Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela
Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela

Tropical Birds Are in More Trouble Than We Thought

Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela
Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela

Scientists using remote sensing technology say we’ve been seriously underestimating the threats facing our planet’s birds. Writing in the journal Science Advances, the researchers say the standard wildlife risk assessment is “seriously outdated” and call for change.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List is the world’s go-to database for wildlife risk information. Federal and local government agencies rely on the list when making policy decisions, which means that the list’s accuracy could be a matter of life and death for the species involved.

“The Red List employs rigorously objective criteria, is transparent, and democratic in soliciting comments on species decisions,” Duke University scientist Stuart Pimm said in a statement. “That said, its methods are seriously outdated.”

Technology has advanced light-years in the 25 years since the list’s inception. Pimm, lead author Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela, and their colleagues hypothesized that using satellite data could provide a huge boost to the accuracy of wildlife risk assessments.

The team was especially interested in measuring animals’ areas of occupancy—a metric that provides a pretty reliable indication of a given species’ health or risk.

The researchers decided to focus their experiment on tropical birds in six wildlife hotspots around the world: the Atlantic forest of Brazil, Central America, the Western Andes of Colombia, Madagascar, Sumatra, and Southeast Asia. They then pulled satellite data on the known habitat areas of 586 native birds species, of which 108 were Red Listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered. The team combined maps of land use, national park designation, elevation, and forest cover to create a bigger picture of the worlds these birds inhabit.

Image Credit: Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela

That picture was not pretty. The data showed that 210 of the 586 species were in more danger than the Red List recognized, including 189 that are currently categorized as Nonthreatened. Ocampo-Peñuela says some of the discrepancy may come from focusing on habitat size and failing to consider other geographic details like elevation and humidity.

“Some bird species prefer forests at mid-elevations, while others inhabit moist lowland forests,” she said. “Knowing how much of this preferred habitat remains—and how much of it has been destroyed or degraded—is vital for accurately assessing extinction risks,” she said, “especially for species that have small geographical ranges to begin with.”

The researchers offer a “modest” addition to each Red List citation: a single sentence that lays out a species’ area of occurrence and spells out how much of that area is within the species’ preferred elevation, how much of it is natural habitat, and how much is currently protected.

“With better data, we can make better decisions,” Ocampo-Peñuela said, “and have a greater chance of saving species and protecting the places that matter.”

Martin Wittfooth
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]


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