Archive | Biodiversity

Flowers Made the World Cooler, Wetter

CHICAGO, July 20 (UPI) — The evolution of flowering plants has made the world a cooler, wetter place, especially in the world’s tropical regions, researchers say.

Flowering plants are important for climate regulation in rainforest regions with short or non-existent dry seasons and where biodiversity is greatest, ScienceDaily.Com reported Monday.

In the Amazon basin, replacing flowering plants with non-flowering varieties would result in an 80 percent decrease in the area covered by rainforest, researchers say.

This is because the leaves of flowering plants, with higher vein densities than non-flowering kinds, are more efficient at drawing water from soil and returning it to sky, where it can fall again as rain, scientists say.

The process is called transpiration.

“That whole recycling process is dependent upon transpiration, and transpiration would have been much, much lower in the absence of flowering plants,” C. Kevin Boyce of the University of Chicago says. “We can know that because no leaves throughout the fossil record approach the vein densities seen in flowering plant leaves.”

Flowering plants evolved relatively recently in biological history, about 120 million years ago, but now are dominant among world plants, Boyce says.

“They’re basically everywhere and everything, unless you’re talking about high altitudes and very high latitudes,” Boyce said.

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Screw-caps Seen As Threat to Environment

LONDON, July 17 (UPI) — The replacement of traditional cork stoppers in wine bottles by screw-cap tops is destroying forests and animal habitats, ecologists claim.

Cork suppliers and environmentalists say the change is threatening the 5 million acres of cork forests across Portugal, Spain, North Africa and Italy that are sustained through industry management, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

The area includes the Montada forest, considered a “biodiversity hot spot” where some of the world’s most endangered animals live, including the Iberian lynx, the newspaper said.

“It is not just about cork, it is about a rich community of plants and animals that all rely on one another,” Rui Simoes of the Rainforest Alliance said.

Environmentalists say they fear that if farmers cannot profit from cork they will replant with non-native trees such as eucalyptus.

And cork manufacturers say 100,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the switch to screw caps, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Cork producers are pushing their stoppers as a “green” product.

“What other 21st Century produce other than cork is good for biodiversity, climate change and the environment, while also maintaining historic traditions?” Carlos de Jesus of the Portuguese Cork Association asked.

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Major Population Study to Launch

LONDON, July 12 (UPI) — A major study of the world’s growing population and its possible future social and economic impacts is being launched in Britain, scientists say.

Britain’s Royal Society will conduct the study, led by by Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston, who was previously involved with the Human Genome Project, the BBC reported Sunday.

The world’s population has grown from 2 billion in 1930 to 6.8 billion, and is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, the BBC said.

Explosive human population growth is seen as one of the underlying causes of environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, depletion of water resources and loss of biodiversity.

“This is a topic that has gone to and fro in the last few decades, and appears to be moving back up the political agenda now,” Sulston said.

The study will involve experts on the environment, agriculture, economics, law and theology, drawn from a mix of rich and poor countries including the United Kingdom, China, Brazil and the United States, the BBC reported.

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Flowering Plants May Be Lost Before Found

DURHAM, N.C., July 8 (UPI) — Thousands of flowering plants worldwide could become extinct before they’re even discovered, U.S. and British researchers said.

Scientific estimates indicate there could be between 5 million and 50 million species overall, but fewer than 2 million have been discovered, Duke University researchers said Wednesday in a release.

“Using novel methods, we were able to refine the estimate of total species for flowering plants, and calculate how many of those remain undiscovered,” said Lucas Joppa of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England, and lead author of a paper published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Based on data from an online checklist of plant families, the scientists calculated there are between 10 percent and 20 percent more undiscovered flowering plant species than previously estimated.

This finding has “enormous conservation implications, as any as-yet-unknown species are likely to be overwhelmingly rare and threatened,” Joppa said.

Another researcher, David Robert of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, said adding the number of species that are currently known to be threatened with those yet discovered means “we can estimate that between 27 percent and 33 percent of all flowering plants will be threatened with extinction.”

Joppa said the percentage reflects global impacts such as habitat loss and could increase if climate change is considered.

“We wrote the paper to help answer the obvious questions: How much biodiversity is out there, and how many species will we lose before they are even discovered?” said co-author Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecology professor at Duke University.

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Biodiversity in Plants Down to 'feedback'

NEW YORK, June 25 (UPI) — Biodiversity of the world’s plant life may depend on species-specific “feedback” between plants and soil-dwelling organisms in the environment, a report says.

A report in the journal Nature on tropical tree populations says these local ecological interaction processes of negative feedback between tropical trees and soil organisms can explain biodiversity, and may represent a general mechanism for generating plant species diversity across varied ecosystems, a Nature release said Friday.

Report author Scott Mangan says these processes can predict tree abundance in local ecosystems.

Tree species with the greatest populations are those least susceptible to detrimental effects in their associated soil organism communities, while rarer species may have strong negative feedback to soil conditions, the report says.

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Mountain Bird Climate Survival Studied

NEW HAVEN, Conn., June 11 (UPI) — U.S. biologists say they’ve determined the extinction risk for mountain birds due to global warming is greatest for species occupying a narrow altitude range.

Yale University researchers said they found a species’ vertical distribution is a better predictor of extinction risk than the extent of temperature change they experience.

“Birds allow us to do the first global assessment of the health of a whole large chunk of biodiversity at high altitudes in the face of global warming,” said Professor Walter Jetz and postdoctoral researcher Frank La Sorte, the study’s co-authors. “Our global projections pinpoint hundreds of bird species in peril and often with nowhere to go.”

La Sorte and Jetz said they estimated the vulnerability of mountain species to climate change by looking at a variety of factors, including the birds’ ability to move to higher and cooler elevations or to neighboring mountain systems.

The team studied all 1,000 species of birds living in high-elevation environments and found a third of all mountain bird species are severely threatened.

The study highlights Africa, Australia, and North America as regions of particular concern because dispersal opportunities are the most limited.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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Washington State Forests: In Good Shape

PORTLAND, Ore., June 10 (UPI) — A federal report on the status of Washington’s forests says the state will continue to be one of the nation’s top three softwood-producing areas.

The report, prepared by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, is the first five-year report covering all of that state’s forests.

“This report represents a major milestone for the station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program,” said Charley Peterson, manager of the station’s Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program. “In our annual inventory of Washington state’s forest lands, this is our first inventory report to cover all forests, not just timberlands, and the first that addresses a range of resources such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, dead wood abundance and riparian conditions.”

Among other things, the report finds:

– Washington’s total land area is 43 million acres, 22 million of which are forested.

– Washington’s forests are currently a net sink for carbon. Growth of trees significantly exceeds harvest and mortality overall, owing to trends on public lands and young, rapidly growing trees on private industrial lands.

“Considering the growing population in Washington and that over half of the area is forested and provides numerous valuable services and products for the state, many people should find this report informative,” Peterson said.

The report is accessible online at http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr800.pdf. Printed copies will be available beginning Friday.

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.

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Washington State Forests: In Good Shape

PORTLAND, Ore., June 10 (UPI) — A federal report on the status of Washington State’s forests says the state will continue to be one of the nation’s top three softwood-producing areas.

The report, prepared by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, is the first five-year report that covers all of that state’s forests.

“This report represents a major milestone for the station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program,” said Charley Peterson, manager of the station’s Resource Monitoring and Assessment Program. “In our annual inventory of Washington State’s forest lands, this is our first inventory report to cover all forests, not just timberlands, and the first that addresses a range of resources such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, dead wood abundance and riparian conditions.”

Among other things, the report finds:

– Washington’s total land area is 43 million acres, 22 million of which are forested.

– Washington’s forests are presently a net sink for carbon. Growth of trees significantly exceeds harvest and mortality overall, owing to trends on public lands and young, rapidly growing trees on private industrial lands.

“Considering the growing population in Washington and that over half of the area is forested and provides numerous valuable services and products for the state, many people should find this report informative,” Peterson said.

The report is accessible online at http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr800.pdf. Printed copies will be available beginning Friday.

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.

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Climate Change Threatens Tropical Areas

HOUSTON, June 9 (UPI) — A U.S. study suggests global warming may threaten animal and plant life in hot spots that were once thought to be less likely to suffer from climate change.

Research by Rice University Assistant Professor Amy Dunham is said to detail for the first time a direct correlation between El Nino-caused climate change and a threat to wildlife in Madagascar, a tropical island that acts as a refuge for many species that exist nowhere else in the world.

Dunham said most studies of global warming focus on temperate zones.

“We all know about the polar bears and their melting sea ice,” she said. “But tropical regions are often thought of as refuges during past climate events, so they haven’t been given as much attention until recently. We’re starting to realize that not only are these hot spots of biodiversity facing habitat degradation and other anthropogenic effects, but they’re also being affected by the same changes we feel in the temperate zones.”

Dunham said Madagascar’s biodiversity is an ecological treasure. “But its flora and fauna already face extinction from rapid deforestation and exploitation of natural resources,” she said. “The additional negative effects of climate change make conservation concerns even more urgent.”

The study that included Texas State University-San Marcos Associate Professor Elizabeth Erhart and Stony Brook University Professor Patricia Wright appears online ahead of print in the journal Global Change Biology.

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

Climate Change: Greater Risks Than Thought

STANFORD, Calif., May 26 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve determined small mammals — and rest of food chain — are at a greater risk from global warming than has been thought.

Stanford University researchers say they’ve found the balance of biodiversity within North American small-mammal communities is so “out of whack” from the last episode of global warming about 12,000 years ago that the current climate change could push them past a tipping point — with repercussions all along the food chain.

The Stanford biologists said their evidence lies in fossils spanning the last 20,000 years that they excavated from a cave in Northern California.

They said although small mammals in the area suffered no extinctions as a result of the warming that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, populations of most species nonetheless experienced a significant loss of numbers and one highly adaptable species — the deer mouse — thrived on the disruptions to the environment triggered by the changing climate.

“If we only focus on extinction, we are not getting the whole story,” said Jessica Blois, lead author of the study. “There was a 30 percent decline in biodiversity due to other types of changes in the small-mammal community.”

The study, led by Professor Elizabeth Hadly, is reported in the early online edition of the journal Nature.

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Posted in Biodiversity, Mammals, Other0 Comments

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