This week’s Nature has four article on inequities in STEM, plus a series of ten photographs showing endangered species and ecosystems. I’ll put up screenshots of the articles at the bottom, but hightlight the photographs instead, as I have nothing in me to address the other items, and because people may be unaware of ongoing losses of species and habitats.
Click on the screenshot below to see the ten photos. Because of space limitations, I’ve had to crop them. I’ll show five, and the captions are from the paper. And the photos are BIG, so click on them to see them in their full glory.
Global statistics on declining biodiversity can give the impression that every population of every species is in a downward spiral. In fact, many populations are stable or growing, while a small number of species faces truly existential challenges. These photos capture some specific crises. They are images of threats unfolding, of desperate attempts at species defence and of the beautiful living world that is at stake.
The 15th United Nations Biodiversity Conference, COP15, opens in Montreal, Canada, on 7 December. At the meeting, delegates will attempt to agree on goals for stabilizing species’ declines by 2030 and reverse them by mid-century. The current draft framework agreement promises nothing less than a “transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity”.
Corroboree frog. The two species of corroboree frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi and Pseudophryne corroboree) are among the many amphibians around the world that have been hit hard by chytrid fungus, which causes an infectious disease that can be fatal. To make matters worse, big chunks of the frogs’ habitat in eastern Australia were torched in the 2019–20 bush fires. This northern corroboree frog (P. pengilleyi), bred at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, is part of captive-breeding efforts — some frogs are already back in their habitats, albeit in enclosures with sprinkler systems in case of fire. Frog conservation plans are being designed for a world in which chytrid fungi are everywhere; the pathogens are not going to be eradicated any time soon.
Fishing fleet. These fishing boats are based in Zhoushan, China, but they might travel to Africa, South America or even Antarctica before they drop their nets. When rich nations overfish their own waters, they often simply go further out. In 2018, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan collectively spent $1.5 billion subsidizing their fishing fleets to harvest the exclusive economic zones of other countries. Talks are under way on an international treaty that might ban such subsidies. Such an agreement would end a significant proportion of ‘distant-water fishing’ virtually overnight, according to the US-based non-profit organization, Pew Charitable Trusts — and would have significant benefits for marine biodiversity.
Cactus fires. A helicopter drops fire retardant in the Sonoran Desert during the 2020 Bighorn Fire in Arizona. This desert was once considered fireproof. But the spread of introduced grasses since the 1970s has changed everything. In dry summers, dead grasses create blankets of dry tinder. Fires then kill native species such as the iconic saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), continuing the cycle of ‘grassification’.
The best solution is intuitive and low-tech: rip out introduced grasses by the roots or kill them with herbicide. Strategically placed fire breaks might also help to contain future blazes.
Expensive rhinos. A black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) stands out against the golden grasslands of Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Rhinos are threatened in part because of the popularity of their horns, which sell for exorbitant prices as medical and luxury items. But black-rhino populations grew at an annual rate of 2.5% between 2012 and 2018, thanks to conservation efforts including costly anti-poaching measures that will be tough to maintain indefinitely. Ultimately, reducing consumer demand for rhino horn will be the best way to safeguard the species.
Caught in the crossfire. Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, home to one-third of the world’s mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).
Conservationists remark that you can destroy an ecosystem overnight, whereas protecting it takes constant effort. Virunga has been threatened by war, refugee crises and oil companies that want what’s underneath its verdure. Currently, the park is occupied by fighters from the M23 rebel group. And the DRC government is considering opening parts of the park to oil and gas exploration.
This week’s issue is also full of inequity matter, and rather than comment on any of it, I’ll just give you the links; click any screenshot to read. I find the first one particularly interesting, as it’s an issue whose “fix”, much less its ascertainment, seems hard. Readers are welcome to comment on any of these below.