Ecosystems

Rice crops that can save farmers money and cut pollution
July 29, 2016 03:31 PM - University of Toronto via ScienceDaily

A new U of T Scarborough study has identified "superstar" varieties of rice that can reduce fertilizer loss and cut down on environmental pollution in the process.

The study, authored by U of T Scarborough Professor Herbert Kronzucker in collaboration with a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, looked at 19 varieties of rice to see which ones were more efficient at using nitrogen.

"We have this bucolic idea of agriculture -- animals grazing or vast fields of majestic crops -- but the global reality is it's one of the biggest drivers of environmental pollution and climate change," says Kronzucker.

Changing Arctic Tundra Could Radically Alter Shorebird Breeding Grounds
July 29, 2016 03:21 PM - Yale Environment 360

A new study projects that global warming could dramatically affect the tundra breeding habitat of 24 shorebird species, with 66 percent to 83 percent losing most of their suitable nesting territories. Researchers modeled breeding conditions for these migratory shorebird species — some of which travel more than 10,000 miles from Antarctica or southern South America to breed in the Arctic — and compared projected 21st century conditions to the last major warming event more than 6,000 years ago. 

Videos reveal birds, bats and bugs near Ivanpah solar project power towers
July 27, 2016 04:15 PM - Us Geological Survey via EurekAlert!

Video surveillance is the most effective method for detecting animals flying around solar power towers, according to a study of various techniques by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System facility in southeastern California.

This study is the first to examine a variety of remote sensing and sampling techniques to determine which technology might be most effective for monitoring how solar power facilities impact flying animals. The information will be used to further study the effects of solar power infrastructure on flying animals -- a subject about which little is known -- and to develop ways to lessen harmful effects.

At Ivanpah, evidence of flying animals impacted by intense heat near the solar towers had been observed. The new study showed that although birds and bats were occasionally seen near the towers at Ivanpah, most observations involved insects.

Cod and climate
July 27, 2016 02:53 PM - University of California - Santa Barbara via EurekAlert!

In recent decades, the plight of Atlantic cod off the coast of New England has been front-page news. Since the 1980s in particular, the once-seemingly inexhaustible stocks of Gadus morhua-- one of the most important fisheries in North America -- have declined dramatically.

In 2008, a formal assessment forecasted that stocks would rebound, but by 2012, they were once again on the verge of collapse. Two years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instituted an unprecedented six-month closure of the entire Gulf of Maine cod fishery to allow stocks to recover.

While overfishing is one known culprit, a new study co-authored by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Columbia University finds that the climatological phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is also a factor. And it contributes in a predictable way that may enable fishery managers to protect cod stocks from future collapse. The group's findings appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

Rainforest greener during 'dry' season
July 26, 2016 04:28 PM - University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) via ScienceDaily

Although the Amazon Jungle may appear to be perpetually green, a University of Illinois researcher believes there are actually seasonal differences of photosynthesis, with more occurring during the dry season and less during the wet season. Understanding how a rainforest that occupies 2.7 million square miles of South America functions is crucial to the future health of the entire planet.

"With the potential negative effects of climate change, one key question we are trying to answer in the study of tropical ecology is how a tropical forest responds during a long-term drought," says Kaiyu Guan, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois. "If we don't know their daily performance or their seasonal performance, what confidence can we have to predict the forests' future 20 years, 30 years, or longer?"

Distant volcanic eruptions foster saguaro cacti baby booms
July 25, 2016 05:07 PM - Ecological Society of America via EurekAlert!

One hundred and thirty years ago, the volcano Krakatoa erupted in what is now Indonesia, unleashing a cataclysm locally and years of cool temperatures and rain globally. On the far side of the world, a bumper crop of saguaro cacti were getting their start in life in Arizona's Sonoran Desert. Many of the large exemplars of the famous cacti standing spiny and tall with arms akimbo in the Southwest today started their lives in the shadow of the 1883 eruption.

Biogeographer Taly Drezner believes that distant volcanic paroxysms and the emergence of bountiful saguaro age-mate cohorts are connected. Volcanic climate perturbations that delivered disastrously cold and stormy weather to much of the Northern Hemisphere generated a combination of conditions in the Sonoran Desert that were just right for the delicate young cacti. Drezner will present her research on the first known example of regional population effects on a species from volcanic eruptions in distant parts of the world on 9 August 2016 at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, gathering this year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Marine carbon sinking rates confirm importance of polar oceans
July 25, 2016 03:52 PM - University of Washington via EurekAlert!

About the same amount of atmospheric carbon that goes into creating plants on land goes into the bodies of tiny marine plants known as plankton. When these plants die and sink, bacteria feed on their sinking corpses and return their carbon to the seawater. When plankton sink deep enough before being eaten, this carbon is taken out of circulation as a greenhouse gas to remain trapped in the deep ocean for centuries.

How much of this happens in different regions of the ocean would seem like an academic question, except during an era when humanity is spewing carbon dioxide into the air at record-high levels and wondering where all that carbon will go in the future.

A University of Washington study published this week (July 25) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses a new approach to get a global picture of the fate of marine carbon. It finds that the polar seas export organic carbon to the deep sea, where it can no longer trap heat from the sun, about five times as efficiently as in other parts of the ocean.

Spiders spin unique phononic material
July 25, 2016 01:50 PM - Rice University via EurekAlert!

New discoveries about spider silk could inspire novel materials to manipulate sound and heat in the same way semiconducting circuits manipulate electrons, according to scientists at Rice University, in Europe and in Singapore.

A paper in Nature Materials today looks at the microscopic structure of spider silk and reveals unique characteristics in the way it transmits phonons, quasiparticles of sound.

The research shows for the first time that spider silk has a phonon band gap. That means it can block phonon waves in certain frequencies in the same way an electronic band gap - the basic property of semiconducting materials - allows some electrons to pass and stops others.

The researchers wrote that their observation is the first discovery of a "hypersonic phononic band gap in a biological material."

Global Economy Has Reduced Its Energy Intensity by One-Third Since 1990
July 25, 2016 01:41 PM -

The global economy is becoming less energy intensive, using fewer fossil fuels to power productivity and economic growth, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy. Global energy intensity — a measure of energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) — has decreased nearly one-third since 1990, the agency said. The U.S., for example, burned 5,900 British thermal units per dollar of GDP in 2015, compared to 6,600 BTUs in 2010.

Bird ranges vary more than thought
July 24, 2016 01:32 PM - University of Massachusetts at Amherst via Science Daily

A new study of population trends among 46 ecologically diverse bird species in North America overturns a long-held assumption that the climate conditions occupied by a species do not change over time. Instead, birds that have increased in abundance over the last 30 years now occupy a wider range of climate conditions than they did 30 years ago, and declining species occupying a smaller range.

A new study of population trends among 46 ecologically diverse bird species in North America conducted by avian ecologist Joel Ralston and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst overturns a long-held assumption that the climate conditions occupied by a species do not change over time.

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