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News articles on environmental services

Mongabay.com news articles on environmental services in blog format. Updated regularly.









Next big idea in forest conservation? Connecting deforestation to disease

(04/03/2014) Thomas Gillespie is concerned with the connections between conservation and disease, with a particular emphasis on primates. Much of his research examines the places where humans and animals are at a high risk of exchanging pathogens, and how human-caused disturbances, such as deforestation, can change disease dynamics and impacts.


Tree growth accelerates with age

(01/15/2014) Old, large trees may be even more important ecologically than long-believed, according to a new study in Nature. Looking at over half a million individual trees from over 400 species (both tropical and temperate), scientists have determined that most trees actually grow faster in their dotage than in their youth.


Over 75 percent of large predators declining

(01/09/2014) The world's top carnivores are in big trouble: this is the take-away message from a new review paper published today in Science. Looking at 31 large-bodied carnivore species (i.e those over 15 kilograms or 33 pounds), the researchers found that 77 percent are in decline and more than half have seen their historical ranges decline by over 50 percent. In fact, the major study comes just days after new research found that the genetically-unique West African lion is down to just 250 breeding adults.


Natural sponges: forests help moderate floods, droughts

(12/20/2013) A new study adds further evidence for the 'sponge effect' of forests.


REDD+ program to cut deforestation gets final approval in Warsaw

(11/22/2013) Negotiators in Warsaw have reached formal agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), a program that aims to compensate tropical countries for protecting their forests. After seven years of discussions, countries approved the final REDD+ text on Friday at the COP17.


Amazon deforestation could cause droughts in California

(11/08/2013) Complete deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall in the Pacific Northwest by up to 20 percent and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada by up to 50 percent, suggests new research published in the Journal of Climate. The study is based on high resolution computer modeling that stripped the Amazon of its forest cover and assessed the potential impact on wind and precipitation patterns. While the scenario is implausible, it reveals the global nature of the ecological services afforded by the world's largest rainforest.


Deforestation may hurt U.S. agriculture, affect monsoon cycle

(11/04/2013) Unchecked deforestation will have far-reaching impacts on temperature, rainfall, and monsoon cycles in regions well outside the tropics, affecting agriculture and water availability, warns a new report published by Greenpeace International. The report is a synthesis of dozens of recent scientific papers that assess the effects of forest cover loss on weather patterns, local climate, and agricultural productivity.


Preserving forest, birds boosts coffee profit up to $300/ha by controlling pests

(09/11/2013) Birds are providing a valuable ecosystem service on coffee plantations in Costa Rica, finds a new study that quantifies the pest control benefits of preserving tree cover in agricultural areas. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, looked at the impact of the coffee berry borer beetle (Hypothenemus hampeii) on coffee yields. The beetle is the only insect that directly consumes coffee berries, making it a major scourge for coffee farmers around the world, costing producers some $500 million a year.


Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling

(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.


Losing just one pollinator species leads to big plant declines

(07/22/2013) A shocking new study finds that losing just one pollinator species could lead to major declines in plant productivity, a finding that has broad implications for biodiversity conservation. Looking at ten bumblebee species in Colorado alpine meadows, two scientists found that removing a single bee species cut flower seed production by one-third. Pollinators worldwide are in major trouble as they are hit by habitat loss, pesticides, disease and other impacts. In fact, the EU has recently banned several pesticides that have been linked to the global bee decline.


Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management

(06/23/2013) As agriculture continues to expand at the expense of forests in the tropics, humanity struggles to meet environmental protection goals. Despite global efforts towards sustainable agriculture and some progress towards the gazetting of protected areas, there are as yet no general and effective solutions for meeting both conservation goals and food needs, and thus the loss and degradation of natural habitats continues. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated a 70% increase in food production will be needed by 2050 to feed a population that will exceed 9 billion. How can such food production be met in ways that conserve the environment while also alleviating poverty?


Conserving top predators results in less CO2 in the air

(06/19/2013) What does a wolf in Yellowstone National Park have in common with an ambush spider on a meadow in Connecticut? Both are predators and thus eat herbivores, such as elk (in the case of wolves) and grasshoppers (in the case of spiders). Elk and grasshoppers also have more in common than you probably imagine: they both consume large quantities of plant matter. While scientists have long-known that predators lead to carbon storage by reducing herbivore populations, a new study reveals a novel way in which top predators cause an ecosystem to store more carbon.


How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature - An interview with Mark Tercek

(05/15/2013) In 2008, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) surprised the conservation world when it selected Mark Tercek, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, as its new president and CEO. For people familiar with Tercek, however, the move made perfect sense: he was a leading figure in Goldman's efforts to pursue new environmental policies. While at the helm of TNC, Mark Tercek has continued his focus on ecosystem services or attributing economic value to nature. In his new book, Nature’s Fortune, Mark discusses the fruit of this work.


Deforestation will undercut effectiveness of rainforest dams

(05/13/2013) Deforestation may significantly decrease the hydroelectric potential of tropical rainforest regions, warns a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The study, used climate, hydrological, and land use models to forecast the impact of potential forest loss on hydropower generation on the Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon where the world's third largest dam — Belo Monte — is currently under construction.


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).


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.


Greener neighborhoods have less violent crime

(04/04/2013) Turn your neighborhood green and it may prevent violent crime in the long run, according to a new study in Landscape and Urban Planning, which found that violent crimes (assaults, robberies, and burglaries) occurred less often in greener areas of Philadelphia. The connection between greener neighborhoods and less violent crime even stood up after researchers accounted for education, poverty, and population levels.


An insidious threat to tropical forests: over-hunting endangers tree species in Asia and Africa

(04/04/2013) A fruit falls to the floor in a rainforest. It waits. And waits. Inside the fruit is a seed, and like most seeds in tropical forests, this one needs an animal—a good-sized animal—to move it to a new place where it can germinate and grow. But it may be waiting in vain. Hunting and poaching has decimated many mammal and bird populations across the tropics, and according to two new studies the loss of these important seed-disperser are imperiling the very nature of rainforests.


Domesticated bees do not replace declining wild insects as agricultural pollinators

(04/03/2013) Sprinkled with pollen, buzzing bees fly from one blossom to another, collecting sweet nectar from brilliantly colored flowers. Bees tend to symbolize the pollination process, but there are many wild insects that carry out the same function. Unfortunately, wild insect populations are in decline, and, according to a recent study, adding more honey bees may not be a viable solution.


Progress in incentive-based protection of forests and other watersheds

(03/29/2013) There are two ways to look at Charting New Waters: State of Watershed Payments 2012 - the latest report released by Forest Trends on incentive-based water protection. One is that investments in watershed protection are fast approaching a tipping point - rising 25% from the previous year and with 25% of all recorded investments occurring within last two years. The other is that investments in watershed protection have a long ways to go before they are more than a scant drop in the bucket in terms of world GDP, prevalent outside of China, or independent of government/non-profit aid. The truth lies somewhere in between.


Seeing the forest through the elephants: slaughtered elephants taking rainforest trees with them

(03/11/2013) Elephants are vanishing. The booming illegal ivory trade is decimating the world's largest land animal, but no place has been harder hit than the Congo basin and its forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). The numbers are staggering: a single park in Gabon, Minkebe National Park, has seen 11,100 forest elephants killed in the last eight years; Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has lost 75 percent of its elephants in fifteen years; and a new study in PLoS ONE estimates that in total 60 percent of the world's forest elephants have been killed in the last decade alone. But what does that mean for the Congo forest?


The need to jump-start REDD to save forests

(03/08/2013) At least US$7.3 billion has been pledged for REDD+ over the period from 2008 to 2015, with $4.3 billion pledged for REDD+ readiness during the fast-start period alone (2010-2012). In addition to these funds, private investors, private foundations, and others have been channeling financial support to developing countries for REDD+ and related programs for several years now.


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.


EU pushes ban on pesticides linked to bee downfall

(02/05/2013) Following a flood of damning research on the longterm impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee colonies, the EU is proposing a two year ban on the popular pesticides for crops that attract bees, such as corn, sunflower, oil seed rape, cotton. The proposal comes shortly after European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a report that found neonicotinoid pesticides posed a "number of risks" to bees.


Featured video: the miracle of mangroves

(01/30/2013) Mangroves are among the most important ecosystems in the world: they provide nurseries for fish, protect coastlines against dangerous tropical storms, mitigate marine erosion, store massive amounts of carbon, and harbor species found no-where else. However, they are vanishing at astonishing rates: experts say around 35 percent of the world's mangroves were lost in just twenty years (1990 to 2010).


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.


Over $8 billion invested in watersheds in 2011

(01/28/2013) Unlike cars, hamburgers, and computers, clean drinking water is a requirement for human survival. In a bid to safeguard this essential resource, more and more nations are moving toward protecting ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, and streams. In fact, according to a new report by Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace, nations spent $8.17 billion in 2011 to secure freshwater by conserving watersheds.


Forests in Kenya worth much more intact says government report

(01/24/2013) Kenya's forests provide greater services and wealth to the nation when they are left standing. A landmark report by The Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addresses the importance of forests to the well-being of the nation, putting Kenya among a pioneering group of countries that aim to center development plans around nature-based assets.


Scary caterpillar fungus could lead to new cancer drug

(01/14/2013) Cordyceps sinensis, commonly known as caterpillar fungus, may be a groundbreaking new treatment for a number of life-threatening conditions including asthma, kidney failure and cancer according to a paper recently published by The RNA Society. If you’re a caterpillar of the Tibetan Plateau, the fungus Cordyceps is your worst nightmare. It hits you when you’re most vulnerable, during hibernation. You can try to stay awake, but on the Tibetan plateau, which reaches −40 degrees Celsius during the winter, you’ll have to hibernate sooner or later, and the fungus will be waiting for you.


World has lost half its wetlands

(11/29/2012) Half of the worlds wetlands have been destroyed in just the last 100 years, says a new report. Published by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), the report found that of the 25 million square kilometers of wetlands that existed in 1900 just 12.8 million square kilometers now remain. The rate of destruction varies geographically with notable loses in East Asia running at 1.6 per cent per year. In places where aquaculture, over-exploitation (e.g. unsustainable harvesting of fish) and storm damage have been severe, the rate of destruction can be as high as 80 percent.


Investors shouldn't ignore financial risk of environmental damage

(11/29/2012) Environmental damage poses a long-ignored risk to sovereign bonds, according to a new report by the UNEP FI (The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative) and the Global Footprint Network. The report, E-RISC Report, A New Angle on Sovereign Credit Risk, finds that the overuse of natural resources and their degradation has put considerable, and largely unrecognized, risk against national economies.


Legislation leaves future of world's largest temperate rainforest up in the air

(11/27/2012) Although unlikely to pass anytime in the near term, recurring legislation that would hand over 80,000 acres of the Tongass Rainforest to a Native-owned logging corporation has put local communities on guard in Southeast Alaska. "The legislation privatizes a public resource. It takes land that belongs to all of us, and that all of us have a say in the use and management of, and it gives that land to a private for-profit corporation," Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.


Wolves, mole rats, and nyala: the struggle to conserve Ethiopia's highlands

(11/20/2012) There is a place in the world where wolves live almost entirely off mountain rodents, lions dwell in forests, and freshwater rolls downstream to 12 million people, but the place—Ethiopia's Bale Mountains National Park—remains imperiled by a lack of legal boundaries and encroachment by a growing human population. "Much of the land in Africa above 3,000 meters has been altered or degraded to the point where it isn’t able to perform most of the ecosystem functions that it is designed to do. Bale, although under threat and already impacted to a degree by anthropogenic activities, is still able to perform its most important ecosystem functions, and as such ranks among only a handful of representative alpine ecosystems in Africa."


Future of the Tongass forest lies in salmon, not clear-cut logging

(10/25/2012) The Parnell administration's Timber Task Force recently unveiled a proposal to carve out two million acres of the Tongass National Forest for clear-cut logging under a state-managed "logging trust." The stated goal is to revive Southeast Alaska’s timber industry that collapsed two decades ago amid changing market conditions, logging cutbacks and evolving public opinion about timber harvesting on national forests.


India pledges over $60 million for biodiversity, but experts say much more needed

(10/18/2012) The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, pledged around $50 million (Rs. 264 crore) for domestic biodiversity protection, reports the Hindu. The pledge came this week at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Hyderabad, India. The CBD has set bold goals on stemming the rate of extinction worldwide, but these have suffered from a lack of funding. India also said it had set aside another $10 million (Rs. 50 crore) for biodiversity projects abroad. Still, such funds are far below what scientists say is necessary to stem ongoing extinctions.


Saving the world's species from oblivion will cost around $80 billion a year, but still a good deal

(10/11/2012) If the world is to conserve its wealth of life—species great and small, beautiful and terrible, beloved and unknown—it will cost from $3.41-4.76 billion annually in targeted conservation funds, according to a new study in Science. But that's not all, the cost of protecting and managing the world's conservation areas was estimated at an additional $76.1 billion a year.


Forest destruction leads to more floods in temperate regions

(10/04/2012) Keeping forests standing would lessen both the number and size of spring floods in temperate regions, according to a new study in Water Resources Research, by slowing seasonal snow melts. In deforested areas, snow melts faster due to a lack of shade causing at least twice as many, and potentially up to four times as many, flood events. The new research highlights a largely unknown ecosystem service provided by temperate forests: flood mitigation.


Learning to live with elephants in Malaysia

(09/18/2012) Humans and elephants have a lot in common: both are highly intelligent, intensely social, and both are capable of having a massive impact on their local environments. Given their similarities, it might not be surprising that elephants and human have often run afoul of one another. Conflict between these two great species has probably been going on for thousands of years, but as human populations have grown dramatically, elephant populations have been crippled and forced into smaller-and-smaller pockets. No-where is this more true than in Southeast Asia.


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.


Bird diversity at risk if 'agroforests' replaced with farmland

(09/13/2012) Agroforests contain much higher levels of bird diversity than their open agricultural counterparts, according to new research from the University of Utah. If large forests and agroforests continue to be replaced by simple open farms, bird communities will become much less specialized and entire groups may become extinct. Important roles for birds, such as pollination, pest control or seed dispersal, may remain unfilled if ongoing trends toward open agriculture continues and biodiversity decreases.


Mangroves protect coastal areas against storm damage

(09/07/2012) Mangroves reduce wave height by as much as 66 percent over 100 meters of forest providing a vital buffer against the impacts of storms, tsunamis, and hurricanes, according to a new report published by The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International.


Amazon deforestation could trigger drop in rainfall across South America

(09/06/2012) Deforestation could cause rainfall across the Amazon rainforest to drop precipitously, warns a new study published in the journal Nature. Using a computer model that accounts for forest cover and rainfall patterns, Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds and colleagues estimate that large-scale deforestation in the Amazon could reduce basin-wide rainfall 12 percent during the wet season and 21 percent in the dry season by 2050. Localized swings would be greater.


Rainforest fungi, plants fuel rainfall

(09/04/2012) Salt compounds released by fungi and plants in the Amazon rainforest have an important role in the formation of rain clouds, reports research published in the journal Science.


Private reserve safeguards newly discovered frogs in Ecuadorian cloud forest

(08/28/2012) Although it covers only 430 hectares (1,063 acres) of the little-known Chocó forest in Ecuador, the private reserve las Gralarias in Ecuador is home to an incredible explosion of life. Long known as a birder's paradise, the Reserva las Gralarias is now making a name for itself as a hotspot for new and endangered amphibians, as well as hundreds of stunning species of butterfly and moth. This is because the reserve is set in the perfect place for evolution to run wild: cloud forest spanning vast elevational shifts. "The pacific slope cloud forests [...] are among the most endangered habitats in the world," explains Reserva las Gralarias' founder, Jane Lyons, in a recent interview with mongabay.com.


Human society surpasses 'nature's budget' today

(08/22/2012) As of today, August 22nd, humanity has overshot the world's annual ecological budget, according to the Global Footprint Network, which tracks global consumption related to resource availability and sustainability. The organization looks at a variety of data including the world's fisheries, forests, agriculture, water, mining, and greenhouse gas emissions.


Mangroves should be part of solution to climate change

(08/02/2012) Mangroves are under-appreciated assets in the effort to slow climate change, argues a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper which makes a argument for including the coastal ecosystems in carbon credit programs.


Guyana rainforests secure trust fund

(07/30/2012) The nation of Guyana sports some of South America's most intact and least-imperiled rainforests, and a new $8.5 million trust fund hopes to keep it that way. The Guyanese government has teamed up with Germany and Conservation International (CI) to create a long-term trust fund to manage the country's protected areas system (PAS).


Saving 'Avatar Grove': the battle to preserve old-growth forests in British Columbia

(07/23/2012) A picture is worth a thousand words: this common adage comes instantly to mind when viewing T.J. Watt's unforgettable photos of lost trees. For years, Watt has been photographing the beauty of Vancouver Island's ancient temperate rainforests, and documenting their loss to clearcut logging. The photographer and environmental activist recently helped co-found the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), a group devoted to saving the island's and British Columbia's (BC) last old-growth while working with the logging industry to adopt sustainable practices. This February the organization succeeded in saving Avatar Grove—which was only discovered in 2009—from being clearcut. The grove, a rare stand of massive and ancient trees named after the popular eco science-fiction movie, has become a popular tourist destination, providing a new economic incentive for communities to protect rather than cut Canada's last great forests.


Experts: sustainable logging in rainforests impossible

(07/19/2012) Industrial logging in primary tropical forests that is both sustainable and profitable is impossible, argues a new study in Bioscience, which finds that the ecology of tropical hardwoods makes logging with truly sustainable practices not only impractical, but completely unprofitable. Given this, the researchers recommend industrial logging subsidies be dropped from the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. The study, which adds to the growing debate about the role of logging in tropical forests, counters recent research making the case that well-managed logging in old-growth rainforests could provide a "middle way" between conservation and outright conversion of forests to monocultures or pasture.


2,600 scientists: climate change killing the world's coral reefs

(07/10/2012) In an unprecedented show of concern, 2,600 (and rising) of the world's top marine scientists have released a Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs that raises alarm bells about the state of the world's reefs as they are pummeled by rising temperatures and ocean acidification, both caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The statement was released at the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium.



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