Habitat loss threatens all our futures, world leaders warned

Habitat loss threatens all our futures, world leaders warned

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: November 17, 2018 SNIP: As a UN conference convenes to work out a new deal for protecting the planet’s biodiversity, the focus falls on the nations that are not attending. Amid the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs, the agenda at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh could hardly be more important, but the spirit of international collaboration appears to be as much at risk of extinction as the world’s endangered wildlife. The United States has never signed up and Brazil is among a growing group of countries where new nationalist leaders are shifting away from global cooperation. Media research suggests there is only one news story about UN biodiversity talks for every 20 about UN climate negotiations. Coverage tends to focus on a few totemic species, such as lions, chimpanzees and pandas, rather than the collapsing ecosystems on which we depend. Yet there is growing evidence that the crisis of the natural world has become as much of a threat to humankind and is amplifying the chaos in the world’s weather systems. Since 1970 humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, according to the latest Living Planet report by WWF, which warned that the loss of wildlife was now an emergency that is threatening our civilisation. This followed a report earlier this year that one in eight bird species is threatened with global...
‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

SOURCE: CBC DATE: November 17, 2018 SNIP: Last year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual event — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province. The eradication of trees like aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make room for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir. But experts say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common. When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their leaves are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are often referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles. The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry. If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical known more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide. “At the end of the day, we have rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s just nuts,” James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate...
Heatwaves can ‘wipe out’ male insect fertility

Heatwaves can ‘wipe out’ male insect fertility

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: November 13, 2018 SNIP: Heatwaves severely damage the fertility of male beetles and consecutive hot spells leave them virtually sterilised, according to research. Global warming is making heatwaves more common and wildlife is being annihilated, and the study may reveal a way in which these two trends are linked. The scientists behind the findings said there could also be some relevance for humans: the sperm counts of western men have halved in the last 40 years. Insects are such an integral part of life, as pollinators and prey, that scientists say their decline could lead to “ecological Armageddon”. Little is known about the precise causes of the decline, though climate change, habitat destruction and global use of pesticides are considered probable factors. The research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters; females were unaffected. After being exposed to a heatwave, the number of offspring produced by males fell by half. Even more worryingly, harmful effects were inherited by the males they produced – their lives were 20% shorter and they in turn produced fewer offspring. The most extreme impact was in male beetles exposed to two heatwaves 10 days apart – their offspring production fell by...
Protect the last of the wild

Protect the last of the wild

SOURCE: Nature DATE: October 31, 2018 SNIP: A century ago, only 15% of Earth’s surface was used to grow crops and raise livestock. Today, more than 77% of land (excluding Antarctica) and 87% of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities. Between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, areas that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions. Some conservationists contend that particular areas in fragmented and otherwise-degraded ecosystems are more important than undisturbed ecosystems. Fragmented areas might provide key services, such as tourism revenue and benefits to human health, or be rich in threatened biodiversity. Yet numerous studies are starting to reveal that Earth’s most intact ecosystems have all sorts of functions that are becoming increasingly crucial. Wilderness areas are now the only places that contain mixes of species at near-natural levels of abundance. They are also the only areas supporting the ecological processes that sustain biodiversity over evolutionary timescales. As such, they are important reservoirs of genetic information, and act as reference areas for efforts to re-wild degraded land and seascapes. Various analyses reveal that wilderness areas provide increasingly important refuges for species that are declining in landscapes dominated by people11. In the seas, they are the last regions that still contain viable populations of top predators, such as tuna, marlins and sharks. Safeguarding intact ecosystems is also key to mitigating the effects of climate change, which are...
Climate change is ‘escalator to extinction’ for mountain birds

Climate change is ‘escalator to extinction’ for mountain birds

SOURCE: BBC News DATE: October 29, 2018 SNIP: Researchers have long predicted many creatures will seek to escape a warmer world by moving towards higher ground. However, those living at the highest levels cannot go any higher, and have been forecast to decline. This study found that eight bird species that once lived near a Peruvian mountain peak have now disappeared. Researchers are particularly concerned about tropical mountain ranges and the impacts of climate change. The species that live in these regions are also hugely vulnerable because the difference in temperatures between lower and higher elevations in tropical regions is not as great as it is in other parts of the world. This means that moving up the slopes may not be as much of a solution for species in the tropics as it is elsewhere. The researchers say that recent warming constitutes an “escalator to extinction” for some of these species with temperatures in the area increasing by almost half a degree Celsius between the two surveys. Of 16 species that were restricted to the very top of the ridge, eight had disappeared completely in the most recent survey. The authors warn that rising temperatures will continue to drive widespread “extirpations and extinctions” of high-elevation animals and plants across the tropical Andes...