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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life
Susanna Pershern / Submerged Resources Center/ National Park Service / public domain

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.

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The island of Tristan da Cunha. VictoriaJStokes / iStock / Getty Images Plus

In the South Atlantic Ocean, a tiny island of 250 people has made a significant contribution to global marine conservation by protecting a huge swath of ocean under its control.

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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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A black rhino in Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Mikael Drackner / Moment / Getty Images

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.

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A Popa langur. Photo credit: ©Thaung Win

A new species of primate has been discovered in Myanmar, and it is already extremely endangered.

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Asian short-clawed otters. wrangel / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The Asian short-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) is the world's smallest otter, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). But what they lack in size, they make up for in brain power.
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Endangered orangutans have long been losing habitat due to deforestation turning their rainforest island ranges into large-scale palm oil plantations. BAY ISMOYO / AFP via Getty Images

By Carly Nairn

Climate change and global food demand could drive a startling loss of up to 23 percent of all natural habitat ranges in the next 80 years, according to new findings published in Nature Communications.

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Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0

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.

But while we wait — patiently or otherwise — for those votes to be tallied, let's take a moment to step back and look at several big-picture environmental takeaways from the election season.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Asian elephants have been added to a list of species that need migratory protection. Steve Evans / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

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.

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An aerial view of Misty Fjords National Monument, part of the Tongass National Forest, near Ketchikan, southeast Alaska. Blaine Harrington III / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The Trump administration formalized its intention to open up Alaska's pristine Tongass National Forest, an intact temperate rainforest, to logging and development, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

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Schmidt Ocean Institute's R/V Falkor held position as the ROV SuBastian explored the new reef. Dean Miller / Schmidt Ocean Institute

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.

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A baby orangutan displaced by palm oil plantation logging is seen at Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Center in Borneo, Indonesia on May 27, 2017. Jonathan Perugia / In Pictures / Getty Images

The world's largest financial institutions loaned more than $2.6 trillion in 2019 to sectors driving the climate crisis and wildlife destruction, according to a new report from advocacy organization portfolio.earth.

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