Bison Awareness In Europe

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European bison near the town of Bad Berleburg, Germany, in 2013. Credit Marius Becker/Picture Alliance, via Associated Press

Bison in Europe have not been on our agenda for a while, though rewilding in Europe remains a topic we monitor and share here with regularity. Progress seemed more the rule than the exception; so this recent story from Germany takes us by complete surprise:

Last week, a rare wild bison was spotted wandering alone near the town of Lebus in eastern Germany. A local official, alarmed that the animal could be dangerous, ordered hunters to shoot it and one of them did, using a rifle to kill an animal that had not freely roamed Germany for several hundred years, conservationists say.

The killing of the mature male European bison on Sept. 14, which was first reported by local news outlets, set off an outcry among conservationists, who have worked to protect the species and increase its population. The World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany has begun a lawsuit against the local official who gave the order, Heiko Friedemann, setting off a state investigation before it goes to court. Continue reading

Coral Larvae To The Rescue, Thanks To Marine Biologists

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A researcher used a pipette to release coral larvae into trays to encourage settlement and growth. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

This feature story suggests that even as we stress nature on a global scale, there are creative scientists working on fixes for particular challenges:

Building a Better Coral Reef

As reefs die off, researchers want to breed the world’s hardiest corals in labs and return them to the sea to multiply. The effort raises scientific and ethical questions. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Cambridge

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Thanks to Jonathon Shaw and Harvard Magazine for bringing our attention to this book:

Life Beyond Sight

The microbial earth, brought into view

world.drop_.sig_IN ROCKS AND SOIL, air, ponds and oceans, life is dominated by creatures that humans cannot see. Microbes thrive everywhere, from gardens and kitchens to the harshest environments on the planet: under polar ice, in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea, in hot springs that spew acid. A single gram of soil teems with billions of them, and their genetic diversity is equally impressive, dwarfing that of all the plants and animals round.microbe.2 (1)on Earth. Life at the Edge of Sight: A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World (forthcoming from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), brings the planet-shaping diversity of these single-celled, microscopic organisms into view through stunning images. Co-authors Roberto Kolter, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Scott Chimileski, a research fellow in microbiology and immunology at Harvard Medical School, share their passion for the subject in part by magnifying what cannot be seen unaided, in part by revealing large-scale microbial impacts on the landscape. Kolter has long been a leader in microbial science at Harvard, while Chimileski brings to his scholarship a talent for landscape, macro, and technical photography…

Read the whole article here, and if you happen to be in Cambridge (MA, USA) this exhibition might be of interest:

World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life

logofinalThe minuscule ecosystem within a single drop of water is home to an astonishing diversity of organisms busily living out their lives and interconnected by myriad complex relationships. The photographic exhibit World in a Drop is an aesthetic journey into this microbial world, as revealed through cutting-edge imaging microbe.gallery.1technologies. With expertly executed photography, videography, and poetic narration, Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter capture the intrinsic beauty of a mysterious world that is seldom recognized.

Conservation Tourism and Species Survival

A recent study found that the value of jaguars to tourism (US$6,827,392) was far in excess of the cost to ranchers from depredation of their cattle (US$121,500)

The intersection between jaguar territory and tourism has been part of our work for decades, in both the Paraguayan Pantanal, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and more recently in northwestern Belize.

We’ve seen the efficacy of species protection via conservation tourism when the economic value of species survival is quantified. This is good news for one of our favorite animals.

Curiosity saves the cat: Tourism helps reinvent the jaguar

From villain to hero, the jaguar (Panthera onca) stands at the cusp of a radical overhaul in its public image. As the largest cat in the Americas, the species commands a dominant role in the food chain of its native Pantanal – a vast swathe of tropical wetland that encompasses parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Once hunted for its fur, the jaguar’s appetite for the abundant prey in the Pantanal has led it into deadly conflict with ranchers in recent decades, casting it as the stalking menace of livestock and livelihood in a region where much of the land is reserved for cattle rearing. However, in a hopeful development for conservationists, researchers have revealed in a new study published in Global Ecology and Conservation that jaguars are worth 60 times more to tourism than the cost the big cats inflict on ranchers.

“The study represents a regional reality in the Pantanal,” said Fernando Tortato, research fellow at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation group that helped lead the study. “Where the jaguar brings in far more revenue than the potential damage it can cause.”

Jaguars once abounded from the southwestern U.S. to Argentina, but their numbers have fallen due to hunting and habitat loss. In the Amazon rainforest, deforestation is an ongoing threat, even while the dense foliage often precludes human encounters with jaguars. In the absence of benign tourism opportunities there is demand for jaguar teeth, paws and claws as souvenirs.

But jaguar’s predilection for lush and low-lying forest makes the Pantanal a stronghold for the species. The wetland’s web-like tributaries also open the wild cat’s home to human exploration, allowing tourists to share in their company.

In the Pantanal, the biggest threat to their survival is conflict with ranchers. Continue reading

Audubon’s 2017 Photography Awards Winners

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Gentoo Penguins. Photo: Deborah Albert/Audubon Photography Awards

Thanks to the judges who chose the Grand Prize Winner (above) in this year’s contest, among an impossibly great selection:

The more than 5,500 photos entered in this year’s contest, our eighth, show birdlife at its most vivid, vulnerable, formidable, and elegant. Photographers from 49 states and eight Canadian provinces submitted images in three categories: professional, amateur, and youth. While it wasn’t easy whittling those down, the following seven images proved exceptional. The category winners, in addition to garnering cash and trip prizes, are being displayed within the 2017 Nature’s Best Photography Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  Continue reading

Moths Worthy Of Art Galleries

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A collection of Gowin’s photographs from “Mariposas Nocturnas,” taken in February, 2007, at the Integral Forest Otonga, El Reventador, and Otongachi Reserve, in Ecuador.Photographs by Emmet Gowin / Pace/MacGill Gallery / © Emmet and Edith Gowin

k11112We have occasionally “discovered” the inspirational aspect of moths in all their variations, but had not thought so much of their beauty.  Thanks to Andrea K. Scott for bringing our attention to the photography of Emmet Gowin, whose “Mariposas Nocturnas: Moths of Central and South America, A Study in Beauty and Diversity” will be published this month by Princeton University Press. Also we thank her for mentioning that an exhibition of Emmet Gowin’s work will be shown at Pace/McGill Gallery from September 28th through January 6th, 2018:

The moth doesn’t enjoy the same charmed reputation as its lepidopteran cousin, the butterfly. Continue reading

Paraguay’s Chaco Region

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Bricapar charcoal facility at Teniente Ochoa ©Earthsight

The picture above, and the picture below, will suffice if you do not have the half hour required to read the details. Earthsight is a non-profit organization that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption. One such investigation provides these images, and it is worth a read, especially if you are in Europe and you use charcoal for barbecue. Thanks to the folks in the Guardian’s Environment team for bringing the report and its consequences to our attention.

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Figure 1: Jaguar photographed in the Gran Chaco forest ©Hugo Santa Cruz & Fundación Yaguareté

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How European & US BBQs are fuelled by a hidden deforestation crisis in South America

Summary

On a vast, hot plateau in Paraguay, in the centre of South America, lies a little-known environmental crisis, and a dirty secret that can be traced to the supermarkets of Europe.

The dry tropical forests of the Chaco are being destroyed faster than any other forests on earth. The trees felled as a result of the advance of industrial agriculture into pristine wilderness are being turned into charcoal to feed demand in Europe.

Described by David Attenborough as “one of the last great wilderness areas in the world”,[1] the Chaco is home to a plethora of precious wildlife and one of the world’s last tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Ayoreo. Continue reading

Popkin’s Arboreal Editorial

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Credit Zoe Keller

Economic value from trees is as old as mankind. Timber for homes and ships and all variety of implements. Nutritional value also: olives and their oil; figs; nuts. In the last year while in the forests of northwest Belize we were on the lookout for something new, something we had not yet known, something that would reveal new value within the forest; we had no clue what it might be. We were looking for the intersection between economic, nutritional and ecological value.

And finally a few months ago we came upon a nut that was new to us, and the trees it grows upon are particularly valuable from an ecosystem perspective. And an ethnobotanical perspective. So we are on the lookout for tree stories, especially those that overlap with themes we tend to in these pages–ecological, cultural and edible. We have linked to articles by Gabriel Popkin a couple of times previously, so we are not surprised by this editorial fitting our schema so well:

For several years, I’ve led tree walks in Washington, D.C. I start by asking participants who they are and why they want to spend precious hours looking at trees. My students are nearly all highly educated, successful people who work impressive jobs, speak multiple languages and effortlessly command sophisticated computers and phones. Yet most know barely the first thing about the trees around them. They want to change that. Continue reading

Habitat Conservation via Travel Choices

The greater sage grouse is a favorite among birders. Credit Rick McEwan

 

As protected areas and wildlife come under threat through lessening of restrictions on invasive oil and gas exploration, the importance of proving the economic value of conservation tourism become more and more evident.

Birders and Naturalists Ponder the Fate of the Greater Sage Grouse

Evan Obercian says it is the highlight of his Colorado birding tours every spring, even though he has to wake his clients up before 5 a.m. to be in the sagebrush flats before the sun comes up. And there they wait in Mr. Obercian’s van, listening to strange whoops and popping sounds that float magically from the predawn darkness.

The first rays of a new day’s sun reveal what is making the noise: large brown birds more than twice the size of a barnyard chicken, strutting and shaking while thrusting bulbous yellow air sacs out of their chests, and fanning a fantastic spread of pointy tail feathers. The bird is the greater sage grouse, and the sight is their spring mating ritual on their dancing grounds, called leks.

“It’s profoundly moving for me, and my clients,” said Mr. Obercian, “watching this ancient nuptial dance that’s been performed since way before there were any people on this land. It’s something way beyond just checking another bird off a list.”

The van acts like a blind, so the sage grouse do not notice that people are nearby, watching. Sometimes the grouse will dance right up to the tires. Birders are under strict orders not to get out, because as Mr. Obercian says, sage grouse “are very sensitive.” Continue reading

Forest Pathways For Species Survival

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The golden lion tamarin has been observed passing through some of these corridors, an encouraging early sign for researchers. Credit Kike Calvo, via Associated Press

Thanks to Brad Plumer and the commitment of the New York Times to continue covering the complex topic of climate change in interesting, and sometimes hopeful ways:

Stitching Together Forests Can Help Save Species, Study Finds

In the 1980s, an ecologist named Thomas Lovejoy conducted an unusual experiment in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. As loggers moved in with chain saws to clear trees for cattle pasture north of Manaus, he asked them to leave untouched several small “islands” of forest to see how the animals within them fared.

The results were unsettling. Continue reading

New Twist in the Invasive Lionfish Saga

I’ve posted previously about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.

Much has been made of the spectacular invasive success of the two species of Indo-Pacific lionfish that have established themselves throughout the Wider Caribbean.  Not only are the invaders being found at population densities more than ten times those typical in their native range, but they also have been found to grow more rapidly, reaching sexual maturity more quickly, and growing to greater size than do their Indo-Pacific cousins.

Several studies have looked at the genetic make-up of invasive lionfish and have concluded that the populations found in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Southeastern seaboard of the United States are all closely related, stemming back to fewer than ten females. Continue reading

Zero At The Bone, In The Everglades

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Photograph by Balarama Heller

Thanks to José Ginarte, a digital photo editor at The New Yorker, for this unusual reminder of the python invasion in the Everglades:

Chasing Pythons in the Everglades, and Finding an Eerie Dreamscape

Two and a half years ago, the photographer Balarama Heller began venturing into the Florida Everglades at night, shining his flashlight and pushing through underbrush, in the hope of photographing an invasive predator that has disrupted the local ecology: the Burmese python. Continue reading

Weather Waves and Habitat Changes

This animation shows where the 21 species in the study occur during each week of the year. Brighter colors (yellows) indicate more species are present than darker areas (blues and purples); overall, the species spend more time in Central American wintering grounds than on their northern breeding grounds. Map and animation by Frank La Sorte.

Once again eBird data and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology studies highlight the importance of forest conservation for species survival, as seen in Climate Change Or Habitat Loss? Study Weighs Future Priorities For Conserving Forest Migrants:

Birds are among the first to let us know when the environment is out of whack. But predicting what might happen to bird populations is tricky. Studies often focus on a single issue or location: breeding grounds or wintering grounds, changes in climate, loss of habitat. But in the real world, nothing occurs in isolation. A new study just published in the journal Global Change Biology pulls the pieces together. Continue reading

Scotland, Land Of Butterfly Resurgence

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For a second day in a row, a butterfly story catches our attention. Small stories of unexpected good fortune are always welcome:

Rare butterfly spotted in Scotland for the first time since 1884

Elusive and endangered white-letter hairstreak discovered in a field in the Scottish borders could become the 34th species to live and breed in the country Continue reading

A Highway For Monarchs

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Interstate 35, which stretches from Minnesota to Mexico, lies in the heart of the monarchs’ migration route.

Thanks to Janet Marinelli and the team at YaleEnvironment360:

Can the Monarch Highway Help Save a Butterfly Under Siege?

The population of North American monarch butterflies has plummeted from 1 billion to 33 million in just two decades. Now, a project is underway to revive the monarch by making an interstate highway the backbone of efforts to restore its dwindling habitat. Continue reading

Patagotitan, Farm To Museum

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Patagotitan cast, in a hangar. D. Pol.

Thanks to Ed Yong, at the Atlantic, for expanding our horizons beyond the farm to table movement and reminding us that discoveries are still bringing new/old wonders of the planet Earth to the attention of scientists, and then to the rest of us via museums:

…Patagotitan lived during the Cretaceous period around 101 million years ago. And for some reason, it frequented the area that eventually became the Mayo family’s farm. Carballido and Pol’s team returned to the site more than a dozen times, disinterring every fossil they could find. In the process, they built a road and partially removed a hill. Eventually, they recovered bones from at least six Patagotitan individuals. And their bones reveal that they were in their prime—young, still growing, and not yet at their full adult size. Continue reading

Sunlight and Seaweed

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Thanks to the Conversation for highlighting the potential of this inspiring technology.

How farming giant seaweed can feed fish and fix the climate

Bren Smith, an ex-industrial trawler man, operates a farm in Long Island Sound, near New Haven, Connecticut. Fish are not the focus of his new enterprise, but rather kelp and high-value shellfish. The seaweed and mussels grow on floating ropes, from which hang baskets filled with scallops and oysters. The technology allows for the production of about 40 tonnes of kelp and a million bivalves per hectare per year. Continue reading

Entomological Wonders Will Never Cease

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Galápagos finches, which helped inspire the theory of evolution, are under urgent threat. Will a controversial scientific technique be their deliverance? Photograph by Mint Images Limited / Alamy

Thanks to Brent Crane writing in the Elements section of the New Yorker’s website:

A Tiny Parasite Could Save Darwin’s Finches from Extinction

Five years ago, George Heimpel, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, travelled to Trinidad in search of insect larvae. He was after several kinds in particular—Philornis downsi, a fly whose parasitic young feed on the hatchlings of tropical birds, and various minuscule wasp species whose own offspring feed on those of the fly. Continue reading

Protecting the High Seas Commons

 

A school of bluefin tuna in a fishery tow cage. Countries around the world have begun to negotiate a treaty that would create marine protected areas in waters beyond national jurisdiction. Credit Paul Sutherland/National Geographic, via Getty Images

Still a long way to go and many tough issues to be resolved but a good start…

Nations Will Start Talks to Protect Fish of the High Seas

More than half of the world’s oceans belong to no one, which often makes their riches ripe for plunder.

Now, countries around the world have taken the first step to protect the precious resources of the high seas. In late July, after two years of talks, diplomats at the United Nations recommended starting treaty negotiations to create marine protected areas in waters beyond national jurisdiction — and in turn, begin the high-stakes diplomatic jostling over how much to protect and how to enforce rules.

“The high seas are the biggest reserve of biodiversity on the planet,” Peter Thomson, the ambassador of Fiji and current president of the United Nations General Assembly, said in an interview after the negotiations. “We can’t continue in an ungoverned way if we are concerned about protecting biodiversity and protecting marine life.”

Without a new international system to regulate all human activity on the high seas, those international waters remain “a pirate zone,” Mr. Thomson said. Continue reading