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The week in environmental news – Feb 19, 2016

  • Scientists try a new approach that allows them to see like predators, and prove that camouflage really works.
  • To create a more sustainable biofuel, researchers are looking to the well-known ability of goats to efficiently digest almost anything they eat.
  • Species are beginning to move from their natural habitats and showing up in places that were once considered too wet or cold.

Why this iconic species is in decline and what it means for the Everglades [NPR]

Alligators are an indicator species for the Florida Everglades. They are responsive to changes in the environment and being top predator as well as ecosystem engineers; they are a major influence in this environment. Because of their level of influence, their current situation is of major concern to biologists.

When poor pay the price for forest conservation [Mongabay]

Sometimes the social safeguards that are included to ensure that vulnerable forest communities are not further marginalized by conservation programs fail to actually benefit the people they are designed to help.

Scotland’s plan to breed polar bears is set to move forward this year [BBC]

Almost 25 years ago, polar bear cubs were last born in the UK. Now, in the hands of The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, preparations to pair up two bears for breading at the Highland Wildlife Park are underway. However some animal welfare organizations are suggesting that focusing on combatting climate change to protect the wild bears’ habitat would be a better direction for conservation efforts.

Polar bear. Photo by Rhett Butler.
Polar bear. Photo by Rhett Butler.

This American species is hanging in the balance and illegal killings could be the blame [Reuters]

Last year’s drop in Mexican gray wolves, the rarest subspecies of gray wolves in North America, was both unexpected and disturbing news for wildlife managers. The deaths of 13 wolves, nine of them female, and a major decrease in wolf pup survivals through December are the leading factors of the recent decline.

How scientists underestimated the Zika virus and the ensuing consequences [NPR]

When the Zika virus was discovered back in 1947, scientists misjudged the amount of damage it would inflict. This oversight is one of the reasons for such a scarcity of medical knowledge regarding the virus. But it didn’t have to unfold this way.

Baltic Sea divers are astonished to be in the company of these marine animals [Deutsche Welle]

Bottlenose dolphins are usually found in tropical and temperate waters around the world. Where they aren’t typically found, is the Baltic Sea. Yet last summer, and again this week, the pair of dolphins that have come to be called “Selfie” and “Delfie” were spotted playing in the bow-wake of a tourist boat of the south coast of Sweden and also spending quality time with a kayaker and diver in the area.

A pair of bottlenose dolphins. Photo by Gregory Smith/CC BY-SA 2.0
A pair of bottlenose dolphins. Photo by Gregory Smith/CC BY-SA 2.0

Researchers are looking for the key to better biofuel in an unlikely place [BBC]

The long held belief of environmentalists that using land to produce crops for fuel instead of food drives up prices and impacts the poor has been the backbone of their argument against the current generation of biofuels. Now to solve the problem, researchers have turned to the well-known ability of goats to efficiently digest almost anything they eat.

A look at which species are likely to withstand the effects of climate change [Scientific American]

The stories of animal and plant declines are becoming more common as areas become too dry or hot for many wildlife populations. But there is another phenomenon that is occurring around the world. Species are moving from their natural habitats – many moving north away from the heat of the equator – and showing up in places that were once considered too wet or cold.

Sea snails that move with such grace they’re known as sea butterflies [New Scientist]

Winged sea snails are admired for their graceful appearance and movement through the water, so much so that they are often referred to as sea butterflies. Now, for the first time, researchers have captured the movement details of the winged motion in the swimming sea snails – showing that they have more in common with the popular insect than just a name.

A flock of egrets. Photo by Rhett Butler.
A flock of egrets. Photo by Rhett Butler.



Researchers reveal little-known ingredients that make these poison arrows lethal

In southern Africa, certain hunter-gatherer communities called the San peoples, have traditionally been known to use deadly poison-tipped arrows to hunt big game like gazelles and giraffe. A new study sheds light on how Kalahari’s San peoples source and prepare poison for poison arrows.

How tea could help protect the mountain gorillas of Uganda

Crop raiding mountain gorillas who venture beyond the confines of the park are a major problem that threatens the species’ conservation. Attempts at keeping the gorillas within the park haven’t solved the problem. A recent found solutions that, if applied properly, might do the job.

Changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). Photo by Rhett Butler.
Changeable hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). Photo by Rhett Butler.

Scientists use predator vision to see how camouflage really works

The limits of human vision, and the extraordinary way in which adult prey and their eggs blend into the environment, have long prevented scientists from thoroughly observing and defining the most effective mechanisms of camouflage. That is until scientists tried this new approach.

One of America’s rarest mammals has become a conservation success story

Following an aggressive recovery plan resulting in the “fastest successful recovery for any Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed mammal in the United States”, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove three subspecies from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife, and downlist one subspecies from Endangered to Threatened.

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