Three Critically Endangered species you’ve probably never heard of

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1. Elegant stubfoot toad (Atelopus elegans)

The Elegant stubfoot toad is native to Columbia and Ecuador, and can be found in North west Ecuador in habitats 300-1140 metres above sea level.  These habitats occur in sub-montane and lowland rainforest, with toads breeding in nearby streams. Populations are known to have declined rapidly in recent years, most probably due to habitat degradation brought on by logging, agriculture and human settlement. There is also some speculation that these frogs may have been affected by a deadly fungal disease called chytridiomycosis. Whilst these toads occur in a national park in Columbia, the Ecuadorian population is more vulnerable and it is believed that Ex-situ conservation action (conservation measures taken outside of the species’ natural environment) needs to be implemented urgently.

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2.Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)

The staghorn coral is found between depths of 1 and 60 metres in the Caribbean, southern Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and the Bahamas, and has been documented as far north as Palm Beach along Florida’s east coast. Between 1978-2008 there was an 80% decline  across the different populations, thought to be the result of a number of factors including habitat loss, disease, climate change, coral bleaching, weather and predation by three-spot damselfish. The main disease impacting the staghorn coral is White band disease. In America this species is present in many Marine Protected Areas including Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Further conservation action needs to be taken however, including further research into the species taxonomy, ecology, and resilience alongside the expansion of marine protected areas.

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3.Nihoa Finch (Telespiza ultima)

The Nihoa finch is native to the US and is restricted to the steep, rocky island of Nihoa in the North-western Hawaiian Islands. Historically, it also inhabited the island of Molokai in the Main Hawaiian Islands, but became extinct due to a combination of habitat loss and predation by introduced mammals.  The finch occurs in low shrubs and grasses covering around two-thirds of the island, feeding on seeds, invertebrates, other plant parts and eggs. It nests in cavities in cliffs, rock crevices or in piles of loose rock, with clutch sizes usually numbering three. Due to the finches’ endemism to the island (an endemic species is one which is restricted to a particular place), it remains particularly vulnerable to extinction through a single large scale event such as avian disease or a hurricane.  Other threats include the introduction of harmful non-native species and fires. One introduced species which is thought to pose a significant threat to the Nihoa finch is the grasshopper Schistocerca nitens, which can cause defoliation of the island. A combination of the finches protected status and tight regulations on visitation to the island mean further species are unlikely to be introduced.  Proposed conservation measures include the establishment of a captive breeding programme and the translocation of populations to other areas.

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Jess Webster

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