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.
26 Apr 2012:
Borneo Oil Palm Plantations
Threaten Surge in Emissions, Study Says
A new study warns that the continued expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations in Indonesian Borneo, particularly on the island’s peatlands, will became a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions
without stricter forest protections. According to researchers from Yale and Stanford universities, about two-thirds of unprotected lands in the Ketapang District of West Kalimantan are now leased to agribusinesses. If those lands are converted to oil palm plantations at current expansion rates, palm stands will cover more than one-third of regional lands by 2020, and intact forests will decrease to about 5 percent, compared with 15 percent in 2008. In addition, researchers found that about half of oil palm development through last year occurred on peatlands, a process that involves draining and burning of peat soils — a major source of CO2 emissions. According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, if current trends persist, about 90 percent of emissions associated with oil palm development will come from peatlands by 2020.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
15 Mar 2012:
Unusual Pine Beetle Breeding
Could Explain Tree Epidemic, Study Says
A new study has found that some populations of mountain pine beetles are producing two generations of tree-killing offspring each year
, a phenomenon that may help explain the scale of damage being done to vast tracts of lodgepole and ponderosa pines across western North America. After observing beetle behavior during the summer months, scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder, were surprised to see that some beetles that had been hatched just two months earlier were already attacking trees. Typically the mountain pine beetles spend a winter as larvae within the trees before emerging as adults the following summer. According to the researchers, this extra generation could produce 60 times as many beetles devouring trees in a given year. Since the late-1990s, oubreaks of the mountain pine beetles — linked to warmer winters
— have devastated more than 70,000 square miles of forest in western Canada and the U.S., the largest known outbreak in history. “This thing is immense,” said Jeffry Mitton, a CU-Boulder professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and lead author of the study published in The American Naturalist
02 Mar 2012:
Some Scandinavian Conifers
Survived the Last Ice Age, Study Says
A new study has found that some Scandinavian conifers were able to survive the harsh conditions of the last Ice Age
, a finding that upends the long-held view that the region’s landscape was wiped clean by a massive blanket of ice. While scientists have long believed contemporary
University of Copenhagen
A Scandinavian pine
Scandinavian forests were populated by tree species that migrated from eastern and southern Europe after temperatures warmed, DNA evidence suggests some species of spruce and pine found refuge for tens of thousands of years. Indeed, the modern forests are comprised of “original” and “introduced” species, the researchers say. According to their study, published in the journal Science
, some tree species may have survived on Andøya Island, located in northwestern Norway, which was ice-free during the last Ice Age. They may also have found refuge in other more hospitable locations, such as atop nunataks — the exposed mountain peaks that protruded from glacial cover — or in more temperate zones along the Atlantic coast. These “original” species were then able to spread once the ice retreated, said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen.
‘Unprecedented’ Elephant Massacre
Continues in Cameroon Park
Poachers in pursuit of ivory have killed nearly 500 elephants inside a Cameroon national park in the last six weeks, a highly organized slaughter that appears to be one of the worst elephant massacres in recent memory.
An elephant killed at Bouba Ndjida National Park.
Officials at Bouba Ndjida National Park, located in northern Cameroon near the Chad border, said 458 elephant carcasses have been identified, but that number “may be an underestimate.” Bas Huijbregts, regional field program manager for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon, says that although the official number of dead elephants in the park is still unclear, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the last six weeks that maybe more than half of the overall savannah elephant population in Cameroon has been killed.” The European Union has called for the Cameroon government to intervene, but so far no effective intervention appears to be occurring. Read more
24 Feb 2012:
Conservationists Launch Drone
To Monitor Forest Loss and Wildlife
A coalition of scientists and environmental advocacy groups has developed a camera-equipped drone they say could become a key conservation tool for monitoring
forest loss and endangered wildlife. The coalition — which includes The Orangutan Conservancy, the Denver Zoo, and two Swiss scientists — has already deployed a remote-control drone to map deforestation and count orangutans in the remote forests of North Sumatra in Indonesia, according to a report in Mongabay
. The drone, which was developed by ecologist Lian Pin Koh at ETH Zürich, is able to travel a pre-programmed flight route and take aerial photos and video footage. During 30 flights so far, it has collected hundreds of photos and hours of video, including images of oil palm plantings along the edge of a river.
21 Feb 2012:
Volcanic Rock Reveals
Composition of Ancient Forest
U.S. scientists say they were able to reconstruct an ancient tropical forest
, including long-extinct plant species, using fossil remains trapped beneath the ash of a volcanic eruption that occurred about 300 million years
ago in northern China. While palaeoecologists typically can only infer the density and composition of ancient forest ecosystems, researchers say the volcanic ash from the ancient eruption preserved the woodland in situ
, a sort of “forest Pompeii” that has revealed a “coal-forming swamp in its prime.” In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, researchers from several U.S. universities describe a teeming peat forest ecosystem consisting of six plant groups, including trees resembling feather dusters, vines, and three species of a group known as Noeggerathiales — small, spore-bearing trees that may have been relatives of early ferns. “Many of these plant groups we knew from other places, but we had no idea that they actually grew together,” said Robert Gastaldo, a palaeobotanist at Colby College in Maine and a co-author of the study.
17 Feb 2012:
Large Area of New Guinea
Stripped of Protection for Agribusiness
More than 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) of land in Indonesian New Guinea — including 350,000 hectares of carbon-storing peatland — was stripped of its protected status
to facilitate the expansion of a
government-based agribusiness project, according to a new report. In an analysis of revisions to Indonesia’s moratorium
on new forest concessions — including a comparison of maps from when the moratorium was published in May 2011 and after revisions were adopted in November 2011 — the Jakarta-based NGO Greenomics-Indonesia found that 406,718 hectares of previously protected land have been excised for use by The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), a massive agricultural project in southwestern New Guinea. While government officials say the project will ensure the nation’s food and energy security, critics say the revised moratorium will mostly benefit agribusiness developers.
10 Feb 2012:
Early Humans Played Role in
Central African Deforestation, Study Says
A new study says that the activities of early humans — and not simply a dramatic shift in climate — played a significant role in transforming the ancient rainforests of Central Africa into savanna
. In an analysis of sediment cores taken from the mouth of the Congo River, a team of scientists found evidence that weathering of clay sediment samples, which had been consistent for thousands of years, intensified abruptly about 3,000 years ago, indicating a significant increase in deforestation. According to their study, published online in Science
, this shift coincided with the arrival of Bantu-speaking farmers from present-day Nigeria and Cameroon. While this forest disturbance was likely triggered by prolonged dry spells that destroyed rainforest, as previous research has concluded, the Science
study indicates that climate change was exacerbated by human land use, including the clearing of forests for farming and iron-smelting. Germain Bayon, of the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea and lead author of the study, said the findings illustrate how a combination of climate and human activity can affect the environment. “Humans can have a huge impact on natural processes,” he said.