Archive | Biodiversity

Malaysia Rapidly Destroying Ecologically Important Peatlands

Malaysia is destroying forests more than three times faster than all of Asia combined to make way for palm oil plantations, according to a study released Tuesday.

Analyzing data acquired from satellite images of the region, researchers  said the country obliterated an astonishing 872,263 acres, about one-third of its biodiversity-rich peatswamp forests, in the past five years.

The report, which was commissioned by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International, found that the swamps of stored carbon from decomposed plants could disappear from the state of Sarawak by the end of the decade if the clearing continues.

The country is deforesting an average two percent a year of the swamps on Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state on its half of the island of Borneo, which it shares with Indonesia and Brunei.

That’s nearly 10 percent in the last five years. Asia in its entirety deforested at a rate of just 2.8 percent in that period.

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

The Sarawak peatswamps, home to such animals as the Borneo pygmy elephant and the Sumatran rhino, were initially harvested for timber. Now companies are totally clearing the forests to make way for palm oil plantations.

“As the timber resource has been depleted the timber companies are now engaging in the oil palm business, completing the annihilation of Sarawak’s peat swamp forests,” Marcel Silvius from Wetlands said in a statement.

“Unless this trend is halted, none of these forests may be left at the end of this decade.”

Malaysia and Indonesia contribute about 85 percent of global production of palm oil, a cheap alternative to vegetable oil used in cooking oil, cosmetic products, soap, bread, margarine, and chocolate.

Kaat said the report proves that deforestation is occurring at a faster rate than the Malaysian government has admitted.

“The new studies conclude that 20 percent of all Malaysian palm oil is produced on drained peatlands. For Sarawak, this is even 44 percent,” researchers said.

In addition to the risk it poses to the forests’ many rare species, the draining of peatswamps causes massive carbon emissions.

“The production of palm oil is welcome only if expansion can be done in a sustainable way,” the environmental group said.

The study was conducted by satellite monitoring and mapping company SarVision.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Ecosystems, Trees & Forestry0 Comments

Birds Drop Dead in Louisiana Days After Massive Arkansas Kill

In the second large-scale blackbird kill to hit the Southeast this week, 500 birds rained down on a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Louisiana.

The carcasses of red-winged blackbirds were discovered in rural Pointe Coupee Parish, near Baton Rouge. Just a few days earlier, 4,000 to 5,000 birds dropped dead about 300 miles to the north, in Beebe, Arkansas.

Officials say New Year’s Eve celebratory fireworks may have confused the Arkansas birds, causing them to crash into homes and cars. They have also pointed to lightning or a high-altitude hail storm as possible causes for the massive die-off.

Wildlife experts in both states sent carcasses to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. and the University of Georgia for testing, but it isn’t clear whether the cases are even related, and officials say it’s unlikely they will be able to determine an explanation for the deaths with absolute certainty.

Still, such widespread kills are not uncommon. The U.S. Geological Service reports 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12 alone, The Associated Press said Tuesday.

Last week, 83,000 drum fish washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, about 100 miles west of Beebe. Officials believe disease is to blame for those deaths, because only one species of fish was affected.

Posted in Biodiversity, Birds0 Comments

Bumble Bee Populations Dive More than 90 Percent in U.S.

Bumble bee populations in the U.S. have declined sharply over the past 20 years, with some species plummeting over 90 percent, according to a new study.

Scientists at the University of Illinois assessed the populations of eight of North America’s 50 species of wild bumble bees. University of Illinois entomology professor and head researcher Sydney Cameron says four of the species “are significantly in trouble.”

“They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg,” Cameron said.

The scientists said the bumble bees exhibit low genetic diversity and are more likely to be infected with Nosema bombi, a parasite that has afflicted European bumble bees. Both of these factors may have contributed to the sudden die-off, which has taken place in the last two decades.

“It’s just an association. There may be other causes,” Cameron said, adding that climate change appears to play a role in the drop-off of bee populations in Europe.

The relative abundance of the four species in question has dropped by as much as 96 percent, and the surveyed geographic ranges of those species have diminished by 23 percent to 87 percent.

The study raises serious concerns because bees are essential for the pollination of crops such as tomatoes, peppers and berries.

“We need to start to develop other bees for pollination beside honey bees, because they are suffering enormously,” he added.

The three-year study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Posted in Biodiversity, Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates0 Comments

Birds Fall from the Sky in Arkansas; Wildlife Officials Seek Explanation

City and state officials were perplexed when thousands of birds fell from the sky in Beebe, Arkansas on New Year’s Eve night.

Beebe mayor Mike Robertson said reports of the dead red-winged blackbirds and starlings first surfaced at about 11:30 p.m., WCSH6 in Portland, Maine said.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says the carcasses will be tested Monday by the state Livestock and Poultry Commission Lab and the National Wildlife Health Center Lab in Madison, Wis.

The birds fell in a one-mile area in Beebe, which is about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock. The total number of dead birds remains unclear, with some news sources – including The Associated Press – reporting that 2,000 birds dropped dead and CNN claiming that as many as 5,000 died en masse.

Environmental workers finished cleaning up the carcasses on Sunday, AP reports.

The Game and Fish Commission said air tests came back clean for toxins and that there were no immediate clues as to what caused the avian genocide.

“Test results usually were inconclusive, but the birds showed physical trauma and that the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail,” said Game and Fish ornithologist Karen Rowe, according to WCSH6.

Game and Fish spokesman Keith Stephens told CNN that the commission was also considering local New Year’s Eve fireworks a possible culprit.

Posted in Biodiversity, Birds0 Comments

Bighorn Sheep Relocated to Historic Range in Texas

A decades-long effort to restore bighorn sheep to their historic habitat gained ground in the days before Christmas when dozens of sheep were transported to a Texas state park.

Conservation supporters cheered as the 46 animals bounded up the slopes of their new home in Bofecillos Mountains along the Rio Grande.

Federal wildlife officials captured 12 rams and 34 ewes in a remote area in West Texas and released them in their original range in Big Bend Ranch State Park, AP reports.

The population of mountain bighorns in Texas was all but obliterated by hunting practices, fencing, and disease from other animals by the 1960s. But conservation efforts brought the number of Texas sheep up to 1,115 this fall, up from 822 in 2006 and 352 in 2002, Texas Parks and Wildlife Service said.

The population of sheep was growing crowded in Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a small town about 25 miles south of Alpine. Officials captured the animals with net-guns fired by helicopter.

After biologists took blood-samples and administered tracking devices, the blindfolded ewes and rams were placed in livestock trailers and crates and driven 80 miles to their new terrain.

The capture-and-release lasted two days and cost about $40,000, AP reports.

Bonnie McKinney, director of the Bighorn Sheep Society, says the bighorn are a crucial part of the region’s ecosystem.

“When you bring them back, you’re putting it back in balance,” she said. “It was man that messed it up but we can fix it.”

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Ecosystems, Mammals0 Comments

Spotted Knapweed Control Provokes Opposition from Beekeepers

Spotted knapweed, a thistle-like plant with purple blooms, looks innocent enough, but it’s the bane of any gardener’s existence.

An invasive species, it releases a toxin from its roots to stunt the growth of native vegetation. In an effort to keep the spread of knapweed under control, researchers released bugs that feed on the plant earlier this year – and beekeepers in Michigan aren’t happy.

They claim the flowering plant is an integral source of nectar and pollen for their honeybees.

“If it wasn’t for this plant, we wouldn’t even be here,” said Kirk Jones, the founder of Sleeping Bear Farms in the northwest Lower Peninsula community of Beulah, according to the Los Angeles Times. If scientists do succeed in restraining the plant, he said: “It could be detrimental to the future of the beekeeping industry.”

It is unclear why beekeepers in Michigan have raised concerns while those in other states have not opposed the knapweed control so vehemently. But Michigan is among the country’s top 10 honey producers and plays a primary role in the beekeeping business.

Ken Rauscher, director of the pesticide and plant pest management division for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, says officials are looking for native flowers to sustain bees and maintain vegetation diversity.

“It’s not an attempt to take away a resource that beekeepers find valuable, but to replace it with one that might have more functionality,” Rauscher told the Times.

Posted in Biodiversity, Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates0 Comments

Deforestation Examined in U.N. Report

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 5 (UPI) — Deforestation continues to threaten the world’s biodiversity, but there are positive signs of conservation in many countries, a United National report says.

Globally, some 32 million acres of forests were converted to other uses, including agriculture, or were lost through natural causes each year from 2000 to 2010, according to the findings of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report.

The FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 says the rate of forest loss has declined from around 40 million acres per year in the 1990s.

More than a third of all forests are classified as primary, defined as showing no visible signs of human intervention.

Primary forests account for 36 percent, or 3.5 billion acres, of the world’s forest area but their area has decreased by more than 98 million acres — at a rate of 0.4 percent annually — in the past 10 years.

South America accounted for the largest proportion of the loss in primary forests, followed by Africa and Asia.

Legally established protected areas, such as national parks, game reserves and wilderness areas, now cover more than 10 percent of the total forest area in most countries and regions, the report said.

“The world’s forests represent a vital source of forest biological diversity. This biodiversity is an important treasure, especially as forests will not just have to adapt to climate change but are also expected to help mitigate it,” FAO Assistant Director General Eduardo Rojas said.

“Greater investments in sustainable forest management are urgently required to better conserve and manage forest biodiversity,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Other0 Comments

Bounty of New Species Found in Oceans

LONDON, Oct. 3 (UPI) — The oceans hold far more biodiversity than imagined, with as many as a million species, a global network of scientists says in London.

The first Census of Marine Life, which is being published Monday, says almost 250,000 marine species have now been identified, and there may be at least another 750,000 waiting to be discovered, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

More than 2,700 scientists from around the world helped carry out the census in more than 540 expeditions over 10 years. They identified more than 6,000 new species.

The discoveries include a blind lobster with a long, spiny, pincer, which lives 330 yards below the surface in the Philippine Sea, and wriggly creatures nicknamed “squidworms.”

British scientists have made many finds in the frigid seas around Antarctica, where marine life grows larger than anywhere else in the world, the report said.

Sea spiders, which rarely grow bigger than a fingernail in British waters, are up to 9 inches across in polar seas.

Huge communities of different species have been found on the cold, lightless ocean floor, living at the mouths of thermal vents and rifts that seep nutrients into the ocean, the report said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Biodiversity, Other0 Comments

U.N. Calls for Biodiversity Rescue

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 (UPI) — The U.N. secretary-general says a rescue package like that introduced after the global financial crisis is needed to halt the worldwide loss of biodiversity.

At a high-level General Assembly event on biodiversity held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Ban Ki-moon said biodiversity loss was resulting in a heavy human cost, a U.N. release reported.

“We are bankrupting our natural economy,” Ban said.

The UN Environment Program says ecosystems — and the biodiversity that underpins them — generate services worth trillions of dollars, supporting livelihoods around the world.

Calling ecosystems “our natural capital,” Ban said that a loss of biodiversity could lead to the failure of crops, a drop in profits, a deepening of poverty and economic decline.

“Allowing [our natural infrastructure] to decline is like throwing money out of the window,” he said.

Although investment to reverse biodiversity decline has increased, the main causes of the decline — high consumption rates, habitat loss, pollution and climate change — are not being fully addressed, Ban said.

He called on world leaders to commit to reducing biodiversity loss.

“This will be your legacy — your gift for generations to come,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Biodiversity, Consumption, Other0 Comments

Scientists: Biodiversity a World Concern

CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 9 (UPI) — Halting the decline of Earth’s biodiversity will require changes in behavior by human society, British researchers say.

In an article in the journal Science, conservationists and scientists argue that unless human societies recognize the link between their consumption choices and biodiversity loss, the diversity of life on Earth will continue to decline.

“If we are to make any kind of impact, it is critical that that we begin to view biodiversity as a global public good which provides such benefits as clean air and fresh water, and that this view is integrated not just into policies but also into society and individuals’ day-to-day decisions,” Mike Rands, director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and lead author of the paper, said.

Biodiversity loss is usually the result of unintended human actions and therefore presents unique problems, researchers say.

“The impacts of a particular action are often distant in space and time. This makes effective regulation difficult, as no single body has jurisdiction over the world’s biodiversity,” the article says.

The authors urge managing biodiversity as a global public good as one part of a possible solution.

“The value of biodiversity must be made an integral element of social, economic and political decision-making, as is starting to happen with carbon and climate change. Government, businesses, and civil society all have crucial roles in this transition,” the authors say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Consumption, Other, Policies & Solutions0 Comments

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