By Eoin Higgins
Environmental groups on Friday condemned the announcement of a new rule proposed by President Donald Trump that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it easier to destroy habitats vulnerable species rely on for survival.
"President Trump is back for another whack at another key environmental law," said Oceana senior federal policy director Lara Levison.
At issue is a planned rule change to the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, from the Department of Fish and Wildlife that would redefine "habitat" as "areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species," precluding the restoration and repair of historical habitats that could, with time, support endangered species.
"The Trump administration won't be satisfied until it removes all protections for the natural world, including clean air and water, land, and now even habitat for our most vulnerable wildlife," Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
As the Center for Biological Diversity explained:
The definition stems from a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said the Service needed to define the term habitat in relation to the highly endangered dusky gopher frog. The frog survives in one ephemeral pond in Mississippi. Recognizing that to secure the frog would require recovering it in additional areas, the Service designated an area in Louisiana that had the ephemeral ponds the frog requires. However, this area would need forest restoration to provide high-quality habitat.
Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the landowner, and Pacific Legal Foundation, a private-property advocacy group, challenged the designation, resulting in today's definition and the frog losing habitat protection in Louisiana.
"This will have real life-and-death consequences for some of our nation's most vulnerable species," said Greenwald.
Oceana's Levison concurred with Greenwald's bleak assessment.
"The president's newly proposed rules will make it even harder to save species from extinction," she said. "The ESA protects threatened and endangered species like sea turtles and the North Atlantic right whale, as well as the habitats they depend on, but the draft rule released today reduces these protections."
Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, called on the president and the administration to do the right thing for the planet by saving "an effective and popular law that serves as the last line of defense for rare species facing extinction."
"At a time of unprecedented wildlife extinction and habitat destruction, we should be working to strengthen — not weaken — the Endangered Species Act," said Liss.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
The awards "honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology," the Annals of Improbable Research explains.
This year's winners included an experiment on alligators that changed their sounds by making them breathe helium. The researchers behind that experiment were trying to show that reptiles, like mammals and birds, can use their voice to show how big they are, according to the BBC.
To figure that one out, the researchers dropped an alligator in a tank and then filled it with oxygen or a mixture of oxygen and helium. The experimenters then registered the different vocal waves. Sure enough, the test confirmed that an animal's body size correlates to the sounds it makes.
"The resonances in your vocal tract sound lower overall if you're larger because it's a larger space in which the air can vibrate," said Stephan Reber, one of the researchers, to the BBC. "We didn't know if reptiles actually had resonances. Frogs, amphibians, don't for example. So we needed a proof of concept that crocodilians actually have resonances."
Another experiment that won an Ig Nobel looked at if it was possible to make a knife from human excrement. Metin Eren, an archaeologist at Kent State University, was inspired by the story on an Inuit who made a knife from his own stool. Eren used human feces frozen to 50-degrees below zero Celsius and carved it into a knife, according to PBS. Eren then tried the knife on a piece of meat.
"The poop knives failed miserably," he said, as PBS reported. "There's not a lot of basis empirically for this fantastic story. The point of this was to show that evidence and fact checking are vital."
In another experiment that earned an Ig Nobel, researchers from Melbourne's Swinburne University placed earthworms on a subwoofer to observe how vibrations affected their movement.
"It was a pure 'what if' moment," said Ivan Maksymov, a physicist who conducted the experiment, as The Guardian reported. "We didn't go into this with any particular question or scientific problem to solve.
"I decided to vibrate the speaker, so I played some instrumental beeping noises through. And they started to move like water."
The research was published in Scientific Reports.
Other winning experiments included an attempt to link thicker eyebrows with narcissism, according to The Guardian, and an examination of why entomologists are scared of spiders, as PBS reported.
Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
Unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 killed or displaced almost 3 billion animals, according to an interim report released Tuesday.
Compiled by scientists from several Australian universities, the survey said the blazes impacted an estimated 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs.
The report, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), did not specify how many animals may have died. But the prospects for those that escaped the fires "were probably not great" because they lost food sources, native habitat and shelter from predators, report co-author Chris Dickman said.
The bushfires that swept across Australia between late 2019 and early 2020 scorched 115,000 square kilometers (44,000 square miles) of bush and forest, killing 30 people and destroying thousands of homes. It was one of the worst bushfire seasons on record.
Experts say prolonged drought and climate change will likely make such events longer lasting and more frequent.
A previous study released in January had estimated that around 1 billion animals perished in the hardest-hit states of Victoria and New South Wales in eastern Australia. But the survey published Tuesday was the first to assess fire zones across the entire country, lead scientist Lily van Eeden of the University of Sydney said.
The survey's results are preliminary, with a full report to be released next month, but scientists said the estimate of 3 billion animals affected was unlikely to change.
"The interim findings are shocking," WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said. "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals."
"This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," he added.
Arnulf Köhncke, species protection expert at WWF Germany, warned that horrific bushfires could become a common occurrence: "The record fires in Australia could become the new normal, just a taste of what's to come, if we don't manage to limit the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit)," he said.
Limiting temperature increases to 1.5 C above pre-industrial averages, as stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, is seen as crucial to preventing catastrophic global warming and worsening weather events.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- Koalas Face Extinction Threat After Wildfires: New Report - EcoWatch ›
- 25 Humans, More Than One Billion Animals Dead in Australia ... ›
- Australia Wildfires Were Far Worse Than Climate Models Predicted ... ›
- 143 Million Mammals Lost in Australia Wildfires, Report Finds - EcoWatch ›
Among its many devastating impacts, the coronavirus has brought ecotourism to a halt in the Ecuadorian Amazon. But you can still visit the region from the safety of your couch, while supporting its Indigenous communities, by streaming Yasuni Man.
The award-winning documentary transports viewers to the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, an imperiled pocket of the Ecuadorian Amazon that is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. After touring the festival circuit for about two years, the film made its debut on major streaming services Aug. 25. If you watch Yasuni Man within the first two weeks of its release, a percentage of the proceeds benefit the Amazon Emergency Fund to help the region's Indigenous communities fight COVID-19.
Yasuni Man tells the story of Ecuador's Indigenous Waorani people and their fight to protect the area of rainforest they call home. The film follows Director Ryan Patrick Killackey as he visits the home of a Waorani man named Otobo Baihua and his family in the Yasuni community of Boanamo.
The movie alternates between telling the complex history of Yasuni and showing unprecedented footage of daily Waorani life. Killackey's camera follows Baihua and his family as they hunt for monkeys with blow darts, grind yuca to make a drink called chicha and introduce visiting scientists to the wildlife in their backyard.
But Yasuni is also home to more than 40 percent of Ecuador's oil reserves, and the film details the conflict between fossil fuel companies, the Ecuadorian government and different communities of Waorani over the future of this unique ecosystem.
As the forest and its inhabitants face new threats from fossil fuel extraction and the coronavirus pandemic, Killackey says the film is more relevant than ever.
"I actually don't think Yasuni Man will ever become irrelevant because our global community is not taking steps to stop the crisis that's happening in Yasuni and other biodiverse places," Killackey told EcoWatch.
Yasuni Man was filmed over five expeditions between 2011 and 2016, but Killackey said not much had changed since then in terms of the underlying pressures on the reserve and its inhabitants. However, Ecuador's worst oil spill in decades and the spread of the coronavirus have made the reserve's fate all the more urgent.
The oil spill occurred April 7, when a landslide ruptured three pipelines along the Coca River, dumping 15,800 barrels of crude oil into the water. The spill eventually reached the Napo River that borders Yasuni. The contamination of water and wildlife made it harder for Indigenous communities throughout Ecuador to protect themselves from the coronavirus as it interfered with their ability to sustain themselves in isolation.
"What should you do in case of a fire during a tornado?" scholars Manuela Picq and Eduardo Kohn wrote of the dilemma faced by Ecuador's Indingeous communities in the wake of the spill. "Leave the building or stay inside?"
In addition to threatening Indigenous health and compounding the impact of the oil spill, Killackey explained that the coronavirus has had two other negative effects on Yasuni. First, the pandemic has ended ecotourism across Ecuador, but fossil fuel extraction continues. The former removes a major source of employment for Yasuni's Indigenous people and gives them little choice but to seek work with the oil companies or participate in bushmeat hunting or logging.
Second, the pandemic has made it more difficult for larger nonprofits and smaller grassroots organizations to monitor the oil companies on the ground. Satellite images published by Amazon Conservation revealed that construction began on a new oil road in Yasuni in March. This was especially concerning because the road moved closer to the "Intangible Zone," a part of the reserve set aside for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, two Waorani clans living in voluntary isolation.
"Yasuni is like this microcosm," Killackey told EcoWatch. "You can just look at this little beautiful gem of a forest and see all of these crises happening very clearly."
Since the images were published, construction on the road has ceased. But the incident reveals the ways in which companies across the Amazon are taking advantage of the pandemic.
"Development is not stopping," Killackey said. "And this whole crisis with coronavirus is actually probably helping many of these major corporations and these banks to be able to go in there and exploit the natural resources and exploit the people."
Killackey hopes the film will raise awareness of the pressures on Yasuni and provide advocates with the tools to help preserve it.
"Really I think the most important thing you can do is educate an audience and try to make them feel a bond and a connection with a place and a people," Killackey said.
As part of that educational project, Killackey, a wildlife biologist by training, brought a team of scientists to Boanamo to survey the biodiversity in Otobo Baihua's community and filmed their research as part of the documentary. The survey resulted in eight scientific studies, two of which, on birds and mammals, have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Among other finds, the team discovered a previously undescribed species of fish and two seemingly identical frogs in the genus Pristimantis that were actually distinct species.
Killackey and his team said it was important to document and showcase the biological richness of Yasuni so that people would know what was there and be motivated to protect it.
"Very few Ecuadorians are truly aware of the biodiversity we have, specially about fishes, and its importance," Cecilia Puertas-Donoso, an ichthyologist featured in the film, said in an email. "That is something we should be proud of, and eager to preserve. I would like to tell them this phrase I read somewhere, that 'Destroying the Amazon to extract oil is like making a hole in the Sistine Chapel to remove stones.'"
- Ecuadorians 40+ Year Fight Against Chevron Continues Into 2014 ... ›
- Indigenous Peoples Go to Court to Save the Amazon From Oil ... ›
- Why Ecuador Abandoned Plans to Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground ... ›
By John R. Platt
Raging, guttural vocals. Pounding snare drums. Blazing-fast guitar riffs.
For Swedish death-metal musician Peter Hauschulz, these are the sounds and emotions of the extinction crisis.
Hauschulz's new solo grindcore project, Extinction, has just released an eight-track EP called "Smoldering Enfoulment." The "eco-slam" songs tell the tales of recently extinct (or nearly extinct) species, such as the cryptic tree-hunter and the Miss Waldron's red colobus.
Most of the songs, Hauschulz says, were inspired by articles published here at The Revelator.
The album was released July 21 on Bandcamp and is now available for download, with proceeds supporting several environmental organizations and social-justice causes. Physical copies are being distributed on old-school audio cassette — recorded over tapes found in thrift stores.
That recycling approach is echoed in the band T-shirts and other merch — and even in the music itself. The album was mostly recorded in an aluminum storage space about 30 feet away from a local recycling dump. Hauschulz played all the instruments and sang the main vocals, then mixed in guest vocals from performers based in Poland, the Czech Republic and Portland, Oregon.
We spoke with Hauschulz about Extinction (and extinction), and you can preview several songs below:
First up, what’s an “eco-slam”? And why death metal for such an already dark topic?
I've always been fascinated with the juxtaposition of extremes in death metal, which often takes lyrical concepts to an absurd degree of foreboding exaggeration, while the music itself is equally eager to achieve a kind of rhythmically visceral and disturbing impact. There's a sub-genre of death metal called "slam," which is often some of the most ridiculous and lowbrow of the style and is an excellent opportunity to combine Neanderthal-esque delivery with relevant factual concepts and content. The idea is to subvert the extreme metal expectation that the topics must necessarily be comically grotesque and therefore easy to brush off as gory escapism, while also adhering to the underlying spirit of death metal in plainly confronting the horrors of reality.
What were the origins of this project?
The idea for the project first took hold after I had read a National Geographic article sometime shortly after New Year in 2019. It was a small, touching story about how a tree snail (George) had been declared extinct just a few days earlier. Something about it just struck an unexpected nerve. I hadn't really considered how many known species were going extinct every day.
Peter Hauschulz, photo by Smilla West.
It was a perfect fusion of a genuinely dark topic that really wasn't being processed, either in the extreme metal community or at large, and therefore a ripe topic for deeper exploration.
(George's story was one of two songs on an Extinction demo album called "Anthropogenic Degradation of Ecosystemic Vegetation," released last year.)
For me, art and music are at their best when they seek to entertain, inform, inspire and connect with the listener. I felt that there was an opportunity to artistically energize the topic by connecting it to charity causes as well. It's very easy to become discouraged or feel like one isn't "doing enough" for the world, so I'm hoping to support the idea that we can all contribute in different ways according to our own needs and values and abilities, and not be held to an arbitrary standard of perfection that may be more discouraging than anything.
A few dollars here and there may not seem to be much, but it's important for me to try to align aspirations and ideas with actions. I hope that doing so artistically may inspire others to find clever ways to bring their unique talents and ideas to the world.
What are your creative goals when developing music and lyrics about such a difficult subject, and what do you hope your listeners will get out of it?
My main goal with the project is to develop and foster connection between myself and the world, myself and other people, and hopefully inspire people's connection with their world, too.
Of course, encased in that is my own impulse to continuously challenge myself and hone my craft, so I hope listeners experience a feeling of deep urgency as a result of the music, but also a sense of inspiration to harness that feeling for something positive.
What’s your writing process?
The process often involves a lot of iteration, bouncing from concept to experimentation on guitar or drums and back again, until it seems like it's congealing into something unique and alive. My primary musical focus is on the rhythms first, since I've always loved the way that aspect of music can reach deep into the core of a body and electrify it and give it motion.
I try to set the lyrics together in such a way that they amplify the music and give it a conceptual direction for that movement. For instance, the lines "flames of greed lick their black boots, inferno of corruption boils the frog, our spirit croaking for release, from the hell of our own kind" in the song "Electile Dysfunction" are some of my favorites in capturing the wretched spirit of greed behind so much of our planetary destitution.
Why did you pick some of these species to profile? What drew you to the need to tell their stories in musical form?
I tried to represent a wide variety of species types, including those outside the more relatable ones that are cute or fuzzy, because things like mosses and trees are certainly just as important, but less often make it into headlines or story form. I also tried to focus on species whose extinction was more or less directly caused by human activity, whether by direct hunting or deforestation — something that highlights our essential relationship and the negative consequences of our actions and choices as a species on the planet.
You have a unique approach to merchandise and the physical distribution of your music. Where did the idea of recycled goods come from?
Growing up in largely DIY punk scenes, it was common for smaller bands to screen print logos on thrift-store shirts. That seemed to be the most appropriate way to minimize the band's resource footprint while also opening the door to unique artistic opportunities. So far, the best result is when I can find an old novelty shirt from a vacation at Sea World or some other aquarium. Stamp a giant Extinction logo on top of a frolicking dolphin or killer whale and now it has become more than just a gift-store item.
Speaks for itself really pic.twitter.com/tNFkVJX497— EXTINCTION (eco-slam) (@Capt_Grapefruit) July 14, 2020
What comes next? I know you already have a follow-up album in the works, and you were planning on touring before the pandemic hit.
Next for Extinction is a bit up in the air, like for many bands and people of all inclinations all over the world. I'll be creating a music video in the coming months for one of these songs, continue writing a follow-up, which will be water-species themed, probably release a charity compilation single in a few months, and seek out like-minded collaborators of all types to start collecting a live lineup.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.
For lemurs, the analysis found that almost one-third of the species in Madagascar are critically endangered while 98 percent are threatened or worse, according to the IUCN's updated Red List of Threatened Species. The demise of lemurs is largely attributed to deforestation and hunting on the giant island off eastern Africa, conservationists said Thursday, as the AP reported.
To put that in numbers, instead of percentages, 33 lemur species are critically endangered, with 103 of the 107 surviving species threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN. The updated list now has 13 species pushed into the critically endangered category due to human activity.
The IUCN also says there were fewer than 250 mature North Atlantic right whales believed to be alive in 2018, marking a 15-percent drop since 2011. That number includes about only 100 breeding females.
"At the heart of this crisis is a dire need for alternative, sustainable livelihoods to replace the current reliance on deforestation and unsustainable use of wildlife," Grethel Aguilar, IUCN's acting director general, said in a statement, as The Washington Post reported. "These findings really bring home the urgent need for an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework that drives effective conservation action."
At the end of June, one dead whale was spotted off the coast of New Jersey. That six-month-old calf had been struck several times on the head, suggesting one or possibly two vessel collisions, according to The New York Times. Increasingly, collisions with ships, entanglements in fishing nets, and underwater noise pollution are killing the animals, which rely on echolocation for basic activities such as feeding, communicating and finding mates, as The Washington Post reported.
The North Atlantic right whale also faces an increased threat from the climate crisis. The IUCN says that warming ocean temperatures have likely pushed the species' main prey species further north during summer, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships and also at high risk of entanglement in crab-pot ropes.
The whale's preferred home, in the Gulf of Maine's deep waters, has warmed nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit since 2004, faster than 99 percent of the world's oceans for much of this century, according to The New York Times.
The prospects are bleak for the North Atlantic right whale now that President Trump lifted restrictions on commercial fishing in a key area of the whale's habitat.
"Unless we act decisively to turn the tide, the next time the right whale's Red List status changes it will be to 'extinct,'" Jane Davenport, a senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement, as The Washington Post reported.
The deaths of 30 Atlantic right whales were confirmed as human-caused between 2012 and 2016, according to the IUCN report, and all but four were caused by entanglement in fishing gear.
Peter Corkeron, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, has chronicled the gruesome deaths of right whales as the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's research program for large whales for the last decade. He told the New York Times he feared the listing would have little impact.
"A lot of the dynamic was bad anyway, and under Trump it just got worse," Corkeron said. "People are terrified to do anything about right whales at the moment."
The update to the "Red List of Threatened Species" shows that 32,441 species are threatened out of a total of 120,372 on the list.
"We have to take bold and rapid action to reduce the huge damage we're doing to the planet if we're going to save whales, frogs, lemurs and ultimately ourselves," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, as The Washington Post reported. "We really can do all of these things, but we need world leaders to stand up and do them."
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- Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence - EcoWatch ›
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By Lamfu Fabrice Yengong and Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue
Biodiversity loss is a global crisis. In May last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that over 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction worldwide. On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, it is important to recall the silent victims of our country's obsession for industrial growth at the expense of our forests.
Tropical rainforests are estimated to harbor more than half of the world's plant and animal species. They are also essential for access to water, regulating temperature and preventing soil erosion. It's time to return the forests to indigenous and local communities.
In our country, Cameroon, the conservation of biodiversity, global climate goals and human rights of indigenous and local communities are all put at stake for industrial exploitation of the rainforest, driven by short-sighted thinking. Biodiversity hotspots are put at risk by industrial logging and agriculture, as trees are cut for the tropical timber market and entire forests cleared to make room for oil palm and rubber plantations. The government tries to assure conservationists that some space will be reserved for the wildlife in the forest it trashes, but even protected areas are not truly safe.
Companies, usually foreign-owned, are rapidly destroying rainforests that have existed for years. Local communities are left poorer after their traditional source of livelihood is desecrated. The only ones getting rich are a small group of beneficiaries that are close to the circles of power.
Some low-income countries that are rich in forests are resorting to quick solutions like logging and industrial agriculture. But industrial logging concessions and rubber and palm oil plantations are never the job-creating mechanism they promise to be. That has been demonstrated over and over again in forest countries around the world.
For example, the Dja Faunal Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site in the South of Cameroon, is home to more than 100 species of mammals, including at least 14 primates, such as the endangered western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, and white-collared mangabey, as well as species such as the endangered forest elephant, and the African grey parrot, bongo antelope and leopard.
The Dja Faunal Reserve is adjacent to the Sudcam rubber plantation, mainly owned by rubber giant Halcyon Agri. Sudcam has cleared more than 10,000 hectares (approximately 25,000 acres) of dense tropical rainforest in the South region of Cameroon – an equivalent of 10 football pitches a day – to make way for a rubber plantation between 2011 and 2018. The rubber plantation has rattled the lives of several indigenous communities, namely the Baka, but it has also aggravated the lives of those numerous protected species in the Dja Reserve.
To indigenous and local forest dependent communities, the rainforest serves as a source of nutritious foods and traditional medicine, much of which science has yet to explore. The forest is also the foundation of their social life, from recreational to ritual practices. Furthermore, biodiversity loss itself is a direct and immediate threat to the livelihood of indigenous peoples like the Baka next to the Sudcam plantation.
Upon the arrival of rubber company Sudcam, the indigenous community has lost access to its forest and specifically to the animals and plants they rely on. As Sudcam gets richer, it leaves entire communities in impoverishment, abjectness and destitution.
That is the fate which the chiefs of the Banen people of the Littoral region in Cameroon are trying to avoid in their current struggle against the destruction of large parts of the Ebo forest.
The Ebo Forest is a biodiversity hotspot, one of the intact forest ecosystems in the Gulf of Guinea, stretching over 2000 square kilometers (approximately 772 square miles). Ebo Forest is home to an amazing range of wildlife, including forest elephants, gorillas, drills, chimpanzees, grey parrots and the goliath frog – the largest living frog on the planet. Accordingly, it was designated over a decade ago by the Cameroon Government as a National Park.
However, on February 4, the same government of Cameroon authorized two logging concessions (UFA07005 and UFA07006) inside the area of Ebo Forest. The planned concessions are enormous – about the size of London. Again, the government of Cameroon wants to convince us that conservation can be done with chainsaws.
Biodiversity loss doesn't only mean our children would get to see some of the world's most marvelous creatures only in documentary films. The consequences are far greater and more tangible.
The extinction of forest elephants, for example, small relatives of African Savanna elephants, might also reduce the number of large trees that they support, trees that excel at storing carbon. In the Congo Basin forest, the disappearance of forest elephants might mean a loss of about three billion tons of carbon – equivalent to France's CO2 emissions over more than 25 years, according to a New York Times article on recent research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Cameroon's government has made public commitments to preserve and protect biodiversity. Positive declarations and ambitious plans may win applause and some international funding, but all eyes should be on implementation. Field investigations by Greenpeace Africa and others clearly show how far we are from protecting biodiversity.
In Cameroon's government, as well as in the meeting rooms and corridors of development agencies, decision makers often hold outdated views. Too often we hear that only through rapid and massive removal of the rainforest in favor of large-scale logging and industrial agriculture plantations can the country emerge out of poverty.
Yet that model has repeatedly failed the people, as short-term high profits always remained accessible only to a small circle of beneficiaries. On the contrary, local communities who have lived in harmony with nature for many generations are likely to face poverty, abuse, hunger and alcoholism wherever forests are suddenly destroyed. It is becoming increasingly clear that the best solution for both human rights and the planet is for forests to be managed by local communities. They do so much better than the industrial loggers or plantation owners.
The Cameroonian government needs to realize that trashing forests is not the way to make the economy grow. Rapid and intensive exploitation of nature has more far-reaching consequences than short-term economic growth. To prevent the extinction of fauna and flora species, indigenous communities that live among them need the rights to manage their forest.
Standing for biodiversity means communities should get the rights to manage their forests, instead of the corporations that destroy them.
Lamfu Fabrice Yengong is a Congo Basin researcher.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue is a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.
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The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.
A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, found that 515 land animals are currently on the brink of extinction. That's slightly less than the at least 543 species that disappeared last century. However, these extremely endangered species are expected to disappear in the next two decades, Stanford University explained in a press release.
"When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system," study coauthor and Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich said in the press release. "The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption to which it is linked."
Ehrlich helped to write a 2015 study confirming that a sixth mass extinction had begun, and he now says the extinction rate is likely higher than previously thought. Species are going extinct at rates hundreds or thousands of times faster than the "background" rate for the last tens of millions of years, and are being killed off by one overriding factor: us. Several specific human actions are behind these losses, including habitat loss, hunting, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, the wildlife trade and the climate crisis.
"The massive losses that we are experiencing are being caused, directly or indirectly, by the activities of Homo sapiens," the study authors wrote.
To draw their conclusions, the researchers looked at data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International, The Guardian explained. Of those species, 515 had populations of fewer than 1,000, and about half of the 515 were down to less than 250 individuals.
Most of the at-risk species live in the tropics or subtropics. They include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog.
Terrestrial vertebrates on the brink (i.e., with 1,000 or fewer individuals) include species such as (A) Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler [photographer]), (B) Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob [photographer]), (C) Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: G.C.), and (D) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; the population size of the species is unknown but it is estimated at less than 1,000; image credit: G.C.).
Because ecosystems are so interconnected, the disappearance of any of these at-risk species would put other species at risk. For example, when sea otters were overhunted in the Bering Sea, the population of sea urchins bloomed, devouring kelp forests and driving the Steller's sea cow to extinction. Eighty-four percent of species with populations under 5,000 live in the same regions as species with populations under 1,000, making such a domino effect more likely.
"Extinction breeds extinction," the researchers wrote.
The eradication of biodiversity is also a major threat to human civilization. The most timely example is the spread of the new coronavirus, which originated in bats and is believed to have passed to humans through another animal at a wildlife market, the press release explained.
"Based on our research and what we're seeing, the extinction crisis is so bad that whatever we do in the next 10 to 50 years is what will define the future of humanity," study coauthor professor Gerardo Ceballos of the National University of Mexico in Mexico City told BBC News.
The researchers called for a ban on the international wildlife trade, according to Stanford. They have also started an initiative called Stop Extinction to raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis.
"In view of the current extinction crisis and the lack of widespread actions to halt it, it is very important that scientists should metaphorically take to the streets," they wrote.
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Invasive "murder hornets" have been spotted in the U.S. for the first time, prompting concerns for the nation's honeybees and the trajectory of a year that has already brought locust invasions and a global pandemic.
Four sightings of the world's largest hornets — officially called the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) — were reported and verified in Washington State in December 2019, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). But "murder hornet" began trending after the publication Saturday of a New York Times piece about Washington's efforts to find and eradicate the insects before they take hold, as NBC News reported.
"Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020," actor and comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted. "Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel. We can take it."
Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020. Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel.… https://t.co/tblYGIT3kT— Patton Oswalt (@Patton Oswalt)1588440087.0
But for honeybees, the Asian giant hornet is no joke. The hornets enter a "slaughter phase" where they decapitate bees, WSDA said. They destroy an entire hive within hours and then claim it as their own, feeding the brood to their young.
Washington beekeeper Ted McFall told The New York Times of driving home in November to find a pile of decapitated bee carcasses on the ground.
"I couldn't wrap my head around what could have done that," McFall told The New York Times. He later came to suspect murder hornets, though this has not been confirmed.
There have also been sightings of the hornet across the border in British Columbia, but at least one of the Canadian hives was proven to be unconnected to one of the Washington hornets, meaning the insect was likely introduced to the region at least twice.
While the hornets do not typically attack humans or pets unless threatened, their stings are extremely painful and can be deadly. They earned the nickname "murder hornet" because their group attacks can expose the victim to as much venom as a snake bite, Kyoto Sangyo University researcher Jun-ichi Takahash told The New York Times. In Japan, they kill as many as 50 people a year.
"It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh," Conrad Bérubé, a beekeeper who was stung while exterminating a hive on Vancouver Island, told The New York Times of the experience.
The hornets are 1.5 to two inches long and have a yellow or orange head with bulging eyes and a black and yellow striped abdomen, according to WSDA.
"They're like something out of a monster cartoon with this huge yellow-orange face," Washington State University's (WSU) Department of Entomology bee breeder Susan Cobey said in a university press release.
#ICYMI Here is our image comparing #AsianGiantHornet to other flying insects. No, its name is not the #murderhornet https://t.co/cwIgIPGC1t— WA St Dept of Agr (@WA St Dept of Agr)1588546644.0
WSU is working with WSDA, beekeepers and citizen scientists to locate and contain the hornets now that they are beginning to become active again. Queens usually emerge from hibernation in April, but the species is most destructive in the late summer and early fall.
If scientists can't stop the hornets' spread, it is uncertain what it would mean for the nation's bees. In Japan, they are a serious problem for European honeybees, who have no natural defenses. A similar hornet introduction to Europe saw beehives decline 30 percent and their honey tally fall by as much as two-thirds, WSDA eradication coordinator Rian Wojah told TIME.
WSU entomologist Todd Murray said he was worried about what the hornets' spread would mean for a state that relies on bees to pollinate crops like apples and cherries. He warned invasive species could change ecosystems permanently.
"Just like that, it's forever different," Murray said. "We need to teach people how to recognize and identify this hornet while populations are small, so that we can eradicate it while we still have a chance."
If you see an Asian giant hornet and live in Washington state, you can help by reporting it to the WSDA Pest Program at 1-800-443-6684, [email protected] or online at agr.wa.gov/hornets. If you live outside Washington and think you spot one of the hornets, WSDA advises you contact your state or province's department of agriculture.
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By John R. Platt
Some of the tiniest creatures in Myanmar benefit from living near the largest species in the area.
Newly published research reveals that frogs are laying their eggs in the rain-filled footprints of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), which then provide a safe home for growing tadpoles. The footprints eventually fade away, but they last for a year or more on the forest floor and can serve as important habitats during dry seasons and even as "stepping stones" between frog populations.
Talk about having an environmental footprint.
Rain-filled elephant footprints supporting tadpoles and egg masses.
Steven Platt / WCS Myanmar
No adult frogs were observed taking advantage of these foot-shaped puddles, although those eggs obviously came from somewhere.
This represents an important step in understanding the role of Asian elephants as "ecosystem engineers." African elephants have long been recognized for the way they affect the natural systems around them — a similar study published in 2016 found tadpoles and dozens of insect species living in elephant footprints in Uganda — but Asian elephants have not benefitted from the same level of scientific study.
"There is surprisingly little known about Asian elephants as ecosystem engineers, at least in comparison to African elephants," said lead research Steven Platt, a herpetologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society's Myanmar program. "That said, I think our study and several others indicate that Asian elephants play an important role as ecosystem engineers. Not only do elephants modify vegetation — knocking down trees, removing bamboo, dispersing seeds, etc. — but they also affect the ecosystem in ways that might not be readily obvious, such as creating temporary ponds and dung piles used as food and cover by invertebrates and small vertebrates."
Rain-filled elephant footprints supporting egg masses.
Steven Platt / WCS Myanmar
Platt (no relation) says this underscores the vast interplay between species and illustrates why it's important to protect entire ecosystems and their full range of biodiversity.
And of course, the study further illustrates the need to protect elephants and the species that live around them, much like the previous study in Uganda. "I surely hope this aspect of interconnectedness has been or will be used as an argument for conservation of elephants," said the lead author of 2016 study, Wolfram Remmers with the University of Koblenz‐Landau.
Perhaps more importantly, Platt says the study in Myanmar also reveals the need to look for similar relationships in other nations where endangered Asian elephants still roam. No one knows exactly how many Asian elephants remain in the world, but all indications suggest their populations continue to shrink throughout their range. The paper concludes with a call for action: "studies are still urgently needed on the role of E. maximus as ecosystem drivers, especially in light of the rapid decline of these large fauna."
That decline, obviously, is caused by a creature with a much bigger footprint: humans.
Examining elephant tracks.
Steven Platt / WCS Myanmar
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
By John R. Platt
What do we lose when natural spaces and species disappear?
Increasingly, research has shown that as species and ecosystems vanish, it also chips away at our ability to preserve what remains — because we no longer understand what we're losing.
You probably see it all the time. The neighbor who puts pesticides on his lawn rather than deal with pesky bees. The kid who squirms and runs at the sight of a harmless garter snake slithering through the grass. The politician who votes against wildlife protection because she's never seen a wolf in the wild. The corporation that wants to bulldoze the habitat of a rare frog, but frogs are gross, so who cares, right?
At best this can be termed "the extinction of experience," where our cultural and natural histories fade from our memories and therefore our reality.
At its worst it becomes something even more concerning: "biophobia," the fear of living things and a complete aversion to nature.
This isn't the fiction of living in a cold, empty dystopia. Sadly it's becoming a way of life for too many people — especially children.
A recent study in Japan paints a striking portrait of this problem. A survey of more than 5,300 school children in the Tochigi Prefecture examined their perception of local invertebrates — 14 insect species and one spider. The results? A collective "ew." Most of the students saw the species as things to dislike, fear or abhor, or even as sources of danger. The less experience the students had with nature, the more negative their feelings.
The results were published earlier this year in the in the journal Biological Conservation.
Lead researcher Masashi Soga with the University of Tokyo says the study stemmed from observations about today's nature-deficient children.
"Humans inherently avoid dangerous organisms such as bees, but children these days avoid even harmless animals such as butterflies and dragonflies," he said. "I have long wondered why so many of today's children react like this."
A butterfly photographed in the greenhouse at Igashira Park, Tochigi Prefecture. Takashi Hososhima / CC BY-SA 2.0
Soga said their survey echoed findings from around the world. For example, a 2014 study of 1,100 students in China elicited similar emotional reactions — and, like the Japanese study, found that direct contact with nature helped to turn biophobia into biophilia, the term popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson to refer to human connection with other forms of life.
Although the children's reactions were somewhat expected, the new study did contain an unexpected finding: Many of the surveyed children revealed that their parents also expressed fear or disgust of the same invertebrates. In fact these parental emotions were strong enough to overwhelm any positive experiences the children might have gained from direct experiences in nature.
As Soga and his coauthors wrote in their paper, "Our results suggest that there is likely a feedback loop in which an increase in people who have negative attitudes towards nature in one generation will lead to a further increase in people with similar attitudes in the next generation — a cycle of disaffection towards nature."
And that's possibly the greater threat posed by extinction of experience. Soga suggests the generational loss — a condition previously dubbed environmental generational amnesia — could chip away at our societal ability to preserve what we're losing.
"I believe that increased biophobia is a major, but invisible, threat to global biodiversity," Soga said. "As the number of children who have biophobia increases, public interest and support for biodiversity conservation will gradually decline. Although many conservation biologists still consider that preventing the loss of wildlife habitat is the most important way to conserve biodiversity, I think preventing increased biophobia is also important for conservation."
What's to be done about this? The paper makes several recommendations, the most obvious of which is that children should experience nature more often. The authors also suggest establishing policies to guide these natural experiences and increasing educational programs about the natural world.
Helping parents to see species around them in a new light would make a difference, too.
And, of course, maintaining support for preserving the wild spaces where these "scary" and "icky" creatures live is the most important thing of all.
That's a point reinforced by another recent study, which found that wild spaces located within urban areas — and the plants and animals that thrive in them — are particularly important for human health and well-being.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, the study examined attitudes toward Discovery Park, the heavily forested 534-acre public park in Seattle, Washington. It found that the public had the most appreciation for — and gained the most value from — the wildest parts of the park.
"I have seen orca whales, seals, fish, eagles, herons, shorebirds and many other sea creatures in their natural habitat," one survey participant wrote. "Going here with people has allowed me to connect and talk with them about conversation that simply does not happen in everyday life," wrote another.
An orca dorsal fin seen from Discovery Park with West Point lighthouse in background. Seattle Parks / Discovery Park Staff / CC BY 2.0
The participants reported that their most valuable experiences in the park included encountering wildlife, walking through open spaces, exploring the beach and finding beautiful views.
"We saw that a large majority of participants' interactions, especially their most meaningful interactions, depended on Discovery Park's relative wildness," said lead author Elizabeth Lev, a master's student in the University of Washington's Human Interaction With Nature and Technological Systems Lab.
This is only possible because the park is relatively wild. After all, you can't enjoy watching birds if there are no birds to follow; gaze at the sunset if it's obscured by skyscrapers; or stop and smell the flowers if they don't have room to grow.
Bald eagle at Discovery Park. Brandon Trentler / CC BY 2.0
And yet even this long-protected space could someday become less hospitable to nature. Over the past few years a lot of people and organizations have suggested developing parts of Discovery Park or the neighboring area. Most recently a plan proposed building 34 acres of much-needed affordable housing and parking spaces adjacent to the park, bringing with them noise, traffic and pollution.
If anything like that happened, both the park and the people of Seattle could lose something vital. And that would continue the trend of chipping away at Seattle's — and the world's — natural spaces, leaving just tiny pocket parks and green-but-empty spaces that offer little real value to wildlife, plants or people.
"It is true that any interaction with nature is better than none, but I don't want people to be satisfied with any small bit of grass and trees," Lev said. "We have been in this cycle of environmental generational amnesia for a long time, where the baseline keeps shifting and we don't even realize what we're losing until it's gone. If we can get people to understand how much meaning and value can come from having more experiences with more wild forms of nature, then maybe we can stop this cycle and move toward conserving and restoring what we have left."
Building this understanding in an ever-more fearful and disconnected world may be the biggest challenge. Peter Kahn, the senior author of Lev's paper and the director of the Human Interaction with Nature lab, made several suggestions for bridging this gap in this 2011 book, Technological Nature. They echo the recommendation about getting children into nature, but also include telling stories of how things used to be, imagining what things might be like in the future, and developing a common language about nature, "a way of speaking about wild and domestic interaction patterns, and their wide range of instantiations, and the meaningful, deep and often joyful feelings that they engender."
No matter what techniques we use, this growing field of research illustrates that saving nature requires encouraging people to experience it more often and more deeply. That calls for additional research — Lev and her coauthors have published a toolkit that other municipalities can follow to study the value of their own wild spaces — and clear communication of the results.
"If we can continue to characterize and show people the benefits of these wild spaces," Lev said, "maybe people will begin to see more value in keeping these areas undeveloped — for the sake of our mutual benefit."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Across much of the U.S., a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception. In parts of the Southeast, spring has arrived weeks earlier than normal and may turn out to be the warmest spring on record.
Apple blossoms in March and an earlier start to picnic season may seem harmless and even welcome. But the early arrival of springtime warmth has many downsides for the natural world and for humans.
Rising temperatures in the springtime signal plants and animals to come alive. Across the U.S. and worldwide, climate change is steadily disrupting the arrival and interactions of leaf buds, cherry blossoms, insects and more.
In my work as a plant ecologist and director of the USA National Phenology Network, I coordinate efforts to track the timing of seasonal events in plants and animals. Dramatically earlier spring activity has been documented in hundreds of species around the globe.
Lilies, Blueberries, Birds and More … All Sped Up
Records managed by the USA National Phenology Network and other organizations prove that spring has accelerated over the long term. For example, the common yellow trout lily blooms nearly a week earlier in the Appalachian Mountain region than it did 100 years ago. Blueberries in Massachusetts flower three to four weeks earlier than in the mid-1800s. And over a recent 12-year period, over half of 48 migratory bird species studied arrived at their breeding grounds up to nine days earlier than previously.
Warmer spring temperatures have also led beetles, moths and butterflies to emerge earlier than in recent years. Similarly, hibernating species like frogs and bears emerge from hibernation earlier in warm springs.
All species don't respond to warming the same way. When species that depend on one another — such as pollinating insects and plants seeking pollination - don't respond similarly to changing conditions, populations suffer.
In Japan, the spring-flowering ephemeral Corydalis ambigua produces fewer seeds than in previous decades because it now flowers earlier than when bumblebees, its primary pollinators, are active. Similarly, populations of pied flycatchers – long-distance migrating birds that still arrive at their breeding grounds at the regular time – are declining steeply, because populations of caterpillars that the flycatchers eat now peak prior to the birds' arrival.
Warmth Followed by Frost Can Kill
Earlier springs can devastate valuable farm crops. Cherry, peach, pear, apple and plum trees blossom during early warm spells. Subsequent frost can kill the blooms, which means the trees will not produce fruit.
In March 2012, Michigan cherry blossoms opened early after temperatures climbed into the 80s. Then at least 15 frosts from late March through May destroyed 90% of the crop, causing US$200 million in damages. And in 2017, after Georgia peach trees flowered during an extremely early warm spell, frost killed up to 80% of the crop.
Early springs also affect ornamental plants and gardens. They hasten allergy symptoms and the appearance of turf pests. Popular species like tulips open up sooner than they used to a decade or more ago. In recent years, tulips have bloomed before "tulip time" festivals in Iowa, Oregon and Michigan.
Cherry trees around Washington D.C.'s Tidal Basin bloom at dramatically different times from year to year. They are expected to bloom weeks in advance of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in the coming decades.
It's been an early spring in the southeastern U.S. What are you seeing? https://t.co/X9fEltVoLs https://t.co/dkN1zScMqD— ISeeChange (@ISeeChange)1581542191.0
Springtime Shifts by Region
The start of spring isn't advancing at the same rate across the U.S. In a recent study with climatologist Michael Crimmins, I evaluated changes in the arrival of springtime warmth over the past 70 years.
We found that in the Northeast, warmth associated with the leading edge of springtime activity has advanced by about six days over the past 70 years. In the Southwest, the advancement has been approximately 19 days. Spring is also arriving significantly earlier in the Southern Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, in the Southeast the timing of spring has changed little.
How Much Earlier Is Spring?
Although the trend over decades toward earlier springs is clear, weather patterns unfolding across the continent can vary the start of the season dramatically from year to year at any one spot. The USA National Phenology Network produces maps that document the onset of biological activity over the course of the spring season.
The network also maintains a live map showing where spring has arrived. In some parts of the Southeast, spring 2020 has been the earliest in decades.
Help Scientists Document Change
While numerous studies have documented clear changes in the timing of activity in certain plants and animals, scientists have little to no information on the cycles of most of the millions of species on Earth. Nor do they know the consequences of such changes yet.
One important way to fill knowledge gaps is documenting what's happening on the ground. The USA National Phenology Network runs a program called Nature's Notebook suited for people of nearly all ages and skill levels to track seasonal activity in plants and animals. Since the program's inception in 2009, participants have contributed more than 20 million records.
These data have been used in over 80 studies, and we are looking for more observations from the public that can help scientists understand what causes nature's timing to change, and what the consequences are. We welcome new volunteers who can help us unravel these mysteries.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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