Wednesday, February 17, 2016

From the Edge of Extinction

Extinction isn't something that will solve itself. Humans cause many different problems for the natural inhabitants of land we decide to make our own. From poaching animals to the expansion and growth of cities, we are dealing large amounts of damage to our ecosystem, sometimes in ways that weren't expected. For instance, the national animal of New Zealand, the kiwi bird (they actually resemble the fruit), can be broken down into 5 species. Two of the species are vulnerable to extinction, and two are endangered. The cause? Deforestation of their habitats, as well as the introduction of different mammalian predators by settlers. These predators wouldn’t have made it to the islands without human involvement.

In the image above, this steep island is called Ball’s Pyramid, formed from a volcano that rose above the ocean. It is here that a species, once considered extinct, was rediscovered and brought back from the edge of the extinction. This species is known as the Lord Howe stick insect. 100 years ago, a supply ship crashed onto Lord Howe Island (13 miles away from Ball’s Pyramid). This island was the original home of these stick insects, but this crash released unwelcomed passengers into a whole new ecosystem. I’m not referring to humans, but instead black rats that managed to hide away on the boat. Similar to the predators of the kiwi bird, these rats then treated themselves to a new meal that was easy for them to acquire, the Lord Howe stick insects. Within only two years, there were no more sightings of this creature.

It seemed as though that was the end of another species, until the 1960s when rumors sprung up of recently dead stick bugs being seen on Ball’s Pyramid. In 2001 scientists went to take a closer look, and at first found no clues to a stick insect living there. Then, in somewhat of a miraculously event, they spotted a single bush growing out of the cracks in some rocks. Under this bush, they found large insect droppings. Since the stick insects are nocturnal, they returned at night and on the bush they found 2 of the presumed extinct Lord Howe stick insect. Under the bush, 22 more were found.
*Fun Fact: Europeans first called these insects "Tree Lobsters" because of their size and exoskeleton.

From this point, scientists had to deliberate in order to decide what the best course of action would be. They decided that 4 out of the 24 could be removed from their home in order to attempt to repopulate the species. Sadly the first two died relatively quickly, but the second two ended up successfully mating and having offspring. Humans were able to reverse the loss of a species, and in a way, redeem themselves for causing the extinction in the first place. The focus needs to change now to keep animals that are entering extinction from disappearing forever.

Posted by Chris Richard

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