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Brazil Senate Votes to Dismantle Amazon Deforestation Protections

Brazil Senate Votes to Dismantle Amazon Deforestation Protections

World Wildlife Fund Global

Brazil’s Senate has decided to pursue short-term gain over long-term security in a vote to do away with long standing protections for the Amazon and other key forested areas, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned Dec. 7.

The new law, promoted by some rural and agribusiness interests, opens vast new areas of forest to agriculture and cattle ranching and extends amnesties to illegal deforestation conducted prior to 2008. Areas formerly held to be too steep or vital to the protection of watersheds and watercourses are among those now open to destruction.

Polls showed a majority of the population opposed to the revision of the Forest Code, with a vocal majority of experts warning that the new version of the law will hinder Brazil’s long-term development and not help it.

“We have a powerful minority condemning the future of millions of Brazilians, all in the name of quick financial gain,” stated WWF-Brazil’s CEO, Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito. “No thought has been given to the social and economic costs of destroying our forests. The Senate has adopted, once again, the outdated and false notion that conservation and development are somehow at odds, something we know is not true.”

Jim Leape on the Brazil Forest Law from WWF on Vimeo.

If signed into law by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff, the changes will jeopardize Brazil’s significant environmental achievements of recent years and severely undermine global efforts to fight climate change and halt biodiversity loss. The changes are also expected to expose poor Brazilians to larger risks from floods and droughts.

Brazil has committed to 2020 targets of a nearly 40 percent cut in its growth curve of greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of Amazon deforestation levels by 80 percent compared to average rates registered for the period of 1996-2005. These are commitments of global interest, now almost certainly out of reach because of the revisions to the Forest Code.

The Senate decision also comes in the midst of international climate talks in Durban, South Africa, and precedes Brazil’s hosting of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in June 2012. Brazil’s credibility as it hosts this and other key global events (2014 World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics) will be severely compromised if it passes environmental legislation favoring deforestation of the Amazon and other globally-important regions, WWF warned.

“WWF-Brazil has gone along with the legislative processes, has worked with others to help bring science to the political debate and has defined common points with good agribusiness and others,” said Wey de Brito. “Now we must urge President Rousseff to consider the severe implications of signing the revisions into law, including irreparable harm to Brazil’s natural resources, its economic development, and to the future health and well-being of millions of Brazilians and billions of people around the world.”

WWF-Brazil is supported by WWF’s entire international network in urging President Rousseff to act in Brazil’s interests rather than a sectional interest—noting that the president has already said she would not support an amnesty for illegal deforestation.

“We're at a time in history when the world seeks leadership in smart, forward-thinking development,” said WWF International Director-General Jim Leape. “Brazil was staking a claim to being such a leader.

“It will be a tragedy for Brazil and for the world if it now turns its back on more than a decade of achievement to return to the dark days of catastrophic deforestation.”

For more information, click here.

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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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