Five-Year Study Affirms Continued Need for Wetlands Conservation
America’s wetlands declined slightly from 2004-2009, underscoring the need for continued conservation and restoration efforts, according to a report issued Oct. 6 by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The findings are consistent with the service’s status and trends wetlands reports from previous decades that reflect a continuous but diminishing decline in wetlands habitat over time.
The report, which represents the most up-to-date, comprehensive assessment of wetland habitats in the U.S., documents substantial losses in forested wetlands and coastal wetlands that serve as storm buffers, absorb pollution that would otherwise find its way into the nation’s drinking water, and provide vital habitat for fish, wildlife and plants.
“Wetlands are at a tipping point,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “While we have made great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s when we were losing an area equal to half the size of Rhode Island each year, we remain on a downward trend that is alarming. This report, and the threats to places like the Mississippi River Delta, should serve as a call to action to renew our focus on conservation and restoration efforts hand in hand with states, tribes and other partners.”
“This report offers us a road map for stemming and reversing the decline,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “It documents a number of successes in wetlands conservation, protection and reestablishment, and will be used to help channel our resources to protect wetlands where they are most threatened and reduce further wetland losses.”
The net wetland loss was estimated to be 62,300 acres between 2004 and 2009, bringing the nation’s total wetlands acreage to just over 110 million acres in the continental U.S., excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
The rate of gains from reestablishment of wetlands increased by 17 percent from the previous study period (1998 to 2004), but the wetland loss rate increased 140 percent during the same time period. As a consequence, national wetland losses have outpaced gains.
The net loss includes a combination of gains in certain types of wetlands and losses in other types, especially forested wetlands.
“In a five year period, we lost over 630,000 acres of forested wetlands, mostly in the Southeast—an area equal to half a million football fields each year,” Ashe said. “We should all be concerned about the substantial loss of this diminishing resource, which helps ensure good water quality for local communities and provides vital habitat for a diversity of important wildlife species.”
The southeast U.S., primarily freshwater wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain, and the lower Mississippi River experienced the greatest losses. Losses were also observed in the Great Lakes states, the prairie pothole region, and in rapidly developing metropolitan areas nationwide. The reasons for wetland losses are complex and reflect a wide variety of factors, including changes in land use and economic conditions, the impacts of the 2005 hurricane season on the Gulf Coast and climate change impacts.
This report does not draw conclusions regarding the quality or condition of the nation’s wetlands. Rather, it provides data regarding trends in wetland extent and type, and it provides information to facilitate ongoing collaborative efforts to assess wetland condition. Further examination of wetland condition on a national level has been initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal, state and Tribal partners.
Wetlands provide a multitude of ecological, economic and social benefits. They provide habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. Wetlands are nurseries for many saltwater and freshwater fishes and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Wetlands are also important landscape features because they hold and slowly release flood water and snow melt, recharge groundwater, act as filters to cleanse water of impurities, recycle nutrients, and provide recreational opportunities for millions of people.
The report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004-2009, is the most recent of the five reports to Congress reporting on the status and trends of wetlands across much of the U.S. since the mid-1950s.
For more details on the report, click here.
For more information, click here.
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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.
"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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