Real Science: Why Claire & Brian Care About Endangered Species

photo: Chuck Homler

Endangered species, if not protected, could eventually become extinct—and extinction has a myriad of implications for our food, water, environment and even health.

“Why Endangered Species Matter” by Renee Cho in Columbia University Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog

All living things are part of a biosphere. Earth’s biosphere contains numerous ecosystems. Each ecosystem is complex and delicately balanced, until it is disrupted by human activity or natural disaster that creates imbalances. The removal of one species can create a chain reaction (a domino effect), with unimaginable consequences.

According to Cho’s article, three of the main modern causes of extinction are invasive species, climate change, and nitrogen pollution.

Environmentalists often cite the effects of extinction on an ecosystem or other wildlife species. But something we hear less about are the effects of species extinction on human health.

More than a quarter of prescription medications contain chemicals that were discovered through plants or animals. Penicillin was derived from a fungus. Scientists are studying the venom of some tarantulas to see if one of its compounds could help cure diseases such as Parkinson’s. One molecule from a rare marine bacterium could be the basis of a new way to treat to melanoma. The drug Taxol is part of standard treatment for ovarian cancer. Taxol is extracted from the bark of the Pacific Yew, a tree once considered a weed and commonly cut and discarded. A scientist with the National Cancer Institute described the bark extract as “too fiendishly complex” a chemical structure for researchers to have invented on their own. Read more in this article by US Fish & Wildlife Service.

In fact, 25% of western medicines are derived from the rainforest!

According to a study for the U.N., the continued loss of species could cost the world 18 percent of global economic output by 2050.

Cho writes, “Already, a number of industries have been economically impacted by species loss. The collapse of bee populations has hurt many in the $50 billion-a-year global honey industry. Atlantic cod in the waters off of Newfoundland formed the basis of the local economy since the 15th century — until overfishing the cod destroyed the livelihoods of local fishermen.”

Like Brian & Claire, the main characters in For the Birds, you can do your part to protect endangered species of wildlife (flora, fauna & fungi). Cho offers numerous suggestions, including buying only organic food, composting food waste, setting up a beehive, and reducing your use of plastic. Read her full list of suggestions here.

Brian’s heart raced as he envisioned himself working in Delaware’s wild areas, observing, cataloging, protecting over 800 species of wild plants, animals, fish, insects, and rare flora and fauna. He scanned the photos of some of Delaware’s wild spaces lining one wall of Arthur’s cubicle… He could not wait to get into the field. 

from Chapter 2 of For the Birds

The Real Science referenced in this blog post was pulled from Renee Cho’s article (cited above) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service article (also cited above.)

Real Science: Invasive Species

Invasive Plant Species Are a Thing (and not a good thing)

Multiflora rose image courtesy of Wikipedia

If you’ve already read For the Birds, you may remember Multiflora rose is an invasive species that Claire works to eradicate from her hometown in coastal Delware. The unfortunate Real Science is invasive species do exist and cause real damage to ecosystems.

“An invasive species is a non-native species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” 

Delaware Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish & Wildlife

How do invasive species do damage?

  • Reduce native diversity by competing for resources, such as space, sunlight, water and minerals.
  • Alter soil conditions by secreting chemicals that inhibit the germination or growth of other species
  • Alter nutrient cycling by changing the amount, composition, or rate of decay of leaf litter.
  • May hybridize with native species, which disrupts natural communities and changes habitat structure for other organisms such as bees, birds, mammals, turtles, fish and frogs.

If you garden, you can prevent damage from invasives.

  1. Ask for only non-invasive species when you acquire plants
  2. Research what species are invasive in your area. (Google: invasive species + your state)
  3. Do not trade plants if you know they are species with invasive characteristics
  4. Request that nurseries promote, display and sell only native species
  5. Talk to friends, neighbors, and other gardeners
  6. Contact your State’s Department of Environmental Protection for info on controlling invasive plant species
  7. Organize neighborhood work groups to remove invasive plants
  8. Volunteer at gardens and natural areas to assist ongoing efforts to diminish the threat of invasive species
  9. Participate in early warning systems by reporting invasive species to gardening groups and state officials in your area

The information on this page came from the DNREC website and Delaware Invasives

Learn more about invasive plant species at DelawareInvasives.net

Real Science: Symbiosis between Crabs & Birds

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Horseshoe Crabs and Red Knots is Threatened by Overfishing of Crabs

On their migrations north, famished birds stop to feast on eggs laid by horseshoe crabs. But the crabs were overfished, and conservationists say that some bird species may not recover. ~ “The Shorebirds of Delaware Bay Are Going Hungry” by John Hurdle in The New York Times, June 3, 2019

Click here to read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/science/bird-migration-horseshoe-crabs.html


A stronghold of horseshoe crab mating, Delaware Bay is the site of active research to collect census data on the local — and threatened — species, Limulus polyphemus. The arrival of thousands of individual crabs every May and June gives scientists a rare but critical glimpse into population numbers, sex ratios, and other statistics needed for better management. ~ “The Secret Lives of Horseshoe Crabs” by Marah Hardt in Cool Green Science, August 11, 2016

Click here to read the full article: https://blog.nature.org/science/2016/08/11/the-secret-lives-of-horseshoe-crabs/


The four species of horseshoe crabs are an ancient (~450 million years old) and important species that support the ecological function of estuaries and the survival of migratory shorebirds. The current over-exploitation of horseshoe crabs is sadly not dissimilar to other mismanaged species that were driven to extinction. ~ from Revive-Restore.org