By Todd Amacker, Tennessee, USA:
Beginning in the 1980s, emerging pathogens have contributed to a global decline in amphibian populations. As a result of disease and other factors, amphibians are the most imperiled terrestrial vertebrate class on Earth. With both ranavirus (a genus of viruses in the family Iridoviridae) and chytrid fungus (a fungus in the phylum Chytridiomycota) being two of the biggest culprits, biologists and veterinarians are investigating the prevalence and transmission of these pathogens in amphibian populations all over the world.
In the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, researchers from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville have been studying ranavirus and chytrid fungus prevalence for the last decade in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Known as the ‘Salamander Capital of the World’, this relatively small area contains some thirty species of salamanders, several of which are endemic to the park itself. This makes amphibian research in the Southern Appalachians vital when attempting to understand the global significance of certain pathogens like ranavirus and chytrid fungus, which in general, remain understudied.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, vast swathes of the Smoky Mountains had been logged. Many native species, including amphibians, were decimated as a result. After being decreed a National Park in 1934, the Smokies made an extraordinary recovery and are once again intact and forested with large, mature trees. This has given Southern Appalachian salamanders a second chance at survival. With the help of dedicated scientists and concerned citizens, salamanders in Tennessee and North Carolina are fighting to avoid what has been called the Sixth Mass Extinction.
For more conservation stories, images, and films, visit www.toddamacker.com.
By Maggie Everett, Marvelwood School
Language barriers are tough and there are few things that can overcome difficulties in communication when faced with such barriers. Fortunately pictures are one of these!
Marvelwood School is a private high school in Kent, Connecticut. For nearly a decade now we have been traveling to Panama to conduct wildlife research. However our studies are limited to a few weeks each year. To better document the incredible biodiversity in the area around the year, we decided to start a pilot program to arm kids from underserved areas near the Cocoblo Nature Reserve (CNR) with cameras. We call the program CLICK to Protect Biodiversity. CLICK stands for Communities Linking Internationally to raise Conservation awareness in Kids. While we were only able to find funding for six point and shoot cameras the pilot program generated a lot of excitement and will attempt to expand the program next year. Both Marvelwood students and the children from La Zahina, also had the opportunity to work with Meet Your Neigbours Photographers in the field and try their hand at using sophisticated camera equipment to take photos. Below is an excerpt from the journal of Maggie Everett, a student from Marvelwood School about her experience working with local children as part of the CLICK program during our March trip to Panama.
“My favorite moment at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve (CNR) in Panama was the moment four young kids first walked into our base camp to help us photograph life in the reserve. They appeared to be of elementary school age and were wearing clothes like we do in the summer, their hair in braids, and one boy even had a red baseball cap on his head. But there was a definite border, a difference between me and them and that was the inability to communicate in a common language. They only spoke Spanish and I only spoke English. Frankly I was scared to be where I was in an unknown (and potentially dangerous) tropical forest, and trying to communicate and conduct scientific research with local children who did not speak the same language as I only compounded my anxiety. My anxiety began to diminish after the first few minutes of interaction as they seemed perfectly open and inviting to work with me and the other students and scientists that surrounded them.
My eyes immediately drew to a young girl soon introduced to me as Nixi. She sported a small orange camera, given to her my Marvelwood School during the February trip for the purpose of trying to document biodiversity in and near CNR. She held it tightly in her hand as her eyes searched the grounds. She was beautiful and had a glow of intelligence, knowledge, enthusiasm and ambition that everyone dreams their child will have. Before long, she was clinging to me and smiling a pure smile of excitement and joy as she started snapping photos of the insects, frogs and birds we encountered. I looked down at my Canon Camera, a more sophisticated version of the point and shoot camera Niki was using, and decided to take a risk. I called her over and slowly and carefully placed the strap around her neck as she began to gasp in excitement. After 2 minutes of showing her how to look through it, zoom in and out, and take pictures, she was already up to my level in how to use my own camera! I watched as she ran around and continued to take photographs of her friends, the trees, birds, butterflies. Watching this young girl, who had probably never traveled more than 20 miles from her village in her young life, due to economic and travel limitations, immerse herself in photographing the natural world around her, caused me to reevaluate my own life. It was that moment, watching the joy and excitement oozing from Nixi, as she took advantage of the opportunity to explore her world through the lens of a camera, that my own now pointless problems melted away. I felt renewed, I felt free and happy and trusting. I felt true love from Nixi and those other amazing kids exploring CNR with us in our quest to document the incredible biodiversity in the reserve. I learned that pictures really are the world’s universal language! I also learned that collectively, children, regardless of ones socio-economic backgrounds, armed simply with a camera, can really make a difference and raise awareness about the incredible biodiversity in this world that needs to be conserved and protected!”
A huge shout-out to the Meet Your Neighbours Photographers Clay Bolt, Twan Leenders and Sean Graesser for helping the students from Marvelwood School and from La Zahina, explore the natural world in Panama through the lens of a Camera.
Meet Your Neighbours Co-Founder Clay Bolt was honored to accept the North American Nature Photography Association‘s 2015 Environmental Impact award on behalf of Meet Your Neighbours during the annual summit in San Diego last week. Clay writes, “The last recipient was the incredible James Balog so its significance isn’t lost on me. More importantly, I was so touched to be on stage with many of my dearest friends and colleagues who have really been the ones to make the project a reality.” From the left: Chris Linder, Kevin FitzPatrick, Paul Marcellini, Roy Toft, Sheri Mandel, Nathan Dappen, Krista Schlyer, Clay Bolt, Neil Losin, Gabby Salazar, Karine Aigner and Paul Hassell. Other contributors who were present but unable to join us on stage were Andrew Snyder, JP Lawrence, Matthew Cicanese, Kika Tarsi Tuff, Todd Amacker, Steven David Johnson, Dave Huth. Photo © Gaston Lacombe / iLCP.
-By Karine Aigner, Washington DC, USA: I was in Brownsville, Texas, having a nightmare of a time trying to photograph a 3 day old Texas tortoise that we had found. I had pretty much given up on the cheeky juvenile reptile when I heard something moving at my feet. Strategically placed right at my foot was a cockroach the size of my thumb, seemingly pulling a scorpion. But, the scorpion was attached to the roach’s backside, holding on! The cockroach was having some success at pulling itself across the floor until the scorpion, almost half the roach’s size, turned itself sideways (with me watching) while holding onto the roach, and without further ado slammed it’s tail into the roach four distinct times. Not a minute later was the roach sedated, but not yet dead. So, what did i do? Throw them both onto the plexi and watch the scene play out. The scorpion waited till the roach stopped moving, then moved itself into position to start eating the roach head first. It later turned it over and continued eating.
-By Todd Amacker, Tennessee, USA: I recently returned from a trip to rural Gaza Province, Mozambique, near Banhine National Park. Banhine is what people refer to as a ‘paper park’. Very little infrastructure, relatively few park rangers, and only small, skittish populations of megafauna. They certainly have reason to be skittish, after their animal kin were decimated during a brutal civil war that lasted for decades. The majority of locals living in the region rely on subsistence agriculture, which means that if their humble crops (mostly maize) fail, they go hungry. That’s why, in 2011, after moving back to the States from Africa, I founded MozCause. We’re revitalizing a small primary school in the village of Mafacitela, just outside of Banhine National Park. Such projects in this area are easier said than done. As an example, the cost and risk of transporting cinder blocks for a ten hour journey down a less-than-perfect dirt road was not on option, so we were left with one choice: to make our own cinder blocks on-site using river sand from the Changane River. But, by using local labor and limited building materials, we, along with the help of Búfalo Moçambique, a privately owned and operated wildlife reserve, replaced the school’s long-missing roof that until now has rendered the original school building useless. Small things like this make a world of difference to these undeniably resilient children of Mafacitela.
In between my visits to the school, where I was documenting our progress and chatting with the school’s headmaster, Gervásio Inácio Bambo, I spent my time at a bush camp at Búfalo Moçambique. Despite being the middle of the dry season, I was astonished by the amount of biodiversity found at the reserve, and elsewhere. Famed biologist E.O. Wilson describes insects and other invertebrates as being “the small things that run the world”. After a few hours spent looking for critters in this corner of Gaza Province, it’s no surprise that the world is still running relatively smoothly. There was no shortage of grasshoppers, katydids, praying mantids, spiders, frogs, and other small, fascinating creatures. In fact, my enthusiasm for these little things became contagious. Soon, every other person in camp was searching for photography subjects. The camp assistants, mostly local Mozambicans, proved to be the most effective critter getters.
I frequently scoured Ilala palms (Hyphaene coriacea) for frogs, as it seemed to be their favorite hiding place. But James, who I referred to as a ‘closet naturalist’, quickly showed me a short cut for attracting them using the same type of palm (above). Other camp workers brought me myriad grasshoppers of all shapes, sizes, and colors (below), and they even brought me a thick-tailed scorpion! This species is capable of spraying venom from its tail, so one must be careful when handling. Praying mantids from the genus Hoplocorypha also made for interesting finds. I can’t wait to return during the wet season (that is, if the maze of dirt roads leading to Búfalo Moçambique allows it.)
More of Todd’s images are at www.toddamacker.com.
Sometimes people ask, why should we care whether a salamander goes extinct? What value does it provide anyway? Well, I could go into details and statistics, but it comes down to the fact that our fellow creatures have just as much right to exist as we do. They have the right to simply “be.”
Please take a moment to read this message from Florida contributor Don Filipiak – Clay
“The beginnings of a species at its end. The Frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) is a species in desperate need of a priority boost in the conservation world. This secretive mole salamander that once ranged along the Coastal Plain from S. Carolina to Alabama is now restricted to a scant four counties in Florida. Even with the remaining four locales being found in protected areas, misdirected management strategies may ultimately prove fatal for the Frosted flatwoods salamander. This caudate’s specific breeding parameters rely on intact ecotones (wire grass/cypress tupelo domes and flatwoods/coastal marsh) for egg deposition and larval development. Current management strategies in the area include prescribed burns that do not aim at restoring these ecotones, severely degrading the breeding site by allowing shrubby vegetation to invade. The few recent ecotone burns were conducted in winter (larval development period) which left the area exposed, burning away the grass matrix that the larva rely on for camouflage. The results are a paucity of breeding sites and increased isolation of local populations within the metapopulation. Compared to other endangered cases, this has the potential to be an easy fix. The remaining habitat is already protected, it’s not about expensive land acquisitions, it’s about restoration of existing breeding sites. We’re talking about ephemeral ponds, not an entire watershed. With a little man power and proper flatwoods fire, the restoration of a breeding site can be accomplished in one season. With more traditionally charismatic species (e.g. Red-cockaded Woodpecker) occupying the spotlight, the Frosted flatwoods salamanders may very well be overlooked into extinction.
MYN Contributor Shawn Miller has been photographing many of the species living in Okinawa, Japan over the past several months. Here is a selection of some of his discoveries photographed in the Meet Your Neighbours Field Studio.
-By Lech Naumovich, California, USA: When you step foot atop Twin Peaks in San Francisco, you imbibe sweeping views of a thriving metropolis nestled in nature. There are vast swaths of gray hugged by adjacent seas of green and blue. It’s not Brooks Range-esque wilderness, but as Bill Cronon professes, “what brought each of us to the places where such memories became possible is entirely a cultural invention.” Although I don’t always completely agree with Professor Cronon’s view of a necessarily anthropogenic wilderness – San Francisco undoubtedly stands as living proof that cultural intervention has allowed for these memories to be accessible (my interpretation) to the masses, not the few private property owners. Cultural intervention has also preserved a taste of wilderness, and the home of this unlikely resident of Twin Peaks, the Mission Blue Butterfly. MBB’s fly from about April to May, each year, a reminder of how delicate biodiversity can be, while at the same time celebrating the incredible resiliency of this tiny, ephemeral butterfly.
I’ve been blessed to work with a great group of agencies and volunteers on the restoration of habitat of the Mission Blue butterfly. With a regular commitment to this site, we can help preserve this population for many generations. Please read more at www.goldenhour.org.
– Twan Leenders, Jamestown, New York
This is the saddest Meet Your Neighbours shoot I have done so far. Let this be a reminder that we need to better neighbors! Biodiversity begins in your backyard, but it can end there as well if we don’t smarten up!
One hundred years ago this year, Martha – the last of the Passenger Pigeons – died at the Cincinnati Zoo. This may once have been the most abundant bird in North America but was effectively extinct in the wild around the turn of the 20th century, with only few sad survivors remaining in captivity. Roger Tory Peterson never saw one in the wild but did illustrate the species for his first guide in 1934. As was the case with most of his illustrations he used museum specimens as models.
The passenger pigeon mount and study skins shown here are part of Peterson’s collection (now curated at RTPI), which he acquired from commercial collectors. These birds were collected in the late 1800s in Massachusetts and are on display now at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. To learn more about the amazing story of the Passenger Pigeon, come see author Joel Greenberg on June 6 during the RTPI Bird Festival. More information can be found on our website at www.rtpi.org
I’m really proud to be included as one of the featured photographers on Paul Hassell‘s excellent new project ALIVE. My video interview was released this afternoon. If you’re interested, you can check it out by visiting the link below and listen to me ramble on a bit about why I love being a nature photographer.-Clay