April 3, 2013 06:02 AM - WIldlife Conservation Society
A new paper says a discussion on the benefits and risks of synthetic biology to conservation is necessary. The potential exists to re-creating extinct species and to create genetically modified super-species. An upcoming conference at Clare College in Cambridge, England, will examine the nexus of synthetic biology and conservation What effects will the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology have on the conservation of nature? The ecological and ethical challenges stemming from this question will require a new and continuing dialogue between members of the synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation communities, according to authors of a new paper. According to the paper, the field of synthetic biology—a discipline that utilizes chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms that address human needs—is developing rapidly, with billions of dollars being invested annually. Many extol the virtues of synthetic biology as providing potential solutions to human health problems, food security, and energy needs. Advocates also see in synthetic biology tools for combating climate change and water deficits. Critics warn that genetically modified organisms could pose a danger to native species and natural ecosystems.
Sea Lion Keeps the Beat
April 2, 2013 02:07 PM - Allison Winter, ENN
A California sea lion named Ronan is now being known as the first non-human mammal that can keep the beat while rocking out to music. Scientists at the Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz have trained Ronan to bob her head in time with rhythmic sounds. Not only has she learned how to keep with the tempos, but she can transfer this skill to music she hasn't heard before.
Extreme Algal Bloom
April 1, 2013 03:35 PM - Andy Soos, ENN
An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae (typically microscopic) in an aquatic system. Algal blooms may occur in freshwater as well as marine environments. Typically, only one or a small number of phytoplankton species are involved, and some blooms may be recognized by discoloration of the water resulting from the high density of pigmented cells. Algal bloom concentrations may reach millions of cells per milliliter. Algal blooms are often green, but they can also be other colors such as yellow-brown or red, depending on the species of algae. A 2011 record-breaking algae bloom in Lake Erie was triggered by long-term agricultural practices coupled with extreme precipitation, followed by weak lake circulation and warm temperatures, scientists have discovered. The Carnegie researchers also predict that, unless agricultural policies change, the lake will continue to experience extreme blooms.
Pipeline Ruptured in Arkansas, Major Oil Spill
April 1, 2013 11:54 AM - Allison Winter, ENN
A leak from the Pegasus pipeline was discovered near Mayflower, Arkansas on Friday, leading to an estimated spill of over 10,000 barrels of Canadian Dilbit. Reports state that the pipeline was carrying Wabasca Heavy crude from western Canada when it ruptured. Wabasca Heavy is a type of diluted bitumen (a type of crude oil that is heavier than most conventional crude oil) from Alberta's tar sands region.
Using 'Biochar' To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
April 1, 2013 08:32 AM - Allison Winter, ENN
'Biochar' is the name for charcoal when it is used as a soil amendment. People add charcoal to land in order to increase soil fertility and agricultural productivity. In addition to these benefits, researchers are now saying that biochar has potential to mitigate climate change as it can help sequester carbon and thus cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
Black Bears return to Reno
March 29, 2013 06:21 AM - Wildlife Conservation Society
A new study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife ( NDOW) has pieced together the last 150 years of history for one of the state's most interesting denizens: the black bear. The study, which looked at everything from historic newspaper articles to more recent scientific studies, indicates that black bears in Nevada were once distributed throughout the state but subsequently vanished in the early 1900s. Today, the bear population is increasing and rapidly reoccupying its former range due in part to the conservation and management efforts of NDOW and WCS. Compelled in part by dramatic increases in human/bear conflicts and a 17-fold increase in bear mortalities due to collisions with vehicles reported between the early 1990s and mid- 2000s, WCS and NDOW began a 15-year study of black bears in Nevada that included a review of the animal’s little-known history in the state.
How Bird Flocks Work
March 28, 2013 04:10 PM - Andy Soos, ENN
Flocks of birds and how they seem to move together have always fascinated any observer of them. New research from the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge reveals for the first time that, contrary to current models used to explain the movement of flocks, the differences between bird species and social relationships between individuals play a critical role in determining the dynamics of mixed-species flocks. The unified behavior of bird flocks has puzzled scientists for hundreds of years. One naturalist from the turn of the century even suggested telepathy may be involved. There have since been less esoteric explanations, including mathematical models that show that repeated interactions among individuals following simple rules can generate coordinated group movements. However, these models usually rely on the assumption that individuals within groups are identical and interact independently, which may not reflect reality.
Scientists link frozen spring to dramatic Arctic sea ice loss
March 28, 2013 09:17 AM - John Vidal, The Ecologist
Climate scientists have linked the massive snowstorms and bitter spring weather now being experienced across Britain and large parts of Europe and North America to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice. Both the extent and the volume of the sea ice that forms and melts each year in the Arctic Ocean fell to an historic low last autumn, and satellite records published on Monday by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, show the ice extent is close to the minimum recorded for this time of year.
US Forest Service Reopens Caves Despite Risk to Bats
March 28, 2013 05:45 AM - Center for Biological Diversity
Despite the unabated threat of a devastating fungal disease that has already killed nearly 7 million hibernating bats, U.S. Forest Service officials released a plan today to rescind their three-year-old precautionary cave closure policy in the Rocky Mountain Region, including in Colorado and much of Wyoming and South Dakota. The new policy, described in an environmental assessment posted to the Forest Service website, reopens all caves in the region to recreational activities, nullifying an aggressive approach to containing white-nose syndrome unique among western federal land agencies. "This decision is a terrible blow to efforts to forestall the spread of this wildlife epidemic to the West," said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It’s extremely short-sighted, giving priority to the recreational interests of a small group of people over the survival of western bats, and it ignores all the benefits insect-eating bats provide to the rest of us, including farmers who depend on bats to save them millions of dollars in additional costs by containing crop pests."
Loss of wild pollinators could threaten food security
March 27, 2013 10:16 AM - Claudia Mazzeo, SciDevNet
The loss of wild pollinators from agricultural landscapes could threaten global crop yields, a study has found. Led by Lucas Garibaldi, an assistant professor at the National University of Río Negro in Argentina, a team of researchers compared fields containing many wild pollinators - mostly insects - with those containing few. They studied 41 crop systems across all continents except Antarctica to understand how the loss of wild pollinators impacts crop production.