Archive for the ‘Extinctions’ Category

Northwest Oyster Die-offs Show Ocean Acidification Has Arrived

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The acidification of the world’s oceans from an excess of CO2 has already begun, as evidenced recently by the widespread mortality of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest. Scientists say this is just a harbinger of things to come if greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar

It was here, from 2006 to 2008, that oyster larvae began dying dramatically, with hatchery owners Mark Wiegardt and his wife, Sue Cudd, experiencing larvae losses of 70 to 80 percent. “Historically we’ve had larvae mortalities,” says Wiegardt, but those deaths were usually related to bacteria. After spending thousands of dollars to disinfect and filter out pathogens, the hatchery’s oyster larvae were still dying.

Finally, the couple enlisted the help of Burke Hales, a biogeochemist and ocean ecologist at Oregon State University. He soon homed in on the carbon chemistry of the water. “My wife sent a few samples in and Hales said someone had screwed up the samples because the [dissolved CO2 gas] level was so ridiculously high,” says Wiegardt, a fourth-generation oyster farmer. But the measurements were accurate. What the Whiskey Creek hatchery was experiencing was acidic seawater, caused by the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air.

Ocean acidification — which makes it difficult for shellfish, corals, sea urchins, and other creatures to form the shells or calcium-based structures they need to live — was supposed to be a problem of the future. But because of patterns of ocean circulation, Pacific Northwest shellfish are already on the front lines of these potentially devastating changes in ocean chemistry. Colder, more acidic waters are welling up from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and streaming ashore in the fjords, bays, and estuaries of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, exacting an environmental and economic toll on the region’s famed oysters.

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-Research thanks to Tony H.

 

John Holdren relishing Congress climate opportunity

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

– “Any objective look at what science has to say about climate change ought to be sufficient to persuade reasonable people that the climate is changing and that humans are responsible for a substantial part of that – and that these changes are doing harm and will continue to do more harm unless we start to reduce our emissions.

– Speaking to BBC News at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Washington DC, Professor John Holdren

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The US president’s chief science adviser says the nation’s current efforts to tackle climate change are insufficient in the long-term.

Speaking to BBC News at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Washington DC, Professor John Holdren said the current US Congress was unlikely to pass new legislation to put a price on CO2 emissions.

President Obama’s administration’s efforts, he said, would instead have to focus on developing cleaner technologies, expanding the use of nuclear power and improving energy efficiency.

But he admits that in the long term, these initiatives on their own will not be enough.

“Ultimately, we will have to look to a future Congress for the more comprehensive approach that climate change will require,” he said.

For the time being, Professor Holdren faces a more sceptical Congress than he would like, and one that proposes a series of congressional hearings to assess the science of climate change.

Professor Holdren says he is relishing the opportunity.

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Study reveals rapid deforestation in Malaysia

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

New satellite imagery shows Malaysia is destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined, and its carbon-rich peat soils of the Sarawak coast are being stripped even faster, according to a study released yesterday.

The report commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International says Malaysia is uprooting an average 2 percent of the rain forest a year on Sarawak, its largest state on the island of Borneo, or nearly 10 percent over the last five years. Most of it is being converted to palm oil plantations, it said.

The deforestation rate for all of Asia during the same period was 2.8 percent, it said.

In the last five years, 353,000 hectares (872,263 acres) of Malaysia’s peatlands were deforested, or one-third of the swamps which have stored carbon from decomposed plants for millions of years.

“We never knew exactly what was happening in Malaysia and Borneo,” said Wetlands spokesman Alex Kaat. “Now we see there is a huge expansion (of deforestation) with annual rates that are beyond imagination.”

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Global extinction crisis looms, new study says

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

A growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species across the globe.

In addition, forces such as habitat destruction, over-exploitation and invasive competitors move 52 species a category closer to extinction each year, according to the research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science. At the same time, the findings demonstrate that these losses would be at least 20 percent higher without conservation efforts now underway.

“We know what we need to do,” said Andrew Rosenberg, senior vice president for science and knowledge at the advocacy group Conservation International and one of the paper’s co-authors. “We need to focus on protected areas, both terrestrial and marine.”

The survey, conducted by 174 researchers from 38 countries, came as delegates from around the world are meeting in Nagoya, Japan, to debate conservation goals for the coming decade.

The researchers analyzed the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” – a periodic accounting that classifies mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish along a spectrum depending on how imperiled they are.

“We’ve transformed a third of the habitable land on earth for food production,” said Dulvy, who co-chairs the IUCN’s shark specialist group. “You can’t just remove that habitat without consequences for biodiversity.”

While many industrialized countries have undertaken conservation efforts at home and helped fund this work overseas, “the reality is we’re still exporting degradation across the world” by taking food and other resources from the developing world, according to co-author Nicholas K. Dulvy.

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Nature’s sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth’s wildlife.

Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

And it’s not just the number of bees that is dwindling rapidly – as a direct result of human activity, species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.

The Earth’s natural environment is also suffering.

In the past few decades alone, 20% of the oceans’ coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 20% badly degraded or under serious threat of collapse, while tropical forests equivalent in size to the UK are cut down every two years.

These statistics, and the many more just like them, impact on everyone, for the very simple reason that we will all end up footing the bill.

Costing nature

For the first time in history, we can now begin to quantify just how expensive degradation of nature really is.

A recent, two-year study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.

At the lower estimate, that is roughly equivalent to the entire annual economic output of the UK or Italy.

A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the cost considerably higher. Taking what research lead Dr Richard Mattison calls a more “hard-nosed, economic approach”, corporate environmental research group Trucost estimates the figure at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output.

This, says Trucost, compares with a $5.4tn fall in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Of course these figures are just estimates – there is no exact science to measuring humans’ impact on the natural world – but they show that the risks to the global economy of large-scale environmental destruction are huge.

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Madagascar’s forests plundered for rare rosewood

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Rosewood traders turn up in villages on the Masoala peninsula with cash and rice. They want local people to help them find precious rosewood trees in the dense forest, and then to haul the heavy logs out.

The illegal trade is irresistible to poor communities. Local people used to make money from tourists who came to see the lemurs – primates found only in Madagascar.

This was a national industry worth more than $400m (£256m). But last year’s military-sponsored change of government has frightened off all but the most intrepid international travellers.

In March 2009, Marc Ravalomanana was forced into exile and replaced as president by Andry Rajoelina, a 36-year-old former mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.

The international community deemed this a coup and refused to recognise the new regime. Large donors like the World Bank, the European Union and the United States withdrew all but humanitarian aid from President Rajoelina’s government.

This has had a dramatic impact as more than half of Madagascar’s budget had come from international donors.

Illegal logging on the rise

Since the political crisis began, the forests of Madagascar have been plundered. In 2009, loggers took an estimated 100,000 rosewood and ebony trees from the national parks of north-east Madagascar.

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Nature loss ‘to damage economies’

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

The Earth’s ongoing nature losses may soon begin to hit national economies, a major UN report has warned.

Elephants The abundance of mammals, birds, reptiles and other creatures is falling rapidly

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) says that some ecosystems may soon reach “tipping points” where they rapidly become less useful to humanity.

Such tipping points could include rapid dieback of forest, algal takeover of watercourses and mass coral reef death.

Last month, scientists confirmed that governments would not meet their target of curbing biodiversity loss by 2010.

“The news is not good,” said Ahmed Djoglaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history – extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate.”

The global abundance of vertebrates – the group that includes mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish – fell by about one-third between 1970 and 2006, the UN says.

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– research thanks to Tony H.

Ocean acidification: Global warming’s evil twin

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

While there’s much focus on the impacts from warming temperatures, there’s another more direct effect from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. More than 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans is dissolved into the oceans, gradually turning ocean water more acidic. Coral reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg explains the threat of ocean acidification: “Evidence gathered by scientists around the world over the last few years suggests that ocean acidification could represent an equal – or perhaps even greater threat – to the biology of our planet than global warming”. Thus a new paper Paleo-perspectives on ocean acidification (Pelejero et al 2010) labels ocean acidification the ‘evil twin’ of global warming.

As CO2 dissolves in the oceans, it leads to a drop in pH. This change in seawater chemistry affects marine organisms and ecosystems in several ways, especially organisms like corals and shellfish whose shells or skeletons are made from calcium carbonate. Today, the surface waters of the oceans have already acidified by an average of 0.1 pH units from pre-industrial levels and we’re seeing signs of its impact even in the deep oceans.

The past gives us an insight into future effects of ocean acidification, as we continue to emit more CO2 and acidify the ocean even further. Ice cores give us accurate data on the evolution of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. These reconstructions, together with data derived from foraminifera, find that the pH of ocean surface water was lower during interglacials (high levels of atmospheric CO2). Seawater pH was also higher during glacial periods  when atmospheric CO2 was low. Correspondingly, foraminifera seem to have grown thicker or thinner shells over glacial–interglacial timescales in time with changing CO2 levels.

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Wilder Weather Exerts a Stronger Influence on Biodiversity Than Steadily Changing Conditions

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2010) — An increase in the variability of local conditions could do more to harm biodiversity than slower shifts in climate, a new study has found.

Climate scientists predict more frequent storms, droughts, floods and heat waves as the Earth warms. Although extreme weather would seem to challenge ecosystems, the effect of fluctuating conditions on biodiversity actually could go either way. Species able to tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures, for example, may be eliminated, but instability in the environment can also prevent dominant species from squeezing out competitors.

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Python Predation: Big snakes poised to change U.S. ecosystems

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Brought to the U.S. as pets, Burmese pythons have made headlines with their uncontrolled spread in the Florida Everglades and willingness to challenge alligators for the position of top predator. A report released by the U.S. Geological Survey last fall delivered more bad news: two other constrictor species, also former pets, are thriving in the area, and six others could pose similar threats. Researchers fear that reproductive populations could spread and eat native animals into extinction.

The new interlopers—northern and southern African pythons, reticulated pythons, boa constrictors and four species of anacondas—have “ecological similarities,” explains Robert Reed, a USGS biologist and one of the authors of the report. “They are large invasive predators that native birds and mammals aren’t adapted to, and they are highly fecund, capable of producing up to 100 hatchlings in one nest.” They’re also big; some grow up to 20 feet and 200 pounds. They seize prey with their teeth and then wrap around the prey’s body, squeezing it to death.

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