What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020

John R. Platt (Scientific American) writes that “Dozens of frogs, fish, orchids and other species—many unseen for decades—may no longer exist because of humanity’s destructive effects on the planet.” His article lists the many species lost in 2020, including 32 orchid species in Bangladesh, the Smooth handfish from Tasmania, 65 North American plants, 22 frog species (mostly from South and Central America), Simeulue Hill myna birds, 17 freshwater fish from the Philippines, the Bonin pipistrelle in Japan, French and Italian praying mantises, and many, many more.

Species found in countries included in the greater Caribbean region are: the Chiriqui harlequin frog (Atelopus chiriquiensis) and splendid poison frog (Oophaga speciosa)—from Costa Rica and Panama; Nazareno (Monteverdia lineata) from Cuba; the Costa Rican Pass stubfoot toad (Atelopus senex); Craugastor myllomyllon, a Guatemalan frog; the Cuban palm tree Roystonea stellate; the Guatemalan false brook salamander; Cuban plants Euchorium cubense and Banara wilsonii; and the Floridian lichen Cora timucua. [. . .] Excerpts on these species have been included below. For full article, see Scientific American. Platt writes:

A few months ago a group of scientists warned about the rise of “extinction denial,” an effort much like climate denial to mischaracterize the extinction crisis and suggest that human activity isn’t really having a damaging effect on ecosystems and the whole planet.

That damaging effect is, in reality, impossible to deny.

This past year scientists and conservation organizations declared that a long list of species may have gone extinct, including dozens of frogs, orchids and fish. Most of these species haven’t been seen in decades, despite frequent and regular expeditions to find out if they still exist. The causes of these extinctions range from diseases to invasive species to habitat loss, but most boil down to human behavior.

Of course, proving a negative is always hard, and scientists are often cautious about declaring species truly lost. Do it too soon, they warn, and the last conservation efforts necessary to save a species could evaporate, a problem known as the Romeo and Juliet Effect. Because of that, and because many of these species live in hard-to-survey regions, many of the announcements this past year declared species possibly or probably lost, a sign that hope springs eternal.

And there’s reason for that hope: When we devote energy and resources to saving species, it often works. A study published in 2019 found that conservation efforts have reduced bird extinction rates by 40 percent. Another recent paper found that conservation actions have prevented dozens of bird and mammal extinctions over just the past few decades. The new paper warns that many of the species remain critically endangered, or could still go extinct, but we can at least stop the bleeding.

And sometimes we can do better than that. This year the IUCN—the organization that tracks the extinction risk of species around the world—announced several conservation victories, including the previously critically endangered Oaxaca treefrog (Sarcohyla celata), which is now considered “near threatened” due to protective actions taken by the people who live near it. [. . .]

[. . .] Chiriqui harlequin frog (Atelopus chiriquiensis) and splendid poison frog (Oophaga speciosa)—Last seen in 1996 and 1992, these frogs from Costa Rica and Panama fell victim to the chytrid fungus and were declared extinct in December.

[. . .] Nazareno (Monteverdia lineata)—Scientific papers declared this Cuban flowing plant species extinct in 2010 and 2015, although it wasn’t catalogued in the IUCN Red List until this year. It grew in a habitat now severely degraded by agriculture and livestock farming.

[. . .] Pass stubfoot toad (Atelopus senex)—Another Costa Rican chytrid victim, last seen in 1986.

[. . .] Craugastor myllomyllon—A Guatemalan frog that never had a common name and hasn’t been seen since 1978 (although it wasn’t declared a species until 2000). Unlike the other frogs on this year’s list, this one disappeared before the chytrid fungus arrived; it was likely wiped out when agriculture destroyed its only habitat.

[. . .] Roystonea stellate—Scientists only collected this Cuban palm tree a single time, back in 1939. Several searches have failed to uncover evidence of its continued existence, probably due to conversion of its only habitats to coffee plantations.

[. . .] Jalpa false brook salamander (Pseudoeurycea exspectata)—Small farms, cattle grazing and logging appear to have wiped out this once-common Guatemalan amphibian, last seen in 1976. At least 16 surveys since 1985 did not find any evidence of the species’ continued existence.

[. . .] Euchorium cubense—Last seen in 1924, this Cuban flowing plant—the only member of its genus—has long been assumed lost. The IUCN characterized it as extinct in 2020 along with Banara wilsonii, another Cuban plant last seen in 1938 before its habitat was cleared for a sugarcane plantation.

[. . .] Cora timucua—This lichen from Florida was just identified from historical collections through DNA barcoding. Unfortunately, no new samples have been collected since the turn of the 19th century. The scientists who named the species this past December call it “potentially extinct” but suggest it be listed as critically endangered in case it still hangs on in remote parts of the highly developed state. They caution, however, that it hasn’t turned up in any recent surveys. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-weve-lost-the-species-declared-extinct-in-2020/

[Photo above of the Oophaga speciosa from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.]

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