e360 digest
Biodiversity


18 Jan 2013: In Kenya Reserves, Poaching
Is Leading Cause of Death for Elephants

A 14-year study of elephants in northern Kenya has found that the animals are now more likely to die at the hands of human poachers than of natural causes. When researchers began tracking 934 individual elephants at
Elephant in Kenya
TRAFFIC/Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon
African savanna elephant
two adjacent reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, in 1997, elephant populations were growing and illegal killing was rare, with perhaps one animal killed per year, according to George Wittemyer, a Colorado State University wildlife biologist and lead author of the study published in PLoS ONE. But that started to change over the last decade, particularly for older elephants, which have larger tusks. In 2000, there were 38 male elephants over the age of 30 in their study population; by 2011, the number had dropped to 12. By that time, 56 percent of all elephants found dead had been poached. The long-term slaughter also altered the demographics of the population. While males accounted for 42 percent of the population in 1997, their numbers dropped to 32 percent by 2011. Ten of the family groups being tracked effectively “disappeared.”
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17 Jan 2013: Journals of Iconic Naturalists
Reveal Plants Are Blooming Much Earlier

An analysis of records kept by iconic naturalists Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold has revealed evidence that some native plants in the eastern U.S. are flowering as much as much as a month earlier in spring than they did even just six decades ago. Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, scientists from Boston and Harvard universities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that many plant species found in and around Concord, Mass. — including serviceberry and nodding trillium — are now blooming an average of 11 days earlier than when Thoreau kept copious notes in the 1850s. In Wisconsin, where Leopold and his students collected comprehensive data on spring blooms from 1933 to 1945, the evidence of earlier flowering is even more pronounced: During the unusually warm spring of 2012, the study says, plants bloomed an average of one month earlier than they did 67 years earlier. Scientists say the findings could provide critical insights into the effects of climate change on native plants, and the long-term implications this could have on the plants and the animals and insects that depend upon them.
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Interview: Perils and Rewards
Of Protecting Congo’s Gorillas

It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous place to be a conservationist than the Democratic Republic of Congo, which for decades has been ravaged by war and civil
Emmanuel de Merode
Virunga National Park/gorillacd.org
Emmanuel de Merode
strife that has left several million people dead. But it is against this backdrop that Emmanuel de Merode has waged a five-year struggle to protect Congo’s Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa and home to one of the last sizeable populations of mountain gorillas. De Merode is the chief warden of Virunga, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses nearly 2 million acres of forests, mountains, savannahs, and iconic wildlife. Since 1996, more than 150 Virunga park rangers have been killed in the line of duty, with two murdered last October. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, de Merode discusses the challenges of protecting the mountain gorillas in a war-torn nation, the remarkable survival of the gorillas amid this strife, and how restoring order inside Virunga National Park could play a role in bringing peace to Congo.
Read the interview
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27 Dec 2012: Group Collecting DNA Codes
Of Endangered Species Gets Google Boost

The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), a global initiative assembling the “DNA barcodes” of the world’s endangered species, received $3 million from Google this month to create an online database organizers hope will emerge as a critical tool in the enforcement of international wildlife protection laws. Since it was formed in 2004, the consortium’s 200 participating organizations have collected genetic information for more than 100,000 species. With tens of thousands of species currently in danger of extinction, project organizers hope the database will provide a quick and inexpensive way to identify species, including many that are regularly smuggled through airports. In some cases, law enforcement officials would be able to send a small tissue sample to a laboratory for identification rather than requiring an expert to identify the species.
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21 Dec 2012: Changing Oceans May Be Adding
To U.S. Fisheries Decline, Scientists Say

As U.S. fishing regulators weigh stricter catch quotas to allow time for critical species to recover in the waters of New England, scientists say that changing ocean conditions may be a factor in historic fish declines, not just decades of overfishing. Warmer ocean temperatures and changing ecosystems are contributing to declining populations of cod and flounder in the northeastern U.S., government officials say. In the Gulf of Maine this year, water temperatures were the highest ever recorded, according to the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists say that about half of 36 fish stocks — including cod and flounder — have been shifting northward into deeper, cooler waters for four decades. And while some regulators say the only chance of restoring populations is for tougher quotas on bottom-dwelling “groundfish” species, the New England Fishery Management Council this week delayed a vote on such cuts after fishermen said the reductions would devastate their industry.
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19 Dec 2012: Climate Already Altering
Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Report Says

Climate change is causing plant and animal species across the U.S. to shift their geographic ranges and life events — from flowering to migration — are being transformed at a faster rate than observed even a few years ago, a new analysis by 60 scientists says. According to the report, “Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services,” some terrestrial species are moving up in elevation at rates 2 to 3 times greater than previously believed, while the range shifts for some marine species have been even greater. These rapid changes in ranges, distributions, and life cycles are forcing species to interact in ways that they never have before and could alter the timing and availability of natural resources critical to biodiversity and ecosystem health. “These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems... creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at Arizona State University and lead author of the report.
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05 Dec 2012: African Lion Populations
Plummet as Habitat Disappears, Study Says

More than two-thirds of Africa’s lions have disappeared over the last 50 years as the continent’s once-vast savannah regions have been lost to human
Lion in South Africa
Getty Images
A lion in South Africa
development, a new study has found. Using high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth and human population data, Duke University researchers calculated that about 75 percent of the original savannah has been lost since 1960, driven by land-use changes and deforestation. On the entire continent, they found, there are now just 67 remaining pockets of savannah suitable for lion habitat; only 10 of those areas would be considered lion “strongholds.” Overall, lion populations have dropped from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 in just five decades, according to the study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Continued habitat loss projected over the coming decades could put these populations at increased risk, the study said.
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03 Dec 2012: An Advocate's Novel Campaign
To Call Attention to Rhino Slaughter

A South African artist has launched an unorthodox campaign to call attention to the mounting slaughter of rhinoceroses — by sending toenail clippings to the Chinese embassy. Frustrated that petitions and other protests have done little to curb the poaching of rhinos for their horns, Mark Wilby decided to target the illegal markt in Asia, where the horns are believed to have healing properties. Rhino horns are composed largely of keratin, a protein also found in human nails and hair. Wilby, who is encouraging others to also send nails to the embassy address in Pretoria, concedes  the protest is “disrespectful,” but says he wants to put pressure on the Chinese government in hopes that it can help stop the killing of Africa’s rhinos. According to reports, nearly 600 rhinos have been killed illegally so far this year in South Africa alone. “I’m sending this to the Chinese Embassy in South Africa not because I’m blaming the Chinese government or the Chinese people,” he said in a video posted on YouTube. “I just don’t know who else to appeal to.”
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26 Nov 2012: Giant Galapagos Tortoise
May Not Be Extinct After All, Tests Reveal

The death of an iconic, century-old giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands earlier this year may not have meant the end of his species, an upcoming study suggests. In
Giant tortoise Lonesome George
Galapagos National Park
‘Lonesome George’
an analysis of more than 1,600 DNA samples, scientists from Galapagos National Park (GNP) and Yale University determined that at least 17 tortoises found on a volcano on Isabella Island have similar genetic traits to a tortoise known as “Lonesome George,” a Pinta Island giant tortoise discovered in 1972 and thought to be the last surviving member of his species, Chelonoidis abingdonii, until his death in June. According to the GNP website, the discovery suggests the possible existence of additional hybrid tortoises, or even “possibly-pure Pinta” giant tortoises, in the Galapagos. The results of the study will be published in the journal Biological Conservation.
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19 Nov 2012: Breeding Birds in UK
Have Declined 20 Percent Since 1960s

The population of breeding birds in the UK has plummeted by 21 percent since 1966, losing more than 44 million birds in less than a half-century, according to the newly released State of the UK’s Birds 2012report. According to experts, the number of house sparrows has
Yellow wagtail
State of the UK's Birds 2012
The yellow wagtail
dropped from 30 million in 1966, when the first reliable bird-monitoring surveys were conducted, to about 10 million today — a loss of about 50 sparrows every hour. Once-abundant populations of the willow tit have all but disappeared in most regions of the UK, while numbers of the lesser spotted woodpecker and Arctic skua are now too few to number. Populations of farmland bird species are now half of what they were in 1970, according to the report, which draws on information from numerous bird surveys and databases. Land use changes and coastal water management have likely been key factors in these declines, as some species have had increasing difficulty finding suitable places to nest or forage, experts say.
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16 Nov 2012: Majority of Marine Species
Still Remain Unknown to Scientists

While more new marine species were identified over the last 10 years than during any previous decade, as many as two-thirds of the plant and animal species living in the oceans may still be unknown to scientists, a new study says. Writing in the journal Current Biology, a team of international scientists estimates that there are
Marbled swimming crab
Hans Hillewaert/Flickr
The marbled swimming crab
likely 700,000 to 1 million species in the oceans, of which only 226,000 species have so far been identified. Another 65,000 are sitting in scientific collections awaiting identification, according to the study. The study, which was produced by 270 experts from 32 countries, represents the most comprehensive inventory of marine life, and notes that the majority of unknown species are composed of crustaceans, mollusks, worms, and sponges. “For the first time, we can provide a very detailed overview of species richness, partitioned among all the marine groups,” said Ward Appeltans, a biologist at UNESCO's International Oceanographic Commission and one of the study’s authors. The complete inventory can be viewed online at www.marinespecies.org.
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14 Nov 2012: Brazilian Scientists Investigate
Cloning of Eight Endangered Species

Scientists in Brazil are taking steps toward cloning the jaguar and seven other endangered species, a program they hope will ease pressure on wild populations of the animals. Embrapa, the country’s agricultural research
Maned wolf
Wikimedia Commons
The maned wolf
agency, working with the Brasilia Zoological Garden, has already collected 420 tissue samples from animals — including maned wolves, black lion tamarins, bush dogs, coatis, collared anteaters, gray broket deer, and bison — that live in the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savanna. They are now seeking government permission to conduct cloning experiments. According to Embrapa’s Carlos Frederico Martins, the group is not looking at the cloning as a conservation strategy and does not intend to release the animals into the wild.
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09 Nov 2012: U.S. Pledges Stronger Role
in Stemming Global Trade in Wildlife

The Obama Administration has vowed renewed commitments to help stem the international trade in wildlife, including the use of U.S. intelligence agencies to track poaching of elephants, rhinos, and other
African savanna elephant bulls at a water hole in Sub-Saharan Africa

TRAFFIC/Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon
African savanna elephant bull.
animals in Africa and Asia. Speaking to a group of conservationists and diplomatic leaders on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said an expanding middle class worldwide has spawned a booming demand for rare species and animal parts that is being supplied by increasingly violent organized gangs and corrupt officials who terrorize communities and overwhelm local law enforcement. In addition to decimating the natural world, Clinton said, this booming trade has dire economic impacts and poses a growing threat to the security of nations worldwide, including U.S. interests. In a series of initiatives, the U.S. will bolster intelligence efforts to track poaching and assess its security impacts and work with other nations to expand and strengthen law enforcement.
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06 Nov 2012: World’s Rarest Whale Species
Identified After New Zealand Beaching

Scientists have confirmed that two whales that washed onto the New Zealand coast two years ago were spade-toothed beaked whales, an enigmatic species so rare that no human is known to have ever seen one alive. Writing in the journal Current Biology, New Zealand and U.S. researchers provide the first full description of the species, which previously was known only from three skull fragments recovered over a 140-year span, the most recent of which was found 26 years ago. When conservation workers initially found the adult whale and her 11-foot male calf on a New Zealand beach in December 2010, they thought they were Gray’s beaked whales, a far more common species. But DNA tests of tissue samples collected from the animals revealed that they were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species whose males have blade-like tusk teeth, and researchers later exhumed the whales to conduct additional tests.
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05 Nov 2012: China and Russia Block
Proposal to Protect Antarctic Waters

International talks to protect large areas of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica collapsed last week after several nations, including China, blocked the proposal over concerns about fishing access, according to reports. Representatives from 25 member states — including China, Russia, the U.S., the European Union — gathered in Australia to negotiate plans that would have protected approximately 4 million square kilometers in the Southern Ocean, including provisions that would have banned industrial fishing operations. Some regions would have also been set aside for scientific research into the effects of climate change on polar ecosystems. According to The Australian newspaper, China and Russia were among the nations that rejected the plans. Alex Rogers, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford, told Nature that the stalled talks reflect a wider “global dichotomy” about how to manage marine resources, with some states looking to impose greater conservation and management policies and others targeting increased exploitation. “Time really is running out on these issues,” he said. “If we don’t get protection in place now, exploitation of these systems will increase.”
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05 Nov 2012: Reduced Snowpacks Allowing
Trees to Invade U.S. Mountain Meadows

Some mountain meadows in the U.S. Northwest are steadily disappearing as the effects of climate change have allowed trees to invade the ecosystemsin recent decades, a new study says. In an analysis of Jefferson

Click to enlarge
Mount Jefferson Mountain Meadow

Oregon State University
A meadow at the base of Mount Jefferson.
Park, a 330-acre subalpine meadow complex in the Oregon Cascades once covered with grasses, shrubs and wildflowers, researchers found that tree occupation increased from 8 percent in 1950 to 35 percent in 2007, a rapid shift they say reflects a wider trend in many areas of the U.S. West. According to scientists, rising temperatures and a reduction in snowpack duration were critical factors in the invasion of mountain hemlocks, saying the extended growing season significantly increased chances of the trees’ survival. “Once trees become fully established, they tend to persist, and seed banks of native grass species disappear fairly quickly,” said Harold Zald, of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, the lead author of the study published in Landscape Ecology. “The meadows form an important part of forest biodiversity, and when they are gone, they may be gone forever.”
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01 Nov 2012: Family Tree for Birds Reveals
Steady Diversification of Avian Species

A team of scientists has compiled what it calls the most comprehensive “family tree” of birds ever assembled, an evolutionary history that reveals that the world’s avian species have become increasingly biologically diverse in recent geological epochs, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts. Using fossil evidence, DNA data, and geographical information collected from across the globe, the researchers categorized each of the 9,993 known bird species into a comprehensive lineage, creating a “full global picture of diversification” in space and time. While other types of species have seen declines in biodiversity as available “niches” become filled, the researchers found that the speciation of birds has actually accelerated over the last 50 million years. “Many parts of the globe have seen a variety of species groups diversify rapidly and recently,” said Walter Jetz, a Yale University biologist and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature. The authors suggest this accelerated rate of diversification may be the result of group-specific adaptations, the opening of new habitats, and the inherent mobility of many bird species that has allowed them migrate to new regions and exploit ecological opportunities.
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31 Oct 2012: U.S. Honeybees Have Developed
Resistance to Antibiotic, Study Says

Honeybees in the U.S. have developed widespread resistance to the antibiotic tetracycline, likely as a result of decades of exposure to preventive antibiotics in domesticated hives, a new study has found. In tests conducted on bees in several countries, scientists from Yale University say they identified eight tetracycline resistance genes in U.S. honeybees that were largely absent in bees found in places where the antibiotics are banned. In the U.S., the use of oxytetracycline — a compound similar to tetracycline — has been common since the 1950s to help prevent outbreaks of “foulbrood,” a bacterial disease that can devastate honeybee hives. “There’s a pattern here, where the U.S. has these genes and the other [countries] don’t,” said Nancy Moran, a lead author of the study published in the journal mBio. The authors warn that the treatment meant to prevent disease and strengthen honeybee hives in the U.S. may have actually weakened the bees’ ability to fight off other pathogens.
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29 Oct 2012: Photos Reveal Finch Species
Long Thought Vanished on Tibetan Plateau

Photos taken in a remote region of the Tibetan Plateau have revealed the existence of a rare species of finch long thought to have vanished. During a trip to Xinjiang, China in June, a French photographer

Click to enlarge
Sillem’s mountain finch

Photo by Yann Muzika
The Sillem’s mountain finch
snapped images of what ornithologists believe is a Sillem’s mountain finch (Leucosticte sillemi), a species that previously was known only by two specimens collected from the same region of China, located about 16,400 feet above sea level, in 1929. When the photographer, Yann Muzika, was unable to identify the bird, he sent the photographs to the UK-based Oriental Bird Club (OBC), where editor Krys Kazmierczak immediately thought of the mysterious finch. “The words ‘Sillem’s Mountain Finch’ simply popped into my head, and I sat there for a little while somewhat awestruck,” Kazmierczak wrote to OBC supporters. It wasn’t until 1992 that, based on the two specimens collected in 1929, a Dutch ornithologist determined that the finch represented a distinct species. Ornithologists say additional field research, perhaps including the collection of blood samples for DNA testing, will be required to confirm the bird’s identity.
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24 Oct 2012: Plastic Waste Increasing
On Remote Arctic Seabed, Cameras Reveal

Deep-sea cameras deployed to monitor biodiversity on the Arctic seabed have documented a significant rise in the amount of plastic waste and other litter on the remote sea floors of the Far North, according to a new study. While looking at many thousands of seabed photos taken in 2011 between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen, deep-sea expert Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research was struck by the number showing plastic waste. In a detailed analysis of the photographs — which are taken every 30 seconds by a deep-sea observatory reaching depths of 2,500 meters — Bergmann and her colleagues found that while plastic waste was seen in only one percent of photographs taken in 2002, that number had jumped to 2 percent in 2011. Two percent may not seem like a high occurrence, Bergmann said, but the quantities observed in this remote Arctic region were greater than recorded in a deep-sea canyon near Lisbon, Portugal. According to the study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, about 70 percent of the plastic litter had come in contact with deep-sea organisms.
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18 Oct 2012: Increased Nutrient Levels
May Drive Collapse of Salt Marsh, Study Says

Increasing levels of nutrients seeping from septic systems and lawn fertilizers may be driving the steady decline of salt marshes that has occurred along the U.S. East coast in recent decades, a new study has found.
Salt Marsh
David S. Johnson/MBL
While scientists had long believed that salt marshes have an unlimited capacity for removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, a long-term experiment by researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Mass. found that nutrient enrichment can drive salt-marsh loss. Over nine years, the researchers added amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to tidal waters flushing through salt marsh in an undeveloped coastal area consistent with the nutrient levels present in developed areas such as Cape Cod, Mass. and Long Island, N.Y. Within a few years, they observed wide cracks in the grassy banks of tidal creeks; eventually, the researchers say, the banks would collapse altogether into the creek. “The long-term effect is conversion of a vegetated marsh into a mudflat, which is a much less productive ecosystem,” said Linda Deegan, an MBL scientist and an author of the study published in Nature.
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16 Oct 2012: Online Atlas Illustrates
Critical Areas for World’s Seabirds

A new online atlas provides the first global inventory of ocean sites critical to the world’s seabirds, a free digital resource that its creators hope will help guide protective policies and the creation of conservation areas globally. The site (www.birdlife.org/datazone/marine), which

Click to enlarge
BirdLife International Seabird Atlas

BirdLife International
Atlas of critical seabird areas
was created by the group BirdLife International, identifies 3,000 important sites that are critical to seabirds, from penguins to sandpipers, including breeding grounds, foraging areas, and migration routes. These so-called “important bird areas” (IBAs) comprise about 6.2 percent of the world’s oceans, according to BirdLife International. While seabirds are particularly vulnerable to threats because of the great distances they travel across international waters, many conservation groups have cited a lack of data as a reason for inaction in protecting these areas, Ben Lascelles of BirdLife International told Reuters.
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10 Oct 2012: U.S. Supreme Court Refuses
Chevron Challenge of Ecuador Damages

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Chevron Corp.’s challenge of an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorian court over large-scale damages caused by oil drilling in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a long legal battle that led to a ruling last year by an Ecuadorean court that Chevron had to pay the damages for massive oil dumping by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron was challenging a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that would have effectively opened the way for worldwide enforcement of the judgment against Chevron. An Ecuadorean court found that an oil consortium run by Texaco dumped billions of gallons of oil and toxic sludge in the Amazon rainforest from 1964 through 1992, badly polluting water supplies and causing health problems among some of the 30,000 plaintiffs in the Lago Ario region. Chevron vowed to continue to fight the Ecuadorean court’s decision, which it called “fraudulent” and tainted by judicial misconduct. Chevron contends that the decision is not enforceable under New York law.
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08 Oct 2012: Indonesian Palm Oil Is
Growing Source of CO2 Emissions

The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations in the world’s tropical regions, particularly Indonesian Borneo, is becoming an increasingly significant source of global carbon emissions, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from Stanford and Yale universities project that the continued expansion of plantations will add more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020 — an amount greater than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions. Much of the expansion in recent decades has occurred in Indonesia, particularly on the island of Borneo, also known as Kalimantan. According to researchers, the loss of forest for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan led to the emission of more than 140 million metric tons of CO2 in 2010 alone, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 28 million vehicles. About 80 percent of planting leases remained undeveloped in 2010, the study says. If all these leases are developed, more than one-third of Kalimantan’s lowlands outside of protected areas would be covered with palm oil plantations.
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05 Oct 2012: Northern Conifers Are Younger
As a Result of Extreme Climate Shifts

Extreme climate cycles in the Northern Hemisphere over millions of years altered the evolutionary history of the hemisphere’s conifer trees, encouraging the formation of new species that are millions of years younger than their counterparts in the Southern
Conifer trees
Wikimedia Commons
Hemisphere, according to a new study. In an analysis of the fossil remains and genetic makeup of 489 of the world’s roughly 600 living conifer species, scientists found that while the majority of conifers belong to ancient lineages, most of those found in the Northern Hemisphere emerged in just the last 5 million years. Scientists suggest that the migration of trees species and changes to range sizes in response to glacial cycles resulted in isolated populations and the introduction of new species. “Extreme climatic shifts through time may have favored the replacement of older lineages with those better adapted to cooler and drier conditions,” said Andrew Leslie, a Yale researcher and co-author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, fragmented habitats and mild, wetter habitats likely helped the older conifers survive with greater diversity.
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02 Oct 2012: Great Barrier Reef Lost
Half of Coral Cover Since 1985, Study Says

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in just 27 years, with most of that decline coming as a result of heavy storms, predation by crown-of-thorn starfish, and coral bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures. In a comprehensive survey of 214 reefs, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) found that coral cover declined from 28 percent in 1985 to 13.8 percent this year. Intense tropical storms, particularly in the central and southern parts of the reef, have caused about 48 percent of the coral loss, researchers say. An explosion in populations of starfish along the reef caused about 42 percent of the decline; about 10 percent was caused by major bleaching events. Reefs are typically able to regain their coral cover after such disturbances, said Hugh Sweatman, a lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But recovery takes 10-20 years, he noted. The study found efforts to reduce starfish populations could help increase coral cover at a rate of 0.89 percent per year.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Using the Internet
To Identify Millions of New Species

Each year, about 18,000 new species of plants and animals are discovered and described by science — a number considered woefully inadequate by entomologist and taxonomist Quentin Wheeler. Along
Snub Nosed Monkey
Thomas Geissmann/Fauna & Flora International
Snub-nosed monkey, identified in 2010
with a group of high-profile colleagues, Wheeler, the founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, is calling for an intensive international effort to discover the estimated 8 to 10 million species that remain unknown. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wheeler says the time has never been more critical to carry out such a project, considering the rapid rate of biodiversity loss. But he notes that the tools now available to identify all the world’s species are impressive, most importantly the advent of what he calls “cybertaxonomy,” which harnesses the power of the Internet to take three-dimensional pictures of specimens and place millions of pages of taxonomic information online. “Unless we know what species exist,” says Wheeler, “we are at a huge disadvantage to monitor changes in biodiversity.”
Read the interview
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25 Sep 2012: Coral Biodiversity Hotspot
Is Found in Western Indian Ocean

The western Indian Ocean, especially the waters between Madagascar and Africa, contain one of the highest levels of coral diversity worldwide, with 369 coral species identified in a recent study and more still to be identified. Scientists say the western Indian Ocean may contain as much coral biodiversity as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, though not as much as the world’s richest region for corals, the so-called coral triangle in Southeast Asia. Reporting in the journal PLoS ONE, David Obura, a scientist with the Group Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said that 10 percent of the species are found only in the western Indian Ocean. He said the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and mainland Africa, contains roughly 250 to 300 coral species. Meanwhile, Australian scientists report that water temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef have increased steadily in the last 25 years, in some places rising as much as .5 degrees C. Such increases can contribute to coral bleaching, which can lead to mass coral die-offs.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Shining a Light
On Africa’s Elephant Slaughter

With the mass killing of African elephants sharply escalating recently as global prices for ivory have risen, few articles have conveyed the scope and brutality of
Jeffrey Gettleman
Jeffrey Gettleman
that trade as vividly as the one written earlier this month by Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Gettleman describes how weeks in the field helped him piece together a picture of an elaborate ivory trade that is fueled largely by Chinese demand and involves elements of the military from the Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda — all of which receive some funding or training from the U.S. government. As Gettleman, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, explains, the decimation of elephant herds is emblematic of a larger problem that plagues Africa’s people and its once-rich natural heritage: state failure. “That’s why so many elephants are getting killed in central Africa because it’s probably the most unstable part of Africa and has huge areas that are just completely lawless,” says Gettleman.
Read the interview
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18 Sep 2012: Explosive Urban Growth
To Put Major Strain on Biodiversity

The world’s urban areas will expand by more than 1.2 million square kilometers by 2030, nearly tripling the area of urban development that existed worldwide in 2000, according to a new study. That development surge, researchers say, will coincide with construction of new roads, buildings, and energy and water systems, causing considerable habitat loss in critical biodiversity hotspots — including many regions that were relatively undisturbed by development only a decade ago. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Yale, Texas A&M, and Boston University predicted that nearly half of that urban expansion will occur in Asia, particularly in China and India. Urban growth will occur fastest in Africa, they say, with a projected six-fold increase in land development compared with 2000. “Given the long life and near irreversibility of infrastructure investments, it will be critical for current urbanization-related policies to consider their lasting impacts,” said Karen Seto, an associate professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and lead author of the study.
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e360 VIDEO

Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Watch the video.


header image
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland. © Google & TerraMetrics.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.

 

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