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Photos: Forests, peatlands, plantations, and deforestation in Riau
(03/19/2014) Indonesia's Riau Province on the island of Sumatra has experienced rapid deforestation since the early 1990's, with primary forest cover plummeting by 85 percent in twenty years. Most of this forest loss has been driven by plantation development for timber, woodpulp, and palm oil production.
Indian food giant to source deforestation-free palm oil
(03/19/2014) Orkla, a Nordic conglomerate that owns MTR Foods, one of India's major food companies, has established a zero deforestation policy for the palm oil it sources, reports Greenpeace.
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
3 environmental reporting prize winners to explore drivers of deforestation, community forestry, and sustainable seafood in China
(03/19/2014) Mongabay.org, the non-profit arm of environmental science web site Mongabay.com, has selected winners of three environmental reporting prizes under its Special Reporting Initiatives (SRI) program. The three prizes, which were launched in January, explore the impacts of rising human consumption on forest and marine ecosystems. The winners, selected from more than 150 applicants by a panel of issue-area experts, include Robert S. Eshelman, Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra, and Dominic Bracco II and Erik Vance.
Featured video: indigenous tribe faces loggers, ranchers, and murder in bid to save their forests
(03/19/2014) A new short film, entitled La Trocha, highlights the plight of the Wounaan people in Panama, who are fighting for legal rights to their forests even as loggers and ranchers carve it up. The conflict turned violent in 2012 when local chief, Aquilo Puchicama, was shot dead by loggers.
Leftover trees enhance the biodiversity of new forests
(03/18/2014) Trees left standing after deforestation have a discernible impact on the composition of local biodiversity in secondary growth forests, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers working on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica discovered that remnant trees could affect species composition of regenerated forests up to 20 years after being logged.
Several Amazonian tree frog species discovered, where only two existed before
(03/18/2014) We have always been intrigued by the Amazon rainforest with its abundant species richness and untraversed expanses. Despite our extended study of its wildlife, new species such as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a bear-like carnivore hiding out in the Ecuadorian rainforest, are being identified as recently as last year. In fact, the advent of efficient DNA sequencing and genomic analysis has revolutionized how we think about species diversity. Today, scientists can examine known diversity in a different way, revealing multiple 'cryptic' species that have evaded discovery by being mistakenly classified as a single species based on external appearance alone.
APP pledges to restore forests, if given the opportunity
(03/18/2014) Over the past 20 years, Sumatra's lowland rainforests have been destroyed at a virtually unmatched rate and scale. Since 1990, the island's primary forests shrank by 40 percent while its overall forest cover declined by 36 percent, mostly the result of logging, agricultural expansion, and conversion for oil palm and timber plantations. What little forest does survive is often degraded — today less than 8 percent of Sumatra retains primary forest.
Blame humans: new research proves people killed off New Zealand's giant birds
(03/17/2014) Moas were a diverse group of flightless birds that ruled over New Zealand up to the arrival of humans, the biggest of these mega-birds stood around 3.5 meters (12 feet) with outstretched neck. While the whole moa family—comprised of nine species—vanished shortly after the arrival of people on New Zealand in the 13th Century, scientists have long debated why the big birds went extinct. Some theories contend that the birds were already in decline due to environmental changes or volcanic activity before humans first stepped on New Zealand's beaches. But a study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds no evidence of said decline, instead pointing the finger squarely at us.
Will zero deforestation commitments save Indonesia's forests?
(03/17/2014) Skirting the Malacca Strait near the Indonesian city of Dumai the air is thick with haze from peat fires burning below. As the sky clears, a landscape of sharply-cut geometric shapes becomes apparent. What was once carbon-dense peat forests and rainforests are today massive oil palm and wood pulp plantations.
Mother of God: meet the 26 year old Indiana Jones of the Amazon, Paul Rosolie
(03/17/2014) Not yet 30, Paul Rosolie has already lived a life that most would only dare dream of—or have nightmares over, depending on one's constitution. With the Western Amazon as his panorama, Rosolie has faced off jaguars, wrestled anacondas, explored a floating forest, mentored with indigenous people, been stricken by tropical disease, traveled with poachers, and hand-reared a baby anteater. It's no wonder that at the ripe age of 26, Rosolie was already written a memoir: Mother of God.
Controversial Amazon dams may have exacerbated biblical flooding
(03/16/2014) Environmentalists and scientists raised howls of protest when the Santo Antônio and Jirau Dams were proposed for the Western Amazon in Brazil, claiming among other issues that the dams would raise water levels on the Madeira River, potentially leading to catastrophic flooding. It turns out they may have been right: last week a federal Brazilian court ordered a new environmental impact study on the dams given suspicion that they have worsened recent flooding in Brazil and across the border in Bolivia.
Logging giant suspends operations to fend off plantations from fires
(03/15/2014) Indonesian Pulp & paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) says it has suspended operations at a concession in Riau Province in order to shift staff toward fighting back fires that threaten its plantations. In a statement issued Friday, APRIL said its plantations on Pulau Padang, a peat island off the coast of Sumatra, are at risk due to fires illegally set outside its concessions.
Indonesian sugar company poised to destroy half of island paradise's forests
(03/14/2014) An Indonesian plantation company may be preparing to destroy up to half of the natural forests on Indonesia's remote Aru Islands, reports Forest Watch Indonesia. Analyzing land use plans for Aru, Forest Watch Indonesia found that local government officials have turned over 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) to 28 companies held by PT. Menara Group, a plantation conglomerate. 76 percent of the area is currently natural forest. Converting the area to sugar plantations would cut Aru's forest cover by half, from 730,000 ha to 365,000 ha.
Indonesia's proposed peat law too weak to protect peatlands, stop haze, says Greenpeace
(03/14/2014) A new regulation aiming to protect peatlands is likely to fall short of its goals, failing to stop peat degradation, emissions, and fires that are driving the current haze crisis in Southeast Asia, asserts a new analysis from Greenpeace.
Frog creates chemical invisibility cloak to confuse aggressive ants
(03/14/2014) The African stink ant creates large underground colonies that are home to anywhere from hundreds to thousands of ants, and occasionally a frog or two. The West African rubber frog hides in the humid nests to survive the long dry season of southern and central Africa. However, the ant colonies are armed with highly aggressive ant militias that fight off intruders with powerful, venomous jaws. So how do these frogs escape attack?
Mountain thermostats: scientists discover surprising climate stabilizer that may be key to the longevity of life on Earth
(03/14/2014) What do mountains have to do with climate change? More than you'd expect: new research shows that the weathering rates of mountains caused by vegetation growth plays a major role in controlling global temperatures. Scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Sheffield have shown how tree roots in certain mountains "acted like a thermostat" for the global climate.
A Turtle's Tale: researchers discover baby turtles' kindergarten (photos)
(03/14/2014) Kate Mansfield, at her lab in the University of Central Florida, is holding a baby loggerhead turtle, smaller than her palm, painting manicure acrylic on its shell. When the base coat dries out, she glues on top a neoprene patch from an old wetsuit with hair extensions adhesive. Finally, she attaches a satellite tracker on top, the size of a two "party cheese" cubes, with flexible aquarium silicone, powered by a tiny solar battery. Now the little turtle is ready to be released back into the ocean.
Sumatra on fire: burning spikes in Indonesia
(03/13/2014) Fires in Sumatra's Riau province have spiked to levels unseen since last June, finds new analysis from the World Resources Institute (WRI) that reveals widespread burning within concessions managed by pulpwood, palm oil, and logging companies.
Europe votes for an Arctic Sanctuary
(03/13/2014) Yesterday, the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the creation of an Arctic Sanctuary covering the vast high Arctic around the North Pole, giving official status to an idea that has been pushed by activists for years. Still, the sanctuary has a long road to go before becoming a reality: as Arctic sea ice rapidly declines due to climate change, there has been rising interest from governments and industries to exploit the once inaccessible wilderness for fish and fossil fuels.
Indonesia politician gets 14 years in jail for illegal permits, forest corruption
(03/13/2014) The former governor of Indonesia’s Riau province has been sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay almost $90,000 in fines for illegally issuing logging permits in Riau and bribes linked to construction projects for sports facilities. On Wednesday, the anti-corruption court in Pekanbaru found former Riau Governor Rusli Zainal guilty of embezzlement relating to the illegal issuance of logging permits in the central Sumatran province, which has seen huge areas of forest lost to palm oil and pulp and paper companies in recent years.
Can penguins cope with climate change? Scientists find different types of ice elicit different responses
(03/13/2014) Human-caused climate change is altering the habitat of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). In an article recently published in PLOS ONE, a team of researchers led by Amélie Lescroël from the Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CNRS) in France, found that changes in sea-ice content and newly formed icebergs significantly impacted Adélie penguin communities in the Ross Sea.
Photos: Weird aquatic lizard discovered in mountain streams of Peru
(03/13/2014) A 'new' species of lizard has been described from the cloud forests of Peru's Manu National Park, reports SERNANP, the Peruvian National Park Service.
West Sumatra joins Indonesia's REDD+ program
(03/12/2014) West Sumatra has officially joined Indonesia's effort to cut forest loss as a pilot province under the country's REDD+ program.
Progressive palm oil group opens door to companies, NGO's adopting zero deforestation policies
(03/12/2014) The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), an alliance formed last year, has opened its doors to new members who commit to social and environmental safeguards that go beyond the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) eco-certification standard.
Conservationists catch wild Sumatran rhino, raising hope for world's most endangered rhinoceros
(03/12/2014) Conservationists have succeeded in catching a wild Sumatran rhino in the Malaysia state of Sabah in Borneo, according to local media reports. Officials are currently transferring the rhino, an unnamed female, to a rhino sanctuary in Tabin National Park where experts will attempt to mate it with the resident male, Tam. The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is one of the world's most imperiled species with less than 100 individuals left.
New web tool aims to help indigenous groups protect forests and navigate REDD+
(03/12/2014) A new online tool, dubbed ForestDefender, aims to help indigenous people understand and implement their rights in regard to forests. The database, developed by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), brings together vast amounts of legal information—both national and international—on over 50 countries.
The fungus among us: scientists discover a big player in the global carbon cycle
(03/12/2014) Carbon counters trying to keep tabs on the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere may have missed an important factor for their estimates: fungus. It turns out that when plants partner up with certain types of fungi, they can store up to 70 percent more carbon in the soil according to a paper published last month in Nature by Colin Averill and scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Scientists spy on whales from space
(03/11/2014) Although whales are the biggest animals on the planet, scientists have found in difficult to count them. But a new study in PLOS ONE may change this: researchers tested the idea of counting whales using high resolution satellite imagery. Employing a single image from the WorldView2 satellite, scientists went about counting a pod of southern right whales in the Golfo Nuevo off the coast of Argentina.
Cocaine: the new face of deforestation in Central America
(03/11/2014) In 2006, Mexico intensified its security strategy, forming an inhospitable environment for drug trafficking organizations (also known as DTOs) within the nation. The drug cartels responded by creating new trade routes along the border of Guatemala and Honduras. Soon shipments of cocaine from South America began to flow through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC). This multi-national swathe of forest, encompassing several national parks and protected areas, was originally created to protect endangered species, such as Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and jaguar (Panthera onca), as well as the world's second largest coral reef. Today, its future hinges on the world's drug producers and consumers.
Photos: Greenpeace stages protest in rainforest destroyed for palm oil
(03/10/2014) On Monday, Greenpeace activists in Indonesia staged a dramatic protest in an area of rainforest freshly cleared for a new oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan. The demonstration came under the group's campaign to push consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble (P&G) to strengthen its palm oil sourcing policy to include a zero deforestation commitment like those signed recently by Nestle, Neste Oil, and Kellogg's, among others.
Islamic clerics issue 'fatwa' against poaching, declare the illegal wildlife trade 'haram'
(03/10/2014) Indonesia’s Islamic clerics drew praise from conservation groups last week after the top clerical body in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against poaching and wildlife trafficking. The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) announced the fatwa on Tuesday, declaring the illegal wildlife trade to be haram, or forbidden under Islamic law. The fatwa forbids Indonesia’s Muslims from “all activities resulting in wildlife extinction” and is meant in part to help support existing national laws protecting endangered species, which are poorly enforced and have done little to prevent poaching.
Snickers, Twix to be deforestation-free
(03/10/2014) Mars, Inc., the maker of M&M's, Snickers, Twix, and a variety of other food products, has committed to a zero deforestation policy for the palm oil it sources, reports Greenpeace. The policy pledges Mars to only using palm oil produced legally and without conversion of high conservation value areas, peatlands, or high carbon stock areas like tropical rainforests.
Rare Birds of North America – book review
(03/10/2014) Rare Birds of North America, written by renowned birders Steve N. G. Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell, is a technical tour de force. Its technical expertise is exact and passionate. Reading Rare Birds of North America will simply make you a better birder and better naturalist.
Does haze from burning forests affect marine life?
(03/10/2014) Two scientists are calling on researchers, NGOs, and governments to begin studying the impact of burning forests and peatlands in Indonesia on the already-threatened marine ecosystems of Southeast Asia. Every year, Indonesian farmers set forests, vegetation, and peatlands alight to clear them for agriculture, often palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations. Not only do these practices destroy hugely-diverse tropical forests, but the resulting haze spreads to many parts of Southeast Asia, threatening regional health and impacting economies. Now, a new paper argues that the sinister impacts of Indonesia's burning may extend as far as the oceans.
Scientists discover single gene that enables multiple morphs in a butterfly
(03/10/2014) Scientists have discovered the gene enabling multiple female morphs that give the Common Mormon butterfly its very tongue-in-cheek name. doublesex, the gene that controls gender in insects, is also a mimicry supergene that determines diverse wing patterns in this butterfly, according to a recent study published in Nature. The study also shows that the supergene is not a cluster of closely-linked genes as postulated for nearly half a century, but a single gene controlling all the variations exhibited by the butterfly's wings.
Local knowledge sheds light on some of the world's strangest mammals
(03/07/2014) One of the difficulties of studying rare and endangered species is that they are, by definition, hard to find. Scientists attempting to understand their distributions and the threats to their survival can spend hundreds of hours in the field while collecting little data, simply because sightings are so few and far between.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Privatizing conservation management
(03/07/2014) Is it possible to equitably divide the planet’s resources between human and non-human societies? Can we ensure prosperity and rights both to people and to the ecosystems on which they rely? In the island archipelago of Indonesia, these questions become more pressing as the unique ecosystems of this global biodiversity hotspot continue to rapidly vanish in the wake of land conversion (mostly due to palm oil, poor forest management and corruption. For 22 years, Dr. Erik Meijaard has worked in Indonesia. Now, from his home office in the capitol city, Jakarta, he runs the terrestrial branch of an independent conservation consultancy, People and Nature Consulting International (PNCI).
Norway's pension fund continues to invest in coal companies destroying Indonesia's forests
(03/06/2014) Norway's massive sovereign wealth fund is continuing to invest in coal companies that are destroying forests in Indonesia despite divesting from forestry and plantation companies with poor environmental track records, reports the Rainforest Foundation Norway.
From theory to deadly reality: malaria moving upslope due to global warming
(03/06/2014) Malaria is a global scourge: despite centuries of efforts to combat the mosquito-borne disease, it still kills between 660,000 to 1.2 million people a year, according to World Health Organization data from 2010. Astoundingly, experts estimate that around 300 million people are infected with the disease every year or about 4 percent of the world's total population. And these stats may only get worse. For years scientists have vigorously debated whether or not malaria will expand as global warming worsens, but a new study in Science lays down the first hard evidence.
Peatlands biosphere reserve facing severe encroachment in Sumatra
(03/06/2014) An important reserve that contains a block of fast-dwindling lowland swamp forest in Riau Province is facing an onslaught of encroachment for illegal oil palm plantations, worsening choking haze in the region, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.
Clash with palm oil company leaves one indigenous community member dead in Sumatra
(03/06/2014) A member of the Suku Anak Dalam indigenous community was killed and five others were injured during a clash with security forces on an oil palm concession owned by PT Asiatic Persada in Sumatra, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. The incident occurred Wednesday evening in Bungku, Jambi.
Can the millions in urban India live among greenery?
(03/06/2014) Large swathes of wilderness alternating with pockets of urbanization may be a reality in some countries, but in India boundaries are soft. Where a city ends and where a village begins in its outskirts is somewhat fuzzy. Rapidly developing megacities like Bangalore and Pune, localities like Gurgaon outside New Delhi, have been subsuming surrounding villages into their ever-expanding boundaries for the last couple of decades.
Dietary diversity: key to defending tropical ecosystems
(03/06/2014) A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) points to the homogenization of global diets over the past fifty years. It shows that worldwide production of traditional staples such as millet, rye, sorghum, yams and cassava have been in decline. Instead, the world's population increasingly relies on a relatively small number of 'megacrops' like wheat, corn and soy, raising serious concerns for global food security, human nutrition, and the genetic diversity of crops.
Wonderful Creatures: meet the beetle-riding arachnid
(03/06/2014) Without wings, smaller terrestrial animals are really restricted when it comes to moving long distances to find new areas of habitat. However, lots of species get around this problem simply by clinging on to other, more mobile animals. The common, yet overlooked pseudoscorpions are among the most accomplished stowaways, one of which (Cordylochernes scorpiodes) has forged a fascinating relationship with the harlequin beetle, a large, strikingly colored insect.
Scientists blast Australian leader's proposed ban on parks
(03/05/2014) A group of prominent scientists have blasted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pledge to oppose the creation of any new protected areas in Australia. The Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers or ALERT, a coalition of conservation scientists, said Abbott is sending the wrong message to the world in promoting industrial logging over protection of the country's native forests.
Fast food companies are laggards on palm oil sourcing safeguards
(03/05/2014) Fast food companies are lagging behind other consumer products companies in efforts to establish policies that favor deforestation-free and conflict-free palm oil, finds a new assessment published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. The report, titled 'Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America's Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments', looked at palm oil sourcing policies of 30 of the largest fast food, personal care, and packaged food corporations in the United States. It found leadership by a handful of firms.
Scientists uncover new species of Andean marsupial frog
(03/05/2014) The term marsupial frog sound like a hoax, but, believe it or not, it's real. Recently, herpetologists welcomed a new species, known as Gastrotheca dysprosita and described in the journal Phyllomedusa. Unlike mammal marsupials, which typically carry their young in pouches on their torsos and are found primarily in Australia, the Gastrotheca genus of frogs, which contains 62 species, is found in the Andes region on South America and sport their pouches on their backs (also called a "dorsal brood pouch").
Rhino with bullet in its brain and hacked off horn wanders for days before being put down
(03/05/2014) Last week, visitors in Kruger National Park came on a horrifying sight of the poaching trade: a rhino, still alive, with its horn and part of its face chopped off. The gruesome photo of the young rhino went viral and sent South African authorities scrambling. Five days after the sighting, South African National Parks (SANParks) has announced they found the rhino and put it out of its misery.
The price of gold: winners and losers in Latin America's mining industry
(03/05/2014) On a Friday afternoon in June, the Plaza de Armas in Cajamarca is pulsing with life. It's winter here, and although thick white clouds hover low in the distance, the sun in this northern Peruvian city is warm. Couples sit on benches facing one another. Kids run in the grass between flowerbeds. Men in suits stride along the perimeter. It's an idyllic day. But signs of something more ominous are not far from sight. On the mountainside overlooking the town the words Nova Conga have been carved into the vegetation. It is a constant reminder that beyond the square, hemmed with international hotels and expensive restaurants, there is another reality.
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