Carbon emissions threaten British butterflies

Carbon emissions threaten British butterflies

By mid-century carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom could be causing recurrent droughts severe enough to force several butterfly species into extinction.

LONDON, 16 August, 2015 – If 25 years from now you can’t see a speckled wood near the English woodland, it wont be because of natural camouflage. And if you suddenly miss the large skipper, it wont be because it has led the team off the field.

Both species of British butterfly could be extinct because of global warming. And other flying insects, and even birds, may face similar jeopardy.

Under a range of climate change scenarios, extreme droughts are expected to become more frequent. Tom Oliver of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at long-term butterfly population records from 129 sites monitored under the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to work out how 28 species had fared during an extreme drought event in Britain in 1995, and identified six species more than usually sensitive to brilliant sunshine and extended dry seasons.

Besides large skipper and speckled wood, these include the ringlet, large white, small white and green-veined white.

The authors warn that by 2050 the recurring droughts forecast by climate scientists under a “business as usual” scenario, in which humans go on expanding the use of fossil fuels, thus putting more and more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise global average temperatures, could cause population collapses.

Recovery impossible

“Should this occur repeatedly, populations may be unable to recover, resulting in local extinctions,” they warn.

The research was backed by the charity Butterfly Conservation, by the agency Natural England and by the University of Exeter.

Butterflies, transient and brightly coloured, make good tests of local ecological health, and so are well studied. So has been their response to climate change. Some species have responded by extending their range uphill or northwards in response to the overall shift in average temperatures, while other populations have dwindled.

A shift in climate is naturally expected to help some species flourish, others fade, But butterflies, like birds, are popular symbols of the natural world and there is pressure to conserve. The study is designed to examine the big challenges that will face conservation agencies by 2050.

“We consider the average response across Great Britain. Losses are likely to be more severe in drier areas with more intensive land use, whilst wetter areas with less fragmented habitat will provide refugia.

“The study looked at butterflies but the conclusions are potentially valid for other species”

“We assume that butterflies wont have time to evolve to become more drought-tolerant, because their populations are already small, and evolution would need to be very rapid. The study looked at butterflies but the conclusions are potentially valid for other species such as birds, beetles, moths and dragonflies,” said Dr Oliver.

Worryingly, the researchers found that simply devoting more space and habitat to conservation – and in a world in which rising population means greater pressure on farmland, this would not be easy – and especially by creating corridors along which species could migrate, would not be enough.

Even more worryingly, the scientists found that some species would be at risk of widespread extinction even under relatively favourable greenhouse emissions scenarios.

“The results are worrying. Until I started this research, I hadnt quite realised the magnitude and potential impacts from climate change,” said Dr Oliver. “For drought-sensitive butterflies, and potentially other taxa, widespread population extinctions are expected by 2050.

“To limit these losses, both habitat restoration and reducing CO2 emissions have a role. In fact, a combination of both is necessary.” – Climate News Network

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Polar bears weakened by pollution as well as warmth

Polar bears weakened by pollution as well as warmth

Climate change causing habitat loss and reduced food is the main problem for polar bears, but plastic waste and other pollutants are growing risks.

LONDON, 17 April, 2015 − Greenland’s polar bears have a thyroid problem. Their endocrine systems, too, are being disrupted. In both cases the culprit agency is environmental pollution by a range of long-lived industrial chemicals and pesticides.

Kristin Møller Gabrielsen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research that they examined the liver, muscle and kidney tissues taken from seven polar bears killed by Inuit hunters in East Greenland in 2011 and analysed the effect of more than 50 contaminants in plasma samples from Ursus maritimus, to see what effect organohalogen compounds could have on the bears’ thyroid systems.

All mammals have thyroid systems, and these are physiologically essential for growth, development, reproduction, stress response, tissue repair, metabolism and thermoregulation (an animal’s ability to keep its body temperature within limits): disruption at any stage of life can be damaging, but thyroid regulation is vital in the earlier stages of life.

But the researchers found high concentrations of plastic pollution and pesticide contamination in the creatures’ tissues, many of which could affect the hormonal systems.

Retreating ice

Polar bears face an uncertain future: the Arctic’s most iconic predator depends on sea ice for access to the most nourishing prey – seals − but thanks to global warming driven by greenhouse gases discharged by humankind since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the ice is in retreat. The bears can and do forage on land for small prey, eggs, berries and so on, but new research suggests that this is unlikely to help them much.

“The health of the Arctic polar bear is being attacked from all fronts, but among many other factors is the exposure to environmental contaminants,” said Maria Jesus Obregon, of the Biomedical Research Institute in Madrid, one of the authors.

“A wide variety of organochlorine compounds and pesticides have an effect on the thyroid hormones in plasma, tissues and deiodinase enzymes, which are in charge of stabilising the thyroid hormones in tissues.”

The biggest problem that confronts Ursus maritimus is still climate change, loss of habitat and a more precarious food supply. But as a marine mammal, the bear is exposed to a huge range of pollutants delivered by modern industry, transport and commerce.

Conservation guidelines

Researchers in February calculated that in 2010, around eight million tons of plastic waste
ended up in the world’s oceans.

A second team of researchers has framed guidelines for the conservation of the polar bear, and proposed 15 measures that could determine the factors important in saving the creature from ultimate extinction.

They report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they questioned 13 specialists from four nations to propose ways of measuring polar bear health. Not surprisingly, climate change topped the list of threats, but the list also included nutritional stress, chronic physiological stress, diseases and parasites, and increasing exposure to competitors. Exposure to contaminants was the third largest threat.

“We still don’t know to what extent environmental changes will affect polar bear health and therefore its conservation,” say the authors. − Climate News Network

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Too much nitrogen reduces Alpine plant diversity

Too much nitrogen reduces Alpine plant diversity

Climate change caused by one of the less abundant greenhouse gases is playing havoc with plant life in Switzerland, posing problems for other forms of life and increasing the risk of erosion.

LONDON, 15 April, 2015 − Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas to change the world. Swiss scientists have just confirmed that nitrous oxide and other forms of atmospheric nitrogen deposition – from agriculture, from factory chimneys and motor exhausts and so on – is altering the grasses and wildflowers of the Alps and the valleys.

Plants cannot live without nitrogen: for most of evolutionary history, it has been available only in limited amounts. With the Industrial Revolution, that began to change. Tobias Roth of the University of Basel and colleagues report in the Royal Society journal Open Science  that the historic rise in the availability of nitrogen has reduced plant diversity everywhere in Switzerland.

The finding is not – of itself – new. Researchers tested the hypothesis that increasing levels of nitrogen presented a threat to “hotspots” of global biodiversity almost a decade ago. But in science, one general study is never enough.

More nitrogen

So Dr Roth and his colleagues did something much more detailed and comprehensive. They used six different measures of plant diversity to test what was happening on 381 study plots at a variety of altitudes and in different kinds of ecosystems across just one country. However the scientists measured plant diversity, it had been reduced.

That human-triggered changes to the atmosphere have affected Switzerland is not in much doubt: one research team recently established that alpine glaciers were in retreat in response to atmospheric pollution, and Dr Roth – now with the Swiss company Hintermann and Weber AG – last year demonstrated that birds, flowers and butterflies in the country were all heading uphill in response to global warming.

The latest research began with a baseline from earlier centuries: data taken from herbarium samples confirmed that available nitrogen had once been much more limited. The scientists then randomly selected 428 study plots – each a kilometre square – as their study samples.

Some had to be rejected, because they were entirely water, or in mountainous regions too rugged and dangerous for field research. But that left 381 sample plots, in the Alps and the Jura mountains, between the altitudes of 260 and 3,200 meters (850 and 10,500 feet).

Bad news

The researchers used qualified botanists who had received special training to conduct the surveys, and asked them to conduct, as closely as they could, a diagonal transect examination across each plot, if possible once in spring and again in summer, and to record all vascular plants. Altogether, the surveys delivered 93,621 observations of 1,768 plant species.

The scientists found that biodiversity had declined by 19% according to one measure and by 11% in another test. In general, the higher the nitrogen available, the lower the diversity.

This is bad news for ecosystems as a whole: diversity means stability. Extra sources of nitrogen fertility benefit some highly competitive groups of plants, at the expense of others.

“High plant diversity is important to us humans for many reasons,” said Valentin Amrhein, another of the authors. “For example, in the mountains a large number of plant species with different root depths will stabilise the soil more effectively and prevent erosion.” − Climate News Network

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Climate change can skew fish gender ratios

Climate change can skew fish gender ratios

Scientists find that zebrafish exposed to hormone-disrupting chemical pollution produce abnormal numbers of male offspring, especially in increasingly warmer water.

LONDON, 10 March, 2015 – Climate change seems to make everything worse – at least for some wild creatures. British scientists have just confirmed that higher temperatures could amplify the impact of hormone-disrupting chemicals that already pollute the environment.

The world’s waterways are full of industrial pollutants with potentially damaging effects. They include industrial agents, the waste products of birth-control pills, herbicides, pharmaceuticals and even the residues of illegal narcotics. Altogether, more than 800 chemicals have been identified as having some hormone-disrupting capacity.

Ross Brown, then with AstraZeneca Research and now at the University of Exeter, and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to look at the long-term effects of clotrimazole, a chemical commonly used in antifungal treatments and believed to disrupt hormones and interfere with the sex ratios of fish and amphibians.

Conservationists – and others – have worried for decades about the build-up of such chemicals in the environment. They have cited them as possible threats to biodiversity, and have produced evidence that they could be implicated in sexual abnormalities in some species.

Extinction risk

But these have been regarded as a separate problem, and not part of the mix of stresses that could accompany climate change.

The British scientists tested a well-established laboratory and aquarium favourite,  the zebrafish (Danio rerio). This is the first fish to have its entire genome sequenced – which means researchers already know a great deal about its life cycle, physiology and development.

So the scientists observed normal spawning at the temperatures in which the fish evolved, and five degrees higher, at the 33°C projected for its home waters in 2100.

In the tests, the water level of endocrine-disrupting clotrimazole was also at levels found polluting the world’s waterways today.

Temperature plays a powerful role in determining the sex of some as yet unborn members of certain species. Warmer temperatures can make female status more likely for crocodilians, some lizards and turtles and tortoises. Higher temperatures, however, are likely to encourage higher ratios of male lizards, fish and amphibians.

Since, in normal conditions, temperatures vary around an average, the numbers of males and females in a population tend to even out. But in reproduction, it’s the females that matter more. So a sustained tilt towards maleness could threaten a population’s survival.

Double jeopardy

The researchers found that the zebrafish exposed to the chemical pollutant produced an abnormally high percentage of male offspring. This ratio got even higher when the fish were confronted with the double whammy of clotrimazole and warmer waters.

Fish that were inbred were the most likely to respond, while fish from a genetically-diverse heritage were somewhat less affected.

The implication is that endangered species living in small populations in isolated waters could be at greater risk of extinction.

This was a controlled laboratory experiment, conducted under very precisely-measured conditions, on one well-studied species.

The real world is a messier place, and outcomes 80 years on for other freshwater fish and amphibians exposed to an unpredictable suite of stresses are harder to predict.

But the zebrafish, a native of the Indian subcontinent and often a citizen of the flooded rice paddies, is also likely to experience a wide range of chemical pollutants. So conditions in the wild could be even worse.

“Chemicals in the environment are usually looked at in isolation, but in reality animals are exposed to multiple stressful events at the same time,” says the report’s senior author, bioscientist Charles Tyler, of the University of Exeter. “They include changes in temperature, food scarcity, or harmful chemicals.

“It is important that we understand how these pressures interact if we are to understand the real impact of rising global temperatures and increasing levels of pollution.” – Climate News Network

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Canada’s polar bears face food crisis by 2100

Canada's polar bears face food crisis by 2100

The survival of polar bears in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago may be in question in around 80 years’ time, because of the shrinkage of the sea ice.

LONDON, 30 November 2014 − The polar bears of the Canadian Arctic – at present they make their home in the nation’s huge, frozen archipelago – face starvation and reproductive failure by the close of this century.

New research in the Public Library of Science Journal PLOS One confirms that the continuing loss of sea ice in the Arctic ocean puts pressures on the region’s most iconic predator. By 2100, polar bears in the high Arctic may have to endure between two and five months without access to any sea ice.

Ursus maritimus has evolved under harsh circumstances, can swim huge distances, and can survive long periods without eating. However, it can only do so if it has been able to build up energy reserves and to do this, the bear needs access to a rich source of fat and calories.

So it hunts seals, and to hunt seals, it must be able to get onto the sea ice. The ice is where it hunts, where it mates and where it migrates.

No ice, no seals

Stephen Hamilton of the University of Alberta and colleagues used climate models to work out the likely pattern of sea ice in the Canadian Arctic during the rest of the century. The Canadian archipelago is home to at least seven populations of polar bear, a species already declared vulnerable.

Researchers have measured a steady shrinking of the north polar ice sheet over the last 30 years and have also found that the remaining sea ice is becoming thinner. By mid-century, according to some researchers, the Arctic could be navigable one summer in two.

This is not likely to be good news for an animal that needs the ice to hunt to gain fat and to provide the energy for the next breeding cycle. Hamilton and colleagues put their message bleakly:  “Under business-as-usual climate projections, polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure across the entire Archipelago by the year 2100.”

“By 2100 all regions of the study area may cross the critical point-of-no-return”

This may not mean the end of the species, but there are only 19 populations of polar bears in the world, and the seven populations that hunt or den in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago make up probably a quarter of all the planet’s polar bears, even though the Canadian islands make up less than 10% of the polar bear’s range. So what happens in the Canadian Arctic could be critical.

What seems to govern polar bear behaviour is the concentration of sea ice: if the concentration falls below between 30 to 50%, the bears abandon the ice and move ashore to await the return of winter. The longer the bears stay ashore, the briefer the access to seal blubber.

At this point the extent of the ice-free period becomes critical. If the ice-free period lasts 120 days, two or three bears in every hundred could perish. If it lasts 180 days, then 20 out of 100 could starve. If the ice breaks up too early, between 55 and 100% of pregnant females could lose their cubs.

The scientists’ research is intended to help conservation programmes, but there may not be much future for the bears in the far north of Canada.

“By 2100 all regions of the study area may cross the critical point-of-no-return,” the authors say,  “putting the persistence of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago polar bear populations in jeopardy.” – Climate  News Network

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Climate helps to halve world wildlife in 40 years

Climate helps to halve world wildlife in 40 years

Conservation campaigners say the plight of much of the world’s wildlife seems “worse than ever” – and climate change is a growing cause of the damage.

LONDON, 30 September 2014 – Human pressure has halved the numbers of many of the Earth’s wild creatures in just four decades, the Worldwide Fund for Nature says.

While the main recorded threat to biodiversity comes from habitat loss and degradation, driven by unsustainable human consumption, it found, climate change is a growing concern.

It says in its Living Planet Report 2014 that vertebrate wildlife populations have declined by an average of just over half, with freshwater species suffering a 76% decline, almost double the average loss of land and ocean species.

In a foreword the director-general of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, writes: “This latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted.

“One key point that jumps out is that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52% since 1970.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half.”

The Report is based on the Index, a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Industrial killing

WWF says the state of the world’s biodiversity “appears worse than ever.” But it is confident in the robustness of its findings: “This is a much bigger decrease than has been reported previously, as a result of a new methodology which aims to be more representative of global biodiversity.”

The authors calculated the decline by analysing 10,000 different populations of 3,000 vertebrates. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative Living Planet Index, reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates. The consequences, it shows, can be drastic.

Last week conservationists said that elephant poaching was now happening on an unprecedented and “industrialised” scale in Mozambique, after 22 of the animals were killed for their tusks in the first two weeks of September. Numbers of some marine turtles are estimated to have dropped by 80%.

Professor Ken Norris, director of science at the ZSL, said: “The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”

There is wide disagreement about the number of species on Earth. In 2007, when the total was estimated by many scientists at around 1.5 m (it is now thought to be 8.7 m) the number of vertebrate species was put at about 60,000 in the IUCN Red List.

WWF says too that humans are using more resources than the Earth can continue to provide, felling trees more quickly than they can regrow, for example, catching fish faster than they can reproduce, emptying rivers and aquifers –   and emitting too much carbon for natural systems to absorb.

Boundaries crossed

The Report devotes a section to the idea of the Ecological Footprint, the sum of the ecological services that people demand which compete for space. For more than 40 years, it says, humanity’s demand on nature has exceeded what the planet can replenish, principally through climate change.

“Carbon from burning fossil fuels has been the dominant component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint for more than half a century, and remains on an upward trend. In 1961, carbon was 36% of our total Footprint; by 2010, it comprised 53%”, the Report says.

WWF urges respect for “planetary boundaries” beyond which humanity will “enter a danger zone where abrupt negative changes are likely to occur.”

It says “three planetary boundaries appear to have already been transgressed: biodiversity loss, and changes to the climate and nitrogen cycle, with already visible impacts on the well-being of human health and our demands on food, water and energy.”

The Report argues for the diversion of investment away from the causes of environmental problems and towards solutions, and for “ecologically informed” choices about how we manage resources.

Next year world leaders are due to conclude two critical global agreements: the post-2015 development framework, which will include Sustainable Development Goals intended to be met by all countries by 2030; and a UN treaty leading to effective action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

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Food security faces growing pest advance

Food security faces growing pest advance

A world with more people will see more competition for food. Many of our competitors may not be human, because natural pests are spreading far and wide.

LONDON, 29 August 2014 - Coming soon to a farm near you: just about every possible type of pest that could take advantage of the ripening harvest in the nearby fields.

By 2050, according to new research in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, those opportunistic viruses, bacteria, fungi, blights, mildews, rusts, beetles, nematodes, flies, mites, spiders and caterpillars that farmers call pests will have saturated the world.

Wherever they can make a living, they will. None of this bodes well for food security in a world of nine billion people and increasingly rapid climate change.

Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter, UK,  and colleagues decided to look at the state of pest populations worldwide. They combed the literature to check the present status of 1,901 pests and pathogens and examined historical records of another 424 species. This research included the records made since 1822 by the agricultural development organization CABI.

Crop pests often emerge in one location, evolve and spread. That notorious potato pest the Colorado beetle, for instance, was first identified in the Rocky Mountains of the US in 1824.

Rising trend

The scientists reasoned that climate change and international traffic made transmission of pests across oceans and other natural barriers increasingly probable, and tried to arrive at a rate of spread.

They found that more than one in 10 of all pest types can already be found in half of the countries that grow the host plants on which these pests depend. Most countries reported around one fifth of the pests that could theoretically make their home there.

Australia, China, France, India, Italy, the UK and the USA already had more than half of all the pests that could flourish in those countries. The pests that attack those tropical staples yams and cassava can be found in one third of the countries that grow those crops.

This trend towards saturation has increased steadily since the 1950s. So if the trend continues at the rate it has done during the late 20th century, then by 2050 farmers in western Europe and the US, and Japan, India and China will face saturation point.

They will be confronted with potential attack from just about all the pests that, depending on the local climate and conditions, their maize, rice, bananas, potatoes, soybeans and other crops could support.

Early warning

“If crop pests continue to spread at current rates, many of the world’s biggest crop-producing nations will be inundated by the middle of the century, posing a grave threat to global food security,” Dr Bebber said.

Three kinds of tropical root knot nematode produce larvae that infect the roots of thousands of different plant species. A fungus called Blumeria graminis causes powdery mildew on wheat and other grains; and a virus called Citrus tristeza, first identified by growers in Spain and Portugal in the 1930s, had by 2000 reached 105 out of the 145 countries that grow oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit.

Predictions such as these are intended to be self-defeating: they present a warning of what might happen if no steps are taken.

“By unlocking the potential to understand the distribution of crop pests and diseases, we’re moving one step closer to protecting our ability to feed a growing global population,” said Timothy Holmes, of CABI’s Plantwise knowledge bank, one of the authors. “The hope is to turn data into positive action.” - Climate News Network

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Offshore turbines get approval of seals

Offshore turbines get approval of seals

Researchers tracking the movements of seals in the North Sea reveal that “artificial reefs” created by wind farms and pipelines are becoming attractive as foraging grounds on fishing expeditions.

LONDON, 25 July, 2014 − Environmental campaigners and countryside conservators aren’t the only fans of those great arrays of turbines, generating renewable energy from the winds at sea. Grey and harbour seals in the North Sea are beginning to show a preference for offshore wind farms as well.

Deborah Russell, research fellow at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and colleagues tracked the movements of both the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) and the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus).

There are an estimated 56,000 harbour seals in the North Sea and around 65,000 of the greys haul out on the British coast on the North Sea alone. Tagged specimens, with their movements tracked by GPS satellite systems as they surface to breathe, reveal a lot about the ecology of each species and their response to environmental change.

Distinct preference

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that some of their tagged animals seemed to show a distinct preference for offshore wind farms and associated pipelines. Eleven harbour seals headed for two wind farms: one was Alpha Ventus, off northern Germany, and the other was Sheringham Shoal, off the North Norfolk coast, England.

Some individuals regularly cruised the sites, and some even revealed a pattern of grid-like movements as they appeared to forage at individual turbines. Two seals in the Netherlands were tracked along sections of submarine pipeline, on fishing expeditions that lasted 10 days at a time.

A harbour seal with a GPS phone tag used to track movements Image: Current Biology, Russell et al
A harbour seal with a GPS phone tag
Image: Current Biology, Russell et al

The guess is that the seals regarded the offshore structures as artificial reefs where crustaceans settle and fish congregate.

Turbine blades can swirl at speeds of up to 280 kilometres an hour, and represent a danger to  birds and bats − one estimate is that such structures in the US account for 600,000 bat deaths a year. But marine creatures far below the circling blades seem to value a touch of freshly-planted, three-dimensional shelter in the muddy basin of a shallow sea.

“I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” Dr Russell said. “You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey, and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”

Open questions

Only a small proportion of the tracked animals showed a preference for wind farms, and such structures still cover only a trifling area of the available coast. But the research leaves open a number of questions.

One is whether, as wind farms add to the available habitat in the North Sea, they will increase the available fish and crustacean populations, or whether they simply attract the prey and make life easier for innovative predators.

As offshore investment grows, such studies may help engineers to design farms that help both the consumer and the wild things in the offshore waters.

The researchers say: “In this period of unprecedented development of the marine renewables industry, the number of apex predators encountering such structures is likely to increase. The ecological consequences may be dependent on whether such reefs constitute an increase or just a concentration of prey.” – Climate News Network

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Old phones offer lifeline to Africa’s forests

Old phones offer lifeline to Africa’s forests

A hi-tech approach that uses recycled smartphones to crack down on illegal logging and poaching could help combat devastation of trees and wildlife in threatened forests.

LONDON, 4 July, 2014 – Some of the world’s most endangered forests may soon benefit from better protection, thanks to discarded treasures from the consumer society − mobile phones.

A Californian technology startup, Rainforest Connection (RFCx), has developed a tool − made from recycled smartphones − that it says will pilot new ways to monitor and stop illegal logging and animal poaching throughout Africa’s equatorial forests.

RFCx has formed a partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international scientific charity that works for the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats.

The two organisations are planning to install the anti-deforestation, anti-poaching technology in Cameroon this year.

Instant alerts

RFCx says it has developed the first real-time detection system for protecting the forests and deterring illegal logging, using discarded Android smartphones to send instant alerts to forest rangers, enabling them to intervene swiftly. It says current monitoring methods often rely on aerial surveys or satellite surveillance, which usually detect deforestation days or even weeks after the event.

The RFCx system was first tested in 2013 against illegal loggers in Western Sumatra, Indonesia, and proved that the technology would work. Using highly-sensitive microphones, each autonomous, low-cost device can protect one square mile of rainforest, often home to over a thousand species of plants and animals.

The devices, built to operate for years, employ a unique solar panel design that can generate adequate electrical power even under the shadow of the tree canopy.

“We think this could be a critical new tool
for protecting large areas of rainforest”

Chris Ransom, programme manager for ZSL in Africa, said: “We think this could be a critical new tool for protecting large areas of rainforest. We’re excited to deploy it this year in collaboration with our local partners in Africa.”

Randy Hayes, the founder of the Rainforest Action Network, said: “This is the most exciting critical new tool I’ve seen that I think can help us get the job done.”

Topher White, RFCx’s founder, believes the right tools have been developed at just the right moment to make a difference. He said: “It’s clear that real-time awareness and intervention is a major missing piece in protecting the world’s last remaining rainforests.

“By using old smartphones and existing telecommunications infrastructure, we have built a system that we think could scale quickly enough to make a real impact.”

Species extinction

Deforestation is a leading contributor to climate change and to global species extinction rates. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that deforestation, land clearing for agriculture, fires or decay of peat soils accounted for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2004.

RFCx says each of its devices installed is as effective as taking 3,000 cars off the road, in terms of carbon mitigation through averted logging activities.

Dave Grenell, RFCx co-founder, said: “We are experiencing one of the highest rates of species extinction since the time of the dinosaurs.

“Future generations will look back on this as a kind of holocaust. Protecting endangered forests is one of the most important things we can do today to help.” − Climate News Network

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Lapland’s mystery moths puzzle science

Lapland's mystery moths puzzle science

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LONDON, 22 April – Finnish and US scientists have an unsolved puzzle: good news when they expected bad news. They have invested 32 years studying the forest moths of Finnish Lapland to measure the effect of climate change – and there doesn’t seem on the face of it to have been a change. Yet between 1978 and 2009, average annual temperatures in the region rose by 2°C and precipitation was higher.

“You see it getting warmer, you see it getting wetter and you see that the moth populations are either staying the same or going up,” said Mark Hunter of the University of Michigan. “So you might think ‘Great. The moths like this warmer, wetter climate.’ But that is not what is happening.”

The study looked at population records for 80 species of moth, and found that 90% of them were stable or increasing through the three decades. But warmer temperatures and wetter seasons are more likely to reduce the rate of population growth: species tend to do best under the conditions to which they have adapted over thousands of years.

“So the only possibility is that something else other than climate change – some other factor that we did not measure – is buffering the moths from substantial population reductions and masking the negative effects of climate change,” Professor Hunter said.

He and his colleagues report in Global Change Biology that they used nocturnal light traps to catch 388,779 moths from 456 species at the Värriö Strict Nature Reserve inside the Arctic Circle, 100 kilometres from a road and about 6 km from the Russian frontier. They selected the data for the 80 most common species for statistical analysis.

Winners and losers

At such high latitudes, any change in climate means a change in vegetation and an altered ecosystem, which should affect insect numbers. So the logic suggests that some unknown forces are at work, to protect the moth numbers just when they should be going down.

Ecologists don’t like unexplained outcomes. Because insects are the most numerous animals on earth, because they are pests, pollinators, food sources and disease bearers, and because their numbers ought to be indicators of both annual and long-term climate change, ecologists like to know what happens to them, and when, and why.

Researchers in Europe and the US have repeatedly tested animal population responses to climate change to identify winners and losers and understand what makes one species a loser, another a winner.

A 20-year study by Ben Hatchwell and colleagues at the University of Sheffield in the UK has found that warm dry spring weather makes all the difference to long-tailed tits: these short-lived passerines stand a much better chance of rearing chicks and then surviving to the next year, and the next chance to breed. A cold wet autumn normally increases mortality, but a preceding warm dry spring can offset this effect, they report in the journal Oikos.

Wide implications

So the British ornithologists have an explanation for one bird’s good performance. The Finnish entomologists would like to know what helps keep the larvae alive and the moths aflutter in the warming, changing Arctic Circle. The question is important not just for one group of high-latitude moths: scientists could be misreading the effects of climate change across a whole suite of species because these effects might be masked by other, unidentified factors.

And it becomes increasingly important with a prediction, from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway, that northern Europe could warm by 3°C in the winter by mid-century, with increasing rainfall.

Stefan Sobolowski and Robert Vaulard of the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute in France report in Environmental Research Letters that even if global average warming is kept to 2°C there will be “substantial and robust changes” across Europe. Against such a backdrop, it becomes important to know why one group of animals is doing better than expected – for the moment.

“The big unknown is how long this buffering will last,” said Professor Hunter. “Will it keep going indefinitely, or will the negative effects of climate change eventually just override these buffers, causing the moth populations to collapse?” – Climate News Network

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