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News articles on Science
Mongabay.com news articles on Science in blog format. Updated regularly.
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Scientists have reached an overwhelming consensus on human-caused climate change
(05/16/2013) Despite outsized media and political attention to climate change deniers, climate scientists long ago reached a consensus that not only is climate change occurring, but it's largely due to human actions. A new study in Environmental Research Letters further strengthens this consensus: looking at 4,000 peer-reviewed papers researchers found that 97 percent of them supported anthropogenic (i.e. human caused) global warming. Climate change denialists, many of them linked to fossil fuel industries, have tried for years—and often successfully—to undercut action on mitigating climate change through carefully crafted misinformation campaigns.
Industrialized fishing has forced seabirds to change what they eat
(05/14/2013) The bleached bones of seabirds are telling us a new story about the far-reaching impacts of industrial fisheries on today's oceans. Looking at the isotopes of 250 bones from Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis), scientists have been able to reconstruct the birds' diets over the last 3,000 years. They found an unmistakable shift from big prey to small prey around 100 years ago, just when large, modern fisheries started scooping up fish at never before seen rates. The dietary shift shows that modern fisheries upended predator and prey relationships even in the ocean ocean and have possibly played a role in the decline of some seabirds.
Climate change to halve habitat for over 10,000 common species
(05/13/2013) Even as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history last week, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that thousands of the world's common species will suffer grave habitat loss under climate change.
A new world?: carbon dioxide concentrations in atmosphere hit 400 ppm
(05/11/2013) For the first time since homo sapiens evolved, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have struck 400 parts per million (ppm) due to burning fossil fuels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that readings of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii hit the symbolic number on Thursday and are expected to continue rising in coming years. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when sea levels were 5-40 meters higher than today and the poles were 10 degrees Celsius hotter. During this epoch, forests grew along the shores of the Arctic Ocean and coral reefs were almost wholly absent.
Scientists discover that marine animals disperse seagrass
(05/09/2013) Lesser known than coral reefs, marine seagrass ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and are powerhouses when it comes to sequestering carbon dioxide. Yet, much remains unknown about the ecology of seagrass beds, including detailed information on how seagrass spread their seeds and colonize new area. Now a recent study in Marine Ecology Progress Series documents that several species of marine animal are key to dispersing seagrass, overturning the assumption that seagrass was largely dispersed by abiotic methods (such as wind and waves).
Featured video: camera trapping in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
(05/07/2013) A new video highlights the work of Badru Mugerwa as he sets and monitors 60 remote camera traps in one of the most rugged tropical forests on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Mugerwa is working with the TEAM Network, run by Conservation International, which monitors mammal and bird populations in 16 protected tropical forests around the world. Every researcher uses the same methodology allowing findings to be compared not just from year-to-year but across oceans.
Frankenfish or scientific marvel?: giant GM salmon await U.S. approval
(05/07/2013) It is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level. But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal—a fast-growing salmon—to supermarkets and dinner tables.
Europe bans pesticides linked to bee collapse
(04/29/2013) The EU has banned three neonicotinoid pesticides (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) linked to the decline of bees for two years. The ban will apply to all flowering crops, such as corn, rape seed, and sunflowers. The move follows a flood of recent studies, some high-profile, that have linked neonicotinoid pesticides, which employ nicotine-like chemicals, to the widespread decline of bees seen both in Europe and North America.
The river of plenty: uncovering the secrets of the amazing Mekong
(04/23/2013) Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of freshwater biodiversity. Meanwhile, the river is facing an existential crisis in the form of 77 proposed dams, while population growth, pollution, and development further imperil this understudied, but vast, ecosystem.
Malaysia may be home to more Asian tapirs than previously thought (photos)
(04/23/2013) You can't mistake an Asian tapir for anything else: for one thing, it's the only tapir on the continent; for another, it's distinct black-and-white blocky markings distinguishes it from any other tapir (or large mammal) on Earth. But still little is known about the Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus), including the number surviving. However, researchers in Malaysia are working to change that: a new study for the first time estimates population density for the neglected megafauna, while another predicts where populations may still be hiding in peninsular Malaysia, including selectively-logged areas.
Last 30 years were the warmest in the last 1,400 years
(04/21/2013) From 1971 to 2000, the world's land areas were the warmest they have been in at least 1,400 years, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience. The massive new study, involving 80 researchers from around the world with the Past Global Changes (PAGES) group, is the first to look at continental temperature changes over two thousand years, providing insights into regional climatic changes from the Roman Empire to the modern day. According to the data, Earth's land masses were generally cooling until anthropogenic climate change reversed the long-term pattern in the late-19th Century.
Future generations to pay for our mistakes: biodiversity loss doesn't appear for decades
(04/15/2013) The biodiversity of Europe today is largely linked to environmental conditions decades ago, according to a new large-scale study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at various social and economic conditions from the last hundred years, scientists found that today's European species were closely aligned to environmental impacts on the continent from 1900 and 1950 instead of more recent times. The findings imply that scientists may be underestimating the total decline in global biodiversity, while future generations will inherit a natural world of our making.
How many animals do we need to keep extinction at bay?
(04/15/2013) How many animal individuals are needed to ensure a species isn't doomed to extinction even with our best conservation efforts? While no one knows exactly, scientists have created complex models to attempt an answer. They call this important threshold the "minimum viable population" and have spilled plenty of ink trying to decipher estimates, many of which fall in the thousands. However, a new study in Conservation Biology shows that some long-lived animals may not need so many individuals to retain a stable population.
Breaking the mold: Divya Karnad takes on fisheries and science journalism in India
(04/15/2013) Fishing is not a woman's domain in most countries across the globe. In parts of India there are fishing communities who believe that having a woman onboard a fishing boat brings bad luck. Despite this, Divya Karnad, a scientist who studies marine life in India, has spent several years studying fisheries and their impact on species like sharks and sea turtles. Her work forms a part of global efforts to track declining marine species and encourage more sustainable fishing.
Looking beyond the hundred legs: finding new centipedes in India requires many tools
(04/08/2013) A small, boneless creature, that lives underground, with a "hundred" legs, and a rather powerful sting; some of these creatures are drab, but some are so beautiful and brightly colored that they can startle. Centipedes. There is more to a centipede than its many legs, and its habit of darting out of dark places. One of the first lifeforms to turn up on land, some centipede fossils date back to about 450 million years ago. They have been evolving steadily since, with some estimates showing about 8,000 species today. Not even half of these species have been taxonomically described.
By 2050 much of the Arctic could be green
(04/01/2013) Warming about twice as fast as the rest of the world, the Arctic is already undergoing massive upheavals from climate change: summer sea ice is thinning and vanishing, land based ice sheets are melting, and sea levels are rising. Now a new study in Nature Climate Change predicts that vegetation cover in the Arctic could expand by over 50 percent by 2050. Although increased vegetation would sequester additional carbon, this would be more-than-offset by the loss of the albedo effect, whereby sunlight bounces off white (snow and ice covered) parts of the Earth.
Scientists find the 'missing heat' of global warming 700 meters below the sea
(03/28/2013) Critics of climate change often claim that warming has stopped since the late 1990s. While this is categorically false (the last decade was the warmest on record and 2005 and 2010 are generally considered tied for the warmest year), scientists do admit that warming hasn't occurred over land as rapidly as predicted in the last ten years, especially given continually rising greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters has found this so-called missing heat: 700 meters below the surface of the ocean.
Humans killed over 10 percent of the world's bird species when they colonized the Pacific Islands
(03/25/2013) Around 4,000 years ago intrepid Polynesian seafarers made their way into an untamed wilderness: the far-flung Pacific Islands. Over a thousands or so years, they rowed from one island to another, stepping on shores never yet seen by humans. While this vast colonization brought about a new era of human history, it also ended the existence of well-over a thousand bird species according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Warnings of global ecological tipping points may be overstated
(03/05/2013) There's little evidence that the Earth is nearing a global ecological tipping point, according to a new Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper that is bound to be controversial. The authors argue that despite numerous warnings that the Earth is headed toward an ecological tipping point due to environmental stressors, such as habitat loss or climate change, it's unlikely this will occur anytime soon—at least not on land. The paper comes with a number of caveats, including that a global tipping point could occur in marine ecosystems due to ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels. In addition, regional tipping points, such as the Arctic ice melt or the Amazon rainforest drying out, are still of great concern.
Will Amazon species lose the climate change race?
(02/14/2013) Deforestation could increase the risk of biodiversity loss in the Amazon by forcing species to migrate further in order to remain at equilibrium with changing climates, says new research. "As migration models are made more realistic through the inclusion of multiple climatic, biotic, abiotic and human factors, the predicted distances between current and future climate analogues invariably increases," Kenneth Feeley, lead author of the paper published in Global Change Biology, told mongabay.com.
Unique song reveals new owl species in Indonesia
(02/13/2013) Want to find a new species of owl? Just listen. A unique whistling call have led scientists to discover a new owl on the Indonesian island of Lombok, according to a new study in PLoS ONE. Two scientific expeditions, occurring separately but within a few days of each other, both noticed something different about the calls coming from owls on Lombok.
Geneticists discover distinct lion group in squalid conditions
(02/04/2013) They languished behind bars in squalid conditions, their very survival in jeopardy. Outside, an international team of advocates strove to bring worldwide attention to their plight. With modern genetics, the experts sought to prove what they had long believed: that these individuals were special. Like other cases of individuals waiting for rescue from a life of deprivation behind bars, the fate of those held captive might be dramatically altered with the application of genetic science to answer questions of debated identity. Now recent DNA analysis has made it official: this group is special and because of their scientifically confirmed distinctiveness they will soon enjoy greater freedom.
Controversial research outlines physics behind how forests may bring rain
(01/30/2013) It took over two-and-a-half-years for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics to finally accept a paper outlining a new meteorological hypothesis in which condensation, not temperature, drives winds. If proven correct, the hypothesis could have massive ramifications on global policy—not to mention meteorology—as essentially the hypothesis means that the world's forest play a major role in driving precipitation from the coast into a continent's interior. The theory, known as the biotic pump, was first developed in 2006 by two Russian scientists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics, but the two have faced major pushback and delays in their attempt to put the theory before the greater scientific community.
Popular pesticides kill frogs outright
(01/28/2013) Commonly used agrochemicals (pesticides, fungicides and herbicides) kill frogs outright when sprayed on fields even when used at recommended dosages, according to new research in Scientific Reports. Testing seven chemicals on European common frogs (Rana temporaria), the scientists found that all of them were potentially lethal to amphibians. In fact, two fungicides—Headline and Captain Omya—wiped out the entire population of frogs at the recommended dosage. The study warns that agricultural chemicals could be having a large-scale and largely unrecorded impact on the world's vanishing amphibians.
Scientists could name every species on Earth in 50 years
(01/28/2013) A bold new paper in Science argues that the world's species could be named and described before they vanish into extinction, though the threat of eventual extinction will remain for many, especially as climate change worsens. The scientists say that contrary to popular belief, there are more taxonomists working than ever before and there are likely less species on Earth than often reported, making finding and naming the world's species within reach this century.
Scientists point to research flaw that has likely exaggerated the impact of logging in tropical forests
(01/23/2013) The impact of logging on tropical forest species has likely been exaggerated by statistical problems, according to a new study in Conservation Biology. Reviewing 77 studies on how logging affects tropical biodiversity, scientists found that 67 percent were flawed by a technical problem known as 'pseudoreplication.' The debate over logging in tropical forests has garnered significant attention recently as some scientists argue that well-managed logging areas can actually retain impressive numbers of species, while others say logging does irreparable harm to the ecosystem's ecology.
Global warming - 56 million years ago
(01/23/2013) Sandy, Irene, Katrina... Hurricanes are fast becoming household names and have many people worried over the connection between extreme weather and the amount of greenhouse gases people are pumping into the atmosphere. No one can predict for sure what will happen decades or centuries from now as such gas concentrations increase. But scientists have a pretty good picture of what did happen in the past; greenhouses gases were released into the atmosphere in massive amounts at least once before—around 56 million years ago.
Mercury hurts birds and people: what we can learn from studying our feathered friends
(01/07/2013) Birds aren't that different from people. We learn from our parents, just like zebra finches learn songs from their fathers. We are active and noisy during the day, like birds, and we can also be territorial. Also like birds, we try to attract mates through colorful displays and beautiful songs. Birds are sensitive to pollution in their environment just like we are: harmful elements such as mercury wreak similar havoc on human and bird biology alike. Because our species share so many attributes, studying birds illustrates the connections between them and us.
Solving complex problems through simple physics - book review
(01/02/2013) Guesstimation 2.0 Solving Today's Problems on the Back of a Napkin succeeds where most popular science literature so often fails. This is because it provides its readers with a scientific tool they can use immediately in their everyday lives.
Scientists nearly double the number of biogeographic realms
(01/02/2013) In 1876, British biologist Alfred Russell Wallace published a map of the world that outlined how related animals were spread over the Earth. For example, Wallace was the first to publicize that North American biodiversity was substantially different from South America, and that an invisible line separated Southeast Asian biodiversity from that of Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands. With Wallace's research came the founding of biogeography, or the study of species in relation to geography. Today, scientists with the University of Copenhagen have updated Wallace's map—nearly doubling the number of biogeographic realms—with support from data on over 21,000 species.
REDD+ should pave way for more research into genetic studies of tropical species
(12/10/2012) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), the UN program to conserve tropical forests by paying developing nations to keep them standing, should go hand-in-hand with increased genetic studies of imperiled tropical biodiversity, according to a new opinion article in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conversation Science.
Science and Public Reason - book review
(12/03/2012) Professor Sheila Jasanoff’s superb treatise Science and Public Reason, part of Earthscan's, is a wonderful book describing, through a collection of her essays and articles from the past 25-years, the rise of the field of Science and Technology Studies. The book could not have arrived soon enough, as we now globally face the triple threat of 1) massive biodiversity loss, 2) nutrient cycling disruption (greenhouse gases, Montreal Protocol gases, nitrogen fertilizer caused eutrophication, etc.), and 3) water quality degradation (saltwater intrusion, depleted aquifers, lack of clean drinking water, etc.).
Great apes suffer mid-life crisis too
(11/19/2012) Homo sapiens are not alone in experiencing a dip in happiness during middle age (often referred to as a mid-life crisis) since great apes suffer the same according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). A new study of over 500 great apes (336 chimpanzees and 172 orangutans) found that well-being patterns in primates are similar to those experience by humans. This doesn't mean that middle age apes seek out the sportiest trees or hit-on younger apes inappropriately, but rather that their well-being starts high in youth, dips in middle age, and rises again in old age.
Brainless slime mold uses slimy memory to navigate
(10/08/2012) How do you navigate space efficiently without a brain? Slime, according to a surprising new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of a brainless slime mold named Physarum polycephalum. Scientists at the University of Sydney have discovered that the mold secretes slime as an 'external spatial memory' to make sure it doesn't end up going around in circles.
Featured video: trailer for Living Downstream
(09/25/2012) After suffering from bladder cancer at 20, Sandra Steingraber began to study the links between toxic chemicals and deadly diseases. Her research led her to write the the much-acclaimed book Living Downstream, which combines her personal struggles with disease and the on-going contamination of our environment. Now, a new film based on the book, Steingraber's life, and the science behind cancer and chemicals in our environmental, is being released worldwide. To see the list of screenings worldwide: LIVING DOWNSTREAM.
Method to estimate primate abundance falls short
(09/17/2012) Counting wildlife may sound straight-forward, but achieving accurate estimates has plagued scientists for centuries, especially in difficult and dense environments like rainforest. Recently, one method to estimate leaf-eating primates was to look at leaf quality in a particular habitat, particularly the ratio of protein to fiber in leaves. However, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science adds to growing concerns regarding this model by finding that it doesn't accurately predict abundance of red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) in Uganda's Kibale National Park.
Arachnopocalypse: with birds away, the spiders play in Guam
(09/17/2012) The island of Guam is drowning in spiders. New research in the open-access journal PLOS ONE has found that in the wet season, Guam's arachnid population booms to around 40 times higher than adjacent islands. Scientists say this is because Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, has lost its insect-eating forest birds. Guam's forests were once rich in birdlife until the invasion of non-native brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) in the 1940s decimated biodiverse bird communities. Now, the island is not only overrun with snakes, but spiders too.
Wind can power the world, says two new studies
(09/10/2012) Wind power is up to the challenge of providing more-than-enough energy for global society, according to two new and unrelated studies. Both studies, one published in Nature Climate Change and the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that wind power from surface winds alone could produce hundreds of terrawatts (TW) meanwhile current global society uses around 18 TW.
'Monster larva' turns into a shrimp
(08/28/2012) With blue devil-shaped horns and red armor, the monster larva, or Cerataspis monstrosa, kept scientists guessing for nearly 200 years; infrequently found in the bellies of marine predators, researchers could not imagine what this larva became as an adult. Now they do: the monster larva becomes a deep sea shrimp, known as Plesiopenaeus armatus, which bares little monstrous resemblance to its larval stage, according to DNA studies published in Ecology and Evolution.
A new tool for taking on elephant poaching: DNA forensics
(08/08/2012) One of the difficulties plaguing law enforcement and authorities when it comes to tackling elephant poaching is determining where the ivory originates. Now, research published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, has found a new way of tracking ivory back to wild elephants populations: forensic genetic studies.
Extreme heatwaves 50 to 100 times more likely due to climate change
(08/05/2012) A recent rise in deadly, debilitating, and expensive heatwaves was caused by climate change, argues a new statistical analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Climatologists found that extreme heatwaves have increased by at least 50 times during the last 30 years. The researchers, including James Hansen of NASA, conclude that climate change is the only explanation for such a statistical jump.
Prominent climate skeptic reverses course, says global warming worse than IPCC forecast
(07/30/2012) After starting his own project to study global warming, a once-prominent climate change skeptic and physicist says he now accepts the reality of anthropogenic climate change. "Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause," Richard Muller writes in the New York Times as his team, the Berkeley Earth Project, releases a new paper that finds an even stronger link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures worldwide than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Thousands of scientists hold mock funeral in Canada to highlight nation's "death of evidence"
(07/11/2012) Carrying signs that said 'Stop Harper's War on Knowledge' and 'Scientists Shouldn't Wear a Muzzle,' Canada's scientists were unusually theatrical yesterday at a rally against the Canadian government's cuts for basic science funding and environmental protections. Scientists, dressed in white coats, carried a coffin to represent "the death of evidence" in Canada, while a costumed grim-reaper led the way. According to police, around 2,000 joined in the protest.
Climate change increased the probability of Texas drought, African famine, and other extreme weather
(07/11/2012) Climate change is here and its increasing the chances for crazy weather, according to scientists. A prestigious group of climatologists have released a landmark report that makes the dramatic point that climate change is impacting our weather systems—and in turn our food crops, our economies, and even our lives—here-and-now. The new report in the American Meteorological Society is first of what is intended to be an annual offering that will attempt to tease out the connections between climate change and individual extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and floods.
Experts dispute recent study that claims little impact by pre-Columbian tribes in Amazon
(07/05/2012) A study last month in the journal Science argued that pre-Columbian peoples had little impact on the western and central Amazon, going against a recently composed picture of the early Amazon inhabited by large, sophisticated populations influencing both the forest and its biodiversity. The new study, based on hundreds of soil samples, theorizes that indigenous populations in much of the Amazon were tiny and always on the move, largely sticking to rivers and practicing marginal agriculture. However, the study raised eyebrows as soon as it was released, including those of notable researchers who openly criticized its methods and pointed out omissions in the paper, such as no mention of hundreds of geoglyphs, manmade earthen structures, found in the region.
Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
Scientists to Rio+20: save biodiversity to save ourselves
(06/06/2012) World leaders need to do much more to protect the Earth's millions of species for the services they provide, according to a new scientific consensus statement in Nature based on over 1,000 research papers. Written by 17 top ecologists, the statement points out that despite growing knowledge of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and survival, species continue to vanish at alarming rates. The statement comes just weeks before the UN'S Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which is supposed to chart a path for a less impoverished and more equitable world including an emphasis on greater environmental protections, but which has been marred by a lack of ambition.
After damning research, France proposes banning pesticide linked to bee collapse
(06/04/2012) Following research linking neonicotinoid pesticides to the decline in bee populations, France has announced it plans to ban Cruiser OSR, an insecticide produced by Sygenta. Recent studies, including one in France, have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides likely hurt bees' ability to navigate, potentially devastating hives. France has said it will give Sygenta two weeks to prove the pesticide is not linked to the bee decline, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Biodiversity loss cripples plant growth
(05/02/2012) For decades scientists have been warning that if global society continues with "business-as-usual" practices the result will be a mass extinction of the world's species, an extinction event some researchers say is already underway. However, the direct impacts of global biodiversity loss has been more difficult to compile. Now a new study in Nature finds that loss of plant biodiversity could cripple overall plant growth.
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