Species declared extinct in the US after hurricanes ravaged the South

Species declared extinct in the US after hurricanes ravaged the South Scientists in Florida have confirmed the first local species to be driven to extinction by increasing hurricanes and sea level rise: the Key Largo tree cactus, Pilosocereus millspaughii, devoured by dehydrated predators (above tufts of the long, woolly hairs grown by the cactus)

NASA predicts every island of the Florida Keys and their species will be swallowed by the ocean this century as climate change raises sea levels worldwide.

And now scientists and academics in the Sunshine State have confirmed the first local species to be driven to extinction by increasing hurricanes and sea level rise.

The Key Largo tree cactus (Pilosocereus millspaughii) was devoured by local animals desperate for food and fresh water amid the increasingly barren, salt-saturated soil.

But, since 2015, researchers have struggled to identify the thirsty tree cacti-ravaging culprits: setting up months of wildlife camera surveillance and studying mysterious teeth marks on over half of the now extinct plant species for their new study.

'We noticed the first big problem in 2015,' said one research botanist who worked on the new study, 'seeing saltwater flooding from king tides in the area.'

Ocean tides soaking into the Keys from rising seas and monster Category 5 storms, like Hurricane Beryl, 'limits the amount of freshwater available to small mammals,' the botanist said, 'and might be related to why the herbivores targeted this cactus.'

But that botanist, James Lange at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, cautioned that he and his research colleagues 'can't say for sure' exactly what spurred the wild, aggressive new predation on these cacti.

'We'd never seen cactus herbivory like this anywhere in the Lower Keys,' Lange said, 'where flooding has tended to be less extensive.'

And precisely what thirsty species has been craving the Key Largo tree cacti's water resources also proved to be a mystery, despite months of trail camera surveillance.

The researchers in partnership with Florida's state-level conservation agencies, set up the cameras in 2016 after discovering in 2015 that about half of the identified Key Largo tree cacti had been 'gnawed down to vascular tissue.'

The tell-tale teeth marks and the stripping of the plant for its precious freshwater stores extended all the way up to four feet above the ground in some cases.

'Of 243 total visits captured on camera, raccoons were the most abundant (58 percent), followed by birds (31 percent), marsh rabbits (5 percent), opossums (4 percent), cotton mice (<1 percent) and unknown animals (<1 percent),' the team reported in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas this Tuesday.

'Camera traps failed to capture any animal directly impacting the cacti,' the noted.

And yet, the following year in 2017 this predatory behavior on the cactus trees had expanded, killing'roughly another 50 percent of the population,' the wrote.

Lange and his colleagues at Fairchild working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection took cuttings of the surviving Key Largo tree cacti in an effort to nurse as many as possible back to health in greenhouses.

But the failed effort means that many unique and beautiful features of this rare species are not likely to be seen again in the wild.

'The most striking difference is the tuft of long, woolly hairs at the base of the flowers and fruits,' said Alan Franck, currently the herbarium collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has collected many dried samples.

The tree cacti's hair is so thick that in flowering seasons it can give off the appearance of being covered in snow.

But dehydrated animal predators were just one factor that hastened the cactus trees' demise.

Nearly every acre of the islands that make up the Florida Keys (90 percent) rests just five feet above sea level — with the entire island chain at risk of disappearing by 2100, researchers say.

Already, increasing salt water content in the soil and vicious uprooting hurricane-force winds have done much damage to the local ecosystem and these cacti in particular.

Salt level studies of the soil surrounding the dying cacti began annually in 2007 and one past study by led by the Fairchild botanic garden found that salt levels were higher in the soil beneath dying Key Largo tree cacti.

'The climate emergency,' according to a statement from the Florida Museum of Natural History, which assisted in the new study, 'has killed off the Key Largo tree cactus growing naturally in the US through saltwater inundation and soil depletion from hurricanes.'

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  • https://www.msn.com/en-ph/news/other/species-declared-extinct-in-the-us-after-hurricanes-ravaged-the-south/ar-BB1pKRBM?ocid=00000000

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