conservation news and environmental science news.
Outbreak may be killing chimps in Guinea - Reuters
(12/03/2006) Endangered chimpanzees are disappearing in the West African country of Guinea according to a report from Reuters.
Chinese river dolphin nearly extinct says official
(12/03/2006) Xinhua, China's state news agency, reported that a 26-day search for the Baiji, or the Yangtze dolphin, found no dolphins. The Baiji is highly threatened by pollution, overfishing, and obstructions like dams.
Single strike killed the dinosaurs says new study
(12/01/2006) A new study argues that "one and only one" meteorite impact -- not multiple impacts as some scientists have suggested -- caused the extinction of dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
Invasive ants use genetic differences to distinguish friend from foe
(12/01/2006) A study led by University of California, San Diego biologists shows that invasive Argentine ants appear to use genetic differences to distinguish friend from foe, a finding that helps to explain why these ants form enormous colonies in California.
Global warming increases flooding in India
(12/01/2006) Extreme rains are becoming more common in India as more moderate rains decline, increasing the risk of flooding, according to a study published in the journal Science. The study, conducted by scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, found that heavy rain events -- one where at least 3.9 inches (100 mm) of rain fell -- are more frequent and severe than they were in 1951. The increase in heavy rains is offset by a decline in moderate rains, leaving overall rainfall levels unchanged overall. However the increase in heavy rain events means catastrophic flooding and landslides are more common said B.N. Goswami, lead author of the research.
Manatee food source threatened by development
(12/01/2006) Seagrass ecosystems are in peril according to an article published in the December issue of the journal Bioscience. The paper says that seagrasses, which provide important ecological services including habitat for aquatic life, mitigation of nutrient and sediment pollution, and reduction of beach erosion, are highly threatened by coastal development, pollution, and agricultural runoff. Further, the paper warns that their degradation could be sign of worsening environmental conditions.
Biodiversity could be explained by theory of oscillations
(12/01/2006) New work on the theory of coupled oscillators may help explain some ecological mysteries including the number and types of species in an ecosystem and possibly extinction, according to a paper published in the December 2006 issue of BioScience.
Clues about origin of life found in meteorite
(12/01/2006) NASA scientists studying a rare type of meteorite have found organic materials that were formed in the early days of the solar system according to a paper published in the December 1 issue of the journal Science. "Organic matter in meteorites is a subject of intense interest because this material formed at the dawn of the Solar System and may have seeded the early Earth with the building blocks of life," explained a media release from the Johnson Space Center. "The Tagish Lake meteorite is especially valuable for this work because much of it was collected immediately after its fall over Canada in 2000 and has been maintained in a frozen state, minimizing terrestrial contamination. The collection and curation of the meteorite samples preserved its pristine state."
Cattle produce more global warming gases than cars
(12/01/2006) Livestock-rearing generates more greenhouse gases than transportation according to a new report from the United Nations (U.N.), which adds that improved production methods could go a long way towards cutting emissions of gases reponsible for global warming. "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems," said Henning Steinfeld, a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official and lead author of the report. "Urgent action is required to remedy the situation."
Private land conservation booms in the United States
(12/01/2006) Private land conservation by local and state land trusts in the United States more than tripled between successive five-year periods from 2000 to 2005 according to a new report from the Land Trust Alliance, a group which represents 1,263 of the country's 1,667 local, state and national land trusts.
To avoid extinction humans must colonize space says Hawking
(11/30/2006) As he was awarded the most prestigious prize in science, British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said that humans need to colonize outer space in order avoid extinction. Hawking, who was presented Thursday with the Copley medal from Britain's Royal Society, told BBC Radio that humanity faces extinction if it confines itself to Earth.
Saved by el Nino! Warm Pacific means fewer hurricanes
(11/30/2006) El Nino's to blame for the quiet 2006 hurricane season according to researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While some climate scientists forecast a big hurricane year in 2006, the official six-month season produced only nine tropical storms and hurricanes, below the average of 11. For the first time since 1997, there were no Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, the strongest type of storm. 2005 saw the worst hurricane season on record with 28 storms including 3 category 5 storms: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Hurricane Katrina caused some $80 billion in damage as it destroyed the city of New Orleans.
Sugar cane plantation threatens rare forest in Uganda
(11/30/2006) A plan to clear a protected forest reserve for sugar cane has sparked controversy in Uganda according to a report from Reuters. Uganda-based Mehta Group, owner of a sugar plantation that borders Mabira forest, a nature reserve since 1932, asked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to consider a proposal that would level about 7,000 hectares, or about a quarter of the reserve which is home to 312 species of tree, 287 species of bird and 199 species of butterfly.
How many whales are enough?
(11/30/2006) Iceland's decision to resume hunting endangered fin whales raises an important question: how many whales are enough to sustain a population? While conservionists will debate over the actual number using varying models and population studies, a new paper published in the journal Bioscience attempts to establish a new system for setting population targets for threatened species.
EU toughens rules on global warming
(11/29/2006) Wednesday the European Commission demanded stricter limits on climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions for the 2008-2012 period. According to a report from Reuters, only Britain's carbon dioxide cap was accepted by the commission, though other EU governments can challenge the Commission's ruling in court. Germany vocally objected to the decision with German Minister of the Economy Michael Glos calling it 'totally unacceptable.' France, Lithuania, and Slovakia also objected according to reports.
Supreme Court to decide on global warming issue
(11/29/2006) America's highest court will decide whether the U.S. government should regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The case, known as Massachusetts v. EPA pits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency charged with protecting the environment, with the auto and power industries and 10 states against a dozen mostly northeastern and western states and 13 environmental organizations. The EPA opposes regulation of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas scientists say contributes to global warming, arguing that CO2 is a naturally occurring gas that does not fit the U.S. Clean Air Act's definition of a pollutant.
Efficiency improvements could cut global energy demand significantly
(11/29/2006) Growth in global energy consumption could be reduced by more than two-thirds over the next 15 years through energy efficiency efforts according to a study released Wednesday by the McKinsey Global Institute.
Rainforest tree diversity may be tied to seed dispersal
(11/29/2006) A new study says tree distribution in the rainforest is highly dependent on species' method of seed dispersal. The research could help explain how a large number of rainforest trees can coexist in a small area.
Ancient fish had bite like Tyrannosaurus rex
(11/29/2006) 400-million years ago a 33-foot long, 4-ton fish terrorized the oceans with jaws that rivaled those of Tyrannosaurus rex, according to research published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters on November 29.
Canopy research is key to understanding rainforests
(11/28/2006) Home to perhaps half the world's terrestrial species, rainforests are the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. However, when one strolls through the forest, this biodiversity is rarely apparent for the simple reason that most activity in the rainforest occurs in the canopy, a layer of overlapping branches and leaves some 60-120 feet off the ground. Here, a wealth of ecological niches creates opportunities for plants and animals, including species generally considered to be ground-dwellers: crabs, kangaroos, and even earthworms. Beyond housing biodiversity, the canopy is the power source of the rainforest, with billions of tree leaves acting as miniature solar panels to convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. Since the rate of photosynthesis of canopy trees is so high, these plants generate higher yields of fruits, seeds, flowers, and leaves which attract and support a wide diversity of animal life. Further, as the principal site of the interchange of heat, water vapor, and atmospheric gases, the canopy also plays an important role in regulating regional and global climate.
Growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions doubles since 1990s
(11/28/2006) The growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions has more than doubled since the close of the 1990s as countries have failed to reign in use of fossil fuels, says a new report from the Global Carbon Project, a group involved in scientific research on the impact of carbon on the planet. The finding was announced at the Annual Science Meeting at Tasmania's Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station.
By 2030 AIDS could be leading global cause of illness
(11/28/2006) HIV/AIDS, depression, and ischemic heart disease could be leading causes of illness by 2030 say researchers from the World Health Organization in a new paper published in the journal PLoS Medicine. However the researchers project that fewer children under the age of 5 years will die from disease in coming decades.
AIDS will block Millennium Development Goals for some counties
(11/28/2006) HIV/AIDS will make it difficult, if not impossible, for many countries to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to a new analysis by researchers published to coincide with World AIDS Day on December 1, 2006.
3 new lemur species identified in Madagascar
(11/27/2006) Genetic analysis has revealed three previously unknown species of lemurs on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. The newly described lemurs are all mouse lemurs, one of the world's smallest primates. These lively lemurs are found in virtually all of Madagascar's forests where they feed on insects, fruit, and plant sap. Nocturnal, mouse lemurs betray their presence with high-pitched chirps.
Fragmentation killing species in the Amazon rainforest
(11/27/2006) Forest fragmentation is rapidly eroding biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest and could worsen global warming according to research to be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Rainforest trees can live for centuries, even millennia, so none of us expected things to change too fast. But in just two decades-a wink of time for a thousand year-old tree-the ecosystem has been seriously degraded." said Dr. William Laurance, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and leader of the international team of scientists that conducted the research.
Fish may have the ability to recruit new muscle to reach giant size (for a minnow)
(11/27/2006) Two fish that share much in common genetically appear to have markedly different abilities to grow, a finding that could provide a new way to research such disparate areas as muscle wasting disease and fish farming, a new study shows. The study in the November issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, finds that the giant danio, unlike its cousin the zebrafish, appears to have the ability to recruit new muscle throughout its life. Humans have the same ability before birth, but mostly lose it after birth.
Climate change could cause sex switch in crocs
(11/27/2006) Warming climate could cause a sex imbalance in crocodiles making it more difficult to find mates, according to a south African scientist. Dr. Alison Leslie, a prefessor at South Africa's University of Stellenbosch, said that crocodile gender is determined by embryo temperature during incubation and that higher temperatures could skew the sex ratio of populations.
Whales share human brain cells
(11/27/2006) Whales share brain cells with humans according to a new study published online November 27, 2006 in The Anatomical Record, the official journal of the American Association of Anatomists. The research suggests that "certain cetaceans and hominids may have evolved side by side."
$100 laptop arrives in Brazil
(11/27/2006) The $100 laptop has arrived in Brazil. According to the Associated Press, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday received a prototype version of the laptop, which has been billed as a durable low-cost PC for children in developing countries. 50 of the laptops are expected to be tested in Brazilian schools beginning today.
Responsible tourism: How to travel ethically
(11/27/2006) Ecotourism is hot. Travel companies everywhere are slapping eco-friendly labels on their tours and hotels to attract green-minded visitors. Alas some "ecotourism" is not really good for the environment or local people. That three-week round-the-world eco-tour via private jet for just $42,950 will generate a lot of greenhouse gases as you're flying between plush lodges that import food and staff from other places. Likewise those wood carvings purchased in tourist centers may come not from indigenous artisans but a factory turning endangered rainforest hardwoods into throwaway tourist items. Heavy anchors dropped on reefs are good neither for the coral reef ecosystem nor the sustainability of the local tourism industry. So what's a true "ecotourist" to do? Is it really possible to travel without trampling culture and tradition and further soiling the environment?
U.N. ocean trawling ban blocked by Iceland
(11/24/2006) United Nations negotiators failed to agree on a measure banning deep-sea bottom trawling, a practice that has been called highly destructive by environmental groups. Iceland, a country recently criticized for resuming commercial whaling, blocked the U.N. resolution.
Worst mass extinction shifted entire ecology of the world's oceans
(11/24/2006) New research suggests that Earth's greatest mass extinction did more than wipe out an estimated 95% of marine species and 70% of land species; it fundamentally changed the ecology of the world's oceans. The study, published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science, found that 'ecologically simple marine communities were largely displaced by complex communities', a shift that continues has continue since.
Anti-poaching patrols paying off for safari wildlife in Tanzania
(11/24/2006) Enforcement patrols are effectively cutting poaching of elephants, African buffaloes and black rhinos in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania according to new research published in the journal Science. Employing a sampling technique used to estimate the abundance of fish, an international team of scientists showed that poaching is down significantly in the Serengeti since the mid-1980s due to law enforcement efforts.
As presidential election approaches, Madagascar's lemur sanctuary burns
(11/23/2006) Forest fires are burning crucial lemur habitat and other hotbeds of biodiversity in Madagascar according to reports from the northeastern part of the island. The upcoming presidential election -- a bitterly contested poll -- may be partially to blame for the upswing in destruction says a leading local conservationist. Madagascar, a biologically rich, but economically poor island country located off the southeastern coast of Africa is almost as famous for its environmental problems as for its lemurs, a charismatic group of primates found nowhere else on Earth. The country is home to some 90 types of lemurs as well as a bonanza of other rare and unusual creatures including a puma-like mongoose, spiny hedgehog-like beasts called tenrecs, and absurdly colorful chameleons. But these creatures are highly threatened by habitat destruction, most of which results from slash-and-burn agriculture that has left less than 10 percent of the island's original forest cover standing.
Global warming-fueled storms could devastate coral reefs
(11/23/2006) Australia's Great Barrier Reef and other coral ecosystems could suffer from increasingly powerful storms brought about by global warming according to computer models published by a team of Australian scientists in the journal Nature.
'Bushmeat' link to SARS outbreak confirmed
(11/23/2006) Chinese scientists say they have found a genetic link between SARS in civet cats, a racoon-like animal eaten as a delicacy in China, and humans.
Cotton could feed the world's poor
(11/21/2006) Genetically modified cottonseed could be used to feed half a billion people worldwide according to new research published in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland shrunk Nile River
(11/21/2006) A series of volcanic eruptions in Iceland in the 18th century dramatically impacted the mighty Nile River according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. The research, partly funded by NASA, shows that volcanic eruptions in high latitudes can greatly alter global climate and distant river flows. The scientists found that Iceland's Laki volcanic event, a series of roughly ten eruptions from June 1783 through February 1784, altered atmospheric circulations across much of the Northern Hemisphere, reducing rainfall over much of the Nile River watershed and producing record low river levels. The researchers said that the Laki event had a significant impact on climate because it released large amounts of aerosol-forming sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. The aerosols, which cool climate by reflecting incoming sunlight into space, may have reduced the average temperature over Northern Hemisphere land masses by as much as 3 degrees Celsius in the summer of 1783, according to computer models used in the study.
China to build world's largest solar power plant
(11/21/2006) China plans to build the world's largest solar power station in the northwestern province of Gansu according to a report from Xinhua, China's state news agency. Construction of the 100 megawatt facility will take five years and cost 6.03 billion yuan ($766 million).
Mexico's rainforests depend on government conservation efforts
(11/21/2006) Few people realize that Mexico is home to the northernmost extent of rainforests that once extended clear down to the Amazon Basin. Though diminished in extent to about 30 percent of their original range, these rainforests are still characterized by high levels of biodiversity, including such charismatic species as jaguar, howler and spider monkeys, and macaws. These forests are also inhabited by indigenous people who live in ways largely unchanged since the arrival of Columbus in the 15th century. While still threatened by encroachment and illegal activities, in recent years the Mexican government and an assortment of environmental organizations has made progress in protecting these forests. Particularly active in these conservation efforts is the Los Tuxtlas Biological Station (Estacion de Biologia Tropical Los Tuxtlas del Instituto de Biologia Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) based in Veracruz (southern Mexico). In November 2006, Dr. Alejandro Estrada, senior research scientist at Los Tuxtlas and a leading authority on these forests, answered some questions on Mexico's remaining rainforests and conservation efforts in the country.
Unknown extremophile species discovered in seas off New Zealand
(11/21/2006) An international team of scientists has found bizarre creatures living around deep-sea methane seeps off New Zealand's eastern coast. Colorful tube worms, bacterial mats, corals, and sponges were among the organisms found living in the extreme environment where methane gas serves as the primary energy source for the community. Scientists say that a symbiotic relationship with bacteria enables such communities to convert methane into living matter in the absence of sunlight through a form of chemosynthesis.
87% of Americans have used Internet for science research
(11/21/2006) 40 million Americans use the internet as their primary source of news and information about science according to a new study by the Pew Internet Project and the Exploratorium, a museum based in San Francisco. The study also reports that 87 percent of adult internet users said they have used the internet to do science research.
Atmospheric levels of key greenhouse gas stabilize, could begin to decline
(11/20/2006) Atmospheric levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas have leveled off for the past seven years according to scientists at the University of California, Irvine. Human sources of methane, which is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, include production of oil and natural gas, mining, sewage and decomposition of garbage, changes in land use and deforestation, and livestock. About one-third of methane emissions come from oceans, wetlands, wildfires, and termites.
$100 laptop for poor children ships
(11/20/2006) The first ten $100 laptops have shipped from their Taiwanese manufacturer according to a report from News Corporation. The One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) -- the nonprofit group behind the device -- reportedly tested the laptops, which were hand-built, at the U.S. State Department last week. The laptops have been billed as a durable low-cost PC for children in developing countries. OLPC says it will begin production once it has orders for 5-10 million machines. Already the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Nigeria, Thailand, and Israel have expressed interest in the machines which have received support from Google, AMD, Brightstar, News Corporation, and Red Hat, but not Microsoft.
Military coup in Madagascar fails, democracy remains in place
(11/20/2006) A Reuters reports that an attempted military coup by General Andrianafidisoa, who has been barred from running in the December 3 presidential election, failed on Friday.
Migratory species threatened by global warming
(11/20/2006) Urgent action is need to prevent extinction of migratory species due to global warming says a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
When icebergs attack!
(11/19/2006) An iceberg was spotted from the New Zealand shore for the first time in 75 years. The iceberg, one of more than 100 drifting off the southern coast of New Zealand's South Island, was briefly visible late last week from the town of Dunedin. It is the first time that icebergs have been seen from the shore since 1931 according to Mike Williams, an oceanographer at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
Cancer viewed an evolutionary and ecological process
(11/17/2006) The dynamics of evolution are fully in play within the environment of a tumor, just as they are in forests and meadows, oceans and streams. This is the view of researchers in an emerging cross-disciplinary field that brings the thinking of ecologists and evolutionary biologists to bear on cancer biology.
New species of orchids discovered in Papua New Guinea
(11/17/2006) Last month, environmental group WWF announced the discovery of eight orchid species previously unknown to science in the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG, which covers roughly half the island of New Guinea, has the more species of orchid than any country in the world.
Inhofe doesn't attend climate change meeting but issues statement on children's book
(11/17/2006) James Inhofe, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, dismissed the United Nations climate meeting in Nairobi as "a brainwashing session" and released a statement attacking the body's new children's book on the climate change. The Oklahoma Republican, who was the second largest recipient of campaign contributions from oil and gas companies during the 2004 election cycle, has been a vocal opponent of the idea that humans are contributing to global warming, a stance that puts him in opposition with the majority of climate scientists. Inhofe didn't bother to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which ends tomorrow, but he did find time to issue the following statement on "Tore and the Town on Thin Ice", the new children's book from the U.N.
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