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News articles on ucsc
Mongabay.com news articles on ucsc in blog format. Updated regularly.
(04/02/2014) A knob turns, and pure water streams from the faucet. In developed nations, this expectation borders on being a fundamental human right. Elsewhere in the world, tap water is a pipe dream, while finding potable groundwater can be a full-time occupation laced by lethal threats—such as arsenic contamination.
Gulf of Mexico deep sea may need decades to recover from oil spill
(11/20/2013) The catastrophic explosion that spewed some five million barrels of oil deep into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 will take a heavy toll in the ocean’s lowest layers for years to come. That’s the stark conclusion of seafloor research conducted six months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The study, published on August 7 in PLoS ONE, examined life in the Gulf’s deepest waters near the blowout, about 1.6 kilometers below the surface. Here, the researchers found that the damages will take decades to reverse.
Coal's future carbon costs may make it more expensive than wind energy
(11/15/2013) At first glance, a recent report from the U.S. White House on the social cost of carbon reads like a daunting economics exam. A small chart poses the first question about the price tag policymakers attach to future greenhouse gas emissions: Does each metric ton of carbon that billows into the air cost $11, $33 or $52? The answer is all of the above.
Tiny algae signal big changes for warming Arctic lakes
(11/15/2013) The mighty polar bear has long been the poster child for the effects of global warming in the Arctic, but the microscopic diatom tells an equally powerful story. Diatoms are a type of algae that form the base of the food chain in watery habitats the world over. Disturbances among lake diatoms have exposed the impacts of rapid warming in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of eastern Canada, researchers reported Oct. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Coelacanths might be monogamous, to the surprise of researchers
(11/14/2013) They evaded humans for millions of years and live very private lives. The hulking, fleshy-finned fish known as the coelacanth has beguiled scientists for generations. But the coelacanth mystique that enchants researchers also makes it difficult to study. Researchers recently revealed in Nature Communications one startling aspect of the coelacanth lifestyle: they might be monogamous.
Longline fisheries in Costa Rica hook tens of thousands of sea turtles every year
(11/14/2013) Hundreds of kilometers of commercial fishing lines slither along coastal waters in Costa Rica, hooking thousands of mahi-mahi and many other marketable fish. But when scientists scrutinized fishermen’s catch, they were shocked by the staggering number of sea turtles accidentally snagged on the lines.
Wolves boost food for Yellowstone’s threatened grizzlies
(11/13/2013) Wolves and grizzlies aren’t best buddies. Burly bears can barge in on a feasting pack, making off with the wolves’ fresh kill. Wolves have been known to dig into bear dens and snag a cub. But after gray wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, grizzly bears ate more berries in the summer for a pre-hibernation nutritional boost, researchers reported Sept. 4 in the Journal of Animal Ecology
Flawed from inception? Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT initiative threatened indigenous groups with simple mapping errors
(11/13/2013) The plan from Ecuador’s government was simple: Pay us and we won’t destroy the planet's most extraordinary ecosystem. Dubbed the Yasuni-ITT initiative, the plan called upon developed nations to pay for protecting Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park from oil companies. Now, a recent study claims the plan was fraught with flaws as basic as drawing lines on a map.
Locally extinct birds in the Amazon slowly flock back to forests when trees regrow
(11/13/2013) Some good news out of the Amazon rainforest: given enough time, deforested land can rebound enough to host bird species that had previously deserted the area, according to a recent study in The Auk. When people abandon deforested land, the rainforest slowly reclaims it. Eventually, birds begin to use the clumps of secondary forest as corridors between thickets of old growth.
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.
Kids' stories and new stoves protect the golden snub-nosed monkey in China
(11/12/2013) Puppet shows, posters and children’s activities that draw from local traditions are helping to save an endangered monkey in China. The activities, which encourage villagers—children and adults alike—to protect their forests and adopt fuel-efficient cooking stoves, have worked, according to a report published in Conservation Evidence. Local Chinese researchers, supported by the U.S.-based conservation organization Rare, designed the campaign to protect the monkeys.
Could marine cloud machines cool the planet?
(11/26/2012) In 1990, British cloud physicist John Latham published a paper arguing he could cool global climate by brightening clouds over the ocean. Most colleagues ignored the paper, titled 'Control global warming?'—probably because this thing called global warming was not yet a hot topic. Now, more than two decades later, Latham continues to develop what has become one of the most promising and controversial ideas in climate control. 'Marine cloud brightening' might sound benign, but hairs rise when it’s called 'geoengineering.'
Could rebuilding global fisheries save hundreds of billions of dollars?
(11/26/2012) Global fisheries are gutting the world economy by US$13 billion annually, according to an economic analysis published July 13 in the journal PLoS ONE. National subsidies that encourage overfishing cause the most losses, the analysis claims. However, researchers believe that allowing fish stocks to rebuild and making fishing more efficient could reverse these losses, leading to net gains of US$600 to US$1,400 billion within 50 years. Such savings won’t come cheaply, the analysis suggests. Rebuilding fisheries worldwide could cost US$130 to US$292 billion, the researchers estimate. Most of the cost would go toward retraining or retiring nearly half of the world’s 35 million fisheries workers.
Endangered muriqui monkeys in Brazil full of surprises
(11/26/2012) On paper, the northern muriquis (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) look like a conservation comeback story. Three decades ago, only 60 of the gentle, tree-dwelling primates lived in a fragment of the Atlantic Forest along the eastern coast of Brazil. Now there are more than 300. But numbers don’t tell the whole story, according to anthropologist Karen Strier and theoretical ecologist Anthony Ives of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The pair analyzed 28 years of data on the demographics of the muriquis, one of the longest studies of its kind. They found surprising patterns about birth and death rates, sex ratios, and even how often the monkeys venture out of their trees. These findings raise questions about the muriquis’ long-term survival and how best to protect them, the scientists wrote in the Sept 17 issue of PLoS ONE.
A new way to rescue Africa’s struggling soils: Planting perennials with crops
(11/20/2012) It sounds counter-intuitive: Grow more food by planting less. But it’s a plan that scientists think will produce enough crops to feed Africa’s quickly expanding population. African farmers who sow food crops mixed with plants called perennials—which live two years or more—can enrich nutrient-poor soils and increase their bounty, argue scientists in the Sept. 20 issue of Nature.
Climate change threatens population of Earth’s largest sea turtle
(11/19/2012) A drier, hotter climate in Central America could wipe out the population of leatherback sea turtles from the eastern Pacific Ocean by the year 2100, according to a grim projection published on July 1 in Nature Climate Change. Already critically endangered from fisheries by-catch and historic egg poaching, leatherbacks can hardly accommodate another human-related threat. Yet scientists still hold out hope for interventions that could save the turtles.
Cell phones help decipher malaria transmission in Kenya
(11/19/2012) Malaria parasites can stow away silently in a person’s bloodstream. Without any symptoms to betray them, their human host can unwittingly transport the parasites hundreds or thousands of miles. Tracking them has been nearly impossible, especially in poor countries. Now, researchers have harnessed a new tool: the burgeoning number of cell phone users in Africa, which help trace how malaria spreads.
Canadian ice sheet responded rapidly to ancient climate change
(11/16/2012) Even as glaciers retreat from rising temperatures worldwide, new research says they could bounce back just as suddenly. The study, published Sept. 14 in Science, shows that both small mountain glaciers and large ice sheets grew considerably during a short, 150-year cold spell in Canada 8,200 years ago. The results suggest that massive ice sheets are surprisingly sensitive to brief shifts in seasonal temperatures.
House windows may kill 22 million Canadian birds each year
(11/15/2012) The sickening thud of a bird crashing into a window is an all-too-familiar sound for many Canadian homeowners. Birds often mistake windows for openings, flying into the glass at full speed. A startling new analysis suggests about 22 million Canadian birds die each year from such crashes, researchers reported Sept. 4 in Wildlife Research.
Clever crows may grasp hidden causes
(11/15/2012) Crows may be imagining more than we imagined. New research suggests certain crows make decisions based on factors they can’t see. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) deepens our understanding of these crafty corvids, and could help explain how human reasoning evolved. Crows are intelligent problem solvers, capable of making hook-shaped tools to retrieve food and using multiple tools in a logical sequence. New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) are particularly adept tool users, and have often been the subject of cognitive research. In this study, the New Zealand–based researchers tested whether New Caledonian crows could trace an event back to a cause that was hidden from their view.
Antarctic king crabs warming up to invade continental shelf, threatening unique marine community
(11/15/2011) Dangerous and disruptive king crabs lurk in a deep pocket of the Antarctic continental shelf, clamoring to escape their cold-water prison to reach and permanently change the shallower, prehistoric paradise above. A team led by University of Hawaii oceanographer Craig Smith spotted the meter-long monsters in February 2010. It was the first time researchers have seen king crabs on the continental shelf.
Entertainment media skews public perception of chimpanzees in the wild
(11/14/2011) You've probably seen them: the TV ads showing chimpanzees wearing suits, driving cars, or smoking cigars. These ads may tickle our funny bone, but they warp our perceptions of how chimpanzees are faring in the wild, researchers at Duke University have found. The study, published October 12 in the journal PLoS ONE, examined whether watching commercials featuring chimpanzees influenced people's understanding of their endangered status.
Tracking the coelacanth: Two decades of research confirms a viable population in Comoros
(11/14/2011) It took a custom-made submarine, billionaire Paul Allen, and a tenacious desire lasting well beyond two decades to unveil enigmatic details about the life of the coelacanth—the primitive fish that invariably hooks researchers. A study published earlier this year in the journal Marine Biology summarizes 21 years of coelacanth population research by one team, led by Hans Fricke of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. Working in the Indian Ocean off the African island nation of Comoros, Fricke documented a stable population of Latimeria chalumnae. However, his study notes that deep-set fishing nets could threaten these unique animals.
Monarch butterflies decline at wintering grounds in Mexico, Texas drought adds to stress to migration
(11/10/2011) Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies travel south to Mexico and take refuge in twelve mountain sanctuaries of oyamel fir forests. Now, declining numbers of the overwintering butterflies expose the migration’s vulnerability and raise questions about threats throughout the monarch’s lifecycle. A study published online last spring in Insect Conservation and Diversity shows a decrease in Mexico’s overwintering monarch butterflies between 1994 and 2011. The butterflies face loss of wintering habitat in Mexico and breeding habitat in the United States. Extreme weather, like winter storms in Mexico and the ongoing drought in Texas, adds yet another challenge.
Indigenous technicians scour Amazonia to help researchers track wildlife populations
(11/09/2011) Scientists only have so many hands and eyes. That’s why ecologists enlisted hundreds of Makushi and Wapishana villagers to record the sights and signs of animals across 48,000 square kilometers of the Amazon basin near the Brazil-Guyana border. In the ongoing project, scientists seek to describe the interactions between indigenous peoples, their environment and the native fauna.
First global assessment finds highest-grossing tunas and billfishes most vulnerable to extinction
(11/09/2011) Sleek, powerful tunas and billfishes that ply the open ocean garner some of the highest prices of any fish. In January, a single bluefin tuna fetched a record $396,000 at a Tokyo auction. Yet wild fish populations pay a still higher price for such exorbitant demand: the threat of extinction. The first assessment of an entire group of commercially valuable marine species found that the most threatened fish are generally the ones reeling in the most money, including bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna.
Researchers challenge idea that marine reserves promote coral recovery
(11/09/2011) Fleshy whorls of thick brown algae blanket the once-vibrant corals in Glover’s Reef, Belize. According to a controversial study published August 14 in the journal Coral Reefs, a decade of marine reserve protection has failed to help these damaged Caribbean corals recover.
Small mammals use Borneo pitcher plant as toilet in exchange for nectar
(11/08/2011) Tree shrews and nocturnal rats in the forests of Borneo have a unique relationship with carnivorous pitcher plants. The mammals defecate, and the pitchers are happy to receive. A study published on May 31 in the Journal of Tropical Ecology shows a species of giant mountain pitcher plants (Nepenthes rajah) supplements its diet with nitrogen from the feces of tree shrews (Tupaia montana) that forage in daylight and summit rats (Rattus baluensis) active at night. When the small mammals lick nectar from the underside of the pitcher’s lid, they stand directly over the jug-shaped pitcher organ.
African cattle benefit from socializing with wild grazers during the wet season
(11/08/2011) Mingling with wild grazers, such as zebra, is better for cattle than dining alone—during the wet season, at least—according to researchers in Kenya. Their new study crumbles the longstanding assumption that social grazing always leads to food fights. Kenya’s wildlife population is in a critical decline, partly due to kill-offs by ranchers who see zebra, wildebeest, antelope and other grazers strictly as competition for their cattle. But scientists at the Mpala Research Center in central Kenya suspected there might be natural accords between grazers.
Museum specimens reveal the tracks of an amphibian epidemic
(11/07/2011) Dead men tell no tales, but dead frogs can speak volumes. Scientists have shown that frogs and salamanders preserved in museums tell the history of a deadly fungus and its spread across Mexico and Central America. The new finding, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), may help explain past and ongoing amphibian die-offs in the region.
Bacteria deep in the Gulf of Mexico consumed oil faster than expected, study finds
(11/15/2010) BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year killed countless marine animals, but it was a boon for oil-eating bacteria. The organisms, usually quiescent deep in the ocean, burst into life when the Deep Water Horizon wellhead ruptured and released a torrent of their favorite food. A study published in the 8 October issue of Science demonstrated how quickly bacteria consumed the light crude oil.
Cheetahs reproduce more successfully after early pregnancies
(11/15/2010) Early pregnancies prepare a cheetah for a life of productive motherhood, new research shows. A study published on 20 September in Conservation Letters advises captive breeding programs to focus on breeding female cheetahs at young ages to set the stage for many litters throughout their lives. The world's fastest animal, the cheetah has not outpaced a disheartening march toward extinction. Populations have declined from an estimated 100,000 a century ago to about 13,000 today. For years, researchers have pointed to the high genetic similarities among individual cheetahs as the main reason why captive cheetahs don't often get pregnant.
Ecotourism brings home the bacon in the Peruvian Amazon
(11/15/2010) Ecotourism is one of the most profitable uses of tropical forest in the Tambopata area of the Peruvian Amazon, according to a study released on 29 September in the journal PLoS ONE. In 2002 Peru’s government passed legislation to allow ecotourism-controlled zones in the Tambopata region of southeastern Peru. Policymakers hoped such zones would preserve spectacular rainforest habitats while bringing in steady money. Critics have wondered, though, whether the strategy can succeed in the face of other profitable―yet destructive―ventures on pristine forested land.
Rainforests, wildlife preserved by indigenous spiritual beliefs
(11/15/2010) New research within the native Wapishana and Makushi communities of Guyana suggests that indigenous cultural beliefs such as shamanism help preserve tropical forests and wildlife. The analysis, published in the September 2010 Journal of Latin American Geography, draws from a massive data set that tracks wildlife populations, hunting kill sites, and spiritually significant features of the landscape within a 48,000-square-kilometer area in southern Guyana. The authors recruited the hunters themselves to record much of the data.
It's not just size that matters: how population affects climate change
(11/11/2010) As the world's population increases, a surge in the number of older adults and the movement of people from the countryside to crowded cities will significantly affect levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, according to a sweeping study published in the 11 October issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A significant but attainable slowing of the planet's growing population could achieve up to 29 percent of the total decrease in emissions needed to stave off the harmful consequences of climate change by 2050, according to the study.
Researchers track the little-known giant sunfish
(11/10/2010) Getting to know the heaviest bony fish in the world is surprisingly hard. At 3 m (10 ft) long and 2,200 kg (4,850 lb), the Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, is an elusive giant. A typical day in its life is still a mystery. Now, a study published on 30 September in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology has opened a small portal onto their behaviors – and has underlined concerns that sunfish die in alarming numbers as unintentional catches in commercial fisheries.
African apes threatened by rising temperatures
(11/10/2010) Most people wish each day had more than 24 hours. But as the planet heats up, that limited number of hours might push endangered African apes even closer to extinction by making their current habitats unsuitable for their lifestyle, according to a controversial study published on 23 July in the Journal of Biogeography.
The unruly evolution of island life
(11/09/2010) From the terrifying Komodo dragon to the diminutive hobbit Homo floresiensis, islands are home to some remarkable curiosities of size. Despite the fame of giant lizards and pygmy humans, a longstanding tenet of evolutionary biology suggests that the size of island animals moves towards the middle of the pack. A study published on 1 September in the Journal of Biogeography explores these two seemingly contradictory notions and finds that neither is a perfect explanation.
Open landfills feed population growth of predatory Alaskan gulls
(11/08/2010) Gulls in northern Alaska are making a killing on the garbage they scavenge from landfills, new research shows. Glaucous gulls that consume a lot of trash raise more chicks than gulls that eat only natural food, according to a study in the August 2010 issue of The Condor. The garbage is a boon for the gulls, but it’s a bust for other birds nesting on Alaska's coastal plain. These gulls are predators, and their burgeoning numbers threaten waterbird populations already in decline.
Growing strawberries organically yields more nutritious fruit and healthier soil
(11/08/2010) Strawberry plants grown on commercial organic farms yield higher-quality fruit and have healthier soil than those grown conventionally, according to a study published on 1 September in the journal PLoS One. The research suggests that sustainable farming practices can produce nutritious fruit, if farmers manage soil and its beneficial microbes properly. This is among the most comprehensive studies to investigate how conventional and organic farming methods affect both fruit and soil quality.
Japanese scientists use goldfish to screen for freshwater pollution
(12/17/2008) Coal miners used canaries to warn them of noxious gases for generations. Today's substitute may be the everyday goldfish: It can act as an aquatic canary to warn scientists when something bad is brewing in the waters, according to new research.
The green movement has to become a rainbow-colored movement in order to be successful
(06/23/2008) Van Jones, a social and environmental activist, believes a greener economy not only could save the planet, but also must provide pathways out of poverty for America's disadvantaged communities. A civil rights lawyer from Yale University, Jones started promoting the idea of "green-collar jobs" in 2005 through the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. In September 2007, he launched the "Green for All" campaign. Jones recently took time to share his perspectives with Mongabay.com.
Dried-up Colorado takes toll on giant Mexican fish
(06/08/2008) The Colorado River vanishes before it reaches the Sea of Cortez in all but the wettest years. Companies in California and the southwestern U.S. have diverted its once-vibrant flow to quench their thirst for water and power. Now, a new study in the April 2008 issue of the journal Biological conservation reports that the dwindling of this major artery has changed the way some marine fish in the Gulf of California grow and develop.
Big Farms Can Make the Leap to Organic Farming, Study Suggests
(06/04/2008) Large fruit and vegetable growers can adopt the methods of small-scale organic farms while maintaining crop yields, keeping pests in check, and improving the health of their soil, researchers report in the July 2008 issue of Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.
Scientists aim to catalogue tropical island from mountaintops to seafloor
(06/04/2008) Scientists are launching an effort to catalogue a complete tropical ecosystem, the first time anyone has attempted such an ambitious undertaking. Led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, a U.S.-French team plans to collect DNA "barcodes" for every animal, plant, and fungus on the small island of Moorea in the South Pacific, scouring habitats from coral reefs to high-reaching cloud forests. The island could eventually serve as a model for how ecosystems respond to stresses such as climate change, invasive species, and pollution.
Diversity in streams may brace Chinook salmon for climate change
(06/03/2008) Chinook salmon face a one-two punch. They have disappeared from several rivers in the western U.S. largely because of human interventions and some populations are threatened or endangered. Numbers of Chinook in California's Central Valley have dwindled by 88 percent in the past five years, a loss that closed fisheries for 2008 and may cost California's economy $167 million, according to the state Department of Fish and Game. On top of all this looms a second impact: These salmon will be in hotter water still because of climate change.
Cellulosic biofuels may be viable alternative to gas within 5 years
(06/02/2008) A new institute in the San Francisco Bay Area is seeking to make cellulosic biofuel an economically viable alternative to corn ethanol and gasoline within the next five years. The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a partnership between three national laboratories and three Bay Area universities, was formed in June 2007 after the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the institute a $125 million grant to develop better methods for making liquid biofuels from the natural cellulose in trees and grasses. JBEI researchers expect cellulosic biofuels to yield more energy, produce less greenhouse gases, and have less impact on the environment than other alternatives to gasoline, such as corn ethanol.
Food miles are less important to environment than food choices, study concludes
(06/02/2008) Shoppers concerned about the environment should not place "buying local" at the top of their list of priorities when purchasing food, according to a study published online on April 16 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The fuel burned in transporting food items from farm to marketplace creates just a small percentage of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food. Instead, consumers should shift their diets to include more foods that require less energy to produce in the first place.
High-tech collars to reveal the secretive behvaiors of mountain lions
(05/28/2008) A handful of mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California soon will wear high-tech collars as part of a new study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The collars will reveal not only how these animals range within their sprawling territories, but also how they hunt. The scientists aim to figure out ways to minimize conflicts between humans and mountain lions — also known as pumas and cougars.
From "kampung boy" to conservation force in the rainforest of Borneo
(05/27/2008) Waidi Sinun oversees three extraordinarily diverse conservation areas in the Malaysian rainforest, a career shaped by a love for the environment stemming from childhood memories, as well as the foundation that fostered his education.
50 years after the blast: Recovery in Bikini Atoll's coral reef
(05/27/2008) Fifty years after atomic bombs rocked Bikini Atoll and pulverized its coral reef, the lagoon again boasts a flourishing coral community. Scientists diving in the two-kilometer-wide Bravo Crater, created in 1954 by a blast 1,000 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, found a thriving habitat with treelike corals 30 centimeters (one foot) thick. The study shows that coral reefs can recover from profound damage?when humans leave them alone.
Why is there soot on the snowpack?
(05/22/2008) This fall, suitcase-sized air samplers will sprout throughout the Sierra Nevada. The air monitoring stations will be installed by researchers at the University of California, Davis, as part of a contract approved by the California Energy Commission (CEC) during its May 7 meeting. The researchers hope to learn whether the pollutants affecting the state's climate are coming from local sources or from transPacific sources like Asia, said Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) manager Guido Franco. The sensitive new devices will measure the amount of air pollution in the area and identify the makeup of the particles, Franco told the commission. Chemical detective work will then reveal their sources.