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News articles on biodiversity
Mongabay.com news articles on biodiversity in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/14/2010) Speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that "business as usual is not an option" to protect the world' s biodiversity. The failure of governments worldwide to meet their pledges to protect biodiversity by 2010 is "a wake up call" according to Ki-moon.
Canada creates massive new park in the boreal
(02/09/2010) Last Friday, the government of Canada and the governments of the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador signed a memorandum of understanding to create a the new Mealy Mountains National Park. Larger than Yellowstone National Park, the new Canadian park will span 11,000 square kilometers making it the largest protected area in Eastern Canada.
Forgotten Species: the fiery Luristan Newt
(02/08/2010) The salamander was a mythical creature before it was a real one: the word salamander means a legendary lizard that both survived-in and could extinguish fire. A creature that the Ancient Greeks, including Aristotle, appeared to readily believe in. No one knows how the term salamander transferred from a mythical fire-dwelling monster to the small amphibious animals it applies to today, but I have a theory. Perhaps the sight of salamanders like Luristan newt—charcoal-black and flame-orange—caused people in the seventeenth century to lend the name of myth to the taxa.
Birder captures first footage ever of long whiskered owlet, one of the world's rarest birds
(02/04/2010) It was any birders dream come true: not only to see one of the world's rarest birds, but to discover a new unknown population. Israeli birder, Shachar Alterman, was surveying birds with the UK organization Neotropical Primate Conservation in Peruvian cloud forest when he heard and then saw the long whiskered owlet.
Half of Indonesia's species remain unknown
(02/02/2010) Incorporating 17,000 tropical islands, Indonesia is one of the world's richest areas of biodiversity. However, according to the Jakarta Post, over half of this biodiversity remains unrecorded with only 20 of the more than 400 regencies in the country recording species.
Why top predators matter: an in-depth look at new research
(02/02/2010) Few species have faced such vitriolic hatred from humans as the world's top predators. Considered by many as pests—often as dangerous—they have been gunned down, poisoned, speared, 'finned', and decimated across their habitats. Even where large areas of habitat are protected, the one thing that is often missing are top predators. However, new research over the past few decades is showing just how vital these predators are to ecosystems. Biologists have long known that predators control populations of prey animals, but new studies show that they may do much more. From controlling smaller predators to protecting river banks from erosion to providing nutrient hotspots, it appears that top predators are indispensible to a working ecosystem. Top predators sit at the apex of an ecosystem's food chain. Wolves in Alaska, tigers in Siberia, lions in Kenya, white sharks in the Pacific are all examples of top predators.
The secret life of a Californian pest
(02/01/2010) The acorn woodpecker is best known for its chortle, which may have inspired Woody the Woodpecker's iconic laugh. But many California residents say there's nothing funny about the hundreds of holes these birds leave outside of homes and businesses while storing acorns for the winter. In early 2009, two housing associations in the retirement community of Rossmoor found themselves at the heart of a national scandal after obtaining a depredation permit to shoot the winged vandals, according to the Los Angeles Times. But researchers on the Hastings Natural History Reserve in Carmel Valley don't see acorn woodpeckers as pests. For more than 40 years, biologists here have studied the ecological soap operas underlying acorn woodpecker social groups to learn why animals choose to cooperate in some situations and not in others.
Russian police raid environmental group working to protect Lake Baikal
(02/01/2010) Russian police have raided the Baikal Environmental Wave organization reports the Moscow Times. Police seized several computers, citing the reason for the raid to uncover the use of unlicensed software.
Will it be possible to feed nine billion people sustainably?
(01/28/2010) Sometime around 2050 researchers estimate that the global population will level-out at nine billion people, adding over two billion more people to the planet. Since, one billion of the world's population (more than one in seven) are currently going hungry—the largest number in all of history—scientists are struggling with how, not only to feed those who are hungry today, but also the additional two billion that will soon grace our planet. In a new paper in Science researchers make recommendations on how the world may one day feed nine billion people—sustainably.
Iceland leads world on environmental issues, but China, US, and Canada plummet
(01/27/2010) Evaluating 163 nations on their environmental performance, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) has named Iceland the most environmental nation. Released every two years, the EPI also found that the world's two largest super-powers—China and the US—have both fallen behind on confronting environmental challenges.
Coup leaders sell out Madagascar's forests, people
(01/27/2010) Madagascar is renowned for its biological richness. Located off the eastern coast of southern Africa and slightly larger than California, the island has an eclectic collection of plants and animals, more than 80 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world. But Madagascar's biological bounty has been under siege for nearly a year in the aftermath of a political crisis which saw its president chased into exile at gunpoint; a collapse in its civil service, including its park management system; and evaporation of donor funds which provide half the government's annual budget. In the absence of governance, organized gangs ransacked the island's biological treasures, including precious hardwoods and endangered lemurs from protected rainforests, and frightened away tourists, who provide a critical economic incentive for conservation. Now, as the coup leaders take an increasingly active role in the plunder as a means to finance an upcoming election they hope will legitimize their power grab, the question becomes whether Madagascar’s once highly regarded conservation system can be restored and maintained.
Photos: Gelatinous Blobfish in danger
(01/26/2010) A species dubbed "the world's most miserable-looking fish" is at risk of extinction due to poor fishing practices, reports The Daily Telegraph.
New report: world must change model of economic growth to avert environmental disaster
(01/25/2010) For decades industrialized nations have measured their success by the size of their annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product), i.e. economic growth. The current economic model calls for unending growth—as well as ever-rising consumerism—just to remain stable. However, a new report by the New Economics Foundation (nef) states that if countries continue down a path of unending growth, the world will be unable to tackle climate change and other environmental issues.
Loss in biodiversity may be killing bees
(01/20/2010) A decline in diverse plants species on which to feed may be causing a similar decline in bee survival, according to a new paper in Biology Letters.
Natural rafts carried Madagascar's unique wildlife to its shores
(01/20/2010) Imagine, forty million years ago a great tropical storm rises up on the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds of trees are blown over and swept out to sea, but one harbors something special: inside a dry hollow rests a small lemur-like primate. Currents carry this tree and its passenger hundreds of miles until one gray morning it slides onto a faraway, unknown beach. The small mammal crawls out of its hollow and waddles, hungry and thirsty, onto the beach. Within hours, amid nearby tropical forests, it has found the sustenance it needs to survive: in a place that would one day be named Madagascar.
Conservation organization, Durrell Wildlife Trust, forced to cut staff due to economic downturn
(01/19/2010) The Durrell Wildlife Trust—which turned fifty last year—has announced that it will be cutting back 10 percent of its workforce, approximately 12-14 positions, due to an ongoing deficit caused by the economic recession.
Photos: park in Ecuador likely contains world’s highest biodiversity, but threatened by oil
(01/19/2010) In the midst of a seesaw political battle to save Yasuni National Park from oil developers, scientists have announced that this park in Ecuador houses more species than anywhere else in South America—and maybe the world. "Yasuní is at the center of a small zone where South America's amphibians, birds, mammals, and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity," Dr. Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland said in a press release. "We dubbed this area the 'quadruple richness center.'"
The Caribbean's wonderfully weird (and threatened) mammals, an interview with Jose Nunez-Mino
(01/18/2010) Not many people know the solenodon and the hutia, yet for the fortunate few that have encountered them, these strange little-studied mammals—just barely holding on in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola—deserve to be stars of the animal kingdom. "I could not quite believe it the first time I held a solenodon; I was in utter awe of this mesmerizing mammal. […] They have a long flexible snout which is all down to the fact that it is joined to the skull by a unique ball-and-socket joint. This makes it look as if the snout is almost independent to the rest of the animal. You can’t help but feel fascinated by the snout and inevitably it does make you smile," Dr. Jose Nunez-Mino, the Project Manager for a new initiative to study and conserve the island's last mammals, told mongabay.com in an interview.
UK planning to reintroduce insects
(01/17/2010) When one thinks of reintroducing wildlife, one usually thinks of big charismatic mammals, such as wolves or beaver, or desperate birds like the Californian condor. But the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland is going one step further to save its unique ecology with plans to reintroduce four species of dwindling insects.
Photos: expedition in Ecuador reveals numerous new species in threatened cloud forest
(01/14/2010) An expedition into rainforests on Ecuador's coast by Reptile & Amphibian Ecology International (RAEI) have revealed a number of possible new species including a blunt-snouted, slug-eating snake; four stick insects; and up to 30 new 'rain' frogs. The blunt-snouted snake, which feeds on gastropods like slugs, is especially interesting, as its closest relative is in Peru, 350 miles away. In addition, a fifteen-year-old volunteer with the organization found a snake that specializes on snails. The researchers are unsure of this is a new species: the closest similar snake is 600 miles away in Panama.
Photos: new bird discovered in well-known rainforest in Borneo
(01/14/2010) The Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, Malaysia is a huge draw for tourists and scientists; a research station has been operating in Danum Valley since 1986. But the rainforest still has surprises left: in June two employees with a tour company named Field Guide came upon every ornithologist's dream, a bird species entirely unknown to science.
Forgotten species: discovering the shimmer of Maathai's Longleg
(01/13/2010) Few species receive less respect and less conservation attention than insects. This despite the fact that they are some of the most diverse species on the planet andthey provide a number of essential services to humankind, including pollination, pest control, production (for example honey and silk), waster recycling, and indications of habitat health. Scientists are not only unsure just how many species of insects are threatened in world; they are equally uncertain how many insects exist. Currently there are nearly a million insect species described by science, but millions more likely exist. It's probable that innumerable insect species have vanished before even being catalogued by entomologists.
World of Avatar: in real life
(01/13/2010) A number of media outlets are reporting a new type of depression: you could call it the Avatar blues. Some people seeing the new blockbuster film report becoming depressed afterwards because the world of Avatar, sporting six-legged creatures, flying lizards, and glowing organisms, is not real. Yet, to director James Cameron's credit, the alien world of Pandora is based on our own biological paradise—Earth. The wonders of Avatar are all around us, you just have to know where to look.
Saving biodiversity 'on the same scale' as climate change: German Chancellor
(01/11/2010) In a kick-off event for the UN's Year of Biodiversity, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, compared the importance of saving biodiversity to stopping climate change.
Scientists call for an end to mountaintop removal mining in the US
(01/07/2010) A group of scientists have called for the Obama Administration to place a moratorium on infamous mountain top mining due to "growing scientific evidence" of severe environmental degradation and serious impacts on human health, including cancer. The article, published in Science, is written by a dozen influential scientists, including hydrologists, ecologists, and engineers.
Housing developments choking wildlife around America's national parks
(01/05/2010) Housing developments within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of America's national parks have nearly quadrupled in sixty years, rising from 9.8 million housing units to 38 million from 1940 to 2000. The explosion of housing developments adjacent to national parks threatens wildlife in a variety of ways, according to a new study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "We are in danger of loving these protected areas to death," says co-author Anna Pidgeon as assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A 'dangerous world' for migratory birds, an interview with Sarah Lehnen
(01/04/2010) Sarah Lehnen has worked with America's rich birdlife for a decade: she has studied everything from songbirds inhabiting dwindling shrub land in Ohio to shorebirds stopping over in the Mississippi Rive alluvial valley, always with an eye towards conservation. Most recently she has been involved in testing migratory birds for avian flu. It may come as a surprise, but American birds are in serious decline. In March of last year, US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that one-in-three American birds are endangered. Even once common birds are showing precipitous declines. Birds face a barrage of threats, which are only complicated—and heightened—for migratory birds.
Gone: a look at extinction over the past decade
(01/03/2010) No one can say with any certainty how many species went extinct from 2000-2009. Because no one knows if the world's species number 3 million or 30 million, it is impossible to guess how many known species—let alone unknown—may have vanished recently. Species in tropical forests and the world's oceans are notoriously under-surveyed leaving gaping holes where species can vanish taking all of their secrets—even knowledge of their existence—with them.
Bridge development in Kalimantan threatens rainforest, mangroves, and coral reef
(01/03/2010) Balikpapan Bay in East Kalimantan is home to an incredible variety of ecosystems: in the shallow bay waters endangered dugong feed on sea grasses and salt water crocodiles sleep; along the bay proboscis monkeys leap among mangroves thirty meters tall and Irrawaddy dolphins roam; beyond the mangroves lies the Sungai Wain Protection forest; here, the Sunda clouded leopard hunts, sun bears climb into the canopy searching for fruits and nuts, and a reintroduced population of orangutans makes their nests; but this wilderness, along with all of its myriad inhabitants, is threatened by a plan to build a bridge and road connecting the towns of Penajam and Balikpapan.
The real Avatar story: indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation
(12/22/2009) In James Cameron's newest film Avatar an alien tribe on a distant planet fights to save their forest home from human invaders bent on mining the planet. The mining company has brought in ex-marines for 'security' and will stop at nothing, not even genocide, to secure profits for its shareholders. While Cameron's film takes place on a planet sporting six-legged rhinos and massive flying lizards, the struggle between corporations and indigenous people is hardly science fiction.
Uninhabited tropical island paradise seeks REDD funding to save it from loggers
(12/17/2009) Tetepare may be one of the last tropical island paradises left on earth. Headhunting and a mysterious illness drove its original inhabitants from the island two hundred years ago, making Tetepare today the largest uninhabited island in the tropical Pacific. The 120 square kilometer island (46 square miles), long untouched by industry or agriculture, is currently threatened by logging interests. However, the island is not without champions: in 2002 descendents of the original inhabitants of Tetepare formed the Tetepare Descendents Association (TDA) to preserve the island. Recently they have teamed up with the Solomon Islands Government and the Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership to develop financing through REDD.
More than half world's science academies support call to save rainforests
(12/17/2009) More than half world's science academies have signed a statement supporting a plan to save tropical forests as a means to fight climate change, reports the Global Canopy Program, an initiative that has worked closely with Prince Charles to promote rainforest conservation. The statement argues that tropical forest protection is a critical strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15-20 years. It calls upon world leaders to reach a consensus on a path forward for a funding package that would support the infrastructure needed to develop an effective reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism.
Pope Benedict: environmental crisis requires review of world's economic model
(12/15/2009) Pope Benedict XVI has released a message linking world peace with preserving the environment for the World Day of Peace, which will be held on January 1st 2010. In it Benedict calls for a "long-term review" of the world's current economic model, including "[moving] beyond a purely consumerist mentality" and encouraging a more "sober lifestyle".
Climate change causing irreversible acidification in world's oceans
(12/15/2009) A new study from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has synthesized over 300 reports on ocean acidification caused by climate change. The report finds that increasing acidification will lead to irreversible damage in the world's oceans, creating a less biodiverse marine environment. Released today the report determines that the threat to marine life by ocean acidification must be considered by policymakers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
Photos: ten beloved species threatened by global warming
(12/14/2009) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a list of ten species that are likely to be among the hardest hit by climate change, including beloved species such as the leatherback sea turtle, the koala, the emperor penguin, the clownfish, and the beluga whale. The timing of the list coincides with the negotiations by world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference to come up with an international agreement to combat climate change.
New REDD text is weak, say activists
(12/12/2009) Activist group have condemned the latest draft text of an agreement that aims to protect rainforests as a means to mitigate climate change.
Unilever suspends palm oil contract after supplier found to be destroying rainforests
(12/12/2009) The world's largest user of palm oil, Unilever, has suspended its $32.6 million contract with the Indonesian group Sinar Mas after an independent audit proved that Sinar Mas is involved in the destruction of rainforest, reports Reuters. The audit was conducted early this year after a report by Greenpeace alleged that Sinar Mas was engaged in deforestation and the draining of peatlands, both of which release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia, in part for oil palm plantations, has also added pressure on many many endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.
REDD may miss up to 80 percent of land use change emissions
(12/11/2009) The political definition of 'forest' used in REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) threatens to undermine the program's objective to conserve ecosystems for their ability to sequester carbon, according to a new analysis by the Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB) Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins. In an analysis of three Indonesian provinces using REDD proposals for carbon accounting, ASB found that REDD may miss up to 80 percent of the actual emissions due to land use change. The carbon accounting problems could be fixed, according to ASB, by expanding REDD's purpose from reducing emissions linked to deforestation (considering the problematic definition of forests) to reducing emission from all land use changes that either release or capture greenhouse gases, including but not limited to forests.
Destruction of old-growth forests looms over climate talks
(12/08/2009) Destruction of old-growth or primary forests looms large in discussions in Copenhagen over a scheme to compensate tropical countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Some environmental groups are pressing for conservation of old-growth forests — the most carbon-dense, and biologically-rich state of forests — to be the centerpiece of REDD, while industry and other actors are pushing for "sustainable forest management" or logging using reduced-impact techniques to be the primary focus of REDD.
Is a polar bear worth more than a lion?
(12/08/2009) For most environmentalists and animal rights activists it is an almost blasphemous idea to compare the value of one species with that of another, especially when that value is measured in terms of marketing potential for climate change awareness. In recent years, broad media coverage has turned the polar bear into a global symbol for the effects of climate change not only in the Arctic, but in the rest of the world too. In Germany particularly, the birth and highly publicized early life of the polar bear "Knut" at the Berlin City Zoo has intensified this symbolic effect. The fact that the Arctic ice is melting due to global warming is an established fact, and environmentalists the world over are lucky to have the polar bear and its disappearing habitat as a symbol for the global effects of pollution. All this publicity has, however, spread the exaggerated idea that polar bears are already on the verge of extinction.
Eco-label for rainforest products could boost sustainability
(12/06/2009) Tropical forests around the world continue to fall, largely the result of logging and conversion to agriculture. But new hope for forests has emerged under a scheme that would reward countries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation. Some variations of the concept, which is known as REDD, would allow for "sustainable forest management" (SFM), that is, reduced impact logging of forests, as well as harvesting of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) like seeds, fruit, and game. But the extent to which this harvesting affects forest ecology, and therefore carbon sequestration, is still poorly understood.
How tree communities respond to distance to edges and canopy openness
(12/06/2009) Tropical forests frequently experience the opening and closing of canopy gaps as part of their natural dynamics. When an edge is created, and the area outside the boundary is a disturbed or unnatural system, forests can be seriously affected even at some distance from the fragmented edge, since sunlight and wind penetrate to a much greater extent. This increases tree mortality and, consequently, canopy openness close to the edge. Thus, canopy openness can be both part of a natural gap-dynamics cycle and the direct manifestation of human edge effects.
Forests recover faster from slash-and-burn when near intact forest reserves
(12/06/2009) Areas cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture recover faster when adjacent to a large block of untouched forest, but may take decades to regain a majority of their biodiversity after tree-felling, according to a new review of ecological studies, published in the December issue of Tropical Conservation Science, an open access journal.
What types of primates are most prone to extinction in small forest fragments?
(12/06/2009) According to the most recent IUCN assessment, 48 percent of primates are threatened with extinction. Major threats to primates include habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting, and the wildlife trade. A new paper published in Tropical Conservation Science looked at ones of these threats — fragmentation — in an effort to determine what traits put primates at highest risk of extinction in forest fragments. Traits investigated all related to various aspects of primate biology, including: the amount of habitat needed, reproductive rate, and types of specialization. Surprisingly the authors, Matthew A. Gibbons and Alexander H. Harcourt of the University of California at Davis, found no significant relationship between extinction risk and any of the biological parameters.
Cheap REDD isn't the best conservation strategy for biodiversity
(12/03/2009) The lowest-cost approach to compensating reductions in emissions from deforestation and degradation under a proposed UN program (REDD) isn't necessarily the best approach for biodiversity conservation, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
Zoos call for deeper emission cuts to save life on Earth
(11/30/2009) To save species around the world zoos say deeper emission cuts are needed than governments are currently proposing. Over 200 zoos worldwide have signed a petition calling on governments to set the target of atmospheric carbon below 350 parts per million (ppm) far lower than most government targets.
Guyana expedition finds biodiversity trove in area slated for oil and gas development, an interview with Robert Pickles
(11/29/2009) An expedition deep into Guyana's rainforest interior to find the endangered giant river otter—and collect their scat for genetic analysis—uncovered much more than even this endangered charismatic species. "Visiting the Rewa Head felt like we were walking in the footsteps of Wallace and Bates, seeing South America with its natural density of wild animals as it would have appeared 150 years ago," expedition member Robert Pickles said to Mongabay.com.
Reforestation effort would lower Britain's greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent
(11/25/2009) A study by Britain's Forestry Commission found that planting 23,000 hectares of forest every year for the next 40 years would lower the island nation's greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, according to reporting by the BBC.
Videos and Photos: over 17,000 species discovered in waters beyond the sun's reach
(11/23/2009) Deep, deep below the ocean's surface, in a world of ever-present darkness, one would expect few, if any, species would thrive. However, recent expeditions by the Census of Marine Life (CoML) have found an incredible array of strange, diverse, and amazing creatures. To date a total of 17,650 species are now known to live in frigid, nearly lightless waters beyond the photic zone—where enough light occurs for photosynthesis—approximately 200 meters deep. Nearly 6,000 of these occur in even harsher ecosystems, below depths of 1,000 meters or 0.62 miles down.
Photo of new chameleon species discovered in Tanzania
(11/23/2009) Researchers have discovered a new species of chameleon in southern Tanzania.
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