conservation news and environmental science news.
Ocean acidification is killing the Great Barrier Reef
(01/01/2009) Since 1990 the growth of coral in Australia's Great Barrier Reef has slowed its lowest rate in at least 400 years as a result of warming waters and ocean acidification, report researchers writing in Science. The finding portends a bleak near-term future for the giant reef ecosystem as well as calcifying marine organisms around the world.
Rainforest conservation more important than developing electric cars
(01/01/2009) For all the fuss that is made about Tesla and the coming generation of electric cars, policy-makers should not overlook the importance of tropical forest conservation.
China delays massive water scheme to redirect rivers from south to north
(12/31/2008) China will delay ambitious plans to divert billions of water to its arid north amid environmental concerns, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Rancher accused of ordering murder of American nun is arrested in Brazil
(12/30/2008) The rancher suspected of ordering the killing of an American nun in the Brazilian Amazon has been arrested and detained at his home in the state of Pará, reports the Associated Press (AP).
Did cheetah come from China?
(12/30/2008) The discovery of a fossilized big cat skull in northwestern China provides new evidence that cheetah originated in the Old World, rather than the Americas, report scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Reindeer, a symbol of the holidays, is under increasing threat
(12/26/2008) Reindeer are beloved in the holiday season for the mystical role they play in guiding Santa from the North Pole to the world’s chimneys. However, according to a new book, reindeer, more commonly referred to as caribou, face increasing pressures from a variety of sources. The new book entitled, Caribou and the North: A Shared Future, draws an intimate portrait of the only deer species where both male and females sport horns, while outlining the dangers which may lead these unique animal to become globally endangered.
Best Nature Photos of 2008
(12/24/2008) Running mongabay requires the commitment of several full-time jobs but it also offers opportunities to meet remarkable people and visit some interesting and beautiful places. In addition to writing, I try to take pictures during my travels (when possible). Below are 50 or so of my favorite photos from 2008, although there are many I wasn't able to include.
Shade-grown coffee preserves native tree diversity
(12/23/2008) A new study finds that shade-grown coffee protects the biodiversity of tree species, as well as those of birds and bats. Published in Current Biology, the study found that native trees in shade-grown coffee plantations aid the overall species’ gene flow and can become a focal point for reforestation.
Mirrors in the desert may fight global warming
(12/23/2008) Heat reflecting sheets in arid regions could cool climate by increasing Earth's reflectivity or albedo, argue scientists writing in the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues.
Malaysia seeks to reverse collapse of tiger population due to poaching, logging, palm oil
(12/23/2008) A new law seeks to double Malaysia's tiger population to 1,000 by 2020, reports BBC News.
Photos: Google Earth used to find new species
(12/22/2008) Scientists have used Google Earth to find a previously unknown trove of biological diversity in Mozambique, reports the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Scouring satellite images via Google Earth for potential conservation sites at elevations of 1600 meters or more, Julian Bayliss a locally-based conservationist, in 2005 spotted a 7,000-hectare tract of forest on Mount Mabu. The scientifically unexplored forest had previously only been known to villagers. Subsequent expeditions in October and November this year turned up hundreds of species of plants and animals, including some that are new to science.
20 years ago the Amazon lost its strongest advocate
(12/22/2008) Twenty years ago ago today, Chico Mendes, an Amazon rubber tapper, was shot and killed in front of his family at his home. He was 44. His assassination in Xapuri, a remote town in the Brazilian state of Acre, would serve as a catalyst that led to the birth of the movement to protect the Amazon rainforest from loggers, ranchers, and developers. But the movement has stalled. Some would even say it has failed: since 1988 more than 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been leveled.
Visiting New Mexico's Crane festival
(12/21/2008) It’s six in the morning; the Southwest sky is rich in hues of yellow and red, yet despite the warm colors the air is cold and brisk enough that my toes have begun to go numb. We have been waiting nearly a half-hour for the light and warmth of morning to wake-up thousands of cranes and tens of thousands of snow geese. But so far, despite the glimmer growing across the sky, there isn’t a bird in sight. Every winter cranes and snow geese migrate from Montana, Idaho, Canada, and Alaska to Bosque del Apache, a National Wildlife Refuge in Central New Mexico. For the past twenty-one years the refuge has celebrated the bird migration with a Festival of the Cranes. People travel from around the state (and country) to see the Southwest skies fill with birds. The festival lasts a week and includes educational stands, social gatherings, tours, hikes, and speakers on natural history and the environment. For this one week the small town of Socorro becomes overrun with birders, scientists, and tourists.
Amazon rainforest damage surges 67% in 2008
(12/20/2008) The area of rainforest in the process of being deforested — razed but not yet cleared — surged in the Brazilian Amazon during 2008, according to new figures released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The announcement comes shortly after the Brazilian government reported a 4 percent increase in forest clearing for the year. Using an advanced satellite system that tracks changes in vegetation cover INPE found that 24,932 square kilometers of Amazon forest was damaged between August 2007 and July 2008, an increase of 10,017 square kilometers -- 67 percent -- over the prior year. The figure is in addition to the 11,968 square kilometers of forest that were completely cleared, indicating that at least 36,900 square kilometers of forest were damaged or destroyed during the year. The sum does not include areas that may have been selectively logged for commercial timber.
Will 'peak oil' spur expanded coal use? And what does it mean for climate?
(12/19/2008) The world must phase out emissions from coal by 2030 to avert dangerous climate change, said scientists speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Peak coal to follow peak oil?
(12/19/2008) Governments have greatly overestimated global coal reserves according to estimates presented by a geologist at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
China successfully cut pollution during Olympics finds NASA
(12/18/2008) China's efforts to clean up Beijing's skies during the Olympics seemed to have worked, reports NASA.
Green-blooded, blue-boned frog discovered in Cambodia
(12/18/2008) Researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of frog in Cambodia. The amphibian is unusual in that is has green blood and turquoise-colored bones, a result of its transparent skin and a pigment that may make the species unpalatable to predators, according to Fauna & Flora International (FFI).
Obama pick supports 'Green Jobs' initiative to rebuild economy
(12/18/2008) President-elect Barack Obama's choice of California congresswoman Hilda Solis to head the Labor Department is a boost to the effort to launch a national "Green Jobs" initiative reports The Wall Street Journal.
European conquest of the Americas may have driven global cooling
(12/18/2008) Recovery of forests following the collapse of human populations in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans may have driven the period of global cooling from 1500-1750 known as the Little Ice Age, report researchers speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. By some estimates, diseases introduced by Europeans may have killed more than 90 percent of population on the New World within a century of first contact. The rapid depopulation led to large-scale abandonment, and subsequent reforestation, of agricultural lands in the Americas. Analyzing charcoal found in soils and lake sediments at sites across the Americas, Richard Nevle and Dennis Bird found evidence to suggest that this forest regeneration sequestered enough carbon to trigger global cooling.
Wood chemistry used to track origin of timber
(12/18/2008) A researcher is using carbon and oxygen isotopes to track the origin of timber as part of a worldwide effort to develop methods to combat illegal logging.
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.
Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest volume on record in 2008
(12/17/2008) Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest volume — and second lowest extent — on record, according to the annual World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Statement on the Status of the Global Climate.
Biochar and its Role in Mitigating Climate Change
(12/17/2008) The growing concerns about climate change have brought biochar, a charcoal produced from biomass combustion, into limelight. Biochar is a carbon-rich, fine-grained residue which can be produced either by ancient techniques (such as covering burning biomass with soil and allowing it to smolder) or state-of-the-art modern pyrolysis processes. Combustion and decomposition of woody biomass and agricultural residues results in the emission of a large amount of carbon dioxide. Biochar can store this CO2 in the soil leading to reduction in GHGs emission and enhancement of soil fertility. Biochar holds the promise to tackle chronic human development issues like hunger and food insecurity, low agricultural productivity and soil depletion, deforestation and biodiversity loss, energy poverty, air pollution and climate change. Thus, biochar could make a difference in the energy-starved countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as the industrialized world with its vast array of benefits.
Tool helps overcome miles-per-gallon illusion
(12/17/2008) A new tool helps motorists evaluate the fuel efficiency of their vehicle in terms that more accurately reflect the cost of driving than miles-per-gallon (MPG).
Observed sea level rise, ice melt far outpaces projections
(12/17/2008) Sea levels will rise faster than previously estimated due to rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets, according to a U.S government report released at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The report, titled Abrupt Climate Change, incorporates research published since last year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which drew largely from studies dating up to 2006. Most significantly, Abrupt Climate Change suggests that IPCC estimates for future sea level rise (18-58 cm) are conservative, noting that recent observations on sea level rise and loss of sea ice are far outpacing previous projections.
Greenland melting much faster than last year
(12/16/2008) Greenland is losing ice three times faster than last year, report researchers presenting at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Africa eyes geothermal power
(12/15/2008) Geothermal — the tapping of steam from hot underground rocks — could provide a source of clean, renewable energy in parts of Africa where electricity is currently limited, according to an assessment by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Corn expansion is hurting ladybugs
(12/15/2008) Expansion of corn acreage to meet ethanol targets is reducing the ability of beneficial insects to control pests, a loss valued at $58 million in the four states studied (Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin), report researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Climate change, ocean acidification may doom jumbo squid
(12/15/2008) Ocean acidification — driven by rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere — may hurt the Humboldt squid, report researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Photos of new species discovered in the Greater Mekong
(12/15/2008) More than 1,000 previously unknown species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong, a region comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam and the Yunnan Province of China, in the past decade, according to a new report from WWF.
Neither slow nor stupid, manatees are killed by boats because they can't hear them
(12/12/2008) Last year 73 manatees were killed by boats in Florida, despite two decades of manatee-related protections. In fact, manatee deaths due to boat collisions have only increased since protections were implanted. A recent study at the Florida Atlantic University has finally revealed why boats are so dangerous to manatees: the manatee cannot run from what it does not hear.
Computer hackers are helping illegal loggers destroy the Amazon rainforest
(12/12/2008) Computer hackers are helping illegal loggers destroy the Amazon rainforest by breaking into the Brazilian government's timber tracking system and altering the records so as to increase logging allocations, reports Greenpeace.
Lula pledges big cuts in Amazon deforestation -- after he leaves office
(12/12/2008) Last week Brazil unveiled plans to cut deforestation substantially from a 1996-2005 baseline of 19,533 squaure kilometers per year. The announcement met a mixed response from conservationists. Some applauded the decision to set hard targets for reducing deforestation, others say the targets were too low and that the country should aim for zero net deforestation by 2015. Nevertheless as more details have emerged, it becomes clear that the onus for reining in deforestation falls on Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's successor.
Rainforests continue to fall but hope may rest in a market solution
(12/11/2008) Environmentalists attempting to preserve the vanishing Amazon rain forest now confront a stark paradox: Never before have they succeeded in protecting so much of the world’s largest tropical forest, yet never before has so much of it simultaneously been destroyed. The key question today is whether new models of conservation — including an increasingly popular, market-based program known as REDD — will be able to reverse the steady loss of tropical forests, not only in the Amazon, but also in Indonesia, Borneo, and Africa’s Congo basin, where virgin woodlands continue to be razed at an unprecedented rate.
Climate change will transform the chemical-makeup of the ocean
(12/11/2008) By studying the ocean’s past, scientists have discovered that climate change has a much larger affect on ocean chemistry than expected. The study, published in Science, reveals that 13 million years ago climate change significantly altered the chemical composition of the oceans. Such changes in the ocean’s chemical makeup today could have a great impact on marine life, already stressed by overfishing and pollution.
Elephants die significantly earlier in zoos than in wild
(12/11/2008) A new study from Science provides disturbing evidence that one of the zoos’ most popular animals, the elephant, faces a far shorter lifespan in captivity than in the wild. The findings raise new ethical and scientific questions regarding the rightness of keeping elephants in captivity and the causes of their shorter life-spans.
Chad's elephant population falls by two-thirds in two years
(12/11/2008) Civil strife of Chad — a consequence of the calamity in Darfur — is taking a toll on the country's elephant population, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which has launched an emergency appeal for funds to support conservation efforts in the country.
Deal on forests falls short
(12/11/2008) A deal reached Wednesday in Poznan to include forests in future climate treaties is a positive step but falls short of the progress needed to get the REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) mechanism on track for incorporation into the framework that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, say environmentalists speaking from the talks.
Africa calls for "full-range" of bio-carbon as climate solution
(12/10/2008) A coalition of 26 African countries is calling for the inclusion of carbon credits generated through afforestation, reforestation, agroforestry, reduced soil tillage, and sustainable agricultural practices in future climate agreements.
Why do different species of bird lay different numbers of eggs?
(12/10/2008) Clutch size varies greatly between bird species. Researchers now have a better idea why. Analyzing data on clutch size, biology, and habitat for 5,290 species of birds, a team of biologists — Walter Jetz (UC San Diego), Cagan H. Sekercioglu (Stanford University), and Katrin Böhning-Gaese (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität) — developed a model to predict variations in the number of eggs a species lays. They found clutch sizes are consistently largest in cavity nesters and in species occupying seasonal environments. The findings add depth and complexity to previous research that has shown short-lived species — ones that face high predation or have low survival rates among offspring — tend to lay more eggs than longer-lived species, which invest more resources in raising their offspring.
What allows rainforests to grow so wildly?
(12/10/2008) Molybdenum, a rare trace element, is the secret to rainforests' lush growth, reports research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Tropical species face high extinction risk
(12/10/2008) Tropical plant species face an inherently high extinction risk due to small populations and restricted ranges relative to temperate species, reports research published in PLoS ONE. These traits leave them vulnerable to habitat disturbance and climate change.
Fear and conservation
(12/10/2008) How does fear shape the behavior and conservation of deer, moose and antelope, not to mention carnivores such as wolves, bears, and even tigers? What is the natural state of wildlife, and how do animals know or learn which species to ignore or fear? Should we reintroduce predators to former habitats, even though the prey animals may be unprepared for their return?
Indigenous people win voice in climate negotiations
(12/10/2008) Negotiators at U.N. climate conference have struck a deal to give forest-dependent people a voice in determining the role forest conservation will play future agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reports the Associated Press (AP). The agreement clears a key obstacle that had been blocking progress on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), a mechanism that would compensate tropical countries for protecting their forest cover.
Macedonians plant six million trees—in one day
(12/10/2008) While the world meets in Poznan, Poland to discuss actions related to global warming, the small Republic of Macedonia has already achieved an impressive goal. On November 19th, thousands of Macedonians took part in planting trees in a massive reforestation effort. Altogether they planted six million trees: three trees for every citizen of the country.
Finland, Sweden push for loophole that would drive destruction of peatlands around the world
(12/09/2008) Finland and Sweden are pushing for a loophole in the E.U.'s Renewable Energy Directive that would open up vast tracts of peatlands around the world to development for biofuels production. The move could have drastic consequences for climate and biodiversity, warns Wetlands International, an environmental group.
Wildlife banking gets a marketplace
(12/09/2008) Ecosystem Marketplace, a site that provides information on markets and payment schemes for ecosystem services, has launched what it is calling the "first information clearinghouse" for the species credit trading industry.
How youth in Kenya's largest slum created an organic farm
(12/09/2008) Kibera is one of the world's largest slums, containing over a million people and 60 percent of Nairobi's population. With extremely crowded conditions, little sanitation, and an unemployment rate at 50 percent, residents of Kibera face not only abject poverty but also a large number of social ills, including drugs, alcoholism, rape, AIDS, water-borne diseases, and tensions between various Kenyan tribes.
Drought and deforestation in southeast Asia linked to climate change
(12/09/2008) Researchers have linked drought and deforestation in southeast Asia to climate change. Analyzing six years of climate and fire data from satellites, Guido van der Werf and colleagues report that burning of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea released an average of 128 million tons of carbon (470 million tons of carbon dioxide - CO2) per year between 2000 and 2006. Fire emissions showed highly variability during the period, but were greatest in dry years, such as those that occur during El Niño events. Borneo was the largest source of fire emissions during the period, averaging 74 million tons per year, followed by Sumatra, which showed a doubling in emissions between 2000 and 2006.
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