conservation news and environmental science news.
New cuttlefish discovered in India
(03/08/2010) A new species of cuttlefish has been discovered on the Southern tip of India, according to The Hindu. Discovered in Tamil Nadu, along the coast of the town of Colachel, the species has been named sepia vecchioni.
Frog in Australia goes from 'extinct' to very, very endangered
(03/08/2010) Facing habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and the devastating chytrid fungus, there has been little positive news about amphibians recently. However, a story out of Australia brings a much needed respite from bad news. In 2008 Luke Pearce, a fisheries conservation officer, stumbled on a frog that had been thought to be extinct for over thirty years. Not recorded since the 1970s, Pearce rediscovered the yellow-spotted bell frog (Litoria castanea) on rural Australian farmland in the Southern Tableland of New South Wales.
Why seed dispersers matter, an interview with Pierre-Michel Forget, chair of the FSD International Symposium
(03/07/2010) There are few areas of research in tropical biology more exciting and more important than seed dispersal. Seed dispersal—the process by which seeds are spread from parent trees to new sprouting ground—underpins the ecology of forests worldwide. In temperate forests, seeds are often spread by wind and water, though sometimes by animals such as squirrels and birds. But in the tropics the emphasis is far heavier on the latter, as Dr. Pierre-Michel Forget explains to mongabay.com. "[In rainforests] a majority of plants, trees, lianas, epiphytes, and herbs, are dispersed by fruit-eating animals. […] As seed size varies from tiny seeds less than one millimetres to several centimetres in length or diameter, then, a variety of animals is required to disperse such a continuum and variety of seed size, the smaller being transported by ants and dung beetles, the larger swallowed by cassowary, tapir and elephant, for instance."
U.S. and Brazil sign deforestation agreement
(03/07/2010) Brazil and the United States have signed an agreement to worth together to reduce deforestation as part of an effort to slow climate change.
Website seeking 'most wanted' photos and videos of vanishing species
(03/04/2010) Many of the world's most endangered species have never been photographed or caught on film. The not-for-profit website ARKive is hoping to change that. ARKive provides a collection of some of the best photos and video clips of the world's species.
Massive methane leak in Arctic could trigger abrupt warming
(03/04/2010) Methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon, is spewing from what was believed to be an impermeable barrier in Siberia in amounts equal to methane releases from the world's oceans. The discovery has lead researchers to fear the possibility of abrupt climate warming. According to the study published in Science, subsea permafrost below the East Siberian Arctic Shelf has become compromised, leaking vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
Octopus pretends to be flounder to avoid predators
(03/04/2010) Marine researchers have discovered the Atlantic longarm octopus mimicking not only the color and appearance of the peacock flounder, but also its unique style of swimming in order to convince predators it's something it's not.
Photos: Madagascar's wonderful and wild frogs, an interview with Sahonagasy
(03/03/2010) To save Madagascar's embattled and beautiful amphibians, scientists are turning to the web. A new site built by herpetologists, Sahonagasy, is dedicated to gathering and providing information about Madagascar's unique amphibians in a bid to save them from the growing threat of extinction. "The past 20 years have seen resources wasted because of a poor coordination of efforts," explains Miguel Vences, herpetologist and professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig. "Many surveys and reports have been produced that were never published, many tourists found and photographed amphibians but these photos were not made available to mapping projects, many studies carried out by Malagasy students did not make use of literature because it was not available."
Healthy coral reefs produce clouds and precipitation
(03/03/2010) Twenty years of research has led Dr. Graham Jones of Australia's Southern Cross University to discover a startling connection between coral reefs and coastal precipitation. According to Jones, a substance produced by thriving coral reefs seed clouds leading to precipitation in a long-standing natural process that is coming under threat due to climate change.
Australia pledges $30m to reduce deforestation in Sumatra
(03/03/2010) Australia will contribute A$30 million to a project to reduce deforestation in the province of Jambi, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, reports Reuters.
Eating Appalachia: NASA satellite images reveal mountain cannibalism for coal
(03/02/2010) New images released by NASA reveal the conversion of mountains and forests in southern West Virginia to a giant surface mine.
W Australia has hottest and driest summer on record
(03/02/2010) Western Australia endured its hottest summer on record, according to the state weather bureau.
National parks in India and Nepal hit by rhino poachers
(03/02/2010) The rare Indian rhinoceros is not safe from poachers even in national parks. In Nepal's world renowned Royal Chitwan National Park, twenty-four Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) have been poached since the last census was taken in 2008. The most recent one was killed last Thursday. Approximately 372 Indian rhinos survive in the park, and the population is in decline.
Afghanistan protects 15 additional endangered species
(03/02/2010) Afghanistan's National Environment Protection Agency (NEP) has added 15 species to its Protected Species List, totaling 48 species now under protection. The new species includes the large-billed reed warbler, which was only recently discovered in the Central Asian nation. Fortunately, by law newly discovered species in Afghanistan receive automatic legal protection.
UN mulls global environment organization
(03/02/2010) Mass extinction, ocean acidification, deforestation, pollution, desertification, and climate change: the environmental issues facing the world are numerous and increasingly global in nature. To respond more effectively, the United Nations is considering forming a World Environmental Organization or WEO, similar to the World Trade Organization.
Oil palm plantations support fewer ant species than rainforest
(03/02/2010) Oil palm plantations support substantially less biodiversity than natural forests when it comes to ant species, reports new research published in Basic and Applied Ecology. Tom Fayle, a University of Cambridge biologist, and colleagues sampled ant populations in Danum Valley Conservation Area, a rainforest, and nearby oil palm plantations in Sabah, a state Malaysian Borneo. The researchers counted 16,000 worker ants from 309 species in the natural forest but only in 110 species at the oil palm plantation.
Madagascar traders ready $50m shipment of illegally logged rainforest timber
(03/02/2010) Traders in Vohemar, a port in northeastern Madagascar, are preparing for to ship $54 million worth of timber illegally logged from the Indian Ocean island nation's rainforest parks, report local sources.
Prehistoric snake gobbled-up dinosaur babies
(03/02/2010) A fossilized snake has been discovered inside a titanosaur nest in India, leading researchers to conclude that the snake fed on newly-hatched dinosaur babies, rather than their eggs like modern snakes. Paleontologist and snake expert Jason Head says that the snake, known as Sanajeh indicus, lacked the wipe-jaws needed to swallow eggs, but just-hatched baby titanosaurs would have been perfect prey for the 3.5 meter (nearly 12 feet) long serpent. Titanosaurs belong to the sauropods, long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs which includes the world's largest animals to ever walk the land.
Common pesticide changes male frogs into females, likely devastating populations
(03/01/2010) One of the world's most popular pesticides, atrazine, chemically castrates male frogs and in some instances changes them into completely functionally females, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors conclude that atrazine likely plays a large, but unsuspected role in the current global amphibian crisis.
Polar bears are newcomers on the world stage
(03/01/2010) One of the most well-known animals, the polar bear, is a newcomer on the world stage, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By studying the DNA of an ancient polar bear jawbone uncovered in 2004 in Norway scientists have for the first time pinpointed the time when the polar bear split from its closest relative, the brown bear. "Our results confirm that the polar bear is an evolutionarily young species that split off from brown bears some 150,000 years ago and evolved extremely rapidly during the late Pleistocene, perhaps adapting to the opening of new habitats and food sources in response to climate changes just before the last interglacial period."
Why we are failing orangutans
(03/01/2010) It is no secret that orangutans are threatened with extinction because their rain forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, Shawn Thompson, a writer, former journalist and university professor, set out to chronicle the threat to orangutans in a book released in March 2010. The book is called The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species. The book spends most of the time talking about the nature of orangutans and the relationships between orangutans and people. But the ultimate underlying message is there about the source of the peril to orangutans and the solution. Thompson says that the problem of saving orangutans has to do with communications and human nature.
Guyana bans gold mining in the 'Land of the Giants'
(03/01/2010) Guyana has banned gold dredging in the Rewa Head region of the South American country after pressure from Amerindian communities in the area. A recent expedition to Rewa Head turned up unspoiled wilderness and mind-boggling biodiversity. The researchers, in just six weeks, stumbled on the world's largest snake (anaconda), spider (the aptly named goliath bird-eating spider), armadillo (the giant armadillo), anteater (the giant anteater), and otter (the giant otter), leading them to dub the area 'the Land of the Giants'. "During our brief survey we had encounters with wildlife that tropical biologists can spend years in the field waiting for. On a single day we had two tapirs paddle alongside our boat, we were swooped on by a crested eagle and then later charged by a group of giant otters."
How that cork in your wine bottle helps forests and biodiversity, an interview with Patrick Spencer
(03/01/2010) Next time you’re in the supermarket looking to buy a nice bottle of wine: think cork. Although it’s not widely known, the cork industry is helping to sustain one of the world’s most biodiverse forests, including a number of endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and the Barbary deer. Spreading across 6.6 million acres in southern Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy) and northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) oak cork trees Quercus suber are actually preserved and protected by the industry.
List of the strongest and deadliest earthquakes
(02/27/2010) On February 27, 2010 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Maule, Chile causing widespread damage and casualties. The quake ranks as one of the ten strongest earthquakes ever recorded.
Photos: Giant iceberg breaks off Antarctica
(02/26/2010) An iceberg the size of Luxembourg broke off from Antarctica after it was hit by another iceberg, reports Reuters. The separation could impact ocean circulation and affect marine life say researchers.
Cargill sells palm oil business in Papua New Guinea
(02/26/2010) Cargill will sell off its palm oil holdings in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to focus on operations in Indonesia, reports the Star Tribune. The $175 million sale involves 62,000 ha of oil palm across three plantations and several mills.
UN to appoint independent board to audit the IPCC
(02/26/2010) The U.N. will appoint an independent board of scientists to review the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the embattled U.N. climate body charged with evaluating the risk of climate change caused by human activity, reports Reuters.
French company prepares to ship illegally logged rainforest wood from Madagascar
(02/25/2010) Delmas, a French shipping company that has been under pressure for facilitating the destruction of Madagascar's rainforest parks, has been cleared to begin picking up contraband rosewood as soon as Monday, report local sources in the Indian Ocean island nation. Leaders behind last year's military coup — which displaced the autocratic, but democratically elected President Marc Ravalomanana — have signed off on the shipment.
Savior of endangered crocodiles dies of malaria
(02/25/2010) Crocodile-expert and conservationist, Dr. John Thorbjarnarson, died of falciparum malaria in India on February 14th at the age of fifty-two. While many conservationists work with publicly popular animals like tigers and whales, Thorbjarnarson’s passion was for crocodiles. A Senior Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Thorbjarnarson proved instrumental in saving both the Orinoco crocodile and the Chinese crocodile from extinction.
Galapagos fur seals exploit warmer waters to establish colony off Peru
(02/25/2010) As suggested by their name, the Galapagos fur seals were once endemic to the Galapagos island chain off the coast of Ecuador. But in a warming world species are on the move, and the Galapagos fur seal is no exception. According to a recent story in Reuters the Galapagos fur seals have established what appears to be a permanent colony off the coast of Peru, 900 miles from their home.
James Inhofe is not a climatologist: a journalist's perspective
(02/25/2010) As a child when I came down with pneumonia my parents did not rush me to see a policeman, a cattle rancher, or a local businessman. Instead they took me to see a medical doctor—someone who had studied that science for at least twelve years—and I was quickly given injections and put on antibiotics. Thanks to my parents' ability to tell the difference between experts and non-experts, I survived.
Grizzly bears move into polar bear territory, threatening polar cubs
(02/24/2010) Two of the world's largest land carnivores are converging on the same territory, according to data recently published in Canadian Field Naturalist. Grizzly bears ( Ursus arctos horribilis) are moving into an area that has long been considered prime polar bear habitat in Manitoba, Canada. Although polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are bigger than their grizzly relatives—they are the world's largest land carnivores—biologists are concerned that grizzlies will kill polar cubs, further threatening the polar bear, which is already thought to be imperiled by ice loss in the Arctic.
Vietnam implements project to save one of the world's rarest mammals, the shy soala
(02/24/2010) Vietnam's central province of Thua Thien-Hue has approved a project to save the enigmatic saola. Listed as Critically Endangered, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)—a type of forest antelope—is so rare and secretive that it was only discovered in 1992. It is considered by many to be one of the world's rarest mammals. The project, funded by the Darwin Initiative, Cambridge University, and WWF, will be largely carried out by forest rangers during the next 33 months in Bach Ma National Park and a saola preservation zone. The project includes research, raising public awareness, and managing the protected areas to help the saola's survival.
BBC documentary leads Unilever to blacklist Indonesian palm oil company
(02/24/2010) Unilever has told Indonesian suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil from Duta Palma due to concerns over deforestation, reports Reuters.
Extinct animals are quickly forgotten: the baiji and shifting baselines
(02/23/2010) In 2006 a survey in China to locate the endangered Yangtze River dolphin, known as the baiji, found no evidence of its survival. Despondent, researchers declared that the baiji was likely extinct. Four years later and the large charismatic marine mammal is not only 'likely extinct', but in danger of being forgotten, according to a surprising new study 'Rapidly Shifting Baselines in Yangtze Fishing Communities and Local Memory of Extinct Species' in Conservation Biology. Lead author of the study, Dr. Samuel Turvey, was a member of the original expedition in 2006. He returned to the Yangtze in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji and other vanishing megafauna in the river, including the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world's largest freshwater fish. In these interviews Turvey and his team found clear evidence of 'shifting baselines': where humans lose track of even large changes to their environment, such as the loss of a top predator like the baiji.
Climate change melting southern Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves
(02/23/2010) The US Geological Survey (USGS) has found that every ice front in the southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula—the coldest part—has been retreating overall for the past sixty years with the greatest changes visible since 1990.
Conflicting signals out of Indonesia on whether palm oil plantations will be classified as forests
(02/23/2010) Indonesia will not allow the conversion of natural forest for oil palm plantations, claimed the country's Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in comments reported by the Jakarta Post.
Local vegetation can point to the consequences of climate change, Israeli scientists say after extensive studies
(02/23/2010) A recent study by a team of researchers from Bar Ilan University suggests that endangered plants in water-saturated habitats can be taken as indicators for climate change in the Levant region. They present a picture particularly of the consequences of changes in precipitation.
Could toxins from plantation trees be causing cancer cluster, oyster deaths in Tasmania?
(02/22/2010) A local medical doctor, a marine ecologist, and oyster farmers are raising an alarm that a nearby monoculture plantation of Eucalyptus nitens may be poisoning local water reserves, leading to rare cancers and high oyster mortality in Tasmania. However, the toxin is not from pesticides, as originally expected, but appears to originate from the trees themselves.
With increased protection, Gulf of California marine life could recover
(02/22/2010) The Gulf of California's once rich marine ecosystem is in trouble. Surveys from 1999 and 2009 revealed that during the ten-year-period 60 percent of the areas showed signs of degradation, including the loss of top predators necessary to keep an ecosystem healthy, for example sharks, groupers, and snappers.
REDD may not provide sufficient incentive to developers over palm oil
(02/22/2010) In less than a generation oil palm cultivation has emerged as a leading form of land use in tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia. Rising global demand for edible oils, coupled with the crop's high yield, has turned palm oil into an economic juggernaut, generating us$ 10 billion in exports for Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for 85 percent of palm oil production, alone. Today more than 40 countries - led by China, India, and Europe - import crude palm oil.
"No change whatsoever" in scientists' conviction that climate change is occurring
(02/22/2010) Despite some politicians and TV personalities claiming that climate change is dead, a panel of influential US and European scientists held a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to set the record straight on the state of the science and the recent media frenzy against climate change. "There has been no change in the scientific community, no change whatsoever" in the consensus that globally temperatures are rising, said Gerald North, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. Recent data has shown that the decade from 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record.
Indonesia to target New Guinea for agricultural expansion
(02/22/2010) Indonesia will target its last frontier — its territory on New Guinea — as it seeks to become a major agricultural exporter, reports the AFP.
Illegal loggers hit community reforestation project in Indonesia, spurring questions about REDD
(02/22/2010) Illegal loggers are targeting community-managed forests in South Sumatra, renewing questions over forestry governance and law enforcement as the Indonesia prepares to capitalize on payments for conservation and reforestation under a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism known as REDD, reports the Jakarta Press.
Cricket mothers warn offspring about spiders before they hatch
(02/21/2010) Cricket mothers are long gone by the time their infants hatch, so one would assume that cricket parents have little effect on their offspring's behavior. Not so, according to a new study in the American Naturalist which proves that mother crickets have the potential to teach their offspring—while still in their eggs—about the hazards of spiders.
Where two worlds collide: visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve
(02/21/2010) The vehicle stopped on the way into Tabin Wildlife Reserve as a troupe of pig-tailed macaques began making their way across the road. In a flash a domestic dog, which may or may not have been 'ownerless', ambushed the group. Chaos erupted as the big predator fell upon the community. As quickly as it began it was all over and the dog was rushing over with an infant monkey in its mouth, leaving the macaques' screeching out their helplessness. As my uncustomary welcome to Tabin Wildlife Reserve shows: the park is a meeting of two worlds. On the left side of the road leading into the reserve is a massive oil palm plantation, on the right is the rainforest and the many species the reserve protects. Tabin, therefore, gives the visitor a unique up-close view of the debate raging in Borneo and throughout much of Southeast Asia over conservation and environment versus oil palm plantations.
Climate change pledges by rich countries represent little new money
(02/19/2010) Under the Copenhagen Accord signed in December, the world's richest countries pledged billions of dollars in climate finance to help fund adaptation and mitigation initiatives in poor and vulnerable countries. However a new analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that a relative small proportion of the money committed for such efforts is actually new.
Profit of biggest companies would be cut by a third if forced to pay for environmental damage from operations
(02/19/2010) Profits of the world's 3,000 largest companies would be cut by $2.2 trillion per year if they were forced to pay for environmental damage from their operations, according to an upcoming U.N. report detailed by The Guardian. The study, conducted by Trucost, a consultancy, and scheduled to be released this summer, estimates that pollution and degradation of natural resources by the world's 3,000 largest companies amount to six to seven percent of total revenue, or roughly one-third of profits.
Pregnancy gives new hope for rhino on-the-brink of extinction
(02/18/2010) Though they grew up world's apart, Sumatran rhinos Ratu and Andalas have given conservationists new-found hope for saving the embattled species. The rhino couple is expecting, according to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas, Indonesia. One of the world's most endangered big mammals, Sumatran rhinos are unique due to their hairy bodies and small size (at least compared to other rhinos). The last surviving members of the genus Dicerorhinus, only 200 Sumatran rhinos are estimated to survive in the wild. Ratu's pregnancy holds special significance for a number of reasons. It is the first pregnancy at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary; it will be both Ratu's and Andalas' first calf; it is also the first pregnancy in captivity since Andalas' mother Emi—the only Sumatran rhino to successfully give birth in captivity for 112 years—passed away last fall.
Photos: highest diversity of cats in the world discovered in threatened forest of India
(02/18/2010) Using camera traps over a two year period wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati has discovered seven species of wild cats living in the same forest: the Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Yet the cat-crazy ecosystem is currently threatened by deforestation, unsustainable extractive industries, including crude oil and coal, and big hydroelectric projects. Some of the cats are also imperiled by poachers. In light of this discovery, conservationists are calling on the Indian government to protect the vulnerable forest system.
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