By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
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By Richard Thomas
Joseph Biden was elected to office as the world continues to struggle with a global pandemic that has killed more than a million people and wreaked devastating economic havoc. The pandemic has highlighted how humankind's abuse of our planet and the irreversible loss of the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which we all rely for our very existence simply can't go on.
Centers for Disease Control staff inspect bushmeat being imported into the U.S. CDC<p>How do we move forward? First, I would argue that allocating resources to understanding the risks associated with trade in animals — from any source — and how to lessen the danger of disease spillover events is a wise investment. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID gave the go-ahead to activities under a second phase of a Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project implemented by TRAFFIC, with a renewed zoonotic disease risk focus. TRAFFIC will endeavor to ensure it's money well spent.</p><p>Meanwhile welcome global attention has been paid to addressing the wildlife crime that undermines society and threatens the future of many of the world's wild plants and animals. But we're still not there in curbing these crimes. More resources will help get us over the line.</p><p>These include better equipment, training and working conditions for the rangers on the front lines; enhanced use of wildlife forensics; training of detector dogs; and even access to skilled translators to assist enforcement agencies with interpreting transactions involving foreign nationals. We also need to see renewed efforts by governments, helped by nongovernmental organizations and others, to reduce the consumer demand that fuels such trade.</p>
Rangers on patrol in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Bernard DuPont / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>Finally, the Biden era must go down in history as the turning point when world governments came together in a united front to address the conservation crisis and start down the long road to repair. Next year the delayed <a href="https://www.cbd.int/cop/" target="_blank">15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity</a> will take place, when world governments will finalize the goals and policies of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that will guide humankind to a biodiverse and sustainable future. The current draft of the Framework features, for the first time, a target on wildlife trade. It calls on governments to ensure that the harvesting, trade and use of wild species of fauna and flora are legal, at sustainable levels, and safe by 2030. It would be entirely appropriate if the Biden administration were at center stage throughout the negotiations. Given the role of the United States on the world stage, if Biden takes strong action, other countries will doubtless follow his lead.</p><p>Already the U.S. intention to rejoin the Paris Climate agreement has been a major symbolic step, signaling the country's aim to be at the forefront of global efforts to begin the healing process. Make no mistake: Building a green future is an enormous opportunity for businesses in the United States and beyond to meet the challenges of, and profit from, achieving the goal of a zero-carbon economy. Biden's policies should encourage achievement of that goal on every level. The future is bright, but only if it's green.</p><p>With the world's climate, forests and other natural resources under ever-increasing pressure, there has never been a more urgent need for the robust guidance, sound policies and strong leadership needed to protect our planet. The next four years could be the make-or-break moment.</p><p><em>The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of</em> The Revelator, <em>the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/biden-leadership-wildlife-crime/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
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By John R. Platt
Well, that was interesting … and hair-raising. At press time the harrowing presidential race of 2020 remains too close to call, as do a few key congressional and Senate seats. The Senate may not even settle out until January, when Georgia will hold runoff elections and we'll find out which party controls that house of government.
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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.
By Karin Jäger
"They begin on a fall night, preferring the light of a full moon … Driven by the currents, they're pulled to the mouth of the river and out into the ocean," writes the WWF, rather poetically, of the European eel's long journey from the rivers of Central Europe to the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
Think Beyond Borders to Protect Species<p>When an animal crosses so many territories, how can it be protected? That's where the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), sometimes known as the Bonn Convention, comes in. Every three years, the European Union and an additional 129 countries signed up to the CMS meet to discuss cross-border measures to protect eels and other animals on the move.</p><p>In February 2020, the convention met in Gandhinagar, India, where 10 migratory species, including the Asian elephant, jaguar and the oceanic whitetip shark, were added to the international wildlife treaty for the first time.</p><p>Nature's travelers face specific challenges, particularly as humans encroach more on animal habitat and carve up the landscape with roads and settlements, say experts. Wildlife needs to be taken into consideration at the planning stages of such infrastructure projects.</p><p>"Improving connections between habitats is important if we want to stop or even reverse extinctions," said Arnulf Köhncke, an ecologist with conservation group WWF. "You need to look at where an area cuts through as few migration routes and habitats as possible and plan and implement corresponding, cross-border (wildlife migration) corridors."</p><p>Such planning also requires cooperation between states.</p><p>Several bilateral agreements to protect migratory species already exist within the framework of the Bonn Convention. For instance, Chile and Argentina have committed to saving the endangered south Andean deer, which moves up and down the South American Andes, crossing through both countries as it does.</p>
Unprecedented Global Biodiversity Loss<p>Not all animals move across borders of their own accord. International trade in animals also requires international protection efforts. In the case of the eel, considered a delicacy from Europe to Asia, criminals smuggle young European "glass eels" in and out of countries, although international trade is strictly regulated under CITES, an international treaty governing trade in wildlife.</p><p>The trade is in animals caught in the wild. Breeding eels in captivity has so far proved impossible because of their complicated life cycle, which until recently, scientists still knew little about.</p><p>It's a lucrative gig and one that is driving down eel numbers. Although, the trade is regulated, enforcement is often lacking. People should avoid eating the animals, according to WWF. And we should avoid consuming too much fish and meat in general to halt species loss, says the conservation group.</p><p>Veronika Lenarz, who works with the secretariat of the Bonn Convention, agrees. But several major countries, like the USA, Russia and China, aren't party to the convention, while Japan refuses to sign up because of its whaling industry.</p><p>"We are in a crisis that threatens global biodiversity," said Lenarz.</p><p>In a major assessment of the world's wildlife published in September 2020, the UN warned of "unprecedented biodiversity loss" and said the global community had failed to fully achieve any of the 20 biodiversity targets set by the international organization 10 years ago.</p><p>While migratory animals are also impacted, not enough is known about many of the species to gauge to what extent. Researchers estimate there could be anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 migratory species, ranging from storks and butterflies, to dolphins and wolves.</p>
Climate Change: An Ever-Present Threat<p>Regions in which the climate is changing most rapidly and on a large scale present a particular danger for migratory species. The animals, following a deeply embedded evolutionary instinct, will search for seasonal habitats in search of food and shelter. However, food is increasingly scarce in these places due to climate change.</p><p>Some animals are adapting. Compared to 20 years ago, fewer migratory birds are flying to their wintering grounds. But because these nomads are dependent on the many different habitats they use as resting points on their journeys, they are more vulnerable than their settled counterparts. By staying put, they're also in increased competition for scarce winter food supplies.</p><p>And while animals can adapt, not many can keep up with the pace of climate change.</p><p>"Reports from the UN climate group IPCC show that only a few species can move with the speed of climate change. And often alternative habitats are already occupied by humans," said Köhncke from the WWF.</p><p>The climate crisis and species loss shouldn't be viewed as unrelated issues, because both are damaging to the planet, added Köhncke.</p><p>"Migratory species help to maintain life on Earth. They contribute to the structure and functions of ecosystems as pollinators and seed dispersers, deliver food to other animals and regulate the number of species," said Köhncke. </p>
Creating Conditions to Thrive<p>Ensuring the conditions for the survival of these species should be considered when planning measures for dealing with the consequences of climate change, he added, referring to the WWF study "Wildlife in a Warming World."</p><p>Published in 2018, the study found that around 50% of species in some of the world's key natural regions, such as the Amazon, could disappear if climate change continues unabated.</p><p>Reindeer for instance, some of which migrate in the northern hemisphere, are no longer able to find enough food. Usually in winter, the animals clear snow with their hooves to uncover the lichens and moss they feed on. But temperatures now vary wildly, causing snow to melt or fall as rain instead. When the ground cools again, ice forms and the reindeer cannot get to their grub. </p>
Simple Solutions to Protect Endangered Species<p>Looking to the example of Mexico, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has shown protecting endangered migratory species doesn't have to be complicated.</p><p>Industrial farming has contributed to the jaguar's habitat shrinking by 50% in South and Central America in the last century. As a result, they began roaming near villages looking for food and attacking villagers' dogs. People retaliated by killing them. The IFAW hired community members to build dog houses, meaning the canines are no longer out roaming at night when they could run into big cat predators.</p><p>However, with the global conservation failures of the past decade looming, all eyes will be on the UN Biodiversity Conference scheduled to take place in China in 2021 and whether it can pull off a plan for protecting migratory and non-migratory animals like.</p>
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Australian scientists have discovered a massive detached coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef. It is the eighth detached reef discovered in the northern Great Barrier Reef and the first to be discovered in over 120 years.
A newly-discovered 1,600-foot tall detached reef in the Great Barrier Reef was discovered, 3-D mapped and filmed by Australian scientists. Schmidt Ocean Institute
Scientists used a robot to capture video of the enormous detached reef found off Australia's northern coast. Schmidt Ocean Institute
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