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News articles on trees
Mongabay.com news articles on trees in blog format. Updated regularly.
(11/13/2014) Leaves are vital trees organs that support many important functions. A recent study published in PNAS found that each tree species in tropical rainforests possesses distinctive bacterial communities – called microbiomes – on their leaves. Understanding how leaf microbiomes vary among species may in the future be applied for maintaining healthy forests and predicting how forests will react to climate change.
'Guns kill trees too': overhunting raises extinction threat for trees
(11/12/2014) A new paper confirms what ecologists have long feared: hunting birds and mammals drastically raises the risk of extinction for tropical trees. Following the long-lifespan of a single canopy tree, Miliusa horsfieldii, researchers discovered that overhunting of animals could increase the chances of extinction for the species fourteen times over a century, from 0.5 percent to seven percent.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Recognize the value of novel forests
(10/23/2014) Think first before you eradicate non-native species says Dr. Ariel E. Lugo, the current director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry within the USDA Forest Service, based in Puerto Rico. Lugo, an accomplished ecologist, supports the idea that both native and non-native plants have important roles to play in conservation efforts.
Invasive species worsen damage from Hawaii's storms
(08/22/2014) Damage from Hurricane Iselle, which recently battered Hawaii's Big Island, was exacerbated by invasion of non-native tree species, say experts who have studied the transformation of Hawaii's native forests. selle, which made landfall on the Big Island on August 7, was the third-strongest tropical cyclone to hit Hawaii since 1950. It caused upwards of $50 million in damage.
Next big idea in forest conservation? DNA fingerprinting trees to stem illegal logging
(08/21/2014) As a professor at Texas Tech, Dr. Chuck Cannon has been, among other things, working to create a system of DNA fingerprinting for tropical trees to undercut the global illegal logging trade. 'If we just enforced existing laws and management policies, things would be pretty good, but unfortunately, that is where things fall apart in many tropical countries,' Cannon said.
Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk
(07/11/2014) Growing coffee in the shade of forests allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.
Logging in Vietnam still affecting rare trees 30 years later
(06/25/2014) Restricted geographic ranges, high habitat specificity, and small local population sizes all contribute to the natural rarity of many tree species. Anthropogenic activities such as selective logging can compound this rarity by modifying habitats and altering the competitive balance among tree species. According to a new study, previous logging in the forests of Vietnam continue to put rare tree species at risk.
Tree-huggers: koalas cuddle up to keep cool
(06/06/2014) For animals that live in places that are both hot and dry, using valuable water stores to cool off via evaporation may put them at risk of dehydration. Now, as described in a new study published in Biology Letters, it seems that koalas have figured out a way to stay both cool and dry: by hugging trees.
Olinguito, tinkerbell, and a dragon: meet the top 10 new species of 2013
(05/22/2014) Out of around 18,000 new species described and named last year, scientists have highlighted ten in an effort to raise awareness about the imperiled biodiversity around us. Each species—from a teddy-bear-like carnivore in the Andes to a microbe that survives clean rooms where spaceships are built—stands out from the crowd for one reason or another.
Borneo bests Amazon in terms of giant tree growth rates
(05/11/2014) Trees in the rainforests of Borneo have faster growth rates than those in the Amazon, finds a study published in the Journal of Ecology.
Wild food: scientists link forests to human nutrition
(04/25/2014) Food security is a mounting global issue. As a solution to increasing food scarcity, forests are commonly cleared to make land available for agriculture. Around the world, both industrial farmers and subsistence farmers alike are growing crops on deforested land. However, scientists are finding that the forests themselves may actually be key to providing local populations with higher quality diets.
City lights threaten rainforests by deterring bats
(04/09/2014) Fruit-eating bats play an important role in forest regeneration, collecting and spreading seeds far and wide. However, human development may be stymying bat-mediated dispersal. In a new study, researchers found that fruit bats avoid feeding in light-polluted areas, which may significantly affect forest growth.
Brief lives linked to Amazon biodiversity
(03/31/2014) The South American Amazon rainforest is renowned for being one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, boasting an estimated 16,000 different tree species. However, the distribution of these diverse tree species is curiously uneven. What is the reason behind this irregular diversity? According to a new study, the answer lies within short durations between tree generations.
Amazon trees super-diverse in chemicals
(03/03/2014) In the Western Amazon—arguably the world's most biodiverse region—scientists have found that not only is the forest super-rich in species, but also in chemicals. Climbing into the canopy of thousands of trees across 19 different forests in the region—from the lowland Amazon to high Andean cloud forests—the researchers sampled chemical signatures from canopy leaves and were surprised by the levels of diversity uncovered.
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.
New Guinea animals losing vital tree cavities to logging, hunting practices
(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities "home." A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.
Amazon’s vast rainforest dominated by few tree species
(11/12/2013) The Amazon rainforest is so vast, and so diverse, that seemingly simple questions— such as which species of trees are most common— remain unanswered. Researchers are finally seeing the forest and the trees after an international collaboration of 120 scientists teamed up to compile the largest tree survey ever assembled from the Amazon.
Recovering forests 'heal' themselves by speeding up nitrogen fixation
(10/08/2013) Nitrogen is colorless, odorless and tasteless, but all life on earth depends on it. Without it, our bodies cannot synthesize the nucleic acids that make up our DNA, or the protein-forming amino acids that are the very building blocks of our cells. Problematically, atmospheric nitrogen is relatively inert or nonreactive. This has created a unique biological dependency on a process called nitrogen fixation—where inert nitrogen from the atmosphere is converted into more reactive ammonia, a major component of soil fertilizers.
Climate change pushing tropical trees upslope 'exactly as predicted'
(09/27/2013) Tropical tree communities are moving up mountainsides to cooler habitats as temperatures rise, a new study in Global Change Biology has found. By examining the tree species present in ten one-hectare plots at various intervals over a decade, researchers found that the proportion of lowland species increased in the plots at higher elevations. The study, which was undertaken in Volcan Barva, Costa Rica, adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is having an impact on species range distributions.
Climate change could kill off Andean cloud forests, home to thousands of species found nowhere else
(09/18/2013) One of the richest ecosystems on the planet may not survive a hotter climate without human help, according to a sobering new paper in the open source journal PLoS ONE. Although little-studied compared to lowland rainforests, the cloud forests of the Andes are known to harbor explosions of life, including thousands of species found nowhere else. Many of these species—from airy ferns to beautiful orchids to tiny frogs—thrive in small ranges that are temperature-dependent. But what happens when the climate heats up?
World's biggest owl depends on large old trees
(09/03/2013) The Blakiston fish owl (Bubo Blakistoni) is the world’s largest – and one of the rarest – owl species, with an impressive 6 foot (2 meter) wingspan. The giant owl, found exclusively in northeast Asia, shares its habitat with a menagerie of endangered and impressive animals, including Amur tigers, Amur leopards, Asiatic black bears and wild boars.
Palm oil drives Malaysian rainforest tree to extinction
(07/30/2013) Oil palm plantations have extinguished the last habitat of a rainforest tree in Malaysia. Last week the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), a state agency, announced that the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) in Peninsular Malaysia were wiped out when Bikam forest reserve in Perak was cleared for oil palm plantations.
Over 700 species added to the threatened categories on the IUCN Red List (photos)
(07/02/2013) In another sign of the global biodiversity crisis, the IUCN Red List has added 715 species to its threatened categories of Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered in this year's update. Some of these species were evaluated by the IUCN Red List for the first time while others saw their conditions deteriorate, such as the the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) which is now listed as Vulnerable due to overhunting, deforestation, and possibly disease. As of this year, the Red List has evaluated 70,923 of the world's species—including almost all mammals, birds, and amphibians—of which 20,934 are deemed threatened.
Warming world hits fig wasps and figs
(06/19/2013) Recent experiments concerning hugely-important fig plants (Ficus) and their relationship with small, short-lived fig wasps suggest dire potential consequences due to human induced climate change, finds a study published in the journal Biology Letters. The researchers collected four species of adult female fig wasps from the lowland tropical forests of Singapore to test their tolerance to gradually increased temperatures.
Loss of big fruit-eating birds impacting trees in endangered rainforests
(05/31/2013) The extinction of large, fruit-eating birds in fragments of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest has caused palm trees to produce smaller seeds over the past century, impacting forest ecology, finds a study published in the journal Science.
A new tool against illegal logging: tree DNA technology goes mainstream
(04/22/2013) Modern DNA technology offers a unique opportunity: you could pinpoint the origin of your table at home and track down if the trees it was made from were illegally obtained. Each wooden piece of furniture comes with a hidden natural barcode that can tell its story from a sapling in a forest all the way to your living room.
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.
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.
Logging studies plagued by sampling problems
(03/18/2013) Although research into the impact of selective logging in tropical forests has been booming recently, much of it is undercut by basic research flaws, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science. Selective logging means targeting certain species or only a particular number of trees per hectare, and as such is considered generally more environmentally-friendly than clearcutting, which strips entire forests.
Dozens of tropical trees awarded new protections at CITES
(03/12/2013) Numerous species of rosewood and ebony from Madagascar, Latin America, and Southeast Asia were granted protection today at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. The ruling comes one day after CITES granted the first protections ever to sharks and manta rays.
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?
New illegal logging ban in EU could sever all ties with companies working in DRC
(03/04/2013) Yesterday, the EU joined the U.S. and Australia in banning all timber that was illegally harvested abroad. The new regulation could have a major impact on where the EU sources its timber, and no where more so than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a new report by Greenpeace, the DRC's current moratorium on industrial logging is being systematically circumvented making all timber from the country suspect.
Selective logging changes character of tropical forest
(02/28/2013) Selective logging is usually considered less harmful than other forestry practices, such as clear cutting, but a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has found that even selective logging has a major impact on tropical forests lasting decades. Comparing trees in two previously logged sites and two unlogged sites in northeast India, researchers found less tree diversity in selectively logged forests with trees dispersed by birds proved especially hard-hit.
Rate of tree die-off in Amazon higher than conventionally believed
(02/01/2013) The rate of tree mortality in the Amazon rainforest due to storm damage and drought is 9-17 percent higher than conventionally believed, reports a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Brazil to inventory the Amazon
(01/27/2013) Brazil will launch a comprehensive inventory of trees in the Amazon rainforest for the first time in more than 30 years, reports BBC News.
Presence of trees may mitigate cardiovascular and respiratory disease
(01/17/2013) Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service have observed a link between human health and trees, implying that trees may actually mitigate both cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease. Although the researchers do not yet put forward a reason why or how the presence of trees save lives, they are convinced there is a link.
Biofuel boom could lead to life-threatening ozone pollution
(01/09/2013) Not long ago biofuels were seen as one of the major tools to combat climate change, but a large number of studies in recent years have shown that many first generation biofuels may have little climate benefit—and some are actually harmful—and are also linked to rising food prices. Now, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that biofuels using fast-growing trees (polar, willow, and eucalytpus) could also exacerbate ground-level ozone pollution.
Mountain pine beetle threatening high-altitude, endangered trees
(01/02/2013) In the western U.S., few trees generally grow in higher altitudes than the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis). Providing shelter and food for bears, squirrels and birds, the whitebark pine ecosystems also help regulate water flow from snowmelt. But, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), climate change has produced a novel threat for these high-altitude forests : mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae).
Some Amazon trees more than 8 million years old
(12/14/2012) Some Amazon rainforest tree species are more than eight million years old found a genetic study published in the December 2012 edition of Ecology and Evolution.
Global decline of big trees in old-growth forests worrying, argue scientists
(12/06/2012) The decline of large trees is putting biodiversity and forest health at risk globally, warn researchers writing in the journal Science.
Foreign loggers and corrupt officials flouting logging moratorium in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(11/08/2012) In 2002 the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced a moratorium on commercial logging in a bid to save rapidly falling forests, however a new report by Global Witness alleges that industrial loggers are finding a way around the logging freeze. Through unscrupulous officials, foreign companies are abusing artisanal permits—meant for local community logging—to clear-cut wide swathes of tropical forest in the country. These logging companies are often targeting an endangered tree—wenge (Millettia laurentii)—largely for buyers in China and Europe.
Wax palm can be sustainably harvested
(09/17/2012) The wax palm can be harvested sustainably with just a few management restrictions, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science (TCS). Found only in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, the leaves of the wax palm (Ceroxylon echinulatum) are used to make Easter handicrafts. But the practice has caused fears that the species, which is currently categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, is being overexploited.
Extremely rare plant region left unprotected in the Yucatan Peninsula
(09/17/2012) For the first time, scientists have identified the areas of the Yucatan Peninsula that hold the highest concentrations of endangered woody plants, which includes trees, shrubs, and lianas. In doing so they uncovered four key regions, but also noted that the region with the highest concentration of extremely rare plants was left unprotected, according to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science.
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.
Rodent robbers fill role of mega mammals, help spread tropical trees
(08/07/2012) In order to disperse their seeds, large-fruited tropical trees probably relied on massive mammals that roamed the earth over 10,000 years ago. But with giants such as the mastodon now extinct, thieving rodents—who continually excavate and rebury others' seeds—may be filling their role, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
3-D laser mapping shows elephants have big impact on trees
(08/06/2012) Scientists have long known that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are talented tree-topplers, able to take down even large trees in order to gobble out-of-reach leaves. However the extent of his behavior across a large area has been difficult to quantify. But a new study in Ecology Letters has used a bird's-eye view—with 3-D—of Kruger National Park in South Africa to determine the impact of elephants on trees.
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.
Climate change creating "novel ecosystem" in Arctic
(06/06/2012) If melting sea ice and glaciers weren't enough, now climate change is producing what researchers call a "structurally novel ecosystem" in the northwestern Eurasian tundra. Warmer weather and precipitation changes in the region, which covers western Russia into Finland, has allowed shrubs of willow and alder to grow into sparse forests within just forty years, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change. The new ecosystem could have global implications as researchers say it is likely to worsen global warming due to a decline in the region's albedo, i.e. the sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere due to snow cover.
Why bird droppings matter to manta rays: discovering unknown ecological connections
(06/04/2012) Ecologists have long argued that everything in the nature is connected, but teasing out these intricate connections is not so easy. In fact, it took research on a remote, unoccupied island for scientists to discover that manta ray abundance was linked to seabirds and thereby native trees.
Can loggers be conservationists?
(05/10/2012) Last year researchers took the first ever publicly-released video of an African golden cat (Profelis aurata) in a Gabon rainforest. This beautiful, but elusive, feline was filmed sitting docilely for the camera and chasing a bat. The least-known of Africa's wild cat species, the African golden cat has been difficult to study because it makes its home deep in the Congo rainforest. However, researchers didn't capture the cat on video in an untrammeled, pristine forest, but in a well-managed logging concession by Precious Woods Inc., where scientist's cameras also photographed gorillas, elephants, leopards, and duikers.
New reptile discovered in world's strangest archipelago
(04/25/2012) Few people have ever heard of the Socotra Archipelago even though, biologically-speaking, it is among the world's most wondrous set of islands. Over one third of Socotra's plants are found no-where else on Earth, i.e. endemic, while 90 percent of its reptiles are also endemic. Adding to its list of unique life-forms, researchers have recently uncovered a new skink species that is found only on the island of Abd al Kuri, which is slightly smaller than New York City's Staten Island. Dubbed the "the other Galapagos," the four Socotra islands are under the jurisdiction of Yemen, although geographically speaking the islands are actually closer to Somalia.
Blood rosewood: Thailand and Cambodia team up to tackle illegal logging crisis and save lives
(04/11/2012) Cambodian and Thai officials have agreed to work together to combat illegal logging of rosewood and resulting violence between Cambodian loggers and Thai rangers, reports MCOT online news. Officials with both nations met on Tuesday and spent three hours discussing the issue.
Featured video: Honoring Wangari Maathai, who would have been 72 yesterday
(04/02/2012) The indomitable Wangari Maathai would have turned 72 yesterday, April 1st, 2012. Maathai, who was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004), passed away last September.
Asia Pulp & Paper loses another customer: Danone
(04/02/2012) French food company, Danone, has suspended all purchases from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) following a Greenpeace investigation that linked APP to illegal logging of ramin, a protected tree species, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Danone is only the most recent company to publicly sever ties with APP following the Greenpeace report, including National Geographic and Xerox among others.
UN: wild teak forests declining
(03/28/2012) Wild teak forests continue to decline, threatening genetic diversity, while commercial planted teak forests are on the rise, according to a new assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Overall, teak forests have declined by 1.3 percent, or 385,000 hectares, worldwide from 1992 to 2010. Teak (Tectona grandis) is used for a variety of commercial purposes, including outdoor furniture and flooring.
Belize enacts moratorium on rosewood
(03/20/2012) The Belizean Government has banned the harvesting and export of rosewood with immediate effect, in response to the widespread clearing of the hardwood species for the Asian market. A government statement released on Friday, March 16th claimed the moratorium was necessary "to carry out an orderly assessment of the situation on the ground and as a first response to regulate the timber trade occurring in southern Belize." The government would subsequently institute "a rigorous regulatory framework throughout the country."
Chimp conservation requires protecting fragmented river forests in Uganda
(03/19/2012) Forest fragments along riversides in Uganda may make good habitats for chimpanzees but remain unprotected, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS). Researchers surveyed a riverine forest known as Bulindi in Uganda, in-between Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves, to determine if it was suitable for the long-term survival of eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) populations.
Investigation links APP to illegal logging of protected trees
(03/01/2012) A year-long undercover investigation has found evidence of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) companies cutting and pulping legally protected ramin trees, a practice that violates both Indonesian and international law. Found largely in Sumatra's peatswamp forests, the logging of ramin trees (in the genus Gonystylus) has been banned in Indonesia since 2001; the trees are also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and thus require special permits to export. The new allegations come after APP, an umbrella paper brand, has lost several customers due to its continued reliance on pulp from rainforest and peatland forests in Sumatra.
Seals, birds, and alpine plants suffer under climate change
(01/11/2012) The number of species identified by scientists as vulnerable to climate change continues to rise along with the Earth's temperature. Recent studies have found that a warmer world is leading to premature deaths of harp seal pups (Pagophilus groenlandicus) in the Arctic, a decline of some duck species in Canada, shrinking alpine meadows in Europe, and indirect pressure on mountain songbirds and plants in the U.S. Scientists have long known that climate change will upend ecosystems worldwide, creating climate winners and losers, and likely leading to waves of extinction. While the impacts of climate change on polar bears and coral reefs have been well-documented, every year scientists add new species to the list of those already threatened by anthropogenic climate change.
How lemurs fight climate change
(01/09/2012) Kara Moses may have never become a biologist if not for a coin toss. The coin, which came up heads and decided Moses' direction in college, has led her on a sinuous path from studying lemurs in captivity to environmental writing, and back to lemurs, only this time tracking them in their natural habitat. Her recent research on ruffed lemurs is attracting attention for documenting the seed dispersal capabilities of Critically Endangered ruffed lemurs as well as theorizing connections between Madagascar's lemurs and the carbon storage capacity of its forests. Focusing on the black-and-white ruffed lemur's (Varecia variegata) ecological role as a seed disperser—animals that play a major role in spreading a plant's seeds far-and-wide—Moses suggests that not only do the lemurs disperse key tree species, but they could be instrumental in dispersing big species that store large amounts of carbon.
Texas loses half a billion trees to epic drought
(12/21/2011) A punishing drought in Texas has not only damaged crops, killed cattle, and led to widespread fires, but has also killed off a significant portion of the state's trees: between 100 and 500 million trees have perished to drought stress according to preliminary analysis. The estimate does not include tree mortality caused by fires. The drought has been linked to La Niña conditions, which causes drying in the Southern U.S., and has likely been exacerbated by global climate change.
The other side of the Penan story: threatened tribe embraces tourism, reforestation
(12/19/2011) News about the Penan people is usually bleak. Once nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo, the indigenous Penan have suffered decades of widespread destruction of their forests and an erosion of their traditional culture. Logging companies, plantation developments, massive dams, and an ambivalent government have all played a role in decimating the Penan, who have from time-to-time stood up to loggers through blockades, but have not been successful in securing recognition of legal rights to their traditional lands. Yet even as the Penan people struggle against the destruction of their homelands, they are not standing still. Several Penan villages have recently begun a large-scale reforestation program, a community tourism venture, and proclaimed their a portion of their lands a "Peace Park."
Droughts could push parts of Africa back into famine
(12/19/2011) Drought and erratic rains could lead to further food scarcities in Africa warns the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The WFP singles out South Sudan, the world's newest nation, and Niger as nations of particular concern. Earlier this year famine killed scores of people, including an estimated 30,000 children, in Somalia.
Using palm hearts sustainably in Colombia
(12/12/2011) Long eaten by indigenous populations, palm hearts have also popular abroad, usually in fine dining establishments. However, palm hearts are cut-out of the inner core of various palm tree species, in some cases killing the tree. A new study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society looks at the sustainability of palm heart extraction from the palm species Prestoea acuminata in the Colombian Andes. While harvesting from Prestoea acuminata does not kill the host tree, better management is needed to ensure the practice doesn't become unsustainable.
Madagascar tree diversity among the highest worldwide
(12/12/2011) In terms of biodiversity, the hugely imperiled forests of Madagascar may be among the world's richest. Researchers estimate that the island off the coast of Africa is home to at least 10,000 tree and shrub species with over 90 percent of them found no-where else in the world. With little baseline data collected on Madagascar's ecosystems, a new study, the first ever of tree diversity in Madagascar lowland rainforests, hopes to begin the process. Published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, the new study surveyed tree species in eastern Madagascar's Betampona Special Reserve.
Giant rat plays big ecological role in dispersing seeds
(11/16/2011) Rats are rarely thought of as heroes. In fact, in many parts of the world they are despised, while in others they serve largely as food. But, scientists are now discovering that many tropical forest rodents, including rats, serve as heroic seed dispersers, i.e. eating fruits and nuts, and carrying seeds far from the parent tree, giving a chance to a new sapling. While this has been documented with tropical rodents in South America like agoutis and acouchis, a new study in Biotropica documents the first successful seed dispersal by an African rodent: the Kivu giant pouched rat (Cricetomys kivuensis), one of four species of giant African rats.
Picture of the day: quiet river in the woods
(11/13/2011) A river and forest in Gooseberry Falls State Park in the US state of Minnesota. The forest here is made up primarily of evergreens, aspen, and birch.
Critically Endangered lemurs disperse seeds, store carbon
(11/13/2011) Many tropical plants depend on other species to carry their progeny far-and-wide. Scientists are just beginning to unravel this phenomenon, known as seed dispersal, which is instrumental in supporting the diversity and richness of tropical forests. Researchers have identified a number of animal seed dispersers including birds, rodents, monkeys, elephants, and even fish. Now a new study in the Journal of Tropical Ecology adds another seed disperser to that list: the Critically Endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata). Capable of dispersing big tree species, the black-and-white ruffed lemur may even play a big role in carbon sequestration.
Chemotherapy tree facing extinction
(11/10/2011) A yew tree in the Himalayas that produces the chemotherapy drug, Taxol, is in danger of extinction. An update to the IUCN Red List, has moved the tree, named Taxus contorta, from Vulnerable to Endangered. Overharvesting for medicine and fuelwood have placed the species in serious danger.
Old trees necessary for nesting animals
(10/17/2011) Aged, living trees are essential for over 1,000 birds and mammals that depend on such trees for nesting holes, according to a study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. In much of the world, tree-nesting animals depend on holes formed through maturity and decay—and not woodpeckers—requiring standing old trees.
Fertilizer trees boost yields in Africa
(10/16/2011) Fertilizer trees—which fix nitrogen in the soil—have improved crops yields in five African countries, according to a new study in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. In some cases yields have doubled with the simple addition of nitrogen-soaking trees. The research found that fertilizer trees could play a role in alleviating hunger on the continent while improving environmental conditions.
Tea Party rallies in favor of Gibson Guitar, ignores reasons instrument-maker is under investigation
(10/10/2011) This weekend around 500 people showed up for a rally and concert in Nashville, Tennessee. The rally was in support of Gibson Guitars, a US-company currently under investigation for allegedly importing illegally logged wood into the country, an action that breaks a recent bipartisan amendment to the Lacey Act. While the Tea Party-affiliated groups that held the rally were expressing frustration with perceived over-regulation by the federal government, the issue at stake—a global effort to help stem illegal logging—was actually overlooked by the organizers.
Tea party versus Madagascar's forests
(10/02/2011) The Tea Party and the African island-nation of Madagascar are having dueling concerts over the issue of illegal logging, reports the Associated Press. A concert in Madagascar over the weekend was meant to highlight the problem of illegal deforestation in one of the world's poorest countries. Meanwhile the Tea Party is holding a rally and concert on October 8th to support Gibson Guitar, a musical instruments company currently under investigation for breaking US law by allegedly purchasing illegally logged wood products from Madagascar.
Restoring tropical forests by keeping fire far away
(09/26/2011) Keeping fire at bay could be key to reforesting abandoned land in the tropics, according to a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science. Measuring the recovery of regenerating forests in Kibale National Park in Uganda, the study found that suppressing fire allowed the forest to come back over a period of decades. Given the role rainforests play in sequestering carbon and safeguarding biodiversity, the study argues that reforesting abandoned land in the tropics should be a global policy and controlling fire may be an simple and largely inexpensive method to achieve the goal.
Repeated burning undercuts Amazon rainforest recovery
(09/26/2011) The Amazon rainforest can recover fromlogging, but has a far more difficult time returning after repeated burning, reports a new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science. In areas where the Amazon had been turned to pasture and was subject to repeated burning, Visima trees become the dominant tree inhibiting the return of a biodiverse forest. The key to the sudden domination of Visima trees, according to the study, is that these species re-sprout readily following fires; a capacity most other Amazonian trees lack.
Big damage in Papua New Guinea: new film documents how industrial logging destroys lives
(08/29/2011) In one scene a young man, perhaps not long ago a boy, named Douglas stands shirtless and in shorts as he runs a chainsaw into a massive tropical tree. Prior to this we have already heard from an official how employees operating chainsaws must have a bevy of protective equipment as well as training, but in Papua New Guinea these are just words. The reality is this: Douglas straining to pull the chainsaw out of the tree as it begins to fall while his fellow employees flee the tumbling giant. The new film Bikpela Bagarap('Big Damage') documents the impact of industrial logging on the lives of local people in Papua New Guinea.
How fruit defines Borneo
(08/01/2011) Among conservationists and biologists, the mega-island of Borneo is a sort of Mecca. Its rich plant and animal biodiversity, as well as high degree of endemism (unique species found nowhere else) make it a naturalist's dream. There is one aspect of this biological richness which applies to the wellbeing and happiness of all of Borneo’s residents, human and animal, in a very direct way: fruit. From wild forest berries to juicy cultivated rambutans, fruit permeates the ecology, landscape and culture of Borneo. On the island there are over 70 wild fruit trees species and around 45 cultivated species that are consumed by people (1). Science has certainly not yet documented all the fruit consumed by wildlife, but we know that the total must be over 500 species.
Yellowstone burning: big fires to hit world's first national park annually by 2050
(07/25/2011) An icon of conservation and wilderness worldwide, Yellowstone National Park could see its ecosystem flip due to increased big fires from climate change warn experts in a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). A sudden increase in large fires—defined as over 200 hectares (500 acres)—by mid-century could shift the Yellowstone ecosystem from largely mature conifer forests to younger forests with open shrub and grasslands.
Decline in top predators and megafauna 'humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature'
(07/14/2011) Worldwide wolf populations have dropped around 99 percent from historic populations. Lion populations have fallen from 450,000 to 20,000 in 50 years. Three subspecies of tiger went extinct in the 20th Century. Overfishing and finning has cut some shark populations down by 90 percent in just a few decades. Though humpback whales have rebounded since whaling was banned, they are still far from historic numbers. While some humans have mourned such statistics as an aesthetic loss, scientists now say these declines have a far greater impact on humans than just the vanishing of iconic animals. The almost wholesale destruction of top predators—such as sharks, wolves, and big cats—has drastically altered the world's ecosystems, according to a new review study in Science. Although researchers have long known that the decline of animals at the top of food chain, including big herbivores and omnivores, affects ecosystems through what is known as 'trophic cascade', studies over the past few decades are only beginning to reveal the extent to which these animals maintain healthy environments, preserve biodiversity, and improve nature's productivity.
How do Lebombo ironwood trees fare against elephants and fire?
(06/27/2011) A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science found that Lebombo ironwood (Androstachys johnsonii) forests are showing signs of decline due to elephant damage and fires in Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park. The Lebombo ironwood is the only tree in the genus Androstachys.
New technology enables scientists to map rainforest biodiversity by airplane
(06/02/2011) A new airplane-based remote-sensing and analysis system will enable scientists to catalog tree species as they create three-dimensional maps of tropical forests. Unveiled today at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, the newest version of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) will offer powerful insights into the composition and biology of tropical forests.
iPhone app uses Google Earth to track climate change impact on redwoods
(05/24/2011) The Save the Redwoods League is partnering with Google Earth Outreach and iNaturalist.org to connect citizens and scientists in an effort to track the effects of climate change on redwood trees and forests.
Redwood Watch project connects citizens with scientists to save redwoods
(05/24/2011) The Save the Redwoods League is partnering with Google Earth Outreach and iNaturalist.org to connect citizens and scientists in an effort to track the effects of climate change on redwood trees and forests.
Reforestation program in China preventing future disasters
(05/13/2011) China's response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.
Elephants: the gardeners of Asia's and Africa's forests
(04/25/2011) It seems difficult to imagine elephants delicately tending a garden, but these pachyderms may well be the world's weightiest horticulturalist. Elephants both in Asia and Africa eat abundant amounts of fruit when available; seeds pass through their guts, and after expelled—sometimes tens of miles down the trail—sprouts a new plant if conditions are right. This process is known by ecologists as 'seed dispersal', and scientists have long studied the 'gardening' capacities of monkeys, birds, bats, and rodents. Recently, however, researchers have begun to document the seed dispersal capacity of the world's largest land animal, the elephant, proving that this species may be among the world's most important tropical gardeners.
Giant fish help grow the Amazon rainforest
(04/12/2011) A fruit in the flooded Amazon falls from a tree and plops in the water. Before it can even sink to the floor, a 60-pound monster fish with a voracious appetite gobbles it. Nearly a week later—and miles away—the fish expels its waste, including seeds from the fruit eaten long ago and far away. One fortunate seed floats to a particularly suitable spot and germinates. Many years later the new fruit tree is thriving, while the same monster-fish returns from time-to-time, waiting for another meal to drop from the sky. This process is known as seed-dispersal, and while researchers have studied the seed-dispersal capacity of such species as birds, bats, monkeys, and rodents, one type of animal is often overlooked: fish.
Logged forests in Vietnam retain significant biodiversity, including dipterocarp trees
(03/28/2011) Little remains of Vietnam's primary forest: as of 2005 only 12% of Vietnam forest was classified as primary. While deforestation rates have lessened since the end of the 1990s, survival of species in Vietnam depends in part on secondary, logged, and degraded forests. A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that logged forests in southern Vietnam still retain significant biodiversity of trees, including important conservation species, such as Dipterocarp trees.
Not enough data on world's tropical plants to predict impact of warming world
(02/14/2011) How many tropical plant species are threatened by climate change? Which plants have big enough ranges to survive a warming world, not to mention deforestation? How likely is it that the tropics are undergoing a current mass extinction? These questions may appear straight forward, but a new study in Global Change Biology finds that researchers lack the hard data necessary to come to any confident conclusions. According to the study, nine out of ten tropical plants from Africa, Asia, and South America lack the minimum number of collections needed (at least 20) to determine the species' range, and therefore predict the impact of climate change.
Vines rising in the Amazon and other American rainforests
(02/14/2011) For years tropical scientists have anecdotally reported an increase in vines in the Amazon and other American tropical forests, but now a number of studies have confirmed such reports: vines are on the rise in Neotropical rainforests.
Forgotten species: the plummeting cycad
(12/06/2010) I have a declarative statement to make: cycads are mind-blowing. You may ask, what is a cycad? And your questions wouldn't be a silly one. I doubt Animal Planet will ever replace its Shark Week with Cycad Week (perhaps the fact that it's 'animal' planet and not 'plant' planet gave that away); nor do I expect school children to run to see a cycad first thing when they arrive at the zoo, rushing past the polar bear and the chimpanzee; nor do I await a new children's book about a lonely little anthropomorphized cycad just looking for a friend. In the world of species-popularity, the cycad ranks pretty low. For one thing, it's a plant. For another thing, it doesn't produce lovely flowers. And for a final fact, it looks so much like a palm tree that most people probably wouldn't know it wasn't. Still, I declare the cycad to be mind-blowing.
Rwanda government: one third forest cover coming seven years ahead of schedule
(12/01/2010) Rwanda expects to reach its goal of 30% forest cover in three years, according to the Minister for Forestry and Mines, Christophe Bazivamo. If achieved this would be seven years ahead of the government's pledge for 2020.
Slight rise in mangrove forests in Eastern India
(11/29/2010) While mangrove forests are vanishing around the world, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests is reporting a slight uptick of mangrove forests along the nation's eastern coast. According to a report, mangroves expanded from 4,581 square kilometers in 2005 to 4,639 square kilometers in 2007, an increase of 58 square kilometers.
Botanist killed in crossfire in Philippines
(11/17/2010) A local botanist was killed in crossfire between the Filipino military and suspected communist guerrillas with the New People's Army on Monday, reports the Inquirer.net.
Bushmeat hunting alters forest structure in Africa
(11/04/2010) According to the first study of its kind in Africa, bushmeat hunting impacts African rainforests by wiping-out large mammals and birds—such as forest elephants, primates, and hornbills—that are critical for dispersing certain tree species. The study, published in Biotropica, found that heavy bushmeat hunting in the Central African Republic changes the structure of forest species by favoring small-seeded trees over large-seeded, leading to lower tree diversity of trees that have big seeds.
Losing nature's medicine cabinet
(10/04/2010) In all the discussions of saving the world's biodiversity from extinction, one point is often and surprisingly forgotten: the importance of the world's species in providing humankind with a multitude of life-saving medicines so far, as well as the certainty that more vital medications are out there if only we save the unheralded animals and plants that contain cures unknown. Already, species have provided humankind everything from quinine to aspirin, from morphine to numerous cancer and HIV-fighting drugs. "As the ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin commented, the history of medicine can be written in terms of its reliance on and utilization of natural products," physician Christopher Herndon told mongabay.com. Herndon is co-author of a recent paper in the journal Biotropica, which calls for policy-makers and the public to recognize how biodiversity underpins not only ecosystems, but medicine.
The true cost of the Commonwealth Games
(09/30/2010) UK newspapers have been flooded this week and last by reports of the Commonwealth Games' venue literally caving in and collapsing, athletes have deemed their village accommodation "filthy" and terrorists have apparently threatened attacks. Thanks to the late monsoon this year, floods are now a fear, and the Games' venue has been choked by a cloud of toxic insect repellent due to further fears of an outbreak of the potentially fatal dengue fever because of mosquitoes being drawn to the floods’ stagnant water.
Mass extinction fears widen: 22 percent of world's plants endangered
(09/28/2010) Scientific warnings that the world is in the midst of a mass extinction were bolstered today by the release of a new study that shows just over a fifth of the world's known plants are threatened with extinction—levels comparable to the Earth's mammals and greater than birds. Conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Natural History Museum, London; and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the study is the first time researchers have outlined the full threat level to the world's plant species. In order to estimate overall threat levels, researchers created a Sampled Red List Index for Plants, analyzing 7,000 representative species, including both common and rare plants.
Ugandan forest being stripped for fuel wood
(09/27/2010) A new study in the open access journal of Tropical Conservation Science finds that the Kasagala forest reserve in central Uganda is losing important tree species and suffering from low diversity of species. Researchers believe that forest degradation for charcoal and firewood has put heavy pressure on this ecosystem.
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