Northern Fish Are Tough, but No Match for Climate Change
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
Through the long winter, many have endured cramped, icy quarters with perilously low oxygen levels. Others have recently journeyed incredible distances from large rivers and lakes to small summer habitats upstream.
Northern stream fish come from a long line of hardy adapters. Their ancestors were well equipped to survive multiple ice ages and then go on to colonize some of the coldest newly accessible northern habitats. They thrive in some of the most dynamic conditions on the planet, from short intense summers, with up to 24 hours of sunlight, to long cold winters with limited light and food.
But the survival tools these fish have used for millennia — exceptional tolerance to cold, slow growth rates and long lifespans — could be a disadvantage as environmental conditions in the north warm and more fast-paced species move in.
Our research team set out to see how stream fishes were responding to unprecedented environmental changes across their northern ranges. Ultimately, we wanted to know how these changes might affect the hundreds of thousands of people in Alaska and northern Canada that rely on local fisheries for food, culture and economic security.
A Good News Story?
On the surface, the results from our study appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.
Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs
Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades into the Arctic to massive pre-spawning die-offs in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.
We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.
In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided
Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.
The Fate of Northern Fisheries
The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, including fisheries. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already two to three times global levels, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.
Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans, and some Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries.
As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as changes to marine habitat and food sources and how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey.
Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values.
For example, many Yukon First Nations, including Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, have voluntarily refrained from fishing their main traditional food of chinook salmon to help stocks recover. Other communities that rely on increasingly vulnerable northern-adapted species such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout may also be at risk to future changes.
Although climate change action is urgently required at the global level, there are still tools that environmental managers can employ locally to reduce some of the effects. For example, watersheds with an elevated risk of flooding during the salmon incubation period could have more stringent streamside habitat protections, such as preserving larger areas of streamside vegetation from development, actively revegetating disturbed areas and conducting site-specific erosion and sediment control studies. In dangerously warm and dry years, fishing quotas could be reduced to limit salmon die-offs.
Ultimately, we advise that getting ahead of these impending changes by preserving the integrity of large intact watersheds will be key for protecting these evolutionary superstars from new human-driven pressures.
Alyssa Murdoch is a PhD candidate and Wildlife Conservation Society Canada Weston Fellow, York University, Canada.
Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle is a Wildlife Conservation Society Canada Conservation Planning Biologist and Adjunct Professor of Conservation Biology, University of Saskatchewan.
Sapna Sharma is an Associate Professor and York University Research Chair in Global Change Biology, York University, Canada.
Disclosure statement: Alyssa Murdoch received funding from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Canada Graduate Scholarship and an Ontario Graduate Scholarship. Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle receives funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Chrystal is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saskatchewan and a Conservation Planning Biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Sapna Sharma receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant, Ontario Ministry of Innovation Early Researcher Award, Genome Canada, and the York University Research Chair Program. Sapna is a York Research Chair in Global Change Biology and Associate Professor at York University and a Trustee at the Royal Canadian Institute for Science.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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The Truth About CBD Product Potency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODMyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc2NTg1N30.OAm3iOTO_pKZLXi7KdJ7n0DGOFMdOmIYuG4ArGooFC4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d657c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee016a81b29caa699b9185b64ce345d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.