06 Sep 2012:
Destruction of Tropical Forests
Reduces Regional Rainfall, Study Says
A new study has found that destruction of the world’s tropical forests may significantly reduce regional rainfall across large regions
, a phenomenon researchers say could have devastating effects for people living in and around the Amazon and Congo basins. Using satellite observations of rainfall and vegetation, as well as atmospheric wind flow patterns, researchers from the University of Leeds and the NERC Center for Ecology & Hydrology found that across 60 percent of the Amazon and Congo rainforests, air passing over extensive forest areas produces twice as much rain as air passing over areas with little vegetation. According to their findings, published in the journal Nature
, this effect in some cases can increase rainfall thousands of miles away. After combining these findings with projected deforestation rates and current trends, the researchers calculated that tropical forest loss could reduce rainfall across the Amazon basin during the wet season by 12 percent by 2050, and 21 percent during the dry season.
04 Sep 2012:
A Quarter of Liberian Land
Ceded to Logging Companies in Two Years
One quarter of Liberia’s total land area has been sold to logging companies over the last two years
, a development that threatens widespread devastation in West Africa’s most heavily forested nation, a new investigation has found. According to a report
by Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute, logging companies have used what the investigators call a legal loophole in the nation’s forest laws to secretly parcel out dozens of logging contracts covering 26,000 square kilometers. Created to allow landowners to cut trees on their land, these so-called Private Use Permits contain no sustainability requirements and have left 40 percent of the nation’s forests, including nearly half of Liberia’s most pristine forests, open to clearing, the report says. Under the terms of the contracts, the companies are required to pay only 1 percent of the timber’s value to the Liberian government. In response, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended the head of the nation’s Forestry Development Authority and opened an investigation.
30 Aug 2012:
Falls Sharply in Past Eight Years
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by 77 percent from 2004 to 2011, but carbon emissions did not drop as steeply
because of complex processes revealed during on-the-ground studies, scientists say. While analysis of satellite images showed the three-quarters drop in deforestation, researchers said that several factors — including the slow decay of roots and the later burning of wood biomass — meant that carbon emissions from deforestation fell by 57 percent during the same period, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Another reason for the 20-percent lag in carbon emissions reductions is that logging in recent years has been moving into denser Amazon forests, so even the reduced amount of deforestation is leading to higher carbon emissions, researchers said. U.S. scientists praised their Brazilian colleagues for the sophisticated new techniques used to tease out the differences between reduced deforestation and lagging emissions reductions. “That’s where you’d like the rest of the world to be, where Brazil is,” said Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center.
15 Aug 2012:
Belo Monte Dam Halted By
Brazilian Judge Over Lack of Consultation
A Brazilian judge has ordered a suspension of the controversial Belo Monte dam project, saying that local indigenous people who will be affected by the massive hydroelectric project were not sufficiently consulted
Illustration of the Belo Monte proposal
during the environmental assessment process. In a ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Souza Prudente of the Federal Tribunal of Brazil’s Amazon region found that no consultations were held with local communities
before Congress approved what would be the world’s third-largest dam project. The $16 billion project, which is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of energy, would flood 260 square miles of rainforest in Brazil’s Para state and displace more than 20,000 people
who depend on free-flowing rivers for their livelihoods. “Legislators can only give the go-ahead if the indigenous communities agree with the project,” Prudente wrote. The developer of the project, Norte Energia, will be fined $250,000 per day
if construction on the project continues. The company says it will appeal the decision.
Watch an e360 video report
15 Aug 2012:
Wildlife Vanishing in Brazil’s
Fragmented Atlantic Forest, Study Says
The fragmentation of tropical forests in eastern Brazil as a result of agricultural expansion and other human activities has decimated biodiversity even within the pockets of forest that still remain, a new study has found
. Using wildlife surveys and interviews conducted at 196 forest fragments across a 253,000-square-kilometer region inside Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, a team of researchers estimated that only about 22 percent of the animals that once inhabited the region are still there — far lower than earlier estimates
. According to their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE
, white-lipped peccaries have been “completely wiped out,” while jaguars, lowland tapirs, woolly spider-monkeys and giant anteaters are essentially extinct. The loss of wildlife has even extended to areas where forest canopies are still relatively intact, said Carlos Peres, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study. While the Atlantic Forest once covered more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about 90 percent has been cleared for agriculture, pasture, or urban expansion. Most remaining patches of forest, researchers say, are about the size of a football field.
08 Aug 2012:
Aging, Diseased Trees
A Large Source of Methane, Study Says
Aging and diseased trees emit significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere
, a phenomenon that may be contributing to global climate change, a new study says. In samples collected from a forest in northeastern Connecticut, researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies found that some trees emitted methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — at levels up to 80,000 times greater than ambient air levels. According to their findings, the emissions rate from the forest site may be the equivalent of burning 40 gallons of gasoline per hectare of forest per year, offsetting about 18 percent of the forest’s carbon sequestration capacity. “Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas,” said Kristofer Covey, a Yale researcher and lead author of the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. The researchers found that trees producing methane were commonly older — 80 to 100 years old — and diseased with fungal infections that promote increased methane production.
07 Aug 2012:
New Bird Species Discovered
In Cloud Forest of Eastern Andes
A team of researchers says it has identified a new bird species
, a barbet marked by its colorful scarlet breast and black mask, in the eastern Andes of Peru. The bird, which scientists named the Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki
), was discovered during a 2008 expedition,
led by recent Cornell University graduates, to a remote ridge in the Cerros del Sira range. Although scientists recognized that the bird was closely related to the scarlet-banded barbet, subsequent genetic tests confirmed that it is a distinct species within the barbet family, distinguishable by the differences in color on its flanks, lower back and thighs, and its dark scarlet breast band. The researchers believe the bird may only be found in a 30-kilometer region of montane cloud forest within the range, located on an outlying ridge of the Andes. The scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki
, was selected to honor John W. Fitzpatrick, a former executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who named seven bird species in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s. The bird is described in the July 2012 issue of The Auk
, a publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union.
02 Aug 2012:
Planet’s Carbon Storing Capacity
Keeping Pace with Human Emissions
A new study finds that earth’s oceans and lands continue to absorb more than half of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions
, suggesting that the planet has not yet reached its carbon-storage capacity even as emissions continue to escalate. Writing in the journal Nature
, a team of U.S. scientists calculate that the world’s natural systems — including seas, forests, and soils — have absorbed about 55 percent of the roughly 350 billion tons of greenhouse gases emitted during the last 50 years. With human-based emissions rising steadily over five decades, those systems have had to absorb an ever-increasing amount of carbon, storing an estimated 5 billion tons in 2010 compared with 2.4 billion tons in 1960, the study found. These calculations are consistent with findings by the Global Carbon Project, according to Reuters
. The planet’s capacity to store carbon has been a critical factor in preventing an even greater increase in global temperatures, but authors of the new study say that storage capacity will not remain indefinitely. “It’s not a question of whether or not natural sinks will slow their uptake of carbon, but when,” said Ashley Ballantyne, a researcher at the University of Colorado and lead author of the study.
30 Jul 2012:
Scheme Opens Papua New Guinea Forests to Foreign Loggers, Report Says
More than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of community-held land in Papua New Guinea have been signed over to foreign and domestic corporations through a government leasing scheme, accelerating
©Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace
deforestation in the resource-rich nation, a new Greenpeace study says
. Using data and mapping analysis and government information, the group found that about 75 percent of the leased forest land — or about 3.9 million hectares — is controlled by foreign corporations for up to 99 years through a so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) scheme. The report claims that many companies paid government officials to approve long-term leases and that in one case logging companies paid police to intimidate and assault landowners who opposed the leases. “People are losing their land and their livelihoods for up to three generations and their forests forever,” said Paul Winn, leader of the Greenpeace Forests Team. Greenpeace says Papua New Guinea’s logging exports increased 20 percent last year, due largely to the SABL scheme. The total amount of land leased through SABLs makes up 11 percent of the country’s land area
and 16 percent of accessible commercial forest.
30 Jul 2012:
Recent Historic Drought
May Be the ‘New Normal,’ Study Says
A multi-year drought from 2000 to 2004 that lowered crop productivity and reduced water levels across western North America may become “the new normal” over the next century
as the climate warms, a new study says. In an analysis of climate models and precipitation projections, a team of scientists predicts that 80 of the 95 years between 2006 and 2100 will have precipitation levels as low, or lower, than levels experienced during the recent historic drought. That drought — which, based on tree ring data, was worse than any other experienced by the western U.S. in many centuries — caused crop productivity to drop by 5 percent, reduced runoff in the upper Colorado River basin by half, and triggered increased mortality in forests. In addition, the dry conditions cut the carbon sequestration capacity of forests across the western U.S., Canada, and Mexico by 51 percent, said Beverly Law, a scientist at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience
. As forest vegetation wilted, it caused more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, amplifying global warming, according to the study.
12 Jul 2012:
Mountain Roads Trigger
Longterm Consequences in Southeast Asia
The rapid expansion of roads across the rural mountains of Southeast Asia often triggers unintended environmental consequences
that in many cases
Roy C. Sidle
Logging roads in Myanmar
undermine the socioeconomic benefits, according to an article in the journal Nature Geoscience
. While international organizations have supported “aggressive” efforts to expand road networks to increase agricultural development, trade, and tourism in remote regions, poorly designed mountain roads can cause landslides, soil erosion, and increased deforestation, write researchers Roy Sidle and Alan Ziegler. An increase in road density has been “directly linked to drastic transformation, or even elimination, of traditional shifting cultivation methods (as practiced in rural uplands) and have been implicated in deforestation and land exploitation in remote regions,” they note. Without proper drainage systems, these roads can destabilize hillside and soil erosion, degrading water quality, aquatic habitats, and agricultural productivity.
02 Jul 2012:
African Savannas May Shift
To Forest as CO2 Levels Rise, Study Says
Large areas of African savanna may slowly transform into forest ecosystems by the end of the century
as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide continue to rise, a new study says. While earlier studies have suggested that rising CO2 “fertilization” will not trigger global vegetation shifts, researchers from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University Frankfurt say that savanna ecosystems may actually be vulnerable to relatively quick “regime shifts” as plants and trees struggle for ecosystem dominance. According to their findings, savanna trees “were essentially CO2 starved under pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, and… their growth really starts taking off at the CO2 concentrations we are currently experiencing,” said Steven Higgins, lead author of the study published in Nature
. According to their projections, small changes in the factors that regulate the ecosystem could potentially trigger a cascade of events that reinforce each other, causing the system to change even more rapidly.
29 Jun 2012:
Recent Policies May Undermine
Brazil’s Green Progress, Scientists Say
Recent policies enacted by the Brazilian government — including changes to its Forest Code and a push to build 30 new dams in the Amazon region — threaten to undermine critical environmental progress made by the nation over the last two decades, scientists say. In a declaration
published after its annual meeting in Bonito, Brazil, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
(ATBC) stated that government policies to reduce deforestation and protect indigenous lands had made Brazil a global conservation model over the last two decades. “But recent developments raise concerns,” said John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian Institution who is executive director of the ATBC. The group cited recent changes to Brazil’s forest protection laws that they say favor agribusiness and will likely increase deforestation in the Amazon, as well as numerous large-scale dam projects
that will interfere with critical fish migration routes and flood vast areas of rainforest and indigenous communities.
26 Jun 2012:
Forests in Southwest U.S.
Fail to Regenerate After Fires, Study Says
Mountain forests scorched by wildfires in the southwestern U.S. in recent years have failed to regenerate as forest ecosystems because of rising temperatures, decreased precipitation, and human intervention, according to a U.S. researcher
. Speaking at an environmental conference this week in Colorado, Craig Allen, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, described how since the mid-1990s the Southwest’s alpine forests have increasingly been replaced by grasslands and shrublands following fires, The New York Times
reports. While southwestern fires in the distant past typically remained close to the forest floor — a natural cycle that prevented the overcrowding of trees — a combination of cattle devouring grassy surface vegetation, new government policies to prevent fires, and a drier climate have significantly altered this ecosystem. As a result, Allen said, forest fires now climb to the top of the canopy and the species that live in mountainous areas, including ponderosa pines and juniper, cannot regenerate as temperatures climb and precipitation decreases. “These forests did not evolve with this type of fire,” Allen said.
22 Jun 2012:
Rio+20 Summit Ends, With
Little Faith Seen in Government Solutions
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro promised an era of aggressive action on biodiversity loss and global warming, the United Nations Rio+20 sustainability summit ended Friday with recriminations and a growing sense that international institutions will play an increasingly diminished role in solving environmental problems.
World leaders — with the notable absence of the heads of the U.S., U.K, Germany, and Russia — approved an agreement that lacked specifics, commitments, and measurable targets on how to promote sustainable economic development. Numerous conservationists and officials said that cities, local governments, the private sector, and environmental groups will now have to play the key role in fostering sustainable economic growth, slowing climate change, and preserving biodiversity. “The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of world leaders,” said Lasse Gustavson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
19 Jun 2012:
Being Killed at Alarming Rate, Report Says
At least one person is killed per week in disputes over environmental protection or land rights as the competition for natural resources globally becomes increasingly violent, according to a new report
. In a survey of incidents worldwide, the group Global Witness estimated that 711 environmental activists, journalists or community members have been killed during the last decade over disputes involving land and forest rights. In 2011 alone, the number was 106, which was twice the number of killings in 2009. The report's authors say it provides a stark reminder of a “hidden crisis” and highlights a culture of impunity and a lack of oversight in many countries. The greatest number of killings reportedly occurred in Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines and Peru. “It is a well-known paradox that many of the world's poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy,” the report said
. “Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.”
Interview: Looking for Solutions
In the Fight to Preserve Biodiversity
For decades, conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy has repeatedly warned — sometimes in dire terms — about the loss of biodiversity. But Lovejoy, who last month was awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize
, remains an
optimist. “There is no point in being unduly pessimistic, because that just guarantees all the bad things will happen,” says Lovejoy, who received the environmental prize at the Rio+20 summit. Credited with introducing the term “biological diversity” to the scientific community, Lovejoy has spent his career promoting it, with stints at the Smithsonian Institution and the World Wildlife Fund. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lovejoy, who now teaches at George Mason University, talked about the multi-pronged threats to biodiversity, from habitat loss to climate change; the potential impact of major dam projects and other development on the Amazon; and why he supports market-based conservation schemes that benefit local residents. Read the interview
12 Jun 2012:
Heating of Forests Releases
Large Amounts of CO2 from Soil, Study Says
An experiment that heated forests in the eastern U.S. by 10 to 20 degrees F led to an increase in the release of carbon dioxide from soils by up to eight times
, according to a new study. When researchers from the University of California, Irvine and other institutions subjected experimental forest plots in Wisconsin and North Carolina to extreme warming, they found that woodland soils released unexpectedly large quantities of CO2, a finding that could have major implications as the world continues to warm. Soil, which takes its rich brown color from large amounts of decaying carbon in leaves and roots, stores twice as much CO2 as the atmosphere, and major releases of CO2 from soils could cause temperatures to rise significantly, the researchers said. “This suggests that soils could accelerate global warming through a vicious cycle in which human-made warming releases carbon from soils to the atmosphere, which, in turn, would warm the planet more,” said lead researcher Francesca Hopkins.
04 Jun 2012:
Rapid Greening of Tundra
Discovered in Large Area of West Siberia
Across a large area of western Siberia, shrubs are rapidly growing into trees more than six feet tall
, a process that is expected to further increase temperatures in this rapidly warming part of the Arctic, according to a new study. Relying on satellite images and fieldwork, scientists from Oxford University and Finland found that in 8 to 15 percent of a 36,000-square-mile region in western Siberia, willow and alder shrubs had turned into trees over the last 30 to 40 years as temperatures have climbed. Oxford scientists said their research showed that the growth of shrubs could be an even more important factor in the greening of the tundra than the migration of trees northward from the boreal forest. The rapid growth of trees is expected to further warm the Arctic for two reasons. In the Arctic spring and autumn, shrubs are often buried under snow, but trees grow above the snow, their dark surfaces absorbing sunlight. In addition, trees create a microclimate that traps heat. “The speed and magnitude of the observed change is far greater than we expected,” said Bruce Forbes of the University of Lapland and co-author of the paper, which was published in Nature Climate Change
29 May 2012:
Revised Brazilian Forest Code
Puts Amazon Forests at Risk, Critics Warn
Although Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed several controversial changes to the nation’s Forest Code last week, environmental advocates say the final legislation unveiled Monday remains heavily influenced by the powerful agribusiness lobby
and will result in widespread deforestation in the Amazon. If ratified by Congress, revisions to Brazil’s land-use laws approved by Rousseff would reduce the amount of forest that property owners must preserve and cut future penalties for those who violate environmental laws. The revised legislation preserves the requirement that landowners protect 80 percent of forest in rural regions of the Amazon, but eases restrictions and sanctions
on landowners who break the law. Forest loss in Brazil has declined in the last decade because of stricter government laws, but those policies have met with increased resistance as the country has enjoyed growing wealth from some if its key commodities, including soybeans and beef. And while Rousseff enjoys popularity with the Brazilian public, analysts say, her ability to challenge the powerful agricultural interests were limited since her party holds just 15 percent of the seats in a divided Congress.
25 May 2012:
Brazilian President Vetoes
Controversial Changes to Forest Code
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has vetoed critical revisions to the nation’s Forest Code
that environmental advocates said would lead to rampant deforestation of the Amazon. Speaking to reporters, government officials said Rousseff had vetoed vetoed 12 of the 84 articles
in the controversial land-use legislation that was passed by the Brazilian congress last month, including provisions that would grant partial amnesty to landowners who illegally cleared forests and would reduce the size of forested buffer zones along rivers. Those revisions had been seen as a key victory for Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby. Today, however, Environmental Secretary Izabella Teixeira said the proposed changes posed threats to ecosystem preservation and sustainable agriculture production. Opponents had contended the legislation would create loopholes that would enable landowners to clear significantly more forest, require them to restore only half as much forest as mandated under existing laws, and send a dangerous message about Brazil's commitment to forest preservation. The presidential veto comes just two weeks before global leaders descend on Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20.
23 May 2012:
Papuans Paid a Pittance
For Palm Oil Land, Investigation Says
A major palm oil company has paid indigenous residents of Indonesian Papua $0.65 per hectare for forested land that will be worth $5,000 a hectare once cultivated
, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). The EIA said that Moi
Palm oil concession in Klawana, Sorong
indigenous landowners agreed to the land sale — at a price 7,000 times less than the land will eventually be worth — after pressure from company representatives and local officials and after being told they would receive new housing and free education for their children. But the Moi said these promises were never kept
, and that only a few children were offered the chance to study at a polytechnic school in Java for three years — and only under the condition that the students return and work for seven years for the palm oil company, PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP). The Noble Group, a global commodities trading giant, has a majority stake in PT HIP. The Norwegian government, which has been funding programs to reduce deforestation, has invested nearly $50 million in Noble Group through Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, EIA says.
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.
15 May 2012:
U.S. Companies Use Steel Linked
To Amazon Destruction, Greenpeace Finds
U.S. car makers such as General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are purchasing steel made from pig iron that is smelted using large amounts of illegally logged timber from the Amazon rainforest
, according to a two-year investigation by Greenpeace
. The environmental group also said that the pig iron smelting, fueled by charcoal produced from tropical forest trees, has resulted in virtual slave labor and illegal logging of indigenous lands in northeastern Brazil. The Greenpeace investigation said that Brazil’s Carajas region — where three-quarters of the forests have been cleared, mainly for charcoal production — is home to 43 blast furnaces used by 18 different companies. Two of the major companies, Viena and Sidepar, sell pig iron to a U.S. steel mill operated by Severstal, Greenpeace said. That mill sells steel to General Motors, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes, according to Greenpeace. As illegal charcoal operations have decimated the forests in Carajas, loggers have entered conservation areas belonging to indigenous tribes, who have lost 30 percent of their lands to illegal loggers, Greenpeace said.
14 May 2012:
Various Uses of Wood
Determine Emissions from Deforestation
The volume of greenhouse gases released when a forest is cleared depends on how how the trees are used and in which part of the world the trees are grown
, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis. Analyzing how 160 countries use wood from cleared forests, the researchers found that if the wood is generally used to create solid wood products, such as timber for housing, up to 62 percent of the carbon in the trees remains in storage. Temperate forests in the U.S., Canada, and Europe are cleared primarily for use in such products. But the study found that wood from tropical forests in places like Brazil and Indonesia is generally used in paper, pulp, and bioenergy production, and such uses lead to an almost complete release of the carbon stored in trees. Reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the researchers said that early studies assumed that most of the carbon stored in trees was released once they were felled. The new study, however, gives a more nuanced picture of carbon releases from deforestation.
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.”
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.
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.