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Curbing invasive species takes creativity: 3 stories you may have missed

© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Trojan trout: could turning an invasive fish into a ‘super-male’ save a native species?

It’s a real boys’ club out there for these invasive trout. 

The story: Invasive brook trout have taken over many U.S. waters, pushing native species into decline. To minimize the trout’s impact, scientists are embarking on a bold plan that involves reshuffling its chromosomes, reports Jeremy Miller for The Guardian. Thanks to clever tinkering in a lab, so-called “Trojan” trout have been genetically altered to carry only Y chromosomes — meaning all their offspring will be male. Scientists are releasing these Trojan trout into the wild in the hopes of humanely excising them from rivers and lakes, where they currently outbreed and outcompete native trout, as well as amphibians. 

The big picture: Healthy and stable ecosystems are at equilibrium —plants, herbivores and carnivores that evolved in tandem balance each other out. However, the introduction of an aggressive invader can throw all of that into disarray.  

Undoing the catastrophic results often requires a little creativity. In Hawai‘i, for example, Conservation International is partnering with local chefs to cook up tasty ways to increase the demand for taʻape — an invasive fish that is heavily impacting biodiversity and disrupting local fisheries. By turning to taʻape for their meals, diners can support the local economy, improve island food security and help to reduce an invasive species.

Read more here

The famed “Lord God Bird” may not be extinct after all. 

The story: Late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the iconic ivory-billed woodpecker was officially extinct. Though the last documented sighting was back in 1944, the verdict hit many people hard. Even the biologist who made the final decision admitted to doing so with a sob

Now, scientists on an expedition in the forests of Louisiana may have discovered evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker persists, reports Oliver Milman for the Guardian. The team, led by ornithologist Steve Latta, spent three years trekking through Louisianian woodlands, searching for the woodpecker. Latta declared that the effort successful, reporting that every member of his team encountered the elusive bird during their travels — hearing its distinctive call and even witnessing it fly above them. Most importantly, they were able to catch it on camera.

“The size and the markings of the bird captured in the photos is strong evidence that it is not another woodpecker, such as a pileated or red-headed woodpecker,” Latta said. “It reinforced to me that, yes, this bird does exist and left me feeling a sense of responsibility to protect it for the future.”

The big picture: While the expedition’s evidence is still being reviewed, the woodpecker’s potential reappearance calls to mind the unexpected reemergence of many other cherished species on the brink — from the recent discovery of mysterious canids carrying the genetic code of the critically endangered red wolf to a shocking encounter with Oreobates zongoensis, a “devil-eyed” frog rediscovered on a Conservation International expedition in Bolivia after going unseen for decades. 

The surprising sightings are reminders that nature is resilient and adaptive, especially when properly stewarded. But they are also a warning that when species dip into single digits, the loss of even one member can tip the scales toward total disappearance. As scientists warn that a million plants and animals are in danger of extinction, the actions we take now for endangered wildlife could mean the difference between life or death for an entire species.

Read more here.

Indigenous communities are slowing the destruction of the Amazon.

The story: A new study has found that Indigenous reservations in Brazil have acted as a barrier against deforestation, reports Aljazeera. Of the 69 million hectares (170 million acres) of rainforest lost during the last 30 years, just 1.6 percent was on Indigenous lands, according to researchers.

“Without Indigenous reservations, the forest would certainly be much closer to the ‘tipping point’ at which it stops providing the ecological services our agriculture, industries and cities depend upon,” Tasso Azevedo, an author of the study, told Aljazeera.

The new research comes at an important moment. Deforestation has surged under Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the promise that he would halt the creation of any new Indigenous lands. Earlier this month, Indigenous people from 100 tribes gathered in Brazil’s capital, protesting new laws which would further exploit the Amazon, and demanding added protection for their own lands. 

The big picture: Indigenous people make up 5 percent of Earth's total population but steward 40 percent of its remaining intact ecosystems. In many cases, the forests under their care are also some of the most climate-critical ecosystems on Earth — including the Amazon. Ensuring the rights of those who protect these special places is essential to preventing climate breakdown. 

“Globally, Indigenous lands are facing increased pressure from development, mining and farming,” Minnie Degawan, director of Conservation International’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, told Conservation News. “Countries must ensure that Indigenous peoples have the support they need to steward their lands and seas. This means mobilizing resources such as funding and technical support to Indigenous communities so that they can fend off the pressure to turn forests into farms or mining areas.”

Read more here

Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Eastern brook trout (© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)