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Forgotten species: the wild jungle cattle called banteng
(01/31/2012) The word "cattle," for most of us, is the antithesis of exotic; it's familiar like a family member one's happy enough to ignore, but doesn't really mind having around. Think for a moment of the names: cattle, cow, bovine...likely they make many of us think more of the animals' byproducts than the creatures themselves—i.e. milk, butter, ice cream or steak—as if they were an automated food factory and not living beings. But if we expand our minds a bit further, "cattle" may bring up thoughts of cowboys, Texas, herds pounding the dust, or merely grazing dully in the pasture. But none of these titles, no matter how far we pursue them, conjure up images of steamy tropical rainforest or gravely imperiled species. A cow may be beautiful in its own domesticated sort-of-way, but there is nothing wild in it, nothing enchanting. However like most generalizations, this idea of cattle falls to pieces when one encounters, whether in literature or life, the banteng.
Brazilian mining company connected to Belo Monte dam voted worst corporation
(01/31/2012) The world's second largest mining company, Vale, has been given the dubious honor of being voted the world's most awful corporation in terms of human rights abuses and environmental destruction by the Public Eye Awards. Vale received over 25,000 votes online, likely prompted in part by its stake in the hugely controversial Brazilian mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is being constructed on the Xingu River. An expert panel gave a second award to British bank Barclay's for speculation on food prices, which the experts stated was worsening hunger worldwide.
Rainforests store 229 billion tons of carbon globally finds new 'wall-to-wall' carbon map
(01/30/2012) Tropical rainforests store some 229 billion tons of carbon in their vegetation — about 20 percent more than previously estimated — finds a new satellite-based assessment published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The findings could help improve the accuracy of reporting CO2 emissions reductions under the proposed REDD program, which aims to compensate tropical countries for cutting deforestation, forest degradation, and peatlands destruction.
Saving the world's biggest river otter
(01/30/2012) Charismatic, vocal, unpredictable, domestic, and playful are all adjectives that aptly describe the giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), one of the Amazon's most spectacular big mammals. As its name suggest, this otter is the longest member of the weasel family: from tip of the nose to tail's end the otter can measure 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. Living in closely-knit family groups, sporting a complex range of behavior, and displaying almost human-like capricious moods, the giant river otter has captured a number of researchers and conservationists' hearts, including Dutch conservationist Jessica Groenendijk.
Invasion!: Burmese pythons decimate mammals in the Everglades
(01/30/2012) The Everglades in southern Florida has faced myriad environmental impacts from draining for sprawl to the construction of canals, but even as the U.S. government moves slowly on an ambitious plan to restore the massive wetlands a new threat is growing: big snakes from Southeast Asia. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found evidence of a massive collapse in the native mammal population following the invasion of Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) in the ecosystem. The research comes just after the U.S. federal government has announced an importation ban on the Burmese python and three other big snakes in an effort to safeguard wildlife in the Everglades. However, the PNAS study finds that a lot of damage has already been done.
Bad feedback loop: climate change diminishing Canadian forest's carbon sink
(01/30/2012) Climate change, in the form of rising temperatures and less precipitation, is shrinking the carbon sink of western Canada's forest, according to a new study released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Tree mortality and a general loss of biomass has cut the carbon storage capacity of Canada's boreal forests by around 7.28 million tons of carbon annually, equal to nearly 4 percent of Canada's total yearly carbon emissions.
Picture of the day: the world's largest bromeliad
(01/30/2012) Found in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, the world's biggest bromeliad Puya raimondii is imperiled by climate change and human disturbances.
California sets tough new clean car standards
(01/30/2012) The U.S. state that takes climate change most seriously—California—has unanimously approved new rules dubbed the Advanced Clean Cars program to lower carbon emissions, reduce oil dependence, mitigate health impacts from pollution, and save consumers money in the long-term. According to the new standards, by 2025 cars sold in California must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent and smog emissions by 75 percent. The program will also require 15.4 percent of all cars sold in California to be zero or near-zero emissions by 2025.
Featured video: NASA releases shocking 30 second film on climate
(01/30/2012) NASA has created a new animation showing global temperatures on a map of the Earth from 1880-2011. On the map, blues represent temperatures lower than baseline averages, while reds indicate temperatures higher than the average. As the 131 years pass, the map turns from bluish-white to increasingly yellow and red. Caused by the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agricultural practices, and other human impacts, climate change has currently raised temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the Industrial Revolution average.
Emissions from palm oil biodiesel highest of major biofuels, says EU
(01/30/2012) Greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil-based biodiesel are the highest among major biofuels when the effects of deforestation and peatlands degradation are considered, according to calculations by the European Commission. The emissions estimates, which haven't been officially released, have important implications for the biofuels industry in Europe.
Palm oil does not meet U.S. renewable fuels standard, rules EPA
(01/27/2012) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled on Friday that palm oil-based biofuels will not meet the renewable fuels standard due to carbon emissions associated with deforestation.
Group releases photos of Borneo rainforest to be converted for palm plantations
(01/27/2012) The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a set of photos from a visit to a contested area of forest set to be converted for oil palm plantations in Indonesian Borneo.
Sinar Mas Group seeks 'backdoor' public listing in Singapore
(01/27/2012) Sinar Mas Group, an Indonesia-based conglomerate, is working on a deal to list its Indonesian coal assets on the Singapore Exchange by swapping shares with a small forestry firm that is already listed on the stock market, reports Reuters. The move would enable Sinar Mas Group to more easily raise capital for expansion.
Big trees, like the old-growth forests they inhabit, are declining globally
(01/26/2012) Already on the decline worldwide, big trees face a dire future due to habitat fragmentation, selective harvesting by loggers, exotic invaders, and the effects of climate change, warns an article published this week in New Scientist magazine. Reviewing research from forests around the world, William F. Laurance, an ecologist at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, provides evidence of decline among the world's 'biggest and most magnificent' trees and details the range of threats they face. He says their demise will have substantial impacts on biodiversity and forest ecology, while worsening climate change.
U.S. media favored Keystone pipeline in coverage
(01/26/2012) A new report by Media Matters finds that U.S. TV and print media were largely biased toward the construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline, which the Obama administration recently turned down. The report finds that guests and quotes were largely in favor of the pipeline in addition to news outlets consistently repeating job figures for the pipeline that have been discredited.
California city bans bullfrogs to safeguard native species
(01/26/2012) Santa Cruz, California has become the first city in the U.S. to ban the importation, sale, release, and possession of the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana). Found throughout Eastern and Central U.S., the frogs have become an invasive threat to wildlife in the western U.S. states and Canada.
Protecting original wetlands far preferable to restoration
(01/26/2012) Even after 100 years have passed a restored wetland may not reach the state of its former glory. A new study in the open access journal PLoS Biology finds that restored wetlands may take centuries to recover the biodiversity and carbon sequestration of original wetlands, if they ever do. The study questions laws, such as in the U.S., which allow the destruction of an original wetland so long as a similar wetland is restored elsewhere.
Photo of the Day: Critically Endangered brown spider monkey discovered in park
(01/26/2012) Researchers with The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Colombia’s National Parks Unit have located at least two individuals of brown-spider monkey (Ateles hybridus) in Colombia's Selva de Florencia National Park. The discovery is important because its the only known population of this particular subspecies (Ateles hybridus brunneus) in a protected area.
Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open: A book review
(01/26/2012) Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, vehicles, products and equipment – made efficiently and made with less new material is a remarkable popular impartial well-written engineering book that addresses sustainable production of cement, plastic, paper, aluminum and steel and their long-term impacts on the environment. The authors provide a comprehensive background regarding the uses of said materials.
Logging of primary rainforests not ecologically sustainable, argue scientists
(01/25/2012) Tropical countries may face a risk of 'peak timber' as continued logging of rainforests exceeds the capacity of forests to regenerate timber stocks and substantially increases the risk of outright clearing for agricultural and industrial plantations, argues a trio of scientists writing in the journal Biological Conservation. The implications for climate, biodiversity, and local economies are substantial.
Frog perfume? Madagascar frogs communicate via airborne pheromones
(01/25/2012) Researchers have found that some frogs in Madagascar communicate by more than just sound and sight: they create distinct airborne pheromones, which are secreted chemicals used for communicating with others. A paper published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition relates that some male members of the Mantellinae family in Madagascar use large glands on their inner thighs to produce airborne pheromones. Interestingly, the pheromones are structurally similar to those produced by insects. Scientists have identified frogs producing water-borne pheromones before, but this is the first instance of airborne.
U.S. implements snake ban to save native ecosystems
(01/25/2012) Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it was banning the importation and sale across state lines of four large, non-native snakes: the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus), and two subspecies of the African python (Python sebae). Although popular pets, snakes released and escaped into the wild have caused considerable environmental damage especially in the Florida Everglades.
Climate and The Oceans - Princeton Primers in Climate: A Book Review
(01/25/2012) Climate and The Oceans by Dr. Geoffrey K. Vallis provides a coherent, well-articulated primer on how the oceans impact the Earth's climate. This easy-to-read illustrated book, filled with both data and accessible mathematical equations demonstrating the impact of the oceans on the Earth's climate, offers practitioners and stakeholders' state-of-the-art scientific analysis of how the oceans and climate interact that is both user friendly to the non-expert yet scientifically rigorous enough as bridge material for graduate students as they grapple with the compelling field of climate science and oceanography.
Photos: 46 new species found in little-explored Amazonian nation
(01/25/2012) South America's tiniest independent nation still hides a number of big surprises: a three week survey to the sourthern rainforests of Suriname found 46 potentially new species and recorded nearly 1,300 species in all. Undertaken by Conservation International's (CI) Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) the survey found new species of freshwater fish, insects, and a new frog dubbed the "cowboy frog" for the spur on its heel. While Suriname may be small, much of its forest, in the Guyana Shield region of the Amazon, remains intact and pristine. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 91 percent of Suriname is covered in primary forests, however this data has not been updated in over two decades.
87 marine mammals still eaten by people
(01/24/2012) Threats to marine mammals usually include climate change, drowning as by-catch, pollution, depletion of prey, but what about eating marine mammals? A new study in Biological Conservation finds that a surprising 87 marine mammals—including polar bears, small whales, and dolphins—have been eaten as food since 1990 in at least 114 countries.
Acid oceans: in some regions acidification a 'hundred times greater' than natural variation
(01/24/2012) Emissions of carbon over the last two centuries have raised the acidity of the oceans to the highest levels in 21,000 years and likely beyond, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change. The change threatens a number of marine species, including coral reefs and molluscs.
Pangolins imperiled by internet trade--are companies responding quickly enough?
(01/24/2012) You can buy pretty much anything on the internet: from Rugby team garden gnomes to Mickey Mouse lingerie. In some places, consumers have even been able to purchase illegal wildlife parts, such as ivory and rhino horn. In fact, the internet has opened up the black market wildlife trade contributing to the destruction of biodiversity worldwide. Pangolins, shy, scaly, anteater-like animals in appearance, have not been immune: in Asia the small animals are killed en masse to feed rising demand for Chinese traditional medicine, placing a number of species on the endangered list.
Sumatran elephant population plunges; WWF calls for moratorium on deforestation
(01/24/2012) The Sumatran elephant subspecies (Elephas maximus sumatranus) was downgraded to critically endangered on IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species on Tuesday, prompting environmental group WWF to call for an immediate moratorium on destruction of its rainforest habitat, which is being rapidly lost to oil palm estates, timber plantations for pulp and paper production, and agricultural use.
The Cryosphere-Princeton primers in climate: A Book Review
(01/23/2012) The Cryosphere by Dr. Shawn J. Marshall, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, University of Calgary, is an excellent book because it summarizes leading scientific research into easily accessible chapters each one on a different component of the cryosphere. The cryosphere, which incorporates the Earth's snow and ice mass including seasonal snow, permafrost (both land-based permafrost and below water permafrost), river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and ice shelves, is intrinsically related to global climate change. Hence, understanding how the cryosphere interacts with and is at risk because of climate change and its greenhouse gases is fundamental to developing effective policy mechanisms that mitigate climate change.
Leatherback sea turtles granted massive protected area along U.S. west coast
(01/23/2012) The U.S. federal government has designated 108,556 square kilometers (41,914 square miles) as critical habitat for the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest of the world's marine turtles and one of the most endangered. The protected area, around the size of Guatemala, spans coastal sea waters from California to Washington state, but does not protect the migration routes environmentalists hoped for.
Picture of the Day: Happy Year of the Dragon
(01/23/2012) Today marks the start of Chinese New Year, which this year is represented by the dragon, one of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac.
Economic slowdown leads to the pulping of Latvia's forests
(01/23/2012) The economic crisis has pushed many nations to scramble for revenue and jobs in tight times, and the small Eastern European nation of Latvia is no different. Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation's forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
NASA: 2011 ninth warmest year yet
(01/23/2012) Despite being a strong La Niña year, which tends to be cooler than the average year, 2011 was the ninth warmest year on record and the warmest La Niña yet, according to a global temperature analysis by NASA. To date, nine of the world's ten warmest years have occurred since 2000 according to data going back to 1880.
Hugh Powell: birds lend invaluable insight into ecosystems
(01/23/2012) Hugh Powell is science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as well as a contributor to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Oceanus and other publications. He's traveled extensively while writing, including stints in Antarctica for WHOI's Live from the Poles. Before finding his niche as a science writer, Hugh studied the interconnections between black-backed woodpeckers, insects, and forest fires in Montana. He currently resides in Ithaca, New York.
Featured video: music in Madagascar to protest illegal logging
(01/22/2012) A new video highlights the plight of Madagascar's protected tropical forests, which are falling prey to illegal logging and foreign contractors. Featuring Razia Said, Malagasy singer and songwriter, the video shows concerts to raise awareness about illegal logging, especially near Maosala National Park.
Biofuel breakthrough: kelp could power cars
(01/20/2012) Scientists have devised a new way to produce ethanol directly from seaweed, offering the potential to generate biofuels that don't compete with terrestrial food production and won't suck up scarce freshwater, reports a study published today in Science.
Recognizing value of nature could boost income for the world's poor
(01/20/2012) The rural poor would substantially boost their income if the ecological services of the ecosystems they steward were valued and compensated by the rest of the world, claims a new study published in the journal Bioscience.
Feared extinct, obscure monkey rediscovered in Borneo
(01/20/2012) A significant population of the rarely seen, little-known Miller's grizzled langurs (Presbytis hosei canicrus) has been discovered in Indonesian Borneo according to a new paper published in the American Journal of Primatology. Feared extinct by some and dubbed one of the world's 25 most threatened primates in 2005 by Conservation International (CI), the langur surprised researchers by showing up on camera trap in a region of Borneo it was never supposed to be. The discovery provides new hope for the elusive monkey and expands its known range, but conservationists warn the species is not out of the woods yet.
Scientists discover over 19,000 new species in 2009
(01/19/2012) In 2009 researchers described and named 19,232 species new to science, pushing the number of known species on Earth to just under two million (1,941,939 species), according to the State of Observed Species (SOS). Discoveries included seven new birds, 41 mammals, 120 reptiles, 148 amphibians, 314 fish, 626 crustaceans, and 9,738 insects.
National Association of Music Merchants does 'disservice' to members by misleading them on illegal logging law, says letter
(01/19/2012) The National Association of Music Merchants is doing a 'disservice' to its members by misrepresenting the provisions and spirit of the Lacey Act, a law that aims to curb illegal logging abroad, states a letter published by a coalition of environmental groups. The letter, issued Thursday, urges the National Association of Music Merchants to reconsider its support for the RELIEF Act (HR 3210), introduced by Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Jim Cooper (D-TN) last October. The RELIEF Act would weaken key provisions of the Lacey Act aimed to ensure that illegally sourced wood products aren't imported into the United States.
Brazil begins preliminary damming of Xingu River as protests continue
(01/19/2012) Damming of the Xingu River has begun in Brazil to make way for the eventual construction of the hugely controversial, Belo Monte dam. The Norte Energia (NESA) consortium has begun building coffer dams across the Xingu, which will dry out parts of the river before permanent damming, reports the NGO International Rivers. Indigenous tribes, who have long opposed the dam plans on their ancestral river, conducted a peaceful protest that interrupted construction for a couple hours.
Indonesia to set aside 45% of Kalimantan for conservation
(01/19/2012) Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) on Thursday announced a regulation that would protect 45 percent of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, according to a statement issued by his office.
Geology has split the Amazon into two distinct forests
(01/19/2012) The common view of the Amazon is that it is one massive, unbroken forest. This impression is given by maps which tend to mark the Amazon by a large glob of green or even by its single name which doesn't account for regional changes. Of course, scientists have long recognized different ecosystems in the Amazon, most especially related to climate. But a new study in the Journal of Biogeography has uncovered two distinct forest ecosystems, sharply divided, caused by million of years of geologic forces.
Deforestation, climate change threaten the ecological resilience of the Amazon rainforest
(01/19/2012) The combination of deforestation, forest degradation, and the effects of climate change are weakening the resilience of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem, potentially leading to loss of carbon storage and changes in rainfall patterns and river discharge, finds a comprehensive review published in the journal Nature.
Obama rejects Keystone pipeline, but leaves door open for tar sands
(01/18/2012) The Obama administration today announced it is scrapping TransCanada's Keystone pipeline after Republicans forced a 60-day deadline on the issue in a Congressional rider. The State Department advised against the pipeline arguing that the deadline did not give the department enough time to determine if the pipeline "served the national interest." The cancellation of the pipeline is a victory for environmental and social activists who fought the project for months, but Republicans are blasting the administration.
Delayed response to Somalia famine cost thousands of lives
(01/18/2012) A hesitant response by the international community likely led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in last year's famine in East Africa finds a new report released by Oxfam and Save the Children. The report, entitled A Dangerous Delay, says that early warning systems worked in informing the international community about the likelihood of a dire food crisis in East Africa, however a "culture of risk aversion" led to months-long delays. By the time aid arrived it was already too late for many. The British government has estimated somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people perished in the famine, half of whom were likely children under five.
Picture of the day: nearly-extinct turtle released into the wild in Cambodia
(01/18/2012) Only around 200 southern river terrapins (Batagur affinis) survive in the wild, but today at least the species got some good news. A female terrapin was released back into the Sre Ambel River with much fanfare after being caught by a local fishermen in Cambodia.
Disease kills 6 million bats in North America
(01/18/2012) In just six years around six million bats have succumbed to white-nose syndrome in North America, according to U.S. federal researchers. The number, somewhere between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats, is far higher than past estimates of over a million. Showing up in 2006 in New York, the perplexing disease, which appears as white dust on bats' muzzles, wipes out populations while they hibernate.
Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn
(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.
New book series hopes to inspire research in world's 'hottest biodiversity hotspot'
(01/17/2012) Entomologist Dmitry Telnov hopes his new pet project will inspire and disseminate research about one of the world's last unexplored biogeographical regions: Wallacea and New Guinea. Incredibly rich in biodiversity and still full of unknown species, the region, also known as the Indo-Australian transition, spans many of the tropical islands of the Pacific, including Indonesia's Sulawesi, Komodo and Flores, as well as East Timor—the historically famous "spice islands" of the Moluccan Archipelago—the Solomon Islands, and, of course, New Guinea. Telnov has begun a new book series, entitled Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, that aims to compile and highlight new research in the region, focusing both on biology and conservation. The first volume, currently available, also includes the description of 150 new species.
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