News of the Wild: Coral Reefs, Conservation Study and Florida’s Panther

From the February/March 2011 issue of National Wildlife

  • Roger Di Silvestro
  • Jan 19, 2011
Coral Reefs Face Likely Crisis

NWF’s warning in its 1999 report Coral Reefs & Climate Change—that without concerted international effort to protect and restore coral reefs damaged by threats such as global warming “we will lose one of nature’s crown jewels”—is ringing truer today. Last year showed signs of ranking among the worst for coral reefs since 1998’s high ocean temperatures caused a severe worldwide reef decline. Globally, the average ocean temperature in 2010 matched that for 1998. The results: Scientists report that up to 90 percent of Thailand’s corals show signs of dangerous stress and predict that coral death in the Caribbean could top 40 percent. “It looks like 2010 was another terrible year for coral, a bad omen for the future and a call to arms for dealing with global warming,” says Patty Glick, NWF senior global warming specialist and author of the 1999 NWF report.

Study Says Conservation Works

Conservationists have slowed the decline of biodiversity worldwide by at least 20 percent, according to a new study in the journal Science based on data for 25,000 species from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Released late last year, the report found that one-fifth of the world’s vertebrate animals are threatened, and that on average about 50 species of bird, mammal and amphibian move closer to extinction each year largely because of human activity. The study also measures the difference conservation efforts make, highlighting 64 bird, mammal and amphibian species that have improved in status because of successful conservation, including the California condor and the black-footed ferret. NWF scientist Bruce Stein, a coauthor of the study, observes that “conservation efforts clearly pay off, but there is a huge mismatch between what is needed to slow the pace of species loss and our current levels of conservation investment.”

A Future for Florida’s Panther?

The Florida panther, an endangered species that NWF and its Florida affiliate have sought to protect for many years, is moving slowly up the road to recovery if current trends continue. Once reduced to about 30 animals ranging across southern Florida, the cat now numbers slightly more than 100, biologists reported last autumn in the journal Science. The release of eight Texas pumas into South Florida in 1995 added genetic diversity to a population showing signs of severe inbreeding, such as heart defects and low reproduction rates. Evidence of inbreeding is now declining, and some panthers are expanding their range. “This intensive management program illustrates the challenges of maintaining populations of large predators worldwide,” the biologists concluded.

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