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News articles on ecology
Mongabay.com news articles on ecology in blog format. Updated regularly.
(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.
New study: why plants produce different sized seeds
(02/17/2010) The longstanding belief as to why some plants produce big seeds and others small seeds is that in this case bigger-is-better, since large seeds have a better chance of survival. However, Helene Muller-Landau, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and head of the HSBC Climate Partnership's effort to quantify carbon in tropical forests, grew dissatisfied with that explanation. For example, if big seeds were always the 'right' evolutionary path than why would any plants evolve small seeds? In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Muller-Landau argues for a more complex explanation involving a trade-off between surviving stressful conditions and taking full advantage when the conditions are just right.
Rainforest expert agrees with IPCC: warns of 'tipping point' for Amazon
(02/03/2010) Amid questions over the Amazon forests' capacity to survive climate change, a renowned tropical biologist says that in fact the fears are real, reports Tierramerica. Speaking at the Biodiversity Science Policy Conference in Paris, Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the Washington DC-based Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, and chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank, described the Amazon rainforest as "very close to a tipping point".
Jumbo squid explosion
(02/02/2010) Jumbo squid are back in the waters of Southern California and anglers are seeing an uptick in business, reports the Los Angeles Times.
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.
Photos: New tropical frog undergoes remarkable transformation
(02/01/2010) Nature never runs out of surprises. Exploring Sudest Island off of Papua New Guinea, researchers discovered a new species of frog that drastically changes its appearance from juvenile to adulthood, a transformation that has never been seen in another frog.The new species, named Oreophryne ezra, is shiny black with bright yellow spots. Yet when it matures, the frog becomes rose-colored and even its eyes change from black to blue.
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.
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.
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.
If protected coral reefs can recover from global warming damage
(01/10/2010) A study in the Caribbean has found that coral reefs can recover from global warming impacts, such as coral bleaching, if protected from fishing. Marine biologists have long been worried that coral reefs affected by climate change may be beyond recovery, however the new study published in PLoS ONE shows that alleviating another threat, overfishing, may allow coral reefs to cope with climate change.
Bottom-dwelling sea animals play surprising role in carbon sequestration
(01/07/2010) Researchers have long known that some marine animals, such as plankton, play big roles in the carbon cycle, but a new study shows that a long-ignored family of marine animals, the bottom-dwelling echinoderms, also do their part in the carbon cycle.
Starving hyenas kill and eat 12-foot-long python during drought
(01/05/2010) Members with the conservation group Lion Guardians stumbled on a rare site in the Amboseli area of Kenya recently: six hyenas and a number of jackals were attacking and eating a 12-foot-long python. On their blog at WildlifeDirect, Lion Guardians describe the attack: "[the hyenas and jackals] tore into its body from the back, and were taking their share while the upper part of the python was still alive! The Lion Guardian team was shocked and surprised at the same time, having never seen anything like it before."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not just the polar bear: ten American species that are feeling the heat from global warming
(12/01/2009) A new report, America’s Hottest Species, highlights a variety of American wildlife that are currently threatened by climate change from a small bird to a coral reef to the world’s largest marine turtle.
Face-to-face with what may be the last of the world's smallest rhino, the Bornean rhinoceros
(12/01/2009) Nothing can really prepare a person for coming face-to-face with what may be the last of a species. I had known for a week that I would be fortunate enough to meet Tam. I'd heard stories of his gentle demeanor, discussed his current situation with experts, and read everything I could find about this surprising individual. But still, walking up to the pen where Tam stood contentedly pulling leaves from the hands of a local ranger, hearing him snort and whistle, watching as he rattled the bars with his blunted horn, I felt like I was walking into a place I wasn't meant to be. As though I was treading on his, Tam's space: entering into a cool deep forest where mud wallows and shadows still linger. This was Tam's world; or at least it should be.
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.
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.
Ecological benefits of REDD boosted by inclusion of private landowners, potentially harmed by plantations
(11/17/2009) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation [REDD] programs that include landowners will conserve more habitat and ensure greater ecosystem services function than programs that focus solely on protected areas, report researchers from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG).
Extinct goat was "similar to crocodiles"
(11/16/2009) It sounds like something out of Greek mythology: a half-goat, half-reptilian creature. But researchers have discovered that an extinct species of goat, the Balearic Island cave goat or Myotragus balearicus, survived in nutrient-poor Mediterranean islands by evolving reptilian-specific characteristics. The goat, much like crocodiles, was able to grow at flexible rates, stopping growth entirely when food was scant. This adaptation—never before seen in a mammal—allowed the species to survive for five million years before being driven to extinction only 3,000 years ago, likely by human hunters.
Countries that invest in conservation will see higher financial returns, argues report
(11/13/2009) A new report issued by the The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative makes a strong case for valuing the planet's ecosystem services. The report calls for investments in "ecological infrastructure" to protect wildlands and the services they provide; market-based valuation of ecosystem services; reductions in environmentally harmful subsidies; recognition of the link between environmental degradation and poverty; and a strong climate deal that includes forest carbon.
Obama slower than Bush in protecting America's endangered species
(11/08/2009) In George W. Bush's eight years as president, he placed 62 species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an average of eight species per year. While, Bush's slow pace in protecting endangered species frustrated environmentalists in light of continued decline among many species, Obama is moving even slower.
Hunting across Southeast Asia weakens forests' survival, An interview with Richard Corlett
(11/08/2009) A large flying fox eats a fruit ingesting its seeds. Flying over the tropical forests it eventually deposits the seeds at the base of another tree far from the first. One of these seeds takes root, sprouts, and in thirty years time a new tree waits for another flying fox to spread its speed. In the Southeast Asian tropics an astounding 80 percent of seeds are spread not by wind, but by animals: birds, bats, rodents, even elephants. But in a region where animals of all shapes and sizes are being wiped out by uncontrolled hunting and poaching—what will the forests of the future look like? This is the question that has long occupied Richard Corlett, professor of biological science at the National University of Singapore.
Governments, public failing to save world's species
(11/04/2009) According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) 2008 report, released yesterday, 36 percent of the total species evaluated by the organization are threatened with extinction. If one adds the species classified as Near Threatened, the percentage jumps to 44 percent—nearly half.
Wolves keep forests nutrient-rich
(11/02/2009) As hunting wolves is legal again in two American states, Montana and Idaho, researchers have discovered an important role these large predators play in creating nutrient hotspots in northern forest environments. Researchers from Michigan Technological University found that when wolves take down their prey—in this case moose—they do more than simply keep a check on herbivore populations. The corpses of wolf-hunted moose create hotspots of forest fertility by enriching the soil with biochemicals. Due to this sudden up-tick in nutrients, microbial and fungal growth explodes, in turn providing extra nutrients for plants near the kill.
Language and conservation: why words matter
(10/28/2009) The words we choose matter. Benjamin Lee Whorf, an influential American linguist theorized that the language one speaks directly impacts our thoughts; he is quoted as saying, "language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about". If this is the case then those who believe in conservation must select their words wisely. My wife and I recently traveled to Africa where we visited wildlife parks in both Zimbabwe and Botswana. The animals we encountered and the scenes we were fortunate enough to witness proved so beautiful and wondrous that I have a difficult time describing them—at least in any way that accurately depicts the experience.
The faster, fiercer, and always surprising sloth, an interview with Bryson Voirin
(10/25/2009) Sloths sleep all day; they are always slow; and they are gentle animals. These are just some of the popular misconceptions that sloth-scientist and expert tree-climber, Bryson Voirin, is overturning. After growing up among the wild creatures of Florida, spending his high school years in Germany, and earning a Bachelors degree in biology and environment at the New College of Florida, Voirin found his calling. At the New College of Florida, Voirin "met Meg Lowman, the famous canopy pioneer who invented many of the tree climbing techniques everyone uses today."
Logged forests support biodiversity after 15 years of rehabilitation, but not if turned into plantations
(10/21/2009) With the world facing global warming and a biodiversity crisis, a new study shows that within 15 years logged forests—considered by many to be 'degraded'—can be managed in order to successfully fight both climate change and extinction.
World's largest golden orb weaving spider discovered in South Africa and Madagascar
(10/21/2009) Golden orb weaving spiders have been garnering media attention recently. Last year stunning photographs of a golden orb weaver eating a bird in Australia made world coverage. Now, over a century after the last legitimate species of golden orb weaver was discovered, researchers have announced the discovery of a new and rare species of golden orb weaving spider in Africa and on the island of Madagascar. On average the new species is the largest of all golden orb weavers known.
Arctic lake undergoing unprecedented changes due to warming
(10/19/2009) The Arctic should be growing cooler, but a new sediment core taken from an Arctic lake reveals that the lake's ecology and chemistry has been transformed by unnatural warming beginning in the 1950s. The sediment core proves that changes happening in the lake during the Twentieth Century are unprecedented over the past 200,000 years. Headed by University of Colorado scientist Yarrow Axelford, the study retrieved the sediment core from the bottom of a thirty foot deep lake on Baffin Island. Importantly the sediment core goes back 80,000 years further than any other core retrieved from the Greenland ice sheet, providing researchers with the longest timescale yet of changes in the Arctic climate.
Present day tropical plant families survived in warmer, wetter tropics 58 million years ago
(10/18/2009) Fifty eight million years ago the tropical rainforests of South America shared many similarities with today's Neotropical forests, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Looking at over 2,000 fossils in Colombia from one of the world's largest open pit coal mines, scientists were able to recreate for the first time the structure of a long vanished rainforest. One inhabited by a titanic snake, giant turtles, and crocodile-like reptiles.
Plants recognize that family comes first
(10/16/2009) People like to say 'blood is thicker than water'. But plants may actually treat ther siblings better than many of us: although lacking in blood, scientists have found that plants not only recognize family, but respect their space.
Freshwater species worse off than land or marine
(10/15/2009) Scientists have announced that freshwater species are likely the most threatened on earth. Extinction rates for freshwater inhabitants are currently four to six times the rates for terrestrial and marine species. Yet, these figures have not lead to action on the ground.
To save species conservationists must focus on conserving at least 5,000 individuals
(10/15/2009) The tiger has an estimated population of 3,400-5,000 individuals; the giant panda, 1,000-2,000; the North Atlantic right whale, 350-400; the Sumatran rhino, 250; and the California condor, 170. A new study shows that none of these species is safe from extinction yet, although each has received considerable conservation attention compared to most imperiled species.
Could agroforestry solve the biodiversity crisis and address poverty?, an interview with Shonil Bhagwat
(09/24/2009) With the world facing a variety of crises: climate change, food shortages, extreme poverty, and biodiversity loss, researchers are looking at ways to address more than one issue at once by revolutionizing sectors of society. One of the ideas is a transformation of agricultural practices from intensive chemical-dependent crops to mixing agriculture and forest, while relying on organic methods. The latter is known as agroforestry or land sharing—balancing the crop yields with biodiversity. Shonil Bhagwat, Director of MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, believes this philosophy could help the world tackle some of its biggest problems.
Working to save the 'living dead' in the Atlantic Forest, an interview with Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes
(09/23/2009) The Atlantic Forest may very well be the most imperiled tropical ecosystem in the world: it is estimated that seven percent (or less) of the original forest remains. Lining the coast of Brazil, what is left of the forest is largely patches and fragments that are hemmed in by metropolises and monocultures. Yet, some areas are worse than others, such as the Pernambuco Endemism Centre, a region in the northeast that has largely been ignored by scientists and conservation efforts. Here, 98 percent of the forest is gone, and 70 percent of what remains are patches measuring less than 10 hectares. Due to this fragmentation all large mammals have gone regionally extinct and the small mammals are described by Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, a professor and researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, as the 'living dead'.
Employing dogs to save endangered species and places, an interview with Megan Parker
(09/21/2009) For millennia dogs have been helpers to humans: they have herded and protected livestock, pulled sleds, hunted game, led the blind, located people after disasters, and sniffed out drugs. Now a new occupation can be added: conservation aide. Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) was begun by Megan Parker in 2000: the idea, to use dogs' impeccable scent capabilities for conservation initiatives, appears so logical and useful when Parker talks about it, one is surprised it took environmentalists so long to realize the potential of dogs.
After declining 95% in 15 years, Saiga antelope begins to rebound with help from conservationists
(09/20/2009) In a decline on par with that suffered by the American bison in the Nineteenth Century, in the 1990s the saiga antelope of the Central Asian steppe plummeted from over one million individuals to 50,000, dropping a staggering 95 percent in a decade and a half. Since then new legislation and conservation measure have helped the species stabilize in some areas but in others the decline continues. Working for six years with the Saiga Conservation Alliance, Founding Member and Executive Secretary Elena Bykova has helped bring the species back from the very brink of extinction.
Alleviating poverty and saving biodiversity are inherently linked argue scientists
(09/17/2009) Twenty-nine scientists argue in Science today that the world will not be able to lift up the world's poor unless it also addresses global biodiversity loss. They say that the same underlying problems—exploitation of resources, unsustainable overconsumption, climate change, population growth—are exacerbating global poverty and the extinction of species.
South Korea's frogs have avoided amphibian crisis so far, an interview with Pierre Fidenci
(09/09/2009) Frogs are on the edge. Blasted by habitat loss, pollution, and a terrible disease, the chytrid fungus, species are vanishing worldwide and those that remain are clinging to existence, rather than thriving. However, an interview with Pierre Fidenci, President of Endangered Species International (ESI), proves that there are still areas of the world where amphibians remain in abundance. South Korea is not a country that is talked about frequently in conservation circles. Other nations in the region attract far more attention, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. But it was just this neglect that drove Pierre Fidenci to visit the nation and survey the amphibians there.
Snails learn from fear
(08/26/2009) We all know that frightening experiences give us powerful memories. Now, researchers at the University of Calgary have demonstrated that an invertebrate is also capable of learning from fear. They published their findings in The Journal of Experimental Biology earlier this month.
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