Biodiversity in Peril
Last Wednesday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) released a new list of the 100 most critically endangered species. Forests are home to 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, so it comes as no surprise that many of these threatened species are forest dwellers.
Let’s take a look at a few species on the list and the ways in which they interact with their forest habitats.
- Greater bamboo lemur
The greater bamboo lemur is found only on the island of Madagascar. The IUCN’s list estimates that between 100 and 160 of these animals are living today, mainly within Ranomafana National Park. They are a specialized species: a full 98 percent of their diet consists of one just plant, giant bamboo. Consequently, they are unable to adapt well to changes in their environment, lacking flexibility in their food source. As the forests of Madagascar are lost to slash and burn agriculture and other threats, these primates face great danger. In addition to losing their food source, they are also losing the cover and safety of the forest. Bamboo is a low-energy food, meaning that the lemurs must spend much of their day eating and, like another animal with a low-energy diet — the sloth — lead a very sedentary lifestyle.
- Dusky gopher frog
Considered the most endangered frog in North America, the dusky gopher frog was until recently believed to live only in Glen’s Pond in Harrison County, Mississippi, within De Soto National Forest. Recently, a few more of these frogs were discovered in other nearby ponds — McCoy’s Pond and Mike’s Pond — but the Glen’s Pond population of 60 to 100 frogs is still believed to be the only one large enough for breeding. These dark, spotted frogs are very picky about their habitat, requiring the temporary, fish free ponds found in the sandy longleaf pine forests they call home. When not in the ponds, they live in other homes provided by the forest: the burrows of other small woodland animals and holes in stumps. They were once found from eastern Louisiana to Alabama, but less than two percent of the original forests they ranged remain today.
- Javan rhinoceros
Deep in the rainforests of Indonesia and Vietnam live a small handful of Javan rhinos. In Indonesia, the Javan rhino lives only in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java. They have been protected there since 1931, but fewer than 100 are estimated to be alive today. In Vietnam, only 10 or so Javan rhinos remain and they are found within Cat Tien National Park. These colossal mammals love low-lying sites with lots of water and mud wallows.
- Araripe manakin
First documented as recently as 1998, only 800 or so of this brightly colored bird are estimated to be living today, none outside of a very small area in the Araripe National Forest of Brazil. They are threatened largely by destruction of their rainforest habitat, including the trees of the cordia genus whose fruit they eat and the other trees and shrubs where they live and build their nests in the lower and middle stories of the forest.
Madagascar, Mississippi, Indonesia, Brazil. These four species live far from each other, but the forests they call home have something in common. Did you notice? Due to destruction of large areas of their habitat, each of these animals is now found almost exclusively within small areas of nationally protected land. Protected lands do not exist in a vacuum, however. If we don’t take certain measures — protection of the water systems that affect these habitats, reforestation and enforcement of current protection laws, for instance — much of our planet’s biodiversity, including these four beautiful species, will be lost.