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Rainforest Deforestation More Than Doubled Under Cover of Coronavirus

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Charlie Rogers / Moment / Getty Images

As the COVID-19 virus was spreading around the world, deforestation in the world's rainforests rose at an alarming rate, the German arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a study published on Thursday.


The study, which analyzed satellite data of 18 countries compiled by the University of Maryland, found that deforestation rose by 150% this March compared 2017-2019 average for the same calendar month.

Around 6,500 square kilometers (2,510 square miles) of rainforest were felled in March alone — an area seven times the size of Berlin, the WWF said.

"This indicates that we're dealing with a coronavirus effect on the exploding rates of deforestation," Christoph Heinrich, the head of nature conservation with WWF Germany, said in a statement.

Indonesia Forests Hit Hardest

The forests most heavily hit by deforestation in March were in Indonesia, with more than 1,300 square kilometers lost.

The Democratic Republic of Congo saw the second-largest forest loss with 1,000 square kilometers followed by Brazil with 950 square kilometers.

The Brazilian non-profit research institute Imazon told news agency DPA that deforestation was up in April as well. The institute recorded a loss of 529 square kilometers in the Amazon in April, a rise of 171% compared to last year.

Tied to COVID-19

The WWF says there's ample evidence to suggest the boom in rainforest deforestation is being fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With stay-at-home orders and strict lockdowns in place in countries around the world, authorities haven't been able to patrol nature preserves and indigenous territories as often — a situation that criminal organizations and illegal loggers have been using to their advantage.

The virus has also prompted massive job losses in many countries, leaving many newly-unemployed people increasingly desperate for sources of income.

The WWF noted that the legal timber trade is a substantial source of income for several African countries but is virtually on ice amid various coronavirus shutdowns. The broken supply chains have led to concerns that the forests are losing their value and forest conservation efforts are losing their foothold.

Along the Mekong River in southeast Asia, tourists have disappeared and with them a substantial source of income for local merchants selling forest products like honey, nuts or berries. Many have left the cities and returned to their home villages and are cutting down trees for firewood or a source of income.

The WWF said governments providing financial and technological support to locals could help reduce the rise in deforestation.

Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.

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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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