken is a terrestrial frog surviving only in small populations within the Centre Hills and Northern Forested Ghauts Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Montserrat (where it co-occurs with the Critically Endangered Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi), and in Morne Trois Pitons National Park (also an IBA) in Dominica. It has cultural significance for Montserratians and Dominicans but is now under threat of extinction. The frog has faced many pressures over the years including hunting, habitat loss, impact of volcanic activity, exposure to increasing populations of invasive species, such as rats and feral pigs, and decimation by the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) that has caused the extinction of hundreds of amphibian species worldwide.

The poster’s main image shows a healthy Mountain Chicken showing its moist textured skin, coloration and markings on the hind legs – which distinguish it from the invasive Cane Toad. A series of inset pictures and accompanying text briefly describe the lifecycle of the frog, the two islands where remaining populations are still found, its diet and the effects of the deadly skin disease chytridiomycosis.

Rare tropical frogs rescued from a killer fungus in the Caribbean have produced a bumper brood in the UK: here.

Global bullfrog trade spreads deadly amphibian fungus worldwide: here.

Study finds link between global warming and frog susceptibility to fungal disease: here.

November 2013: A deadly amphibian disease chytridiomycosis has caused the extinction of Darwin’s frogs, believe scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Universidad Andrés Bello (UNAB), Chile: here.

Birds and frogs of Montserrat

This video says about itself:

19 aug 2010

Alien-like” scenes of tadpoles feasting on eggs emerging from their mother have been caught on camera.

The footage marks the success of a captive breeding programme for the critically endangered mountain chicken frog, one of the world’s largest frogs.

In April, 50 of the amphibian giants were airlifted from Montserrat after a deadly fungus swept through the island, devastating the population.

Now several breeding programmes are under way to save the frogs.

Once numbers have been boosted in captivity, researchers hope to reintroduce the frogs back into the wild within the next two years.

Bizarre sight

The remarkable footage was recorded at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in Jersey, which took in 12 of the rescued frogs. Twenty-six others went to Parken Zoo in Sweden, and 12 are now housed in ZSL London Zoo.

From BirdLife:

Monitoring birds in Montserrat’s Centre Hills

Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Forestry staff from Montserrat’s Department of Environment are currently in the field conducting the annual bird monitoring exercise to determine the bird populations in the island’s Centre Hills Important Bird Area.

The exercise consists of two teams visiting 87 predetermined sites, located on 11 monitoring routes that encompass wet, moist and dry forest types. The number and species of bird are recorded both by visual observation and by sound.

Prior to 2011 each site was visited once, but in an effort to strengthen the integrity of the statistical data, all 87 points will be visited three times over a 4-week period. This will give a better estimate of the number and distribution of birds in the Centre Hills, enabling the Department of Environment to make informed decisions regarding conservation of the birds and their habitat.

Accompanying the foresters in the field is Dr. Steffen Oppel, Senior Conservation Scientist with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK). Dr. Oppel is particularly interested in analyzing the data for the globally threatened Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi (Critically Endangered) and the Forest Thrush Turdus lherminieri (Vulnerable). Ms. Sorrel Jones, a volunteer from the RSPB, is also involved in the monitoring exercise.

Montserrat (a UK Overseas Territory) is home to 12 restricted-range bird species, including the endemic Montserrat Oriole. A number of environmental impacts, such as habitat degradation, invasive species, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, may negatively affect the island’s bird populations. Therefore, the annual bird monitoring exercise acts as an early warning system that will help equip conservation managers take appropriate action in a timely manner.

Gerard A L Gray

Director of Environment

Encouraging signs of survival for Montserrat’s mountain chickens: here.

Stolen Montserrat orioles are back

This video from England says about itself:

Training the Montserrat Orioles in ‘Rainforest Life’

12 September 2012

The critically endangered Montserrat Orioles can be seen in the Rainforest Bio, ZSL London Zoo.

Another video from England used to say about itself:

Three small clips of birds at London zoo.

My favourite birds here are the little hooded pitta. They look like little bandits on a rescue mission.

The rarest species in these clips is the Montserrat oriole. They only live on the tiny island of Montserrat, and are Critically endangered.

The other bird in these clips is the beautiful wood hoopoe. The complexity of the colours in its plumage are too hard to describe!

Translated from Dutch news agency ANP:

Stolen rare birds are back in Avifauna

29 September 2009

ALPHEN AAN DEN RIJN – The rare Montserrat oriole couple which had been stolen nearly two weeks ago from bird park Avifauna in Alphen aan den Rijn, are back.

A man who, according to a park spokesperson, had bought them in good faith, got suspicious after reading in the media about the theft. ‘When he bought them, he did not know which birds they were’, the spokesman said on Tuesday. The man also brought back four other birds, which ‘were not as irreplaceable’. He said about five hundred Montserrat orioles are still alive in the wild, and fifty live in zoos worldwide.

During the theft, about twenty birds [of various species] disappeared, so most of them are not back yet.

Update 2012: young Montserrat oriole born in Alphen.

Aided by recent advances in technology, scientists have discovered new populations of several seriously imperiled species: here.

Bullock’s Oriole Icterus bullockii: here.

St Lucia oriole: here.

Bahama Oriole on the edge: The recently recognised Bahama Oriole is one of the rarest birds in the Caribbean: here.

A previous BirdLife Community Blog highlighted the threat posed by feral livestock to the Centre Hills on Montserrat and actions being taken by the Darwin Initiative funded project ‘Reducing the impact of feral livestock in and around the Centre Hills’ to tackle this: here.

Documenting new seabird-colony Important Bird Areas, finding previously undocumented colonies and colonies thought to be extirpated: these are just some of the exciting discoveries reported within Environmental Protection in the Caribbean’s (EPIC’s) ground-breaking Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles: here.