18 May 2012:
EU Fisheries Observers
Are Intimidated, Bribed by Crews
Observers placed on European Union fishing boats to reduce the amount of illegal and unreported catches are often subject to threats, intimidation, and bribes
when they try to do their jobs, according to a report in the Guardian
. After interviewing more than 20 former and current fisheries observers and examining EU records, the newspaper said that the threats and harassment are common on Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, which are notorious for egregious overfishing. The observers told the Guardian
that crew members would steal their records of fishing violations, threaten them with an “accident” at sea, kick their cabin doors to keep them awake at night, and take elaborate steps — including making illegal hauls while observers were eating — to conceal the extent of overfishing. Independent observers are placed aboard every vessel operating in the Northwest Atlantic Fishery Organization. But because of fishing industry pressure, observers who spot violations are only allowed to summon an inspector on board, but cannot provide the inspector with any details or records of infractions.
16 May 2012:
Wildlife in Tropical Regions
Has Declined 60 Percent Since 1970
Wildlife populations in the world’s tropical regions have fallen by more than 60 percent during the last four decades
, according to the latest version of the Living Planet Index. The Index — which tracks populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in tropical and temperate regions worldwide — found that species abundance in the tropics declined by about 44 percent on land, 62 percent in the oceans, and 70 percent in freshwater ecosystems from 1970 to 2008. Cumulatively, species abundance declined by about 1.25 percent annually every year compared with a 1970 baseline, according to the report, which is published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. Wildlife populations declined by 38 percent in Africa during that period; about 50 percent in Central and South America; and 64 percent in Indo-Pacific regions. Overall, the global index dropped almost 30 percent during the same period. These steep population declines are the result of many factors related to human activities, including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
11 May 2012:
Eel Breeding Innovation
Sought to Conserve Wild Populations
Japanese biologists are racing to develop a type of food that would enable fish farmers to breed eels on a commercial scale
using for the first time larvae produced in captivity, a step that could reduce pressures on collapsing eel populations worldwide. While farmers have long bred captive eels — a popular delicacy in many countries — until now they have only been able to do so on a commercial scale using baby eels trapped in the wild, a step that has exacerbated the catastrophic decline in wild eel populations from the Far East to North America. The reason, scientists say, is that it has been difficult and expensive to produce the foodstuff critical to the development of eel larvae: a mixture of marine detritus known as “marine snow.” Scientists so far have considered a wide range of possible ingredients, including the yolk from shark’s eggs. “Whoever gets there first has made a tremendous discovery; you’re recovering a cultural tradition,” David Righton, a scientist with the UK-based Cefas marine laboratory, told the Guardian
. “Whoever does this is culturally important as well as becoming very rich.”
11 May 2012:
Study Calls Selective Logging
Most Realistic Conservation Strategy
A new study says that well-managed selective logging may be the only realistic solution to conserving tropical forests
in the face of a rapacious global demand for timber resources. In an analysis of more than 100 studies, researchers at the University of Florida found that while even selective logging has a significant impact on biodiversity in tropical forests and carbon storage capacity, those impacts are “survivable and reversible to a degree” if the forests are given time to recover. In fact, the researchers found that, on average, 85 to 100 percent of animal and plant species present before initial logging were still around after selective logging and that forests retained about 75 percent of their carbon after initial harvest. By contrast, the researchers say, forest loss for the planting of rubber or palm oil plantations is permanent. “We’re not advocates for logging,” said Jack Putz, a professor of biology and lead author of the study published in Conservation Letters
. “We’re just acknowledging that it is a reality — and that within that reality, there is a way forward.”
10 May 2012:
New Interactive Web site
Maps Distribution of Global Species
U.S. scientists this week unveiled a new online resource that maps the distribution of species worldwide and will ultimately allow users to update or add species data. The so-called “Map of Life
” project — which draws on
Map of Life
The “Map of Life”
millions of known locations of various species, expert range maps, World Wildlife Fund data, and the databases of individual scientists — allows users to view distribution records for any terrestrial vertebrate species or fish worldwide, and generate a listing of all species within a 50- to 1,000-kilometer range. An updated version of the site, expected later this year, will include data on plants, trees, and selected invertebrate groups. Ultimately, users will be able to flag and edit data, update their own data sets, and provide feedback on the data. The project, which is funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, is described online in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution
09 May 2012:
Warming Waters Attract
New Fish Species to British Waters
Warming ocean temperatures have changed the distribution of many critical marine species
off the British coast, as warm water fish are increasingly expanding into northern waters and cold-water species are swimming to colder depths, according to a new report. The report of the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership
, published by the UK and Scottish governments, found that warm water species such as the bluefin tuna and thresher sharks are more frequently appearing in the waters off southwest England and squid have become increasingly abundant in the North Sea. One southern species, the bib, has moved north by 212 miles (342 kilometers) in the last two decades, while common North Sea species such as cod and lemon sole are swimming at an average of 5.5 meters deeper per decade. The report, based on an analysis of scientific studies, warns these changes pose potential threats for native species and the commercial fishing industry as changing water temperatures could introduce invasive species and new diseases.
08 May 2012:
Highly Endangered Gorillas
Are Captured in Rare Video Footage
A camera trap video in Cameroon has captured nearly two minutes of film of the Cross River gorilla, the rarest of the four sub-species of gorillas and one that is seldom
seen in the wild. The footage shows a group of eight gorillas walking through the forest in Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, their feet loudly crunching over the leaves on the forest floor. Suddenly, a silverback gorilla, perhaps sensing the camera trap, bluff-charges past the camera, pounding its chest as it runs. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helped set up the traps
, says it is the best footage ever captured of Cross River gorillas, a sub-species with fewer than 250 individuals remaining. In the footage, one of the gorillas is clearly missing a hand, perhaps the result of it getting caught in a snare. Hunting and habitat destruction in the creatures’ last refuge — the mountainous border region of Cameroon and Nigeria — have whittled away populations of the Cross River gorilla. But the Cameroon government, WCS, and local wardens have launched an improved system of protection that seems to have halted the animals’ decline.
07 May 2012:
Economic Boom Leaves Myanmar
Vulnerable to Environmental Abuses
Conservationists warn that a development boom in Myanmar resulting from a recent opening-up of the country could trigger rampant environmental destruction
. Harboring some of Asia’s richest biodiversity, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is embracing increased economic development following government reforms that have loosened military control in the impoverished nation. But environmental advocates say government corruption and a lack of strict environmental rules leave the Asian nation ripe for environmental exploitation. In recent months, international business interests have flocked to the country, targeting lucrative opportunities in land development, mining, and rubber and oil plantations. “The ‘development invasion’ will speed up environmental destruction and is also likely to lead to more human rights abuses,” Pianporn Deetes of the International Rivers Network told the Associated Press. “Industries will move very vast, while civil society is just beginning to learn about the impacts.”
03 May 2012:
Plant Responses to Global Warming
Studies designed to predict how plants and trees will react to rising temperatures have consistently underestimated those responses
, with the actual flowering and leafing of plants advancing far more rapidly than most experiments forecast. That is the conclusion of new research by Canadian and U.S. scientists who analyzed 50 plant studies on four continents. By looking at field records of the timing of plant events, the researchers found that leafing and flowering advance by nearly a week for every 1 degree C rise in temperature. But when scientists create experimental plots and heat them to simulate future temperature increases, their predictions usually under-predict plant responses to global warming by at least four-fold, according to the study, published in an online issue of Nature
. The timing of annual plant events, known as phenology, has major implications for crop pollination, water supplies, and ecosystem health. The researchers said that plant experiments need to be better designed to reflect the actual impact of future warming.
02 May 2012:
Polar Bears Taking Long Swims
In Absence of Summer Sea Ice, Study Says
A six-year study has found that polar bears are capable of swimming great distances
when foraging for food, an increasingly critical skill as Arctic sea ice declines in summer. Using GPS collars attached to 52 adult females in the southern Beaufort and Chukchi seas from 2004 to 2009, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that about a third of the bears — including some with cubs — completed swims greater than 30 miles. Writing in the Canadian Journal of Zoology
, the scientists found that in the case of 50 long-distance swims, the bears traveled an average of 96 miles, swimming from one to 10 days; one bear swam 220 miles. While such stamina will become increasingly important for polar bears as a warming climate makes resting on summer sea ice a less available option, the researchers expressed concern that traveling such great distances takes a greater energy toll on the animals. The study sample was too small to draw conclusions about the fate of entire populations, and it is unclear whether such long swims are a new behavior.
01 May 2012:
Fukushima Begins Restoration
Of Coastal Forests Destroyed by Tsunami
Fukushima Prefecture will soon begin a nine-year restoration of coastal forests devastated by last year’s tsunami
, including the planting of 4.6 million seedlings over a 90-mile stretch of coastline. With the financial assistance of other prefectures, the Fukushima government will begin collecting pine cones this year that officials hope will grow into the seedlings of new pine forests within two years. While the tsunami triggered by the March 2011 earthquake swamped coastal forests in six prefectures, none was hit harder than Fukushima, where 70 percent of flooded forests were destroyed, according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun
. Even trees in areas that survived the disaster are expected to die because of the high levels of salt that saturated the soil. In some areas, including Matsukawaura beach in the town of Soma, the presence of thick forests served as a breakwater, preventing even greater damage inland from tsunami waves and debris.
30 Apr 2012:
Australia Lists Koala As
Threatened Species for First Time
The Australian government has added the koala to the list of threatened species
in parts of the country for the first time, saying the iconic species is under threat from habitat loss, urban expansion, disease, and climate change. Following a three-year study, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced
that koalas will be listed as vulnerable in Queensland, where populations have declined by 40 percent in two decades; New South Wales, where numbers have dropped by one-third; and the Australian Capital Territory. In addition to the listing, which will impose restrictions on development in areas where the species is threatened, the government committed $300,000 for koala monitoring and habitat research. Not only are koalas facing declining food sources as eucalypt plants are aggressively cleared for development, but scientists say the nutritional value of remaining eucalypts has diminished as a result of climate change. While the government says there are about 200,000 remaining koalas nationwide, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates there are likely fewer than 100,000.
27 Apr 2012:
Pacific Shark Survey Shows
90 Percent Decline Near Human Populatons
A comprehensive census of Pacific reef shark populations has found that shark abundance has plummeted by roughly 90 percent
in waters located near islands inhabited by humans. Using underwater surveys
Gray reef sharks at Hawaii’s Kure Atoll
conducted by divers across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls, researchers found that shark numbers near human populations were consistently depressed, regardless of location or ocean conditions, compared with pristine reef areas located farther away from humans. In fact, the researchers estimated that shark populations are less than 10 percent of historically peak numbers in these areas, said Marc Nadon, a University of Hawaii scientist and lead author of the study, published in Conservation Biology
. “In short, people and sharks don’t mix,” he said. Researchers say the data helps quantify how human activities, including overfishing and the controversial practice of shark-finning, are decimating shark numbers.
25 Apr 2012:
Urban Heat Effect Drives
Faster Tree Growth, Study Says
In a new study, researchers say native red oak seedlings planted in New York City grew far faster
than in cooler rural settings. After planting seedlings in two city locations, including Central Park, and in separate locations in the Hudson River Valley and the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found that the city trees produced eight times more biomass than those planted in the country. According to their study, published in the journal Tree Physiology
, the city trees were exposed to maximum daily temperatures 4 degrees F warmer than the country trees, and minimum averages more than 8 degrees F warmer, driven largely by the well-known “urban heat island” effect. The warm city nights, in particular, allowed the seedlings to perform more of the chemical reactions needed for photosynthesis. The seedlings were planted in the spring and, after caring for all the trees with fertilizer and weekly watering, biomass was measured the following autumn.
24 Apr 2012:
‘Glowing’ Fish Provides Insights
Into Effects of Endocrine Disruptors
UK researchers say they have genetically engineered a zebrafish to produce a fluorescent green glow
under a special microscope in response to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, a technique that could provide new
University of Exeter
A microscopic view of the glowing zebrafish
insights into how these chemicals penetrate and impact systems within the human body. After inserting genetic markers designed to produce a fluorescent glow within areas affected by the chemicals, the scientists from the University of Exeter exposed young fish to different levels of known endocrine disruptors — including bisphenol A, or BPA, a synthetic chemical found in thousands of everyday products, and ethinyloestradiol, a chemical found in contraceptive pills. According to their findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives
, the researchers were able to determine in real-time how different parts of the fish’s anatomy — including the liver, testes, ovaries, and brain — were lit up by the endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
19 Apr 2012:
151 Planned Dams Threatens
Balance of Andean Amazon, Study Says
A new study warns that 151 hydroelectric dams planned along six major rivers in the Amazon basin over the next two decades, including dozens of so-called mega-dams, could significantly disrupt the region’s ecological connectivity
. Writing in the online journal PLoS ONE
, researchers say 60 percent of the dams currently being planned would cause the first major break in river connectivity between the Andean headwaters and the lowland Amazon, possibly threatening the free flow of several Andean-Amazon rivers. The Andes provide most of the sediment, nutrients, and organic matter to the vast, species-rich Amazonian floodplain. The study also found the majority of the projects would increase forest loss because of new roads and transmission lines. “There appears to be no strategic planning regarding possible consequences to the disruption of an ecological connection that has existed for millions of years,” said Matt Finer of the Center for International Environmental Law and the study's lead author.
18 Apr 2012:
Destructive Emerald Ash Borer
Edges Closer to New England Forests
The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that has destroyed millions of ash trees from the U.S. Midwest to western New York over the last decade, has been found east of the Hudson River for the first time
, the closest the pest has comes to the forests of New England. New York environmental officials, who have undertaken an aggressive research and control campaign across 225 square miles since the pest was first found in New York state in 2009, say they found small infestations of the beetle in three “trap” trees east of the Hudson last month. Fortunately, they told the Associated Press, the colony was discovered less than a year after it was established, making it easier to curb the beetles’ spread. Typically, the beetle larvae tunnel under the bark and kill trees before foresters know the trees have been infested. While the main population of the beetle, which originated in China, has been moving toward the northeastern U.S. at a pace of about 2 to 3 miles per year since the beetle was first found near Detroit in 2002, smaller colonies have been leapfrogging ahead, most likely in truckloads of logs or firewood.
13 Apr 2012:
Wind Farms Little Threat
To Most Bird Species, New Study Says
A new study has found that wind farms do not have long-term detrimental effects on most bird species, but that populations of some species can decline during site construction. In a long-term analysis of breeding and population trends for 10 bird species at 18 wind farms
across the UK, a team of conservationists found that most species were able to co-exist with the wind turbines. They found, however, that population densities for three species living near wind farms — snipe, curlew, and red grouse — were lower during construction than before construction. While red grouse numbers recovered after construction was completed, the population densities for both snipe and curlew remained depressed, according to the study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology
. “It shows that there can be serious species-level impacts in the construction phase, so construction in the right place is absolutely key,” Martin Harper, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told the Guardian
. “But what it hasn’t shown is that windfarms are ‘bird blenders.’”
11 Apr 2012:
Warming Boosts Plant Growth,
Then Causes Long-Term Decline, Study Says
A new study has found that some plant systems may thrive initially in a warmer climate but then deteriorate over the long term
. During a decade-long study, researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) transplanted four grassland ecosystems from higher to lower elevations to simulate a warming climate, and also introduced a range of predicted precipitation changes. After observing a boost in plant growth during the first year, the researchers say the positive effects of warming diminished over the next nine years before ceasing altogether. According to their study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, exposure to warmer temperatures over several years caused the loss of some native species and encroachment of alien species better adapted to warmer environments. And while the ecosystems cycled nitrogen more rapidly, much of the nitrogen did not boost plant growth but rather was converted to nitrogen gases or leached out by rainfall.
10 Apr 2012:
Loss of Large Predators
Altering Forest Ecosystems, Study Says
A new study has found that the decline in large predators, particularly wolves, in forest systems across the Northern Hemisphere has triggered major ecosystem disruptions and loss of biodiversity
. In a survey of 42
studies conducted over the past 50 years, scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) found that the loss of mammalian predators in forest ecosystems across North America, Europe and Asia — including killings to prevent ranching conflicts — has allowed an increase in populations of moose, deer, and other large herbivore species, which in turn has impaired the growth of young trees. According to the researchers, population densities of large herbivores were six times greater in areas without wolves. The researchers say the presence of predators not only limits the size of herbivore populations but affects their behavior, a factor they call the “ecology of fear.” “There’s consistent evidence that large predators help keep populations of large herbivores in check, with positive effects on ecosystem health,” said William Ripple, a professor of forestry at OSU and lead author of the study, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research
05 Apr 2012:
New iPad App Will Help
Mariners Avert Right Whale Collisions
A coalition of conservation groups has created an iPad/iPhone app capable of warning mariners when they are approaching areas of high risk for collision with endangered North Atlantic right whales. The so-called Whale Alert app, which is available for free
download, sends the latest information on right whale detections and relevant management advisories to the mariners’ devices. One feature links near real-time acoustic buoys that listen for right whale calls
to the mobile devices. Theoretically, mariners will be able to slow down or alter course when whales are detected. Developers of the technology hope the system will prevent fatal collisions between vessels and right whales
, which are vulnerable to being struck by ships because they live near shore, feed near the surface, and are slow swimmers. Scientists say populations of the species have dropped to between 350 and 550.
03 Apr 2012:
Weed Killer Can Alter
Shape of Amphibians, Study Says
A new study has found that exposure to the popular weed killer Roundup can alter the morphology of some amphibian species
, triggering unexpected changes in body shape of young tadpoles. In a series of tests conducted in large outdoor tanks that mimicked wetland ecosystems, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh found that tadpoles exposed to caged predators developed larger tails — an expected adaptation to help the amphibians better escape the predators. But to their surprise, they found that exposure to Roundup, an herbicide produced by biotech giant Monsanto, induced the same change in two species of amphibians, and that exposure to a combination of the pesticide and predators caused the tadpoles’ tails to grow twice as large as normal. Since tadpoles alter their body shapes to match their environment, the scientists say an exaggerated adaptation that does not fit the environment could put a species at a disadvantage. The study was published in the journal Ecological Applications
02 Apr 2012:
Some Corals More Resilient
To Increased Acidification, Study Shows
Some coral species may be better able to cope with the increasingly acidic condition of the world’s oceans
than previously believed, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change
, an international team of scientists describes an internal mechanism by which many coral species are able to buffer against the rising pH levels and still form healthy skeletons. According to the scientists, coral species with skeletons made of aragonite — including the well-known Porites
corals — contain molecular “pumps” that enable them to regulate internal acid balance. Corals that form calcite skeletons, however, do not have this mechanism. Also, the researchers found that coralline algae — which they describe as the “glue” that holds coral reefs together — remain vulnerable to ocean acidification. In another study, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have documented how temperatures in the upper regions of the world’s oceans have increased by an average of .59 degrees F
(.33 degrees C) over the last 140 years, with the greatest temperature increases occurring at surface levels, where temperatures rose by an average of 1.1 degrees F.
30 Mar 2012:
Scientists Clone Elm Trees
That Survived Dutch Elm Outbreaks
Scientists say they have successfully cloned American elm trees that survived epidemics of Dutch elm disease
, a fungal infection that has decimated the iconic tree species across eastern Canada and the U.S. Using tissue
samples collected from shoot tips and dormant buds, researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada employed in vitro
technology to produce genetic copies of trees that survived multiple Dutch elm disease outbreaks. From those clones, they are now working to isolate germplasm with desired traits — including resistance to Dutch elm disease, which impedes water transport and nutrient flow in the infected trees — for future elm breeding and biotechnology programs, which could lead to a revival of the species in its former habitat. “It may also serve as a model to help propagate and preserve thousands of other endangered plant species at risk of extinction across the globe,” said Praveen Saxena, a plant scientist and one of the authors of the study, published in The Canadian Journal of Forest Research
29 Mar 2012:
Shell’s Spill Response Plan
For the Beaufort Sea Is Approved by U.S.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved Shell Oil’s plan to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea
, clearing the way for exploratory drilling this summer. The decision follows similar U.S. government approval for a spill response plan in the Chukchi Sea, and Shell said that separate exploratory drilling ships will begin working in the two seas off Alaska when ice melts this summer. Shell’s response plan calls for the exploratory vessels to be accompanied by more than a dozen ships that will carry oil-soaking skimmers and booms, as well as a capping stack that could be lowered into the ocean to control a blowout. The Interior Department estimates that 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion feet of natural gas lie under the continental shelf off Alaska. But environmental groups criticized the Interior Department for approving Shell’s spill response plans, saying there is no viable way to clean up an oil spill in the extreme, icy conditions of the Arctic Ocean.
28 Mar 2012:
Brazil Policies Helped Drive
Decline in Deforestation, Report Says
Brazilian conservation policies were responsible for about half of the 70 percent decline in deforestation
within the Amazon rainforest from 2005 to 2009, according to a new study. In an analysis
conducted by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), researchers found that a series of government policies — including stricter monitoring and enforcement of land use laws, the expansion of protected areas, and stronger incentives for local governments to meet environmental standards — helped prevent the clearing of nearly 24,000 square miles (62,000 square kilometers) of forest and avoided 620 million tons of carbon emissions that would have otherwise occurred during that period, Mongabay
reports. Those policies — which included the creation of blacklists for municipalities with high deforestation rates — were enacted following a spike in deforestation in 2004, when a record 10,425 square miles were cleared. The study found that falling agricultural prices also slowed deforestation rates.
27 Mar 2012:
Common Herbicide a Threat
To Great Barrier Reef, Report Says
A popular herbicide used widely in coastal regions of Australia has been found at dangerous levels in the Great Barrier Reef
, posing a toxic threat to the world’s largest coral reef system. The chemical Diuron, which is used largely by sugar cane farmers along the Queensland coast, was found at levels 55 times higher than safety standards in creeks that drain into the reef, and at levels 100 times the safe standards in the reef itself, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund. After a decade-long review, the Australian government on Tuesday announced it would continue a suspension of the chemical except in the country's tropical regions
. A decision on a permanent ban will be made by November, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said. In a recent report, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority called a decline in the quality of water in catchment areas one of the greatest threats facing the reef. Nick Heath, the WWF freshwater and reef coordinator, said the widespread use of the chemical and the length of time it persists in the environment pose a significant threat.
26 Mar 2012:
Auction of Ivory in China
Spurring Illegal Market, Report Says
A new report says that the illegal trade in ivory has risen sharply in China in recent years, with nearly 90 percent of the ivory purchased at “legal” auctions obtained from illegal sources. According to the report, published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
, a decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to allow legal auctions of ivory stockpiles in Asia has not only failed to stem the poaching of elephants but stimulated an illegal ivory market. While the international trade in ivory was banned in 1989, closely regulated auctions were approved on the premise that they would undercut the illegal market. According to the EIA, these approved auctions have instead encouraged the illegal market and the continuing slaughter of elephants
, particularly in central and western Africa. The report says the Chinese government has not only failed to eradicate the black market, but has profited from it. Since January 2011, more than 30 tons of ivory have been seized, representing more than 3,000 dead elephants.
23 Mar 2012:
Google Street View Offers
Virtual Tour of Amazon Basin
Google this week expanded its popular Street View
feature to the forests of the Amazon basin, posting more than 50,000 photos that allow online users a virtual tour of the world’s largest tropical region. The photos,
taken last summer in the Rio Negro Reserve, provide a panoramic view of tropical forest trails and village pathways — and a “virtual board ride” down the Rio Negro. Like many areas of the Amazon, the Rio Negro Reserve is under strict government control and has restricted access to the public, Amazon project leader Karin Tuxen-Bettman wrote on the Google blog
. “We’re thrilled to help everyone from researchers and scientists to armchair explorers around the world learn more about the Amazon, and better understand how local communities there are working to preserve this unique environment for future generations,” she wrote. The project is part of a Google partnership with the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation.
23 Mar 2012:
Australian Mammal Extinctions
Tied to Human Hunting, Not Climate Change
The disappearance roughly 40,000 years ago of dozens of large mammals in Australia — including rhinoceros-sized wombats and tapir-like marsupials — was caused by human hunting and not by climate change
, according to a new study by Australian scientists.
©Science/AAAS/Drawing by Peter Murray
Researchers at the University of Tasmania reached that conclusion after analyzing two mud core samples dating back as far as 130,000 years. By examining the cores for the Sporomiella
fungus — which only releases its spores when in the dung of plant-eating animals — the scientists concluded that megafauna survived periods of climate change over the last 100,000 years. But when humans arrived in sizeable numbers, the presence of the spores dropped “almost to zero” around 41,000 years ago, indicating that hunting was the main reason for the extinction of these large animals, according to the paper, published in Science
. Not long after the megafauna was hunted to extinction, grasses and trees began to grow more profusely because of the decline of grazing animals, setting the stage for large fires. The Australian research parallels other, similar findings worldwide showing that human hunting was crucial in large-animal extinctions.