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World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass Extinction Event Now Underway

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World Leaders, Media Ignore Biodiversity Report Detailing Mass Extinction Event Now Underway
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.


Deutsche Welle reported Thursday that partially because the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released its report on what it called nature's "unprecedented" decline on the same day that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had their first child, news reports on the study's grave implications were few and far between.

While some international and progressive outlets — including Common Dreams — published high-profile stories on the report when it was released, just two of Britain's national newspapers included any reporting about biodiversity on their front pages on May 7, the day after the royal baby was born to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Deutsche Welle's report was mirrored by revelations in a Media Matters report published earlier this week which showed that ABC News devoted more time to covering the royal baby's birth in the week after the child was born than it had to stories about the climate crisis in all of 2018 — even as organizers like 16-year-old Greta Thunberg led worldwide climate strikes.

"Where [is] the breaking news?" tweeted Thunberg the day after IPBES released its report. "The extra news broadcasts? The front pages? Where are the emergency meetings? The crisis summits? What could be more important?"

IPBES's report detailed how "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever," the panel's chairman, Sir Robert Watson said in a statement.

By rapidly expanding livestock and crop production, degrading land, concentrating activity in urban areas at more than double the rate than two decades ago, and increasing pollution by tenfold since 1980, humans are "eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," Watson said.

In addition to the potential loss of one million species, the biodiversity crisis carries substantial risks for world economies, food security and the spread of disease, scientists warn.

The report calls on policymakers to take immediate concrete action to protect nature by promoting sustainable agricultural practices, inclusive and equitable water management, renewable energy sources and other reforms.

On Wednesday, Democrats in the U.S. House attempted to call attention to the ecological crisis which is causing the rapid loss of life among millions of species, with a House Natural Resources Subcommittee holding a hearing on the issue, including testimony from Watson and other IPBES officials.

Biodiversity, Watson told the subcommittee, "is the substance behind food security, water security, it does control our climate in part, it does control pollination, it does control storm surges. These are things that affect everyday Americans. If we continue to lose biodiversity, if we continue to fragment our ecosystems, then human well-being will indeed suffer."

"This is something the average American should care about," he added.

But as The Guardian reported, lawmakers at the hearing also heard from climate science deniers who had been invited to testify by Republican committee members, diluting the urgency of IPBES's message.

Scientists have published more than 20,000 articles in 45 languages on the subject of biodiversity loss in recent years, Deutsche Welle reported.

Without the media reporting on and lawmakers expressing the urgency of the biodiversity crisis, the public has found little reason to become interested in the issue. The same day most news outlets devoted their coverage to the royal baby, Google searches for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle outnumbered those for biodiversity by 14 and 31 to one, respectively.

Deutsche Welle reported that while politicians and the news media have slightly increased the attention they've given to the climate crisis recently, under pressure from campaigners, the same consideration has not been given to biodiversity.

"Nature's unprecedented decline, which has quietly sped up, is, in isolation, less dramatic than extreme weather events brought by global warming — such as flash floods and wildfires. Its contributions to humans are also hard to grasp," reported Ajit Niranjan in the newspaper. "An obscure earthworm may form part of an ecosystem that keeps soil fertile and helps put food on our plates. But its death rarely stirs hearts the way a polar bear on melting ice does."

With its latest report, IPBES aimed to change that perception.

"One of the great things about the report is that it highlights ... the different ways we value nature," environmental scientist Kathryn Williams told the outlet. "Not just tangible ways like food and clear air, but also the ways that we relate on a more emotional level."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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