Natural Filters: Mussels Deployed
To Clean Up Polluted Waterways
When rivers and streams become polluted, one of the first casualties is often freshwater mussels, which effectively filter
An Eastern elliptio mussel
out pollutants but can also be overcome by them. As a result, freshwater mussel populations worldwide have steadily dwindled. Now, however, conservationists and scientists in the U.S. and Europe are working to re-establish declining or endangered freshwater mussel populations so these mollusks can use their natural filtration abilities to clean up excess nutrients and runoff in waterways. One such program has been established on the U.S.’s Delaware River, where environmentalists and biologists are re-seeding mussel populations in the more polluted sections of the river and in tributary streams.
Read the article.
26 Mar 2015:
Pollution May Trigger Heath
Problems in Deep-Water Fish, Study Says
Fish living in deep waters near continental slopes have tumors, liver pathologies, and other health problems that may be
Microscopic abnormality in a black scabbardfish liver.
linked to human-generated pollution, researchers report
in the journal Marine Environmental Research
. They also describe the first case of a deep-water fish species with an “intersex” condition — a blend of male and female sex organs. In the study, which looked at fish in the Bay of Biscay west of France, researchers found a wide range of degenerative and inflammatory lesions in fish living along the continental slope, which can act as a sink for heavy metal contaminants and organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. The fish that live in these deep waters are often extremely long-lived — some can be 100 years old — which allows them to bioaccumulate such contaminants. However, linking the fishes' physiological changes to pollution is preliminary at this time, the researchers said.
24 Mar 2015:
Extreme Forest Fragmentation
Documented in Comprehensive New Study
Fragmentation of the world’s forests has become so severe
that 70 percent of remaining woodlands are now within 1 kilometer of a road or other form of development, according to a new study
. Using the world’s first high-resolution satellite map of tree cover, as well as an analysis of seven long-term fragmentation studies, researchers showed that the ongoing destruction of global forests is decreasing biodiversity by as much as 75 percent in some areas and adversely affecting the ability of forests to store carbon and produce clean water. The study, published in the journal Science Advances
, found that 20 percent of the world’s forests are just 100 meters from a human-created “edge.” Even many parks and protected areas have undergone fragmentation, the study said. The few remaining large, virgin tracts of forest are found in parts of the Amazon, Siberia, Congo
, and Papua New Guinea.
Back from the Brink: Success Stories
Of the U.S. Endangered Species Act
A small minnow known as the Oregon chub
recently became the 29th species to recover after being listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the first fish to ever join those ranks. The Endangered Species Act
, signed into law in 1973, is widely considered one of the most important pieces of U.S. environmental legislation ever enacted. This e360
photo gallery highlights the 21 species
native to the United States, including the bald eagle (above), that have made recoveries strong enough to be removed from the endangered list.
Read more | View gallery of recovered species
13 Mar 2015:
Obama Administration Doubles
Size of Key California Marine Sanctuaries
The Obama administration yesterday expanded protections for two major marine sanctuaries off the coast of San Francisco,
Sea stars on the shores of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
California — the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries — doubling their extent
to create a protected area the size of Connecticut. The sanctuaries encompass a wide array of habitats, including estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean, and shallow marine banks, as well as areas of major upwelling where nutrients come to the surface and support a vast array of marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The expansion comes after more than a decade of of community action, scientific research, and political effort. Although it was nearly unanimously supported by San Francisco Bay Area residents, the expansion faced strong opposition
from the oil and gas industry, which will now be barred from drilling in the region.
09 Mar 2015:
Blue Crabs Are Moving Into
Gulf of Maine's Warming Waters, Study Says
Blue crabs have become the first documented commercially important species to move into the Gulf of Maine
Blue crab caught 80 miles north of its historic range.
a migration that may be driven by climate change, according to ecologist David Johnson of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Although the historic northern limit of the blue crab is Cape Cod, Massachusetts, scientists and resource managers have observed blue crabs as far north as northern Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada. Johnson says that warmer ocean temperatures in 2012 and 2013, which were 1.3 degrees C higher than the previous decade's average, allowed the crabs to move north. In the 1950s, blue crabs were observed in the gulf during a time of warmer waters, Johnson notes in the Journal of Crustacean Biology
, but once the gulf returned to average temperatures, the crabs disappeared. He added that "recent observations of blue crabs may be a crystal ball into the future ecology of the Gulf of Maine."
Interview: What Lies Behind the
Surge of Deforestation in Amazon
Ecologist Philip Fearnside has lived and worked in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years and is one of the foremost authorities on
deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest. A professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, Fearnside is now watching with alarm as, after a decade of declining deforestation rates, the pace of cutting in the Amazon is on the rise again. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Fearnside explains the factors behind the resurgence in deforestation and warns that the Amazon will sustain even graver losses if Brazil’s newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff — who is backed by large landowners and agribusiness interests — doesn’t change course.
Read the interview.
04 Mar 2015:
Hurricanes Help Spread
Invasive Marine Species, Researchers Find
Hurricanes can accelerate the spread of invasive marine species — in particular the lionfish, a hardy invader that
An adult lionfish
can overrun ecosystems and devastate native biodiversity — according to research
published in the journal Global Change Biology
. Researchers found that hurricanes, by forcing changes in strong ocean currents, have helped lionfish spread from the Florida Straits to the Bahamas since 1992, increasing the spread of the species by 45 percent and their population size by 15 percent. Normally the currents pose a barrier to the transport of lionfish eggs and larvae, the researchers say, but as a hurricane passes, the current shifts and carries lionfish larvae and eggs from Florida to the Bahamas. Scientists say climate change may increase the frequency or intensity of future storms, which could further accelerate the spread of marine invasives.
02 Mar 2015:
Emperor Penguins Had Few
Refuges During Last Ice Age, Study Finds
The Ross Sea and certain other Antarctic waters likely served as refuges for the three emperor penguin populations that
survived during the last ice age, when large amounts of ice made much of the rest of Antarctica uninhabitable, according to a new study
published in the journal Global Change Biology
. The findings suggest that extreme climatic conditions on the continent during the past 30,000 years created an evolutionary "bottleneck" that is evident in the genetic material of modern-day emperor penguins, a species known for its ability to thrive in icy habitats. But during the last ice age, the Antarctic likely had twice as much sea ice, the researchers say, leaving only a few locations for the penguins to breed — distances from the open ocean (where the penguins feed) to the stable sea ice (where they breed) were too great. The three populations that did manage to survive may have done so by breeding near areas of ocean that are kept free of sea ice by wind and currents, the researchers suggest.
25 Feb 2015:
Global Pesticide Map Shows
Large Areas of High Water Pollution Risk
Streams across roughly 40 percent of the planet's land area are at risk of pollution from pesticides, according to
Risk for pesticide pollution
published in the journal Environmental Pollution
. Surface waters in the Mediterranean region, the United States, Central America, and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk, according to the study, which produced the first global map of pesticide pollution risk. Taking into account weather data, terrain, pesticide application rates, and land use patterns, the map shows that the risk of pesticide pollution is relatively low in Canada and northern Europe but increases closer to the Equator. More areas are likely to face high pesticide pollution risk as global population grows and the climate warms, the researchers say, because agricultural activity and crop pests will both intensify, likely requiring even higher rates of pesticide use.
24 Feb 2015:
New Map Shows Background
Noise Levels Across the United States
A new map by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) shows America's quietest and noisiest places. The park service
mapped background noise levels across the country on an average summer day using 1.5 million hours of acoustical data. The quietest areas of the country, such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, are shown in deep blue on this map and are likely as quiet now as they were before European colonization, NPS researchers say. They are collecting the data as part of an effort to determine whether and how wild animals are affected by anthropogenic noise pollution. Owls and bats, for example, rely on hearing faint rustles from insects and rodents, and scientists think human-driven noise could be drowning out those subtle signals in many areas of the country.
18 Feb 2015:
Disease-Carrying Ticks Expand
Range and Emerge Earlier in Warmer Climate
Warmer spring temperatures in the northeastern U.S. are leading to shifts in the emergence of ticks that carry Lyme
Adult blacklegged tick
disease, and milder weather is allowing ticks to spread into new geographic regions, according to findings published
this week. The data — which span 19 years and include observations of more than 447,000 ticks — show that the insects emerged nearly three weeks earlier in warmer years. And when fall temperatures were mild, a smaller percentage of larval ticks entered dormancy and waited until spring to feed, the study found. "Here in the Northeast, warming is already having an effect, and people need to be tick-vigilant before May, as potentially infected nymphal ticks are searching for their blood meals earlier and earlier," said co-author Richard S. Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute.
Interview: Why Ocean Health Is
Better, and Worse, Than You Think
In a recent groundbreaking study in Science
, a group of marine experts — including lead author Douglas
McCauley — delivered a sobering message: The world’s oceans are on the verge of major change that could cause irreparable damage to marine life. While ocean ecosystems are still largely intact, the marine world is facing unprecedented disturbances, including ocean acidification and habitat destruction from deep-sea mining, oil and gas drilling, development, and aquaculture. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, McCauley discusses the parallels of the loss of wildlife on land and at sea and explains why creating marine reserves and establishing international ocean zoning regulations would help blunt the damage from a looming “marine industrial revolution.”
Read the interview.
12 Feb 2015:
Mange in Yellowstone Wolves
Documented Through Thermal Images
Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey are using thermal video cameras to study how mange is affecting
Thermal image of a wolf with mange on its legs.
wolves in Yellowstone National Park, as shown in this video
. Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by mites that burrow into the skin of dogs and wolves, causing infections, hair loss, irritation, and intense itching. The urge to scratch can be so overwhelming that the wolves neglect resting and hunting, researchers say
, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition, and dehydration, which can eventually lead to death. Thermal imagery allows scientists to document the extent of hair loss and the actual loss of heat associated with different stages of infection. Red patches on a wolf's legs, as shown in this image, indicate rapid heat loss caused by mange.
As Arctic Ocean Ice Vanishes,
Questions About Future Fishing
With the steady retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean opening up vast areas of this long-frozen marine basin, a key resource
A Russian fishing vessel trawls the Arctic Ocean.
issue is now emerging: the future of fisheries, especially in central Arctic waters. What species are migrating into the region as sea ice disappears? And could the heart of the Arctic Ocean sustain a commercial fishery in the coming decades? These issues were central to a discussion at a recent conference on the fisheries of the central Arctic Ocean. With more southerly fish species migrating into warmer and increasingly ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean, officials from the U.S. and Canada say it’s important to negotiate an international agreement on fishing before allowing fisheries to open.
Read the article.
06 Feb 2015:
Maine’s Iconic Lobsters
Face Threats From Ocean Acidification
Maine’s lobster fishery, worth $1.7 billion
to the state and a vital source of employment, could be
threatened by acidifying ocean waters
A Maine lobster
and rising sea temperatures, according to a new report. The report
, issued by a state commission, called increasingly acidic ocean waters — caused by the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere — an “urgent matter” that needs to be addressed by state and local governments and the fishing infustry. Facing the prospect that increasing acidity could interfere with the ability of lobsters to make their shells, the commission set forth a handful of goals, including a stepped-up research effort on the acidification of the coast’s waters and its impact on crustaceans. Maine lawmakers have already introduced legislation for limits on industrial and agricultural runoff, which contribute to coastal water acidification.
04 Feb 2015:
Plant-Like Sea Slug Can Steal
Genes From its Food, Researchers Report
The emerald green, leaf-shaped sea slug known as Elysia chlorotica
can live for months at a time by
photosynthesizing its own food, like a plant does, but until recently scientists did not understand how the slug acquired and maintained this rare ability. A recent report in the journal The Biological Bulletin
shows that the slug steals genes and chloroplasts
— the cellular machinery that converts sunlight into food — from algae that the slug eats. Genes lifted from the algae can maintain cholorplasts in the slug for up to nine months, the researchers say — much longer than the chloroplasts would last in the algae themselves. Moreover, the slug can pass on those stolen genes to its offspring. The process is a mechanism of rapid evolution, says one of the study's authors.
28 Jan 2015:
Camera Trap Records Rare
Glimpse of African Golden Cat Hunting
An African golden cat, one of the least known and most elusive wild cats on the planet, has been filmed hunting in
African golden cat
Kibale National Park, Uganda, for the first time, scientists say. In the video
, which was recorded by a camera trap, an African golden cat darts toward a group of red colobus monkeys feeding on a tree stump. The cat's attack is nearly too fast to be seen in real-time, but viewing the footage in slow-motion highlights the cat's swiftness and accuracy — even though its ambush failed to land a meal. The African golden cat is found only in the forests of central and West Africa, and it is threatened across its range by intensive bushmeat hunting and habitat loss. Researchers say the video provides important details about the African golden cats' hunting behavior that have never before been directly observed.
27 Jan 2015:
Pollinator Loss Could Put
Poor Nations at Risk for Malnutrition
Declining pollinator populations could leave as many as half of the people in developing countries facing nutritional deficiencies, according to
researchers from the University of Vermont and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study — the first to link pollinator declines directly to human nutrition — researchers collected detailed data about people's daily diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, and Bangladesh. They found that in Mozambique, for example, many children and mothers are barely able to meet their needs for micronutrients, especially vitamin A, which is important for preventing blindness and infectious diseases. Fruits and vegetables were an important source of that nutrient for many people in the study, and those crops are highly dependent on pollinators, researchers say — for example, yields of mangoes, which are high in vitamin A, would likely be cut by 65 percent without them. Pollinator losses might also lead to folate deficiency, they say, which is associated with neural tube defects.
23 Jan 2015:
South Africa Relocates Rhinos
After Record Number Were Poached in 2014
Unable to curb poaching of rhinos within its borders, the South African government has relocated 100 rhinos
A white rhino in Kruger National Park.
in an effort to stem the illegal slaughter of the animals, Reuters reports. For security reasons, officials did not reveal to which countries the rhinos had been relocated. An additional 56 rhinos were moved from poaching hotspots within South Africa's Kruger National Park — where two-thirds of the killings happen — to an "intensive protection zone" within Kruger, officials said. Poachers killed a record number of the animals in South Africa last year — 1,215 rhinos, up 20 percent from the 2013 total — and 49 have been killed so far this year. The animals are hunted intensely because their horns, which some Asian cultures incorrectly believe contain medicinal properties, are worth an estimated $65,000 per kilogram on the black market.
21 Jan 2015:
Filtering Polluted Stormwater
Through Soil Can Protect Salmon, Study Says
Filtering polluted runoff from urban areas through a simple soil mixture dramatically reduced the water's toxic metal and
A pair of coho salmon.
hydrocarbon content and made it safe for coho salmon and the insects they eat, according to new research
. Scientists collected polluted runoff from a four-lane highway in Seattle, then filtered part of the water through a mixture of sand, compost, and shredded bark. Coho salmon and aquatic insects thrived in the filtered stormwater, but they quickly died in the unfiltered water, researchers reported in the journal Chemosphere
. Chemical analyses showed that filtering the water through the soil mixture reduced toxic metals by 30 to 99 percent, polyaromatic hydrocarbons to levels at or below detection, and organic matter by more than 40 percent. The research supports the use of rain gardens and other natural stormwater filtration systems, the authors say.
20 Jan 2015:
Genetic Diversity Is Key To
Food Stability in Changing Climate, UN Says
As climate change advances, much more should be done to study, preserve, and take advantage of the biological diversity
Wild red rice is hardier than cultivated varieties.
underpinning world food production, according to
a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Between 16 and 22 percent of current crop species — including 61 percent of peanut and 12 percent of potato species — could become extinct in the next 50 years, the report notes. Wild strains, which are often better at adapting to environmental changes, will become increasingly important
for feeding the global population, which is expected to grow by 3 billion people by 2050, the report says. Strengthening gene and seed banks, improving breeding practices, increasing genetic diversity on farms and in fields, and preserving soil microbiomes
will be key to boosting crops' climate resilience, the FAO said.
Interview: How Chinese Tiger Farms
Threaten Wild Tigers Worldwide
The number of tigers living in the wild has dropped to the shockingly low figure of 3,200, down from 100,000 a century ago.
But nearly as shocking is this statistic: An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being legally farmed today in China, their bones steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their meat sold, and their skins turned into rugs for members of China’s wealthy elite. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, wildlife activist Judith Mills makes a passionate case against tiger farming, explaining how these magnificent creatures are bred like cattle for their body parts, how some conservation groups have chosen not to confront the Chinese government about the farms, and how tiger farming poses a direct threat to the world’s remaining wild tigers because increased availability of these bones and pelts fuels demand that strengthens the incentive to poach wild tigers.
Read the interview.
Interview: Giving Local Women
A Voice in Grass-Roots Conservation
The roles of women in traditional societies can be quite different from men’s, and their knowledge of the
natural world and the way in which conservation projects affect them may also be different. But these variables aren’t necessarily taken into account when developing such projects. The results can range from missed opportunities to project failure. Earlier this year, Conservation International began piloting guidelines to help integrate gender considerations into its community projects — an initiative that Kame Westerman, the "gender advisor" for that organization, helped develop. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Westerman discusses these guidelines, as well as the perils of ignoring gender when planning conservation initiatives.
07 Jan 2015:
Federal Judge Halts Hunting
And Trapping of Great Lakes Gray Wolves
A federal judge has stopped
the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Upper Midwest,
following their removal from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2012 by the Obama administration. In the ruling, which affects gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the so-called Great Lakes wolf population — the judge called the delisting of the wolves “arbitrary and capricious” and said it violated the Endangered Species Act
. The order came roughly three years after federal protections for the wolves were dropped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, the states have each held hunting seasons, resulting in 923 gray wolves killed in Minnesota, 654 in Wisconsin, and 22 in Michigan for a total of 1,599 killed. Researchers estimate that roughly 3,700 gray wolves live in the Great Lakes region.
06 Jan 2015:
Penguin Watch Projects Asks
Citizen Scientists to Monitor Birds' Habits
, a citizen science project launched by researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K., is enlisting the
Group of Gentoo penguins
public's help in counting penguins in some 175,000 photos from locations across the Southern Hemisphere. Researchers are monitoring five penguin species — Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Rockhopper, and King penguins — and recording information on the number of adults, chicks, and eggs, as well as their winter behavior, breeding success, and travel habits. The project is especially useful for monitoring penguins' winter behavior, for example, because it's logistically difficult for the researchers to visit these locations in winter, they say
, and the images are far too numerous for researchers to view on their own. Understanding how the penguins live day-to-day should help shed light on how the penguins will respond to an increasingly volatile climate, the team says.
04 Dec 2014:
Arabian Sea Whales Are Earth's
Most Isolated and Endangered Population
Humpback whales inhabiting the Arabian Sea are the most genetically distinct humpback whales and may be
the most isolated population on earth, researchers report
. With fewer than 100 estimated individuals, they are "definitely the most endangered" population of humpbacks, said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Howard Rosenbaum. The Arabian humpbacks' known range is limited to waters near Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan, and India, and possibly the Maldives and Sri Lanka, researchers say. Genetic data suggest they have remained separate from other humpback whale populations for 70,000 years — extremely unusual in a species famed for annual migrations of 9,000 kilometers or more. The genetic separation is likely reinforced by their breeding schedule, researchers say. While Arabian humpbacks breed on a northern hemisphere schedule, their closest neighbors breed on a southern schedule.
24 Nov 2014:
Record Number of Rhinos Poached In South Africa, Government Says
South African officials have announced that 1,020 rhinos have been killed so far in 2014 — a total that
White rhino in South Africa
surpasses last year’s record slaughter of 1,004 of the endangered animals. Poaching has been on the rise in South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of rhinos, since 2007, when only seven rhinos were killed. The sharp increase is occurring despite steps by the government to improve enforcement and introduce new technologies and intelligence-gathering methods to curb poaching, Mongabay reports
. As of 2010, South Africa was home to more than 18,000 white rhinos — over 90 percent of the global population — and nearly 2,000 black rhinos. The animals are being killed for their horns, which are in high demand in China and Vietnam for their supposed, but unproven, medicinal qualities.
Interview: Bringing Civility and Diversity to Conservation Debate
For the past few years, an acrimonious debate has been ranging between two camps of conservationists. One faction
advocates protecting nature for its intrinsic value. The other claims that if the degradation of the natural world is to be halted, nature’s fundamental value — what nature can do for us
— needs to be stressed. The tone of the rhetoric has led to a petition, published this month in the journal Nature
, that criticizes both sides for indulging in ad hominem attacks and unproductive arguments that have devolved into “increasingly vitriolic, personal battles.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains why she and her co-signatories are calling for a more “inclusive conservation” and why the bickering needs to stop. Read more.
07 Nov 2014:
Organized Chinese Crime Behind Tanzania's Elephant Slaughter, Report Says
Chinese-led criminal organizations have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts
Poached elephant skull in Selous Reserve
of ivory — a trade that has caused half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years — according to a report
by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. In some cases, Chinese military officials appeared to be complicit in the illegal activities, the report says, and in other instances, prominent Tanzanian businessmen and politicians helped protect ivory traffickers. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, and China is the largest importer of smuggled tusks, according to EIA. Tanzania’s famed Selous Reserve saw its elephant population plunge by 67 percent in four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000. Tanzania appears to have lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country, EIA said.