A Troubling Snag in the Comeback of the California Condor
August 8, 2016 04:40 PM - Matt Simon via Wired.com
IN THE EARLY ’80s, the California condor almost scavenged its way to extinction. The grisly-looking birds survive off the remains of animals, often leftovers shot by hunters. But those hunters often used lead ammunition. Condors were dying of lead poisoning, their numbers dropping as low as 22.
In one of conservation’s greatest success stories, a frantic captive breeding program brought the huge, glorious scavenger roaring back; today, the condors number close to 450, over half of which are wild. While an outright ban on lead ammunition won’t kick in until 2019, aggressive public education has helped safeguard the species—inland at least. But scientists have found a new threat to the reestablished condors: extremely high levels of mercury and the pesticide DDT in the birds’ blood. This time, it’s an appetite for marine mammal flesh that may threaten the condor.
Lake Tanganyika fisheries declining from global warming
August 8, 2016 03:47 PM - University of Arizona via EurekAlert!
The decrease in fishery productivity in Lake Tanganyika since the 1950s is a consequence of global warming rather than just overfishing, according to a new report from an international team led by a University of Arizona geoscientist.
The lake was becoming warmer at the same time in the 1800s the abundance of fish began declining, the team found. The lake's algae - fish food - also started decreasing at that time.
Boats Are Killing Manatees in Record Numbers
August 8, 2016 07:04 AM - Alicia Graef, Care2
Manatee advocates are raising concerns about the number of these gentle giants who have been killed in Florida this year. They hope that increased vigilance and other measures will help keep this from being the worst year on record.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has already counted 71 manatees killed by boats as of July 22. The numbers are already higher than they were for the same period in 2009, which was the deadliest year on record with a total of 97 deaths.
First evidence of sleep in flight
August 4, 2016 07:12 AM - Max Planck Society
For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. Together with an international team of colleagues, Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigatebirds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.
Giant forest fires exterminate spotted owls
August 3, 2016 07:17 AM - University of Wisconsin-Madison
As climate changes and wildfires get larger, hotter and more frequent, how should public lands in the American West be managed to protect endangered creatures that, like the spotted owl, rely on fire-prone old-growth forests?
Could periodic forest thinning and prescribed burns intended to prevent dangerous “megafires” help conserve owls in the long run? Or are those benefits outweighed by their short-term harm to owls? The answer depends in part on just how big and bad the fires are, according to a new study.
In a report published Aug. 1 that may help quiet a long-simmering dispute about the wisdom of using forest thinning and prescribed burns to reduce the “fuel load” and intensity of subsequent fires, a University of Wisconsin—Madison research group has documented an exodus of owls following the fierce, 99,000 acre King Fire in California in 2014.
Antarctic sea ice may be a source of mercury in Southern Ocean fish and birds
August 1, 2016 09:27 PM - University of Melbourne
New research has found methylmercury – a potent neurotoxin – in sea ice in the Southern Ocean.
Published today in the journal Nature Microbiology, the results are the first to show that sea-ice bacteria can change mercury into methylmercury, a more toxic form that can contaminate the marine environment, including fish and birds.
If ingested, methylmercury can travel to the brain, causing developmental and physical problems in foetuses, infants and children.
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.
Butterflies use differences in leaf shape to distinguish between plants
July 28, 2016 04:46 PM - Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution via EurekAlert!
The preference of Heliconius butterflies for certain leaf shapes is innate, but can be reversed through learning. These results support a decades-old theory for explaining the evolution of the exceptional diversity of leaf shapes in passionflowers.
The tropical butterfly Heliconius eratodistinguishes between shapes, and uses them as a cue for choosing the plants on which to feed and lay eggs, shows new research by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The butterfly has an innate preference for passionflowers with particular leaf shapes, but can learn to overcome this preference in favor of other shapes, especially those that are the most abundant in the local flora. These preferences can promote the evolution of plant biodiversity.
First whale detected by newly deployed acoustic buoy in New York Bight
July 28, 2016 04:15 PM - Wildlife Conservation Society via EurekAlert!
A new acoustic buoy recently deployed by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and WCS's (Wildlife Conservation Society) New York Aquarium to listen for some of the world's biggest animals in the New York Bight has detected its first whale species, and it's a really big one.
Fixed in position some 22 miles south of Fire Island and fitted with a digital acoustic monitoring instrument, the hi-tech buoy is now operational and has detected the vocalizations of fin whales, enormous marine mammals second in size only to the blue whale, the largest animal species on earth. The first whale detection was made on Monday, July 4th, only 12 days after the buoy was placed in its current position on June 23rd.
Since that time, the buoy has made several fin whale detections; the most recent vocalizations were detected yesterday (July 27th) and today.
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.