Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mexico's Monster

Pollution and globalization are killing them.

"Mexico City's 'water monster' nears extinction" by David Koop, Associated Press | November 6, 2008

MEXICO CITY - Scientists are racing to save the footlong salamander from extinction, a victim of the draining of its lake habitat and deteriorating water quality. In what may be the final blow, nonnative fish introduced into the canals are eating its lunch - and its babies.

The axolotl's decline began when Spanish conquerors started draining the lakes, which were further emptied over time to slake the thirst of one of the world's largest and fastest-growing cities. In the 1970s, Lake Chalco was completely drained to prevent flooding. In the 1980s, Mexico City began pumping its wastewater into the few canals and lagoons that remained of Xochimilco.

About 20 years ago, African tilapia were introduced into Xochimilco in a misguided effort to create fisheries. They joined with Asian carp to dominate the ecosystem and eat the axolotl's eggs and compete with it for food. The axolotl is also threatened by agrochemical runoff from nearby farms and treated wastewater from a Mexico City sewage plant, researchers say.

Meanwhile, the axolotl population is burgeoning in laboratories, where scientists study its amazing traits, including the ability to re-grow lost limbs. Axolotls have played key roles in research on regeneration, embryology, fertilization, and evolution.

The salamander has the rare trait of retaining its larval features throughout its adult life, a phenomenon called neoteny. It lives all its life in the water but can breathe both under water with gills or by taking gulps of air from the surface.

So far, scientists disagree on how to save the creature. But while the debate goes on, time is running out. Given its role in research alone, said Bob Johnson, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Toronto Zoo, "We owe it to the axolotl to help it survive." --more--"

Just wondering what we owed the Palestinian, the Afghani, the Iraqi, ....