conservation news and environmental science news.
Advanced technology reveals massive tree die-off in remote, unexplored parts of the Amazon
(12/12/2012) Severe drought conditions in 2010 appear to have substantially increased tree mortality in the Western Amazon, a region thought largely immune from the worst effects of changes occurring in other parts of the world's largest rainforest, reported research presented last week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The findings suggest that the Amazon may face higher-the-expected vulnerability to climate change, potentially undercutting its ability to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide through faster growth.
Tribes to sue Peru over planned oil expansion
(12/12/2012) Indigenous groups plan to sue the government of Peru over the expansion of a oil concession they say intrudes on their native lands.
Why it's time to ban the ivory trade for good [Graphic images: viewer discretion advised]
(12/12/2012) This week the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) announced a 14% decline in elephants in the Samburu/Laikipia ecosystem over the last 4 years. The decline has occurred in a population whose natural growth rate was measured at 5.3% between 2002 and 2008 according to the previous survey, suggesting that over 300 elephants are dying annually in the Samburu and Laikipia’s landscape, denting the poster child image of one of Kenya’s most important wildlife landscapes. Poaching and drought are the main causes of mortality in this population. The impact of poaching on tourism cannot be ignored, heavily armed bandits threaten more than elephants, if we can’t protect elephants how can we protect international tourists? But it’s the long term consequence that are of greater concern.
Uncontacted tribes still exist, but extinction threat looms
(12/11/2012) The world is more interconnected than ever. Globally, there are six billion cell phone subscribers and 900 million Facebook users. Nearly 32 million people follow Lady Gaga on Twitter. Given this content it may seem hard to believe that there remain people who have never had contact with the outside world. Yet such people do exist today. Most of them live in the most remote parts of the world's wildest forests. One of this year's best paperback books takes a close look at one uncontacted group — the Arrow People of the Brazilian Amazon. Written by veteran journalist Scott Wallace, The Unconquered is a gripping first-person account of a journey to learn more about this little-known tribe.
China plans over 300 dam projects worldwide
(12/10/2012) A new report by the NGO, International Rivers, takes an in-depth look at the role China is playing in building mega-dams worldwide. According to the report, Chinese companies are involved in 308 hydroelectric projects across 70 nations. While dams are often billed as "green energy," they can have massive ecological impacts on rivers, raise local conflict, and even expel significant levels of greenhouse gases when built in the tropics.
Western scrub jay funerals...what's all the ruckus?
(12/10/2012) The western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) is a common denizen of suburban neighborhoods in the U.S., loitering at bird feeders and amusing bird watchers with their entertaining antics. Known to birders as 'WESJ,' this handsome bird is non-migratory and territorial during the breeding season, but what's curious about WESJ's is the way they respond to risks in their environment. When descended on by a predator or encountering a dead member of its kind, these birds hop from perch to perch and call loudly, ensuing in a 'cacophonous reaction,' a term coined by researchers at the University of California, Davis who are studying the behavior of these unique birds.
Poaching in Serengeti seems worth the risk
(12/10/2012) Illegal hunting in Tanzania's Greater Serengeti Ecosystem (GSE) remains a prevalent activity for local people, despite government regulation and grassroots movements to prevent it. A new paper from mongabay.com's open-access Tropical Conversation Science examines the factors that drive poachers to continue their activities, despite the high costs involved. By interviewing citizens involved with illegal hunting in the Western part of the Serengeti, they were able to identify key risks that are faced by the hunters as well as the perceived gains of a successful hunt.
Recovery of Atlantic Forest depends on land-use histories
(12/10/2012) The intensity of land-use influences the speed of regeneration in tropical rainforests, says new research. Tropical rainforests are a priority for biodiversity conservation; they are hotspots of endemism but also some of the most threatened global habitats. The Atlantic Forest stands out among tropical rainforests, hosting an estimated 8,000 species of endemic plants and more than 650 endemic vertebrates. However, only around 11 percent of these forests now remain.
New inroads made into bushmeat consumption in Tanzania
(12/10/2012) Bushmeat consumption, or "wildlife hunted for human consumption," poses a significant threat to wildlife conservation all across the globe. But in Eastern Africa—where savannah grasslands flourish and big game roam free within 'protected' reserves—one may be forgiven to think that poaching does not occur here: but it does.
REDD+ should pave way for more research into genetic studies of tropical species
(12/10/2012) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), the UN program to conserve tropical forests by paying developing nations to keep them standing, should go hand-in-hand with increased genetic studies of imperiled tropical biodiversity, according to a new opinion article in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conversation Science.
Vanishing corridors: trying to keep big animals on the move across Tanzania
(12/10/2012) One of the biggest challenges for big African wildlife like lions, elephants, and buffalo is movement across native habitat that is increasingly being encroached on by humans. Animals find their movement restricted by roads, fences, and property boundaries which fragment the landscape. Without safe, smart, and well-maintained corridors between designated wildlife areas, animals can get cut off from resources needed for survival and from potential mates (putting genetic health at risk), even while conflicts with humans become more frequent.
Measuring nutrient pollution in pristine waters: Puerto Rico's Vieques Island
(12/10/2012) Life in the ocean require nutrient, but too much of a good thing can be hugely detrimental. Nutrient pollution from agricultural and industrial runoff causes serious ecological harm in the world's marine waters, at times producing massive "dead zones" where much of the dissolved oxygen has been stripped making it difficult for most marine animals to live there. A new study by scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attempts to establish a baseline of nutrient levels in the largely pristine waters around the island of Vieques off of Puerto Rico.
A new method to monitor stray dog abundance
(12/10/2012) Free-roaming dogs (Canis familiaris) can fill a variety of ecological roles including competitor, predator, prey, and transmitter of disease to both wildlife and people with particular concern for rabies. A range of methods has been used to control dog populations, but monitoring dogs is a critical part of assessing the effectiveness of these methods.
Reducing the risk that REDD+ will shift conservation funding away from biodiverse forests
(12/10/2012) One of the major concerns about the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degrdatation (REDD+) program is that it could prioritize conservation of high carbon ecosystems like peatlands over high biodiversity landscapes, effectively shifting conservation funding away key wildlife-rich areas. A new paper, published in Tropical Conservation Science, analyzes the issue and suggests approaches that could reduce the potential detrimental impacts of REDD+ on biodiversity.
Climate Summit in Doha characterized by lack of ambition
(12/09/2012) Ahead of the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar a variety of reports warned that the world was running out of time to avoid dangerous climate change, and that there was a widening gap between what nations have pledged to do and what the science demanded. A landmark report by the World Bank painted an almost apocalyptic picture of a world in which global temperatures have risen 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, including unprecedented heatwaves and droughts, rising sea levels, global agriculture crises, and a stunning loss of species. In addition, scientific studies released near the two week conference found that sea levels were rising 60 percent faster than predicted, forests around the world were imperiled by increasing drought, marine snails were dissolving in the Southern Ocean due to ocean acidification, and ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica was on the rise.
Dams are rapidly damning the Amazon
(12/08/2012) Dam-builders seeking to unlock the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon are putting the world's mightiest river and rainforest at risk, suggests a new assessment that charts the rapid expansion of dams in the region.
108 million ha of Amazon rainforest up for oil and gas exploration, development
(12/08/2012) Concessions for oil and gas exploration and extraction are proliferating across Amazon countries, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region.
Amazon has nearly 100,000 km of roads
(12/08/2012) The Amazon Basin has 96,500 kilometers of roads, nearly two-thirds of which are unpaved, reports a comprehensive new atlas of the region, which contains the world's largest rainforest.
Mining boom in the Amazon
(12/08/2012) The world's largest rainforest is in the midst of a mining boom fueled by high mineral prices, reveals a new assessment of the Amazon's resources.
Palm oil or lard?
(12/07/2012) Animal fats and margarine consumption in the United States have been largely replaced by palm oil, a plant-based oil that has similar cooking properties, but may not be as environmentally-friendly as commonly believed, argues a researcher in this week's issue of Nature.
California researchers discover 137 new species in 2012
(12/07/2012) Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco formally described 137 previously unknown species during 2012, including 83 arthropods, 41 fish, seven plants, four sea slugs, one reptile, and one amphibian.
Norway payments to Brazil for reducing deforestation reach $670 million
(12/06/2012) Norway will deposit another $180 million into Brazil's Amazon Fund after the Latin American giant reported a third straight annual drop in deforestation, reports Bloomberg. The payment comes despite a high-profile dispute over who verifies reductions in emissions from deforestation — Norway believes emissions reductions should be measured by an independent third party, but Brazil disagrees. The disagreement sidelined discussions over the REDD+ mechanism during climate talks in Doha, pushing negotiations over the program out another year.
Greenpeace says U.S. logging company has broken landmark boreal forest agreement
(12/06/2012) When a long-fought peace was reached between nine environmental groups and 20 logging companies in 2010 for the vast Canadian boreal forest, it was dubbed the "world's largest conservation agreement." However, now that agreement is being shaken. A dispute between Greenpeace and U.S. logging company, Resolute Forest Products, over alleged logging in critical caribou habitat has resulted in the activist group abandoning the agreement.
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.
Illegal logging, mining worsened impact of Philippines' killer typhoon
(12/06/2012) According to Filipino officials, rampant illegal logging and mining were likely a part of the cause for the high casualty count from Category 5 Typhoon Bopha (Pablo), especially in the Compostela Valley where government officials had warned people to stop the illegal activities. So far, 370 people have been found dead on the island of Mindanao with another 400 missing. Waters rose so high even emergency shelters were inundated.
Okapi Conservation Project wins mongabay's 2012 conservation award
(12/06/2012) A group that works to protect the rare okapi, a type of forest giraffe found only in the Congo Basin, has has won mongabay.com's 2012 conservation award. The Okapi Conservation Project has been working to protect the okapi and its habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 25 years. The group was instrumental in establishing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC. While the Okapi Conservation Project has had a long track record of success, earlier this year it was devastated by a brutal attack on the reserve's headquarters. Two wildlife rangers were among the six people killed during June 24 assault.
Deforestation rate falls across Amazon rainforest countries
(12/06/2012) The average annual rate of deforestation across Amazon rainforest countries dropped sharply in the second half of the 2000s, reports a comprehensive new assessment of the region's forest cover and drivers of deforestation. While the drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been widely reported, several other Amazon countries saw their rates of forest loss drop as well, according to the report, which was published by a coalition of 11 Latin American civil society groups and research institutions that form the Amazonian Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG).
Asia Pulp & Paper hires top U.S. lobbyist to help 'green' its image
(12/05/2012) Indonesian forestry giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has hired a top U.S. official to help it work through trade and environmental issues. In November, APP announced it had retained Stuart Eizenstat of Covington & Burling, a U.S.-based law firm, to help 'ensure APP’s trade and sustainability compliance in North America'. Eizentstat's hiring is notable because he led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Kyoto Protocol and has served in a number of high-level government positions, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade; Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs; and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration.
Indonesia approves first REDD+ project in Borneo
(12/05/2012) The Indonesian government has approved its first REDD+ project to reduce emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation, reports President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's office.
Wealthy nations' fossil fuel subsidies dwarf climate financing
(12/05/2012) A new analysis finds that 21 wealthy countries spent five-times more on subsidizing fossil fuels in 2011 than they have on providing funds for poor nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The analysis, by Oil Change International, comes in the midst of the current UN Climate Summit held in Doha, Qatar; progress at the talks has been stymied due to the gulf between poor and rich nations, including on the issue of climate financing.
Cute animal picture of the day: cheetahs in the snow
(12/05/2012) Cheetah cubs at the Zoological Society of London's Whipsnade Zoo attempt to make sense of snow. Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), currently found in many African countries as well as Iran, are generally warm weather animals.
Improving food and water efficiency a must for the next generation
(12/05/2012) This summer, while climate change silence reigned in the U.S. presidential race, the Stockholm International Water Institute's conference for World Water Week focused on the global initiatives required in order to live with its effects. The report, titled "Feeding a Thirsty World," garnered the most publicity with the assertion that agricultural water scarcity and an increasing population would force the world to reduce average meat and dairy consumption down to just 5% of all calories by 2050. At present, 20% of the average human diet is made up from animal proteins.
Forests, farming, and sprawl: the struggle over land in an Amazonian metropolis
(12/04/2012) The city of Parauapebas, Brazil is booming: built over the remains of the Amazon rainforest, the metropolis has grown 75-fold in less than 25 years, from 2,000 people upwards of 150,000. But little time for urban planning and both a spatial and mental distance from the federal government has created a frontier town where small-scale farmers struggle to survive against racing sprawl, legal and illegal mining, and a lack of investment in environmental protection. Forests, biodiversity, and subsistence farmers have all suffered under the battle for land. In this, Parauapebas may represent a microcosm both of Brazil's ongoing problems (social inequality, environmental degradation, and deforestation) and opportunity (poverty alleviation, reforestation, and environmental enforcement).
Lion population falls 68 percent in 50 years
(12/04/2012) African lions, one of the most iconic species on the planet, are in rapid decline. According to a new study in Biodiversity Conservation, the African lion (Panthera leo leo) population has dropped from around 100,000 animals just fifty years ago to as few as 32,000 today. The study, which used high resolution satellite imagery to study savannah ecosystems across Africa, also found that lion habitat had plunged by 75 percent.
Jeff Corwin talks sharks
(12/04/2012) Sharks are among the most feared of all the world's predators, yet humans kill tens of millions of sharks for every person who falls victim to shark attack. Part of our fear stems from lack of understanding. A new eBook however tries to change that. Jeff Corwin, an Emmy Award Winning TV host, has this week released Jeff's Explorer Series: SHARKS, the first of a new eBook series, which Corwin likens to the 21st century version of an encyclopedia. The eBook is rich with video, images, and text. It is narrated by Corwin.
Africa's great savannahs may be more endangered than the world's rainforests
(12/04/2012) Few of the world's ecosystems are more iconic than Africa's sprawling savannahs home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and the undisputed king of the animal kingdom: lions. This wild realm, where megafauna still roam in abundance, has inspired everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Karen Blixen, and David Livingstone to Theodore Roosevelt. Today it is the heart of Africa's wildlife tourism and includes staunch defenders such as Richard Leakey, Michael Fay, and the Jouberts. Despite this, the ecosystem has received less media attention than imperiled ecosystems like rainforests. But a ground-breaking study in Biodiversity Conservation finds that 75 percent of these large-scale intact grasslands have been lost, at least from the lion's point of view.
Pledge to end wildlife trafficking for Wildlife Conservation Day
(12/04/2012) Today has been dubbed the first ever global Wildlife Conservation Day. To honor it, a coalition of conservation groups—including WWF and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)—are working to raise awareness of illegal wildlife trafficking. Poaching for traditional medicine, bushmeat, and other products has put innumerable species at risk, including tigers, rhinos, sharks, and elephants.
Tropical deforestation emissions were 3 billion tons/yr from 2000-2005
(12/03/2012) Two prominent groups of researchers have reached a consensus estimate for emissions from tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2005.
With deforestation falling, energy sector to become Brazil's biggest CO2 source
(12/03/2012) With its annual rate of deforestation falling more than 80 percent since 2004, energy is set to soon become Brazil's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, reports a new study seen by Reuters.
Animals dissolving due to carbon emissions
(12/03/2012) Marine snails, also known as sea butterflies, are dissolving in the Southern Seas due to anthropogenic carbon emissions, according to a new study in Nature GeoScience. Scientists have discovered that the snail's shells are being corroded away as pH levels in the ocean drop due to carbon emissions, a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. The snails in question, Limacina helicina antarctica, play a vital role in the food chain, as prey for plankton, fish, birds, and even whales.
REDD+ negotiations in Doha at impasse, potentially delaying decisions on safeguards another year
(12/03/2012) Negotiations over a program that would pay tropical countries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation — or REDD+ — are stuck at an impasse over how emissions reductions would be verified, reports Ecosystem Marketplace. The disagreement, which has been characterized as a standoff between Brazil, which is potentially a beneficiary of REDD+, and Norway, which is the world's largest funder of tropical forest conservation, could push any final decisions on REDD+ out another year.
Despite small brains, gray mouse lemurs use calls to avoid inbreeding
(12/03/2012) As a small-brained and largely solitary primate, the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) wasn't supposed to have the capacity to distinguish the calls of its kin calls from other lemurs. However, a new study in BMC Ecology, finds that a female gray mouse lemur is able to determine the mating calls of its father, allowing it avoid inbreeding. The discovery challenges the long-held belief that only large-brained, highly social animal are capable of determining kin from calls.
'No-one is listening to the entire scientific community': global carbon emissions set to hit new high
(12/03/2012) Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial sources are set to hit a new record high this year according to a new analysis by Global Carbon Project. The analysis in Nature Climate Changes predicts that CO2 emissions will rise another 2.6 percent, hitting 35.6 billion tonnes. The scientists warn that such steep climbs in global emissions year-after-year means that the door is rapidly closing on a global agreement to keep temperatures from rising 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
New Guinea singing dog photographed in the wild for the first time
(12/03/2012) A rarely seen canine has been photographed in the wild, likely for the first time. Tom Hewitt, director of Adventure Alternative Borneo, photographed the New Guinea singing dog during a 12-day expedition up a remote mountain in Indonesian Papua. Very closely related to the Australian dingo, the New Guinea singing dog, so named for its unique vocalizations, has become hugely threatened by hybridization with domesticated dogs.
Ecological Restoration and Environmental Change: Renewing Damaged Ecosystems - book review
(12/03/2012) Stuart K. Allison, PhD’s excellent book Ecological Restoration and Environmental Change: Renewing Damaged Ecosystems clearly explains the current state of affairs regarding ecological restoration. He addresses key issues and challenges to ecosystem restoration science dogma. He questions how we define ecosystem restoration and against which baseline. Baselines are various and can be difficult to define on a species by species level.
Featured video: turning yards and neighborhoods into wildlife habitat
(12/03/2012) A new animation by the American Society of Landscape Architects introduces viewers to the benefits of making their yards and neighborhoods wildlife friendly. By focusing on the threat of sprawl to biodiversity, the video shows how urban and suburban residents can use native plants, freshwater, and wildlife-friendly structures to allow a space for nature, and, possibly even help create and maintain corridors for wild animals.
Science and Public Reason - book review
(12/03/2012) Professor Sheila Jasanoff’s superb treatise Science and Public Reason, part of Earthscan's, is a wonderful book describing, through a collection of her essays and articles from the past 25-years, the rise of the field of Science and Technology Studies. The book could not have arrived soon enough, as we now globally face the triple threat of 1) massive biodiversity loss, 2) nutrient cycling disruption (greenhouse gases, Montreal Protocol gases, nitrogen fertilizer caused eutrophication, etc.), and 3) water quality degradation (saltwater intrusion, depleted aquifers, lack of clean drinking water, etc.).
Greenland and Antarctica ice melt accelerating, pushing sea levels higher
(12/03/2012) A massive team of scientists have used multiple methods to provide the best assessment yet of ice loss at the world's poles, including Greenland and a number of Antarctic ice sheets. Their findings—that all major ice sheets are shrinking but one; that ice loss is speeding up; and that this is contributing to the rise in sea levels—add more evidence to the real-time impacts from global climate change. Melting ice sheets at the poles have raised sea levels 11.1 millimeters, or about 20 percent of observed sea level rise, in the past twenty years, according to the landmark study in Science.
Indonesia lost 8.8m ha of forest in the 2000s, generating 7 billion tons of CO2
(12/02/2012) Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation could have been reduced by hundreds of millions of tons had a moratorium on new concessions in high carbon forest areas and peatlands been implemented earlier, reported a researcher presenting at a forests conference on the sideline of climate talks in Doha.
Brazilian bank approves $10.8 billion loan for controversial Amazon rainforest dam
(11/30/2012) Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) on Monday announced it has approved a $10.8 billion (22.5 billion Brazilian reais) loan to the consortium that is building the controversial Belo Monte dam in the state of Par´ in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, reports International Rivers, a group that is campaigning against the dam. The loan in the largest in the bank's 60-year history, according to the group.
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