The Six Scenarios:
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Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires
It started with the best of intentions. When evidence emerged that monarch butterflies were losing the milkweed they depend on due to the spread of herbicide-resistant crops in the United States, people across the country took action, planting milkweed in their own gardens. But a new paper shows that well-meaning gardeners might actually be endangering the butterflies' iconic migration to Mexico. That's because people have been planting the wrong species of milkweed, thereby increasing the odds of monarchs becoming infected with a crippling parasite.
from Associated Press:
More Monarchs return to Mexico, but now face cold
More Monarch butterflies appear to have made the long flight from the U.S. and Canada to their winter nesting ground in western Mexico, raising hopes after their number dropped to a record low last year. But experts still fear that unusual cold temperatures will threaten the orange and black insects. While an official census won't be ready until mid-January, observers are seeing healthy populations of butterflies bunched together on fir and pine trees in protected sanctuaries... Mexico's National Meteorological Service predicts 55 cold fronts for the country through May, a 15 percent increase from the average, and with the possibility for repeated cold systems to extend into March and April.
Monarch butterfly eyed for possible U.S. endangered species protection
Monarch butterflies may warrant U.S. Endangered Species Act protection because of farm-related habitat loss blamed for sharp declines in cross-country migrations of the orange-and-black insects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Monday. Monarch populations are estimated to have fallen by as much as 90 percent during the past two decades because of destruction of milkweed plants they depend on to lay their eggs and nourish hatching larvae, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
from London Guardian:
Earth faces sixth 'great extinction' with 41 percent of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo
A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world's mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41 percent of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26 percent of mammal species and 13 percent of birds are similarly threatened.
Food diversity at risk
... But fewer people have heard about another ongoing mass extinction that involves the foods that we eat. More than 75 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties that humans once consumed have already gone the way of the wooly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. And half of all domesticated animal breeds have been lost in roughly the past century. Apple historian Dan Bussey says that of the 20,000 named apple varieties that have been cultivated in North America, only 4,000 remain. Thousands of varieties of rice once flourished in the Philippines. Today, less than 100 varieties survive. And similar numbers could be cited for virtually all of our food crops. This massive loss of diversity is - you guessed it - the result of the rapid spread of industrial agriculture and the increasing standardization of the food industry, where unconventional varieties have been squeezed off of supermarket shelves.
New ant discovered already at risk of extinction
A new species of ant has been discovered on the Spanish island of Mallorca. But it is already on the verge of extinction... Climate change is also a threat, as the ants are not well equipped to deal with dramatic changes to their habitat. Talavera's team say the find represents a unique chance to observe "real-time climate-based biodiversity loss".
Virus implicated in massive die-off of North American starfish
Scientists investigating a huge die-off of starfish along North America's Pacific coast have identified a virus they say is responsible for a calamitous wasting disease that has wiped out millions of the creatures since it first appeared last year. The scientists said on Monday they identified the pathogen as the Sea Star Associated Densovirus, or SSaDV, after ruling out other possible culprits including certain bacteria, protozoans and fungi. More than 20 species of starfish, also called sea stars, from southern Alaska to Baja California are dying from a wasting disease that causes white lesions to appear before the animal's body sags, ruptures and spills out its internal organs.
from Los Angeles Times:
40 percent decline in polar bears in Alaska, western Canada heightens concern
The number of polar bears in eastern Alaska and western Canada has declined by 40 percent, according to a scientific study that raises more questions about the impact of global warming on the creature that has become the symbol of some of its worst effects.
from Ecology Action Center:
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quota Raised Despite Risk, Shark Conservation Measures Fail Again
The 19th Special Meeting of the International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) concluded today in Genoa, Italy. This year, Canada and the other ICCAT contracting parties who fish for western Atlantic bluefin tuna agreed to increase the quota for the 2015 and 2016 fishing years. ICCAT members also raised the quota for the eastern stock for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 years.... "These tuna are in a precarious state. While Canada claims to be committed to the precautionary approach, which requires that they exercise caution when scientific information is uncertain, they directly contravened any commitment to precaution at ICCAT this year by agreeing to a quota increase," explains Schleit. "Equally disappointing was the lack of transparency during quota negotiations. We think that Canadians deserve to know what their government is advocating for on their behalf."
Regulators Ban Cod Fishing In New England As Stocks Dwindle
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is shutting down cod fishing, from Provincetown, Mass., up to the Canadian border, in an effort to reverse plummeting numbers of the iconic fish in the Gulf of Maine. Starting Thursday, no fishermen -- commercial or recreational -- may trawl or use certain large nets that might catch cod for the next six months. Local cod fishermen, who now face an uncertain future, say the government hasn't done enough to maintain cod populations, and they challenge NOAA's cod counts. "This is uncalled for," says Joseph Orlando, a fishermen who trawls for cod off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., just north of Boston. Orlando and a friend had had been looking forward to fishing heavily for cod for the next two months, when holiday demand boosts prices. Now, that's off the table. "There's more codfish out there. There's always been," he says. " I mean, their science is just absurd."
from TED Global, via WeatherNetwork.com:
The Sound of a Dying Ecosystem
When sound engineer Bernie Krause first visited the Lincoln Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1988, the lush land vibrated with natural soundscapes -- a sign of a healthy, thriving ecosystem. This is what it sounded like when Krause turned on his gear to capture the environment before selective logging began... One year later, he returned to record once more from the same spot. This time, all birds had gone, with the exception of one lonesome woodpecker who appears halfway through the recording.... "When I began recording over four decades ago, I could record for ten hours and capture one hour of usable material good enough for an album, a film soundtrack or museum installation," said Krause, on the TEDGlobal stage. "Now, because of global warming, resource extraction and human noise, among other factors, it can take up to 1,000 hours or more to capture the same thing."
from The Independent (UK):
Small ocean fish are thriving while humans eat up all their predators
Little fish have never had it so good, according to research showing how mankind's taste for big fish such as tuna and shark is allowing the anchovy and sardine to flourish.... Industrialised fishing practices are causing a revolution in the world's oceans, with numbers of predator fish - which also include swordfish, grouper, North Atlantic cod and salmon - tumbling by 54 per cent in the past four decades. These fish sit at the top of the food chain and are more popular with humans than the smaller species because people find them tastier. Their volume - by weight - has fallen by 67 per cent in the past century, a University of British Columbia study has found.... The volume by weight of smaller fish has more than doubled in the past century. The biggest increases are to be found in those fish that are less popular with humans, such as sticklebacks and Gobies, the research found. Over the same period, the volume of predators fell by 67 per cent.... The meteoric rise of herbivorous sea urchins as their predators such as sea otters have declined is one example of how the changes are undermining ecosystems. The sea urchins destroy the forests of kelp seaweed that host numerous species such as crabs and jellyfish.
Amphibian communities collapse in wake of viral outbreak
Two closely related viruses that have been introduced to northern Spain in recent years have already led to the collapse of three different species of amphibian--the common midwife toad, the common toad, and the alpine newt--in the protected area of Picos de Europa (literally "Peaks of Europe") National Park. In all, six amphibian species have suffered from severe disease and mass mortality as a result of the outbreak, and researchers who report their findings in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 16 say that the viruses appear to be on the move. Preliminary evidence shows that related ranaviruses are emerging in other parts of Europe, which surely means more bad news for amphibians ahead. "The capacity of these viruses to infect multiple species means that there is the possibility that some host populations may be extirpated due to infection," says Stephen Price, now of UCL....
from National Geographic:
As Dwindling Monarch Butterflies Make Their Migration, Feds Try to Save Them
... The North American monarch population has declined by 90 percent over the past two decades. At its high in the winter of 1996-1997, there were a billion monarchs. Today, there are only about 35 million, according to a petition filed in August by scientists from several environmental organizations asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the monarch as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The classification provides various protections including the authority for the agency to purchase habitat, and prohibitions on killing or injuring an animal or destroying its habitat without a permit, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
from University of Exeter, via EurekAlert:
Study shows sharks have personalities
Some sharks are 'gregarious' and have strong social connections, whilst others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous, according to a new study which is the first to show that the notorious predators have personality traits. Personalities are known to exist in many animals, but are usually defined by individual characteristics such as how exploratory, bold or aggressive an individual is. Research led by the University of Exeter and the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA) has shown for the first time that individual sharks actually possess social personalities, which determine how they might interact with group mates in the wild.
from AP, via Globe and Mail:
Sea-ice shortage sends tens of thousands of walruses swarming Alaska beach
Pacific walruses that can't find sea ice for resting in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska. An estimated 35,000 walruses were photographed Saturday about eight kilometres north of Point Lay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.... Pacific walruses spend winters in the Bering Sea. Females give birth on sea ice and use ice as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf.... In recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond shallow continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water, where depths exceed three kilometres and walrus cannot dive to the bottom.
Global wildlife numbers 'halved in four decades'
A WWF study has found that the world's wildlife population has dropped by more than a half in the past four decades - a far greater drop than identified in a previous report. Human numbers, meanwhile, have doubled... It revealed a 39 percent fall in numbers across a representative sample of land-dwelling species from 1970 to 2010, with the same depletion in marine species. In freshwater populations, the drop was more marked - at 76 percent.
Miramichi River salmon numbers hit record low in 2014
The world-famous Miramichi River is experiencing a salmon decline that "is among the worst in recorded history." New numbers released by the Miramichi Salmon Association and the Atlantic Salmon Federation put the number of salmon returning to the river this year at about 12,000, despite near perfect angling conditions. That number is about half of the 23,000 that returned to the river to spawn from 2011 through 2013. "These are frightening numbers," said David Wilson, chairman of the Miramichi Salmon Association.... In the first decade of this century, about 53,000 salmon returned to the river annually. The average number of salmon returns in the 1990s was about 82,000.
from Common Dreams:
Canadian Beekeepers Launch Class Action Suit Against Pesticide Makers
Beekeepers in the Canadian province of Ontario have launched a class action lawsuit against makers of a class of pesticides linked to the decline of bees. The claim (pdf) filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeks $450 million in damages going back to 2006 for the "chronic effects of the use of the Neonicotinoids [...] felt by Canada's Beekeepers annually."... "Beekeepers have suffered, and will continue to suffer, devastating economic hardships as a result of the continued use of Neonicotinoids," it states. The damages they say are caused by these pesticides, also known as neonics, include: bee deaths; impaired reproduction; immune suppression; behavioral abnormalities resulting in hive loss ; reduced honey production; impacts on the quality of honey; contamination of hive equipment; loss of Queen Bees; breeding stock; and difficulties fulfilling honey product or pollination contracts.
from London Independent:
Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife face a 'biological holocaust'
Half the planet should be set aside solely for the protection of wildlife to prevent the "mass extinction" of species, according to one of the world's leading biologists. The radical conservation strategy proposed by Dr E.O. Wilson, the hugely-influential 85-year old Harvard University scientist, would see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth.
Giant prehistoric Amazon fish 'locally extinct' due to overfishing
A 10ft (3m) long fish which used to dominate the Amazon river has been fished to extinction in a number of areas, scientists have revealed. Arapaima populations were found to be extinct in eight of the 41 communities studied, and extremely low on average.... Previously, bio economic theory predicted that fishing does not cause extinctions because fishermen inevitably move away from depleted resources. Scientists, led by Dr Leandro Castello, from Virginia Tech, US, wanted to know how healthy the arapaima populations in the Lower Amazon region were. They also wanted to find out whether these fisheries supported bio economic predictions, or the alternative fishing-down theory which predicts that large, high-value, easy-to-catch fish will be fished to extinction.... Almost a quarter of the fishermen in each community fished arapaima regardless of the population's status. The research team say the results contradict conventional economic thinking and instead support "fishing-down" predictions.
from Stanford University:
Biologist warn of early stages of Earth's sixth mass extinction event
The planet's current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point. Scientists caution that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet's sixth mass biological extinction event. Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.
from The Independent (UK):
Vital invertebrates decline by 45 per cent, study finds
Insects, worms and other small animals that carry out vital functions for life on earth have declined by 45 per cent on average over 35 years, threatening human health, water quality and food supplies, a study has found. The rapid decline in the number of invertebrates - animals without backbones - is at least as bad as the well publicised plight of the larger animals, according to scientists who said they were shocked by the findings. Although there has has been far less research on invertebrates than on vertebrates, what little has been done suggests that they are undergoing a catastrophic fall in abundance which is having a severe impact on "ecosystem services" such a pollination of crops, water treatment and waste recycling, the scientists said.
More than half of Ontario bees died during harsh winter
About 58 per cent of Ontario bees died during what was an especially long winter, while other provinces lost on average about 19 per cent of their swarm, according to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists survey. That means Ontario lost bees at a rate three times that of the other provinces. While the report fingers the weather -- this year's polar vortex -- as the main culprit for the bee deaths, acute and chronic pesticide damage or insufficient recovery from pesticide exposure last year have also been cited by hive-minders as contributing factors.... The Ontario bee group says nearly all corn seeds and about two-thirds of soy seeds sold in the province are pretreated with neonicotinoid coatings, though only a minority of the crops are at risk from pests the insecticide is meant to stop. It did its own winter survey earlier this year and found more than a quarter of beekeepers lost 75 to 100 per cent of their colonies.
from Huffington Post:
Battle Over Protection Of Obscure Bird Could Decide Fate Of Senate This November
An obscure, chicken-sized bird best known for its mating dance could help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate in November. The federal government is considering listing the greater sage grouse as an endangered species next year. Doing so could limit development, energy exploration, hunting and ranching on the 165 million acres of the bird's habitat across 11 Western states... Two Republican congressmen running for the U.S. Senate in Montana and Colorado, Steve Daines and Cory Gardner, are co-sponsoring legislation that would prevent the federal government from listing the bird for a decade as long as states try to protect it.
from Los Angeles Times:
U.S. reverses proposal to list wolverine as threatened species
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official has ordered federal biologists to withdraw their conclusion that the last 300 wolverines in the continental United States deserve threatened species status. The biologists had recommended the protection on grounds that climate change is destined to destroy the near-arctic conditions of the remaining animals' habitat -- even though the population of about 300 has shown signs of slight growth in recent years.... The states also warned that safeguarding the animals could have dire economic effects on recreational activities, development and trapping on large swaths of alpine terrain already locally managed for wolverines in their states.
from The Independent (UK):
Neonicotinoid pesticides also affect other friendly organisms including birds and fish
A group of 29 scientists from four continents found unequivocal evidence from hundreds of published studies to claim that "neonics" - the most widely used pesticides in the world - are having a dramatic impact on the ecosystems that support food production and wildlife. The independent researchers, who are also advisers to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have concluded that the "systemic" pesticides such as the neonicotinoids pose as great a risk to the environment as the banned pesticide DDT, and other persistent organophosphates.... Key findings from the assessment found that neonics accumulate in the soil and persist for months and in some cases for years. The breakdown products are often as toxic - or more toxic - than the pesticide's active ingredients, which are designed to work as poisonous nerve agents. "If you use them every year they accumulate, they get into the soil water and hence into streams. So essentially we are contaminating the global environment with highly toxic, highly persistent chemicals," said David Goulson, professor of biology at Sussex University and one of the report's authors.
from AP, via HuffingtonPost:
World On Brink Of Sixth Great Extinction, Species Disappearing Faster Than Ever Before
Species of plants and animals are becoming extinct at least 1,000 times faster than they did before humans arrived on the scene, and the world is on the brink of a sixth great extinction, a new study says.... "We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm said from research at the Dry Tortugas. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions." The work, published Thursday by the journal Science, was hailed as a landmark study by outside experts.
from Mother Jones:
Something Is Seriously Wrong on the East Coast--and It's Killing All the Baby Puffins
Now, thanks to a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, the Puffin Cam offered new opportunities for research and outreach. Puffin parents dote on their single chick, sheltering it in a two-foot burrow beneath rocky ledges and bringing it piles of small fish each day. Researchers would get to watch live puffin feeding behavior for the first time, and schoolkids around the world would be falling for Petey. But Kress soon noticed that something was wrong. Puffins dine primarily on hake and herring, two teardrop-shaped fish that have always been abundant in the Gulf of Maine. But Petey's parents brought him mostly butterfish, which are shaped more like saucers. Kress watched Petey repeatedly pick up butterfish and try to swallow them. The video is absurd and tragic, because the butterfish is wider than the little gray fluff ball, who keeps tossing his head back, trying to choke down the fish, only to drop it, shaking with the effort. Petey tries again and again, but he never manages it. For weeks, his parents kept bringing him butterfish, and he kept struggling. Eventually, he began moving less and less. On July 20, Petey expired in front of a live audience. Puffin snuff.... Why would the veteran puffin parents of Maine start bringing their chicks food they couldn't swallow? Only because they had no choice. Herring and hake had dramatically declined in the waters surrounding Seal Island, and by August, Kress had a pretty good idea why: The water was much too hot.
from U of VT, via EurekAlert:
Surprising global species shake-up discovered
... But the researchers did discover something changing rapidly: which species were living in the places being studied. Almost 80 percent of the communities the team examined showed substantial changes in species composition, averaging about 10 percent change per decade -- significantly higher than the rate of change predicted by models. In other words, this new report shows that a huge turnover of species in habitats around the globe is under way, resulting in the creation of novel biological communities. "Right under our noses, in the same place that a team might have looked a decade earlier, or even just a year earlier, a new assemblage of plants and animals may be taking hold," Gotelli says.
Species de-extinction plagued by 'looming questions,' expert says
The potential for bringing back extinct animal species, known as de-extinction, is one of the hottest and most controversial topics in conservation biology today. "There are potentially many issues in bringing a species back ... But our primary concern is, if we were to bring something back, why are we doing it? Are we doing it because it's something cool to do, or because it's valuable for the ecosystem?" Moehrenschlager said an interview that airs on CBC's Quirks & Quarks on Saturday.... According to Moehrenschlager, the most important question is, “is this reversible?” In other words, could we undo the reintroduction of a previously extinct species into an ecosystem? It’s a vital question because there may be risks associated with de-extinction that scientists cannot accurately predict.
from Harvard, via The Guardian:
Honeybees abandoning hives and dying due to insecticide use, research finds
The mysterious vanishing of honeybees from hives can be directly linked to insectcide use, according to new research from Harvard University. The scientists showed that exposure to two neonicotinoids, the world's most widely used class of insecticide, lead to half the colonies studied dying, while none of the untreated colonies saw their bees disappear. "We demonstrated that neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering 'colony collapse disorder' in honeybee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter," said Chensheng Lu, an expert on environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health and who led the work.
from Science, via CBS News (2006):
Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048
The apocalypse has a new date: 2048. That's when the world's oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, -- with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama -- was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world. The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise. "I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected," Worm says in a news release. "This isn't predicted to happen. This is happening now," study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release. "If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life. Indeed, it may not be able to sustain our lives at all," Beaumont adds.
from NOAA, via EurekAlert:
NOAA-led researchers discover ocean acidity is dissolving shells of tiny snails off West Coast
A NOAA-led research team has found the first evidence that acidity of continental shelf waters off the West Coast is dissolving the shells of tiny free-swimming marine snails, called pteropods, which provide food for pink salmon, mackerel and herring, according to a new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Researchers estimate that the percentage of pteropods in this region with dissolving shells due to ocean acidification has doubled in the nearshore habitat since the pre-industrial era and is on track to triple by 2050 when coastal waters become 70 percent more corrosive than in the pre-industrial era due to human-caused ocean acidification.
from Huffington Post:
Humpback Whale Quietly Removed From 'Threatened' Species List
The North Pacific humpback whale is no longer protected as a "threatened" species after the Canadian government quietly downgraded its classification earlier this month. Despite objections from several groups, the Harper government declared the humpback a "species of special concern" under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The whale population off the B.C. coast has increased "significantly" since it was first listed as threatened in 2005, so it is now at a point where it can be reclassified, according to a federal government notice in the Canadian Gazette. The change is being made as two major pipeline projects are in the middle of regulatory applications. Approval would increase vessel traffic, which collides with humpbacks about three times a year in B.C. waters.... The decision "has absolutely no basis in science and is simply a political move to clear the way to approve the [Enbridge] pipeline," Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, told CBC News.
Entire marine food chain at risk from rising CO2 levels in water
Researchers studied the behavior of coral reef fish at naturally occurring CO2 vents in Milne Bay, in eastern Papua New Guinea. They found that fish living near the vents, where bubbles of CO2 seeped into the water, "were attracted to predator odour, did not distinguish between odours of different habitats, and exhibited bolder behaviour than fish from control reefs". The gung-ho nature of CO2-affected fish means that more of them are picked off by predators than is normally the case, raising potentially worrying possibilities in a scenario of rising carbon emissions. More than 90 percent of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere is soaked up by the oceans. When CO2 is dissolved in water, it causes ocean acidification, which slightly lowers the pH of the water and changes its chemistry. Crustaceans can find it hard to form shells in highly acidic water, while corals risk episodes of bleaching.
A quarter of Europe's bumblebees, vital to crops, face extinction: study
Almost a quarter of Europe's bumblebees are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitats and climate change, threatening pollination of crops worth billions of dollars, a study showed on Wednesday. Sixteen of 68 bumblebee species in Europe are at risk, the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said. It is preparing a global study of the bees, whose honeybee cousins are in steep decline because of disease.
from NOAA, via TriplePundit:
Tropical Pacific Ocean Acidification Occuring Much Faster Than Expected, NOAA Finds
Change is taking place in the tropical Pacific Ocean, where NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) researchers have found that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have increased as much as 65 percent faster than atmospheric CO2 since 1998. Rising CO2 concentrations of this magnitude indicate that tropical Pacific waters are acidifying as fast as ocean waters in the polar regions, which may have grave repercussions for marine food webs, biodiversity, fisheries and tourism.
'Shocking' scale of pangolin smuggling revealed
The globally threatened animals are sought for their scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Annual seizures have been estimated at roughly 10,000 animals but experts warn the illegal trade is far greater.... "The numbers of pangolins traded are shocking, and all the more so considering the pharmaceutical pointlessness of the trade. This trade is intolerably wasteful," said Prof Macdonald, director of the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), and a co-author of the paper.... Prolific smugglers have received prison sentences from 11 years to life but with demand out-stripping supply, the trade is only becoming more lucrative. According to the report, pangolin scales are currently worth $600 per kilo, twice the amount they traded for in 2008.
from New York Times:
Minnesota Mystery: What's Killing the Moose?
For moose, this year's winter-long deep freeze across the Upper Midwest is truly ideal weather ... Yet moose in Minnesota are dying at an alarming rate, and biologists are perplexed as to why... In Northeast Minnesota, the population has dropped by half since 2006, to 4,300 from more than 8,800... Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist in Grand Portage, theorizes that recent years of warmer, shorter winters and hotter, longer summers have resulted in a twofold problem. The changing climate has stressed out the moose, compromising their immune systems. And warmer temperatures have allowed populations of white-tailed deer, carriers of brain worm -- which is fatal to moose -- to thrive.
White Nose Syndrome Shows Up In Mammoth Cave National Park
Staff at Mammoth Cave National Park in south central Kentucky say a fatal bat disease has now shown up in visitor passageways. The disease was found in remote sections of the cave system last year.... "Every visitor walks over a bio-control mat after their tour that will hopefully clean their shoes off and keep them from potentially moving those fungal spores to someplace else." Of all of the tour trails, the disease has been most noticed at the entrance to the Historic Cave tour. Since it was first introduced White Nose Syndrome has killed about seven million cave-dwelling bats.
Melting starfish are 'keystone species' for their ecosystem
['Keystone species'] refers to particular organisms that keep the relationships between the ecosystem's other plants and animals functioning properly. Without them, ecosystems collapse--like an arch would without its center block. Well, as it so happens, when ecologist Robert T. Paine first coined the term back in 1969, he got the idea by messing around with a bunch of starfish. Paine crawled along the tidal plains of Washington's Tatoosh Island, pulling up all the ochre stars (Pisaster ochraceus) he could find and tossing them out into the ocean beyond his study area. He played this game of starfish Frisbee for three years, and discovered that without the seastars, his study area became so thick with mussels that little else could survive. Ochres mow down mussel beds like it's closing time at Old Country Buffet. What was once a rich community of 28 species of animals and algae along Tatoosh Island, Paine turned into a mussel monoculture. And today, more of this mussel dominance could be on its way, since ochres are one of the 15 starfish species currently turning into mush.
from Huffington Post:
10 Million Scallops Dead In B.C. Waters
Rising acidity in the sea water around Qualicum Beach has led to the death of 10 million scallops -- equivalent to three years' product, and every scallop the company put in the ocean from 2009-2011, Island Scallops CEO Rob Saunders told The Parksville Qualicum Bay News. "I'm not sure we are going to stay alive and I'm not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive," Saunders told the newspaper. "It's that dramatic." The disaster constitutes a $10-million loss to the business once so successful, they were featured on The Food Network.
from Associated Press:
Bumblebees getting stung bad by honeybee sickness
Wild bumblebees worldwide are in trouble, likely contracting deadly diseases from their commercialized honeybee cousins, a new study shows... "Wild populations of bumblebees appear to be in significant decline across Europe, North America, South America and also in Asia," said study author Mark Brown of the University of London. He said his study confirmed that a major source of the decline was "the spillover of parasites and pathogens and disease" from managed honeybee hives.
from New York Times:
Migration of Monarch Butterflies Shrinks Again Under Inhospitable Conditions
Faltering under extreme weather and vanishing habitats, the yearly winter migration of monarch butterflies to a handful of forested Mexican mountains dwindled precipitously in December, continuing what scientists said was an increasingly alarming decline. The migrating population has become so small -- perhaps 35 million, experts guess -- that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing. At worst, scientists said, a migration widely called one of the world's great natural spectacles is in danger of effectively vanishing. The Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund said at a news conference on Wednesday that the span of forest inhabited by the overwintering monarchs shrank last month to a bare 1.65 acres -- the equivalent of about one and a quarter football fields. Not only was that a record low, but it was just 56 percent of last year's total, which was itself a record low. At their peak in 1996, the monarchs occupied nearly 45 acres of forest.
from Environment 360:
Northern Mystery: Why Are Birds of the Arctic in Decline?
"These and other seabirds are superbly adapted to the sea ice environment. Without that ice, and with polar bears and mosquitoes hitting them hard, the only future in the Arctic for them is to move north." ... Predators such as the peregrine, the gyrfalcon, the snowy owl, and the Greenland long-tailed skua depend on peaks in these prey species to reproduce in numbers that will sustain their populations. For these birds, collapsing prey cycles are bad news. A team of Danish scientists, for example, recently documented how a collapse in collared lemming cycles at two sites in Greenland between 1998 and 2010 resulted in a 98 percent decline in the snowy owl population. They also documented a similar, albeit less drastic, decline in the population of long-tailed jaegers, part of the skua family.... University of Alberta biologist Alastair Franke has unequivocal evidence of peregrine falcon nestlings starving to death on the west coast of Hudson Bay. But lack of food, he says, is not the main thing killing these birds. According to a recent study led by graduate student Alexandre Anctil of the University of Quebec, some regions of the Arctic are now experiencing more periods of heavy rain each summer when compared to the early 1980s. With their downy white coats insulating them against the snow and the cold, these chicks do just fine. When it rains heavily, however -- as it has increasingly been doing along the west coast of Hudson Bay since 1980 -- up to a third of the peregrine chicks in the study area die of hypothermia as their wet feathers rapidly draw heat from their bodies. Some even drowned in their nests.
from Telegraph (UK):
UK weather: mild spell causes birds to break into song and flowers to bloom
... Wildlife experts have received dozens of reports of snowdrops blooming across the UK, nearly a month before they would normally be expected.... Some birds have also been recorded nesting while the first reports of song thrush singing arrived on 13 January now several have been spotted around the country.... "For insects and amphibians it is not so rosy. Ladybirds, for example, have finite energy reserves and nectar at this time of year will be thin on the ground, so they might not make it through to the spring. "Similarly frogs only get one chance to breed each year and if it gets very cold the spawn can freeze and will be lost if they are fooled into breeding too early." Since the start of January much of the country has seen temperatures in double figures, with the average temperature for the whole country last week being around 47.6 degrees F.... However, the heavy rain, strong winds and tidal surges that have accompanied the mild conditions have also taken their toll on many species. Waterfowl such as ducks, which have been nesting earlier than usual due to the mild conditions, had their nests destroyed by flooding. Sussex Wildlife Trust has reported swallows nesting and several species of butterflies on its nature reserve.
More than three quarters of large carnivores now in decline
When they looked at 31 big meat eaters, they found that they were under increasing pressure in the Amazon, South East Asia, southern and East Africa. "Globally, we are losing our large carnivores," said lead author Prof William Ripple from Oregon State University. "Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally."... When they looked at wolves and cougars in Yellowstone National Park in the US, they found that having fewer of these big predators resulted in an increase in animals that browse such as elk and deer. While this might seem like good news, the researchers found that the rise of these browsers is bad for vegetation and disrupts the lives of birds and small mammals, leading to a cascade of damaging impacts.
from Huffington Post:
Why 100,000 Dead Bats Fell From The Sky In Australia
Something unusual rained down on residents of Queensland, Australia, over the weekend. In a bizarre incident, thousands of bats reportedly fell from the sky in the northeastern state. While the mass deaths may seem baffling, it appears Australia's heat wave is to blame. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals confirmed that about 100,000 bats recently died as the likely result of extreme heat in the region, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The 2014 Shrimp Season In The Gulf Of Maine Has Been Canceled
They're small and sweet, beloved by locals and tourists alike, and will soon be indefinitely unavailable. The Northern shrimp population in the Gulf of Maine has officially collapsed and a moratorium on shrimping is being recommended for the 2014 season. Restaurants in Maine are rushing to get their hands on whatever is left over from last year's catch.... "I think everyone was startled by what we saw in 2012, and there was a lot of pressure to close down the fishery for the 2013 season," said John Annala, Chief Scientific Officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. "The survey this summer found just 20 percent of the 2012 record low, so it has fallen off incredibly sharply." Perhaps most worrying is the fact that juvenile shrimp have not been picked up in a survey since 2010. Northern shrimp live about five years, so the lack of younger shrimp for three years straight may mean empty nets for years to come.
from Science Daily:
Rising Ocean Acidification Leads to Anxiety in Fish
A new research study combining marine physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, and behavioral psychology has revealed a surprising outcome from increases of carbon dioxide uptake in the oceans: anxious fish. A growing base of scientific evidence has shown that the absorption of human-produced carbon dioxide into the world's oceans is causing surface waters to decline in pH, causing a rise in acidity. This ocean acidification is known to disrupt the growth of shells and skeletons of certain marine animals but other consequences such as behavioral impacts have been largely unknown.... The researchers say the anxiety is traced to the fish's sensory systems, and specifically "GABAA" (neural gamma-aminobutyric acid type A) receptors, which are also involved in human anxiety levels. Exposure to acidified water leads to changes in the concentrations of ions in the blood (especially chloride and bicarbonate), which reverses the flux of ions through the GABAA receptors. The end result is a change in neuronal activity that is reflected in the altered behavioral responses described in this study.
from PLoS One:
Pesticides + Fungicides = Weak in the Bees
Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health.... We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.
from New York Times Review:
The Year the Monarch Didn't Appear
ON the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned. This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn't come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year's low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse. "It does not look good," said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.... Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it. As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. "The agricultural landscape has been sterilized," said Dr. Brower.
from Washington Post:
Sea stars are wasting away in larger numbers on a wider scale in two oceans
Sea stars off the nation's eastern and western coasts are dying in large numbers and in the most undignified ways. Their colorful limbs are curling up at the tips. Squiggly arms are detaching from dying bodies like tails from lizards and wiggling until they also drop dead. Ulcers are opening holes in tissue, allowing internal organs to ooze out. Marine scientists say the sea stars are under attack by an unknown wasting disease that turns their bodies to goo, and the results are gruesome, nasty and grisly.
from Zoological Society of London:
The Last Croak for Darwin's Frog?
Deadly amphibian disease chytridiomycosis has caused the extinction of Darwin's frogs, believe scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Universidad AndrĂ©s Bello (UNAB), Chile. Although habitat disturbance is recognised as the main threat to the two existing species of Darwin's frogs (the northern Rhinoderma rufum endemic to Chile, and the southern Rhinoderma darwinii from Chile and Argentina), this cannot account for the plummeting population and disappearance from most of their habitat. Conservation scientists found evidence of amphibian chytridiomycosis causing mortality in wild Darwin's frogs and linked this with both the population decline of the southern Darwin's frog, including from undisturbed ecosystems and the presumable extinction of the Northern Darwin's frog.
from Ensia/Scientific American:
14 humans fed/acre vs. 3 humans fed/acre. It's Time to Rethink America's Corn System
... For corn-fed animals, the efficiency of converting grain to meat and dairy calories ranges from roughly 3 percent to 40 percent, depending on the animal production system in question. What this all means is that little of the corn crop actually ends up feeding American people. It's just math. The average Iowa cornfield has the potential to deliver more than 15 million calories per acre each year (enough to sustain 14 people per acre, with a 3,000 calorie-per-day diet, if we ate all of the corn ourselves), but with the current allocation of corn to ethanol and animal production, we end up with an estimated 3 million calories of food per acre per year, mainly as dairy and meat products, enough to sustain only 3 people per acre. This is lower than the average delivery of food calories from farms in Bangladesh, Egypt and Vietnam. In short, the corn crop is highly productive, but the corn system is aligned to feed cars and animals instead of feeding people.
from University of Sydney:
Evidence of Unsustainable Fishing in the Great Barrier Reef
Sea cucumber fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park shows worrying signs of being unsustainable. Many species being targeted are endangered and vulnerable to extinction, as determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.... "Sea cucumbers play a vital role in reef health and our previous research indicates that they may help reduce the harmful impact of ocean acidification on coral growth. The viability of their numbers may well be crucial to the condition of coral reef ecosystems."
from Canadian Press, via HuffingtonPost:
Starfish Deaths Alarm Vancouver Scientists
Last month, a diver alerted Vancouver Aquarium staff that he had found a number of dead and decaying sunflower sea stars in the cold Pacific waters of a popular dive spot just off the shore of West Vancouver. Within weeks, the tentacled orange sea stars had all but disappeared in Howe Sound and Vancouver Harbour, disintegrating where they sat on the ocean floor.... "Where the population density had been highest in summer of 2012, on the western shore of Hutt Island, all the sunflower sea stars are gone from that area, with rivers of ossicles (a hard body part) filling ledges and crevices," Marliave wrote in his blog.... The Howe Sound research team have heard from veterinarians and other marine experts that similar die-offs have taken place in Florida and California.... In July, researchers at the University of Rhode Island reported that sea stars were dying in a similar way from New Jersey to Maine, and the university was working with colleagues at Brown and Roger Williams universities to figure out the cause.
from The Guardian:
Jellyfish clog pipes of Swedish nuclear reactor, forcing plant shutdown
A huge cluster of jellyfish forced the Oskarshamn plant, the site of one of the world's largest nuclear reactors, to shut down by clogging the pipes conducting cool water to the turbines. Operators of the plant on the Baltic coast in south-east Sweden had to scramble reactor No 3 on Sunday after tons of jellyfish were caught in the pipes.... The species that caused the Oskarshamn shutdown is known as the common moon jellyfish. "It's one of the species that can bloom in extreme areas that ... are over-fished or have bad conditions," said Moller. "The moon jelly likes these types of waters. They don't care if there are algae blooms, they don't care if the oxygen concentration is low. The fish leave ... and [the moon jelly] can really take over the ecosystem."
from Science Daily:
Whale Mass Stranding Attributed to Sonar Mapping for First Time
An independent scientific review panel has concluded that the mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in 2008 was primarily triggered by acoustic stimuli, more specifically, a multi-beam echosounder system operated by a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil Exploration and Production (Northern Madagascar) Limited.... Based on these findings, there is cause for concern over the impact of noise on marine mammals as these high-frequency mapping sonar systems are used by various stakeholders including the hydrocarbon industry, military, and research vessels used by other industries. The report concluded: "The potential for behavioral responses and indirect injury or mortality from the use of similar MBES [multi-beam echosounder systems] should be considered in future environmental assessments, operational planning and regulatory decisions."
Monarch butterfly numbers drop to new lows
Monarch butterflies appear headed for a perhaps unprecedented population crash, according to scientists and monarch watchers who have been keeping tabs on the species in their main summer home in Eastern and Central North America. There had been hope that on their journey north from their overwintering zone in Mexico, the insects' numbers would build through the generations, but there's no indication that happened. Only a small number of monarchs did make it to Canada this summer to propagate the generation that has now begun its southern migration to Mexico, and early indications are that the past year's record lows will be followed by even lower numbers this fall.... "Based on what I saw this year, I'm very concerned they're not going to bounce back that well, and my fear is I'm going to see them extinct within my lifetime," Burkhard said.... Taylor says that "in the Midwest, we're seeing a tremendous loss of habitat due to the type of agriculture that been adopted here, Roundup-ready corn and soybeans, which has taken the milkweeds out of those row crops, and we're seeing overzealous management of roadside marshes, excessive use of herbicides here and there."
from Washington Post:
Bats and snakes are the latest victims of mass killers in the wild
...The mass killer of bats under Coleman's microscope, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has a lot in common with Chytridiomycosis, a mass killer of frogs and other amphibians. The culprits resemble a third killer, Ophidiomyces, which kills and disfigures snakes. They are fungi, and they arrived in the United States from overseas with an assist from humans -- through travel and trade. They prefer cold conditions and kill with precision, so efficiently that they're creating a crisis in the wild. The death toll among amphibians, bats and snakes from fungi represents "potential extinction events," said Coleman, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife research biologist...
Study shows that 60 percent of plantlife can be saved
In partnership with Duke University and North Carolina State University, Microsoft researchers used computer algorithms to identify the smallest set of regions worldwide that could contain the largest numbers of plant species. The result, they say, is a model showing how putting just 17 percent of the planet's land surface off limits to human contamination could save a huge number of important plant species.
from Vancouver Sun:
Pine beetle epidemic may be to blame for drop in moose numbers
The "most-plausible"ť explanation for a serious decline in moose populations in the Cariboo is the mountain pine beetle epidemic, especially the large-scale salvage logging that followed, a report for the B.C. government finds. The consultant's report said the "vulnerability of moose could have increased due either to the change in habitat (dead trees) or to increased salvage logging removal of cover) or to the change in access associated with salvage logging (more roads)." In other words, vast clearcuts left moose exposed on the landscape -- to human and wild predators -- and a proliferation of logging roads made it easier for hunters on motorized vehicles to get at them.
from Mother Jones:
The Mystery of Bee Colony Collapse
... But according to a new peer-reviewed paper, neonicotinoids aren't the only pesticides that might be undermining bee health. The study, published in PLOS One and co-authored by a team including US Department of Agriculture bee scientist Jeff Pettis and University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, found that a pair of widely used fungicides are showing up prominently in bee pollen--and appear to be making bees significantly more likely to succumb to a fungal pathogen, called Nosema ceranae, that has been closely linked to CCD. The finding is notable, the authors state, because fungicides have so far been "typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees."... Overall, study co-author vanEngelsdorp told me in a phone interview, bees fed with fungicide-laced pollen were "two times more likely to come down with an infection" than control bees. One particular fungicide, pyraclostrobin, was found to make bees three times as susceptible to Nosema.
from BirdLife International:
New report: State of the World's Birds
Declines in birds across the globe are providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment that is affecting all life on earth - including people. However, birds also tell us that saving the planet comes at a relatively small price - an investment that's vital to secure our own future. These are some of the messages in a new report State of the world's birds: indicators for our changing world by the world's largest Partnership of conservation organisations, BirdLife International, who have gathered in Ottawa, Canada to launch the report and unveil their vision for a world rich in biodiversity, where people and nature live in harmony.... "Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer that allows us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world's biodiversity", said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife's Director of Science, Information and Policy....
from Science Daily:
Predators Affect the Carbon Cycle, Study Shows
A new study shows that the predator-prey relationship can affect the flow of carbon through an ecosystem. This previously unmeasured influence on the environment may offer a new way of looking at biodiversity management and carbon storage for climate change.... The study found that the presence of spiders drove up the rate of carbon uptake by the plants by about 1.4 times more than when just grasshoppers were present and by 1.2 more times than when no animals were present. It was also revealed that the pattern of carbon storage in the plants changed when both herbivores and carnivores were present. The grasshoppers apparently were afraid of being eaten by the spiders and consumed less plant matter when the predators were around.... Appreciating the role of predators is also important currently, given that top predators are declining at rates faster than that of many other species in global trends of biodiversity loss.
Honeybee food may contribute to U.S. colony collapse - study
Bee keepers' use of corn syrup and other honey substitutes as bee feed may be contributing to colony collapse by depriving the insects of compounds that strengthen their immune systems, according to a study released on Monday.... A bee's natural food is its own honey, which contains compounds like p-coumaric acid that appear to help detoxify and strengthen a bee's immunity to disease, according to a study by scientists at the University of Illinois. Bee keepers, however, typically harvest and sell the honey produced by the bees and use substitutes like sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to feed them.
from Montreal Gazette:
US Atlantic puffin population in peril as fish stocks shift, ocean waters heat up
The Atlantic puffin population is at risk in the United States, and there are signs the seabirds are in distress in other parts of the world. In the Gulf of Maine, the comical-looking seabirds have been dying of starvation and losing body weight, possibly because of shifting fish populations as ocean temperatures rise, according to scientists.
'Dramatic decline' warning for plants and animals
More than half of common plant species and a third of animals could see a serious decline in their habitat range because of climate change. New research suggests that biodiversity around the globe will be significantly impacted if temperatures rise more than 2C. But the scientists say that the losses can be reduced if rapid action is taken to curb greenhouse gases.... The scientists projected that if no significant efforts were made to limit greenhouse gas emissions, 2100 global temperatures would be 4C above pre-industrial levels. In this model, some 34 percent of animal species and 57 percent of plants would lose more than half of their current habitat ranges.
from Agence France-Press:
Hong Kong risks losing its pink dolphins
Conservationists warned on Monday that Hong Kong may lose its rare Chinese white dolphins, also known as pink dolphins for their unique colour, unless it takes urgent action against pollution and other threats. Their numbers in Hong Kong waters have fallen from an estimated 158 in 2003 to just 78 in 2011, with a further decline expected when figures for 2012 are released next month, said the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.
EU to ban pesticides blamed for harming bees
The European Union will ban three of the world's most widely-used pesticides for two years because of fears they are linked to a plunge in the population of bees critical to the production of crops. The executive European Commission said on Monday it would press ahead with the ban on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, produced mainly by Germany's Bayer and Switzerland's Syngenta, despite the EU's 27-member states failing to reach an agreement on the matter.
No trace left of three types of butterflies native to south Florida
After six years of searching, an entomologist has concluded that three varieties of butterflies native to south Florida have become extinct, nearly doubling the number of North American butterflies known to be gone....Besides the three varieties which Minno concluded are extinct, two more native butterflies no longer exist in Florida but are living in the Caribbean, and two more are heading toward extinction, he said.
from Sydney Morning Herald:
Indonesian forest open for mining, logging
A mining company has boasted of an Indonesian government decision to free up 1.2 million hectares of virgin forest in Aceh for commercial exploitation. The announcement to the Canadian stock exchange late on Tuesday was met with disbelief by environmental groups worried about endangered orang-utans, Sumatran tigers, rhinos and elephants across the heavily forested region. But Ed Rochette, chief executive of Canadian mining company East Asia Minerals, celebrated the ''good progress and positive news for mineral extraction in the area''. The company's announcement quotes Anwar, chairman of the Aceh government's spatial planning committee, as saying the Indonesian forestry ministry had accepted ''almost 100 per cent of the province's new spatial plan'' that would ''zone large blocks of previously protected forest for mineral extraction, timber concessions and oil palm plantations''.
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