The tragic fate of the Passenger Pigeon
September 3, 2014 01:46 PM - Joel Greenberg, Yale Environment360
This September 1 is the 100th anniversary of a landmark event in the history of biodiversity. On that day in 1914, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, Martha - the last surviving passenger pigeon - died at the Cincinnati Zoo. It is extraordinary to know with virtual certainty the day and hour when a species ceases to be a living entity. And it was a stunning development because less than half a century earlier, the passenger pigeon had been the most abundant bird in North America, if not the world. As late as the 1860s, passenger pigeons had likely numbered in the billions, and their population was neither evenly distributed across the landscape nor in any way subtle. These birds had a propensity for forming huge aggregations that are difficult to imagine today. John James Audubon, America's best-known student of birds, recorded a flight of passenger pigeons along the Ohio River in Kentucky that eclipsed the sun for three days. Other accounts, written over the course of three centuries and in several languages, testify to the birds darkening the sky for hours at a time over the major cities of the eastern third of the United States and Canada.
How Farm Pests Can Threaten Food Security
September 2, 2014 12:49 PM - Tim Radford, The Ecologist
Agricultural pests - viruses, bacteria, fungi, blights, mildews, rusts, beetles, nematodes, flies, mites, spiders and caterpillars - are spreading thanks to trade, travel and global warming, writes Tim Radford. The world faces a dire future of increased crop losses and growing insecurity. Coming soon to a farm near you: just about every possible type of pest that could take advantage of the ripening harvest in the nearby fields.
How did humans domesticate wild rabbits?
August 30, 2014 10:23 AM - University of Montana via EurekAlert
Until recently, little has been known about what genetic changes transform wild animals into domesticated ones. An international team of scientists, one of whom is a University of Montana assistant professor, has made a breakthrough by showing that genes controlling the development of the brain and the nervous system were particularly important for rabbit domestication. The study was published Aug. 28 in Science and gives answers to many genetic questions.
Puffins in New England
August 29, 2014 03:36 PM - PETER BAKER/ecoRI News contributor
I can't help but smile when I see a puffin, and I know I'm not alone. Thousands of people board tour boats each summer in Maine to get a glimpse of these charming seabirds with their tuxedo plumage and rainbow beaks. But what's in those beaks is serious business. The forage fish that puffin parents bring back to their island nests mean the difference between life and death for the chicks, and the past few years offer stark evidence of what happens when those fish become scarce.
"Global Roadmap" Created to Balance Development with Environmental Protection
August 28, 2014 11:49 AM - Morgan Erickson-Davis, MONGABAY.COM
Roads make it possible to bring goods to market, to get to the office, to log a forest, to hunt its wildlife. Without roads, human society as we know it could not exist. However, to build roads, trees must be cleared and swamps drained, shrinking valuable wildlife habitat and fragmenting populations in the process. A new study, published today in Nature, unveils an innovative map that defines which areas of the world would best be used to build roads — and which should be left alone. Scientists estimate more than 25 million kilometers of new roads will be built worldwide by 2050, representing a 60 percent increase over 2010 numbers. Many of these are slated for environmentally valuable places with high numbers of unique species and pristine forest, such as the Amazon Basin.
Monarch Butterflies need Endangered Species Act protection
August 28, 2014 09:49 AM - Alicia Graef, Care2
As monarch butterflies are beginning their epic migration from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico for the winter, concerns about the drastic rate at which they're disappearing from the landscape have led environmental and health organizations to petition the government for federal protection. This week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking protection for monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.
Yawn Contagion in Wolves
August 27, 2014 04:15 PM - Editor, ENN
A yawn is defined as a reflex act of opening one's mouth and inhaling deeply. We yawn most often when we are tired or when we're bored. But we also always yawn when we see someone else doing it. Why? People say we can't help it - it's contagious! But what really triggers this involuntary tendency? According to studies, yawning when others do is a sign of empathy and a form of social bonding. And believe it or not, we're not the only species to exhibit these contagious behaviors. A new study published today in the journal PLOS ONE shows that wolves may also be susceptible to yawn contagion.
Dams vs. Rivers
August 27, 2014 08:40 AM - Editor, The Ecologist
A new 'State of the World's Rivers' database shows how the world's rivers have been impoverished by dams and their ecosystems devastated - and provides a valuable resource to help save river basins that remain in good health. International Rivers has launched 'The State of the World's Rivers', an interactive online database that illustrates the role that dams have played in impoverishing the health of the world's river basins.
How Geckos can walk on the ceiling
August 25, 2014 11:26 AM - Roger Greenway, ENN
Ever wonder how lizards like Geckos can walk up walls and even across the ceiling? Is it sticky feet, anti-gravity, or what? Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a model that explains how geckos, as well as spiders and some insects, can run up and down walls, cling to ceilings, and seemingly defy gravity with such effortless grace. This ability, outlined today in the Journal of Applied Physics, is a remarkable mechanism in the toes of geckos that uses tiny, branched hairs called "seta" that can instantly turn their stickiness on and off, and even "unstick" their feet without using any energy.
Electricity from silk cocoons?
August 25, 2014 08:59 AM - Richa Malhotra, SciDevNet
Researchers in India say they have developed a prototype of an energy-harvesting device from the cocoons of a domesticated species of silk moth. They hope to put the technology to practical use while also tackling waste materials from the silk processing industry.