Drifters ... Dolphins drift toward a fishing village on Manilla Bay / Reuters
Friendly ... Fishermen watch dolphins swim away from the shoreline on Manilla Bay / Reuters
MORE than 200 dolphins have beached themselves on Manila Bay in the Philippines.
Residents saw huge pods of dolphins near the towns of Pilar and Abucay on the Bataan peninsula west of Manila.
Bataan governor Enrique Garcia said at least three had died.
"This is an unusual phenomenon," Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Malcolm Sarmiento told local radio, estimating the number of dolphins at "more than 200".
He said they could be reacting to a "heat wave or disturbance at sea" such as a possible major underwater earthquake.
Since they are mammals, the dolphins have ears that are sensitive to large changes in pressure underwater, he said.
"If their eardrums are damaged they become disorientated and they float up to the surface," he said.
Mr Sarmiento said authorities' first concern was to keep the dolphins alive, and experts were being summoned to the area to help.
He said smaller pods of dolphins numbering "in the tens and twenties" had beached themselves elsewhere in the Philippines previously, but this was the first time so many had done so at the same time and place.
The seastar Odontaster validus is a common and important predator on the shallow seafloor in Antarctica. This photo is from a depth of 100 feet below the ice near McMurdo Station. (Credit: Rich Aronson)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 9, 2009) — Climate change is about to cause a major upheaval in the shallow marine waters of Antarctica. Predatory crabs are poised to return to warming Antarctic waters and disrupt the primeval marine communities.
"Nowhere else than in these ecosystems do giant sea spiders and marine pillbugs share the ocean bottom with fish that have antifreeze proteins in their blood," says Rich Aronson, professor of biological sciences at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla. "The shell-cracking crabs, fish, sharks and rays that dominate bottom communities in temperate and tropical zones have been shut out of Antarctica for millions of years because it is simply too cold for them."
But this situation is about to change. "Populations of predatory king crabs are already living in deeper, slightly warmer water," says Aronson. "And increasing ship traffic is introducing exotic crab invaders. When ships dump their ballast water in the Antarctic seas, marine larvae from as far away as the Arctic are injected into the system."
Fast-moving, shell-crushing predators, dominant in most places, cannot operate in the icy waters of Antarctica. The only fish there—the ones with the antifreeze proteins—eat small, shrimp-like crustaceans and other soft foods. The main bottom dwelling predators are slow-moving sea stars and giant, floppy ribbon worms.
To understand their history, Aronson and a team of paleontologists collected marine fossils at Seymour Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. Linda Ivany of Syracuse University reconstructed changes in the Antarctic climate from chemical signals preserved in ancient clamshells. As temperatures dropped about 41 million years ago and crabs and fish were frozen out, the slow-moving predators that remained could not keep up with their prey. Snails, once out of danger, gradually lost the spines and other shell armor they had evolved against crushing predators.
Antarctica's coastal waters are warming rapidly. Temperatures at the sea surface off the western Antarctic Peninsula went up 1°C in the last 50 years, making it one of the fastest-warming regions of the World Ocean.
If the crab invasion succeeds, it will devastate Antarctica's spectacular fauna and fundamentally alter its ecological relationships. "That would be a tragic loss for biodiversity in one of the last truly wild places on earth," says Aronson. "Unless we can get control of ship traffic and greenhouse-gas emissions, climate change will ruin marine communities in Antarctica and make the world a sadder, duller place."
Aronson and his colleagues published their results in the electronic journal PLoS ONE to coincide with the U.S. National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions on Feb. 5.
Village Bird Study Highlights Loss Of Wildlife Knowledge From One Generation To Another
Wood pigeon. For three of the four species in question, the house sparrow, starling and wood pigeon, the accuracy with which villagers were able to judge whether numbers of these birds had gone up or down increased with age, showing that younger people were less able to accurately recognise how populations had changed over time. (Credit: iStockphoto/James Fraser)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — Our ability to conserve and protect wildlife is at risk because we are unable to accurately gauge how our environment is changing over time, says new research in Conservation Letters.
The study shows that people may not realise species are declining all around them, or that their local environment may have changed dramatically since their parents' and grandparents' days, and even in their own lifetime.
This could be bad news for conservation projects, because if people do not perceive there to be any degradation of the world around them, they may be less willing to engage in activities to conserve and protect the environment.
The new study provides the first evidence of so-called 'shifting baseline syndrome' - a conservation theory which says that people's perception of the environment is determined by what they see now, with their own eyes, and does not take into account what things were like in the past.
To test the theory scientists carried out a survey in the village of Cherry Burton, Yorkshire, to examine whether people were aware of changes in local bird populations over the last two decades. The researchers asked 50 village residents what they thought the three most common birds in the village were 20 years ago, and more recently, in 2006. Their answers were rated according to how close they came to getting the three most common birds correct for both dates, which were the wood pigeon, feral pigeon and starling in the earlier period, and in 2006 were the wood pigeon, blackbird and starling.
In addition, villagers were asked to say whether they thought populations of four easily recognisable birds - sparrows, starlings, bluetits and wood pigeons - had increased or declined in the village in the last 20 years. In reality, numbers of sparrows and starlings have declined in the area over this period, whilst wood pigeons and blue tits have increased.
The results showed that older people could more accurately name the three most common species in the past, whereas young and old residents were equally accurate when it came to naming the current common species. This indicates that all villagers are equally knowledgeable about the current state of bird populations, but that younger members of the community are less aware of past changes. Additionally, people who thought that there had been no change in bird populations were more likely to name birds that are common now, rather than those which were more common in the past.
For three of the four species, the house sparrow, starling and wood pigeon, the accuracy with which villagers were able to judge whether numbers of these birds had gone up or down increased with age, showing again that younger people were less able to accurately recognise how populations had changed over time.
These results suggest that wildlife knowledge is not being passed on from older to younger people, resulting in 'generational amnesia' where what is perceived as 'normal' by younger residents may in fact be quite different from circumstances a couple of decades ago. The study also provides evidence for the potential importance of 'personal amnesia' where people assume that what they see now is how the world has always been.
Sarah Papworth, a PhD student in Imperial College London's Department of Life Sciences, lead author of the paper, explains: "Our survey results indicate that the baseline has shifted in this village: in the course of a generation, changes in bird populations have been collectively 'forgotten' by the community. If this trend continues, this knowledge will be lost altogether in a couple more generations, and people will have little idea that their local wildlife was ever any different to what they see today with their own eyes."
Ms Papworth and her colleagues say that if shifting baseline syndrome is occurring in relation to bird populations in this Yorkshire village, then it is likely to be occurring in other areas, and in relation to other species and ecosystems too. This is a worry because it means people will more readily accept a degraded environment, if they do not know things were any better in the past.
Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, also from Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, co-author of the paper, says that action should be taken to now to ensure that community members keep themselves up to date with changes in their environments:
"This could involve encouraging younger members to talk to their elders about what their local area was like only a few years ago, or using historical accounts or old photographs to demonstrate changes visually. If we don't do this, then we risk sleepwalking through the degradation of our natural world, without realising what we are losing," she said.
In the meantime, she adds, conservationists may have to take shifting baseline syndrome into account when planning activities:
"It is more and more common for people to use local residents' recollections alongside traditional scientific methods when compiling data on changes in biodiversity over the years. This is a great way to engage local people with conservation and use their valuable knowledge. It's particularly useful in many parts of the world where there has been no previous scientific monitoring.
"However we do need to be careful to bear in mind that individual and collective memories of previous environmental conditions can be warped by time. Nothing can replace long-term independent monitoring of biodiversity trends in providing us with a baseline for conservation action," she concludes.
The research was led by Imperial College London, in collaboration with the Institute of Zoology and the University of Cambridge. It was funded by a range of organisations including the UK's Natural Environment Research Council.
Magellanic penguins are declining due to overfishing, climate change and pollution, new data says. (Credit: Graham Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 13, 2009) — Imagine you live in the suburbs of Chicago and you must commute hundreds of miles to a job in Iowa just to put food on the table. Magellanic penguins living on the Atlantic coast of Argentina face a similar scenario, and it is taking a toll.
The penguins' survival is being challenged by wide variability in conditions and food availability, said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington biology professor and a leading authority on Magellanic penguins.
For example, while one parent incubates eggs on the nest the other must go off to find food. But these days, Boersma said, penguins often must swim 25 miles farther to find food than they did just a decade ago.
"That distance might not sound like much, but they also have to swim another 25 miles back, and they are swimming that extra 50 miles while their mates are back at the breeding grounds, sitting on a nest and starving," she said.
Boersma has recently published research documenting some of the serious challenges faced by Magellanic penguins in a colony at Punta Tombo, Argentina, that she has studied for more than 25 years. She discusses her research Thursday (Feb. 12) during a news briefing and Friday during a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.
The Punta Tombo colony has declined more than 20 percent in the last 22 years, leaving just 200,000 breeding pairs, Boersma said.
There are several reasons for the decline, including oil pollution and overharvesting of fish by humans. Climate variation also is a major problem, she found.
Longer trips for food during a given breeding season lessen the chances that a given penguin pair will successfully reproduce. Some younger penguins move to colonies that are closer to food one year but might be farther away from food the following year. Increased ocean variability means penguins often return to their breeding grounds later and are in poorer condition to breed.
They also are increasingly subject to having their desert nests flooded by rain. Five times in the last 25 years, Boersma said, the Punta Tombo reserve has recorded about 2.5 inches of rain between Oct. 15 and Dec. 16, which threatens the survival of eggs and small chicks.
"That turns their little nests into swimming pools," she said.
In addition, there have been increasing instances of El Niño-like events that alter ocean currents, forcing penguins to travel farther for the fish on which they feed. Increasingly, Boersma has found that penguins she tagged at Punta Tombo years ago are turning up in colonies as much as 250 miles farther north. Birds migrating in search of food are forming the new colonies, but often they end up on land that is not part of a government preserve like Punta Tombo is.
The problems don't just confront Magellanic penguins, said Boersma, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Penguin Project. Of 17 penguin species, 12 are experiencing rapid population declines. The least concern is for the emperor, king, Adélie, little blue and chinstrap penguins, she said. All the rest are nearly threatened, threatened or endangered.
She noted that the success of Argentine fishing fleets is a good signal for how the Magellanic penguins will fare in a given winter as they store nutrition to prepare for the breeding season. There is a small anchovy fishery in the winter, and penguins also favor anchovies. But when the boats don't do well catching anchovies in the winter, that is bad news for penguins in the following breeding season.
"They do well when the fishermen are catching anchovies. If the fishermen are not successful, the penguins start to falter," Boersma said. "If the fishery expands and then collapses, as most do, the penguins will be in trouble.
"Penguins are having trouble with food on their wintering grounds and if that happens they're not going to come back to their breeding grounds," she said. "If we continue to fish down the food chain and take smaller and smaller fish like anchovies, there won't be anything left for penguins and other wildlife that depend on these small fish for food."
Of the world's 17 species of penguins 12 are rapidly declining Boersma added.
The salamander Bolitoglossa lincolni, which lives in a variety of habitats in the cloud forest above 2,400 meters elevation, is as abundant today as it was 40 years ago. (Credit: Sean M. Rovito/UC Berkeley)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 10, 2009) — The decline of amphibian populations worldwide has been documented primarily in frogs, but salamander populations also appear to have plummeted, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, biologists.
By comparing tropical salamander populations in Central America today with results of surveys conducted between 1969 and 1978, UC Berkeley researchers have found that populations of many of the commonest salamanders have steeply declined.
On the flanks of the Tajumulco volcano on the west coast of Guatemala, for example, two of the three commonest species 40 years ago have disappeared, while the third was nearly impossible to find.
"There have been hints before – people went places and couldn't find salamanders. But this is the first time we've really had, with a very solid, large database, this kind of evidence," said study leader David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and curator of herpetology in the campus's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
Frog declines have been attributed to a variety of causes, ranging from habitat destruction, pesticide use and introduced fish predators to the Chytrid fungus, which causes an often fatal disease, chytridiomycosis.
These do not appear to be responsible for the decline of Central American salamanders, Wake said. Instead, because the missing salamanders tend to be those living in narrow altitude bands, Wake believes that global warming is pushing these salamanders to higher and less hospitable elevations.
"We are losing some of these treasures of high-elevation and mid-elevation cloud forests in Central America," he said. "It is very worrying because it implies there are severe environmental problems."
Because several of the sampled salamander populations were in protected reserves, one message is that threatened species cannot be protected merely by putting a fence around their habitat. Global warming is affecting species even in protected areas – a phenomenon also documented among small mammals in Yosemite National Park by Museum of Vertebrate Zoology scientists.
Wake and long-time colleague Ted Papenfuss, a herpetologist in the museum, along with UC Berkeley graduate student Sean M. Rovito, Gabriela Parra-Olea of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Carlos R. Vásquez-Almazán of the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala City, report their findings this week in the Online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Missing frogs are easy to spot, Wake said, because they gather in ponds to breed, or they can be caught in the glare of a flashlight at night. Many salamanders, however, in particular the Plethodontid salamanders, which comprise two-thirds of all species worldwide, are secretive, living under logs and rocks. Nevertheless, anecdotal accounts have pointed to a salamander decline and an amphibian decline, in general.
Wake and Papenfuss had good records of salamander abundance along a transect up the southern slope of Volcán Tajumulco with which to compare current populations, which they resurveyed in 2005 and 2006. In addition, they compared salamander populations today at six sites in Mexico to data that Wake and Papenfuss have collected since the mid-1970s.
In Guatemala, those salamanders with narrow elevational niches and living exclusively under logs were most affected, while salamander "generalists" able to live in a variety of habitats, from leaf axils and bromeliads to moss mats, bark and burrows in the soil, were in about the same abundance as before. There was little evidence of Chytrid fungus, and habitat quality is generally similar to what it was in the 1970s. A nearby volcano with several of the same affected species is a nature reserve, and surprisingly, only a single salamander was discovered on two trips.
"We think global warming is a factor, pushing organisms up to higher elevations where the habitat is wrong for them," Wake said. "The ones that were already high up have taken the hit."
In Mexico, the decline was most evident in Cerro San Felipe, a reserve in Oaxaca, among species living around 2,800-3,000 meters, which is the maximum height of mountains in the range. There, Papenfuss said, the commonest species, Pseudoeurycea smithi, has virtually disappeared. Where he had formerly uncovered hundreds in a single morning, he has found only one or two in last 10 years.
"It may be that those species are being pushed right off the tops of the mountains," Wake said.
The problem extends all the way to Mexico City. North of the capital, in the Parque Nacional El Chico in Hidalgo, formerly "a paradise for salamanders," populations are radically reduced.
Wake noted that species that depend on salamanders, such as a salamander-eating snake, have also declined significantly.
"The problem is, these animals used to be a very important element of mid- and high-elevation communities," he said. "They probably were the commonest vertebrates. In North American forests, it has been documented that salamanders are not only the commonest vertebrate, but by biomass have the greatest weight in the ecosystem. You can't remove something like that without a profound effect on the ecosystem."
The work was supported by the University of California Institute for Mexico; the AmphibiaTree Project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation; and UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
Seamounts May Serve As Refuges For Deep-sea Animals That Struggle To Survive Elsewhere
Deep-water corals on the crest of Davidson Seamount grow to over two meters (6 feet) tall. Although these corals are not unique to seamounts, they often grow particularly large and lush in these unique underwater habitats. (Credit: Copyright 2006 NOAA / MBARI)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009) — Over the last two decades, marine biologists have discovered lush forests of deep-sea corals and sponges growing on seamounts (underwater mountains) offshore of the California coast. It has generally been assumed that many of these animals live only on seamounts, and are found nowhere else.
However, two new research papers show that most seamount animals can also be found in other deep-sea areas. Seamounts, however, do support particularly large, dense clusters of these animals. These findings may help coastal managers protect seamounts from damage by human activities.
Tens of thousands of seamounts dot the world's ocean basins. Although some shallower seamounts have been used as fishing grounds, few seamounts have been studied in detail. Davidson Seamount, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) offshore of the Big Sur coast, is an exception. Since 2000, researchers have spent over 200 hours exploring its slopes and peaks using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Tiburon.
Two of the expeditions to Davidson Seamount were led by Andrew DeVogelaere of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and were funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Exploration. Other expeditions were funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (through MBARI) and were led by MBARI biologist James Barry, who studies seafloor animals, and by geologist David Clague, who studies undersea volcanoes.
Following each expedition to Davidson Seamount, marine biologists at MBARI studied high-resolution video taken by the ROV and identified every animal they could see. Over 60,000 of these observations were entered in MBARI's video annotation and reference system (VARS). Craig McClain and Lonny Lundsten, the lead authors of the two recent papers, used the VARS database to find out which animals were unique to Davidson Seamount and which had been seen elsewhere.
Altogether, 168 different species of animals were observed on Davidson Seamount. McClain's search of the VARS database showed that 88% of these animals had also been seen or reported in other deep seafloor areas, such as the walls of Monterey Canyon. Three quarters of the species on Davidson were not even unique to the California coast, and had been seen in seafloor areas over 1000 kilometers (620 miles) away, including the Hawaiian Islands, the Sea of Japan, and Antarctica.
Only about seven percent of the species at Davidson Seamount had never been seen anywhere else. Of these 12 apparently "endemic" species, most were new to science. Thus, their full ranges are still unknown.
Although few animals are "endemic" to Davidson Seamount, the research demonstrated that this seamount does support distinctive groups of animals, which are dominated by extensive "forests" of large, "old-growth" corals and sponges. These same species of corals and sponges also grow on the walls of Monterey Canyon, but usually as smaller, scattered individuals. Conversely, sea cucumbers are common on the walls of Monterey Canyon, but are rare at Davidson Seamount. Thus, animals that are common on Davidson Seamount are uncommon in other seafloor areas, and vice versa.
The researchers speculate that Davidson Seamount is a good habitat for deep-sea corals and sponges because it has favorable bottom materials (bare lava rock), a steady food supply (drifting particles of the right size and type), and may be less disturbed by strong bottom currents than other seafloor areas. Craig McClain, one of the lead authors, explains, "The large groves of corals and sponges are unique to seamounts. The crests of seamounts are particularly good because they provide flat rocky surfaces that don't accumulate much sediment. This is partly due to the fact that seamounts are so far offshore."
In contrast, McClain points out, "When you look at the seafloor in Monterey Canyon, it's mucky. That makes it tough for filter feeders, especially sponges. Any flat surface in the canyon collects mud. This makes it tough for corals to settle anywhere except on near-vertical surfaces. Just staying attached to these surfaces can be a challenge in itself."
McClain and Lundsten's research also suggests that seamounts such as Davidson Seamount may be ecologically important as breeding grounds for animals that are rare in other habitats. As McClain writes in his paper, "seamounts are likely to be sources of larvae that maintain populations of certain species in sub-optimal, non-seamount sinks." He explains, "Sources are places where certain species do really well—they're self sustaining populations. Sinks are areas where these species can live, but do very poorly. Populations in sink areas will die out if they're not continuously replenished by new animals from source areas." The researchers suggest that future DNA studies of seamount animals would help scientists find out if seamounts are indeed sources of larvae for other seafloor areas.
Lundsten's paper emphasizes the fact that not all seamounts are alike. For example, Rodriguez Seamount, a smaller seamount offshore of Point Conception, once extended above sea level. Thus, Rodriguez Seamount has a flat, sediment-covered crest that is partially covered with ancient beach sands. These sands have been colonized by a very different set of animals from those at Davidson Seamount. In fact, sea cucumbers are the most abundant animals on Rodriguez Seamount.
In 2008, Davidson Seamount was added to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Findings from McClain's and Lundsten's papers will provide critical information for managing Davidson Seamount, and could be useful in other sea-life protection efforts around the world. Prior to this study, seamounts were considered isolated biological "islands," which might require management to protect certain unique species. This study, on the other hand, suggests that seamounts should be managed as entire communities, whose dense populations of animals release larvae that help colonize other, less optimum environments. Either way, the authors point out, seamounts are well worthy of our protection.
Ivory trade hits Asia's elephants By Jonathan Head BBC News, Bangkok
Conservationists say much of the demand for ivory originates in China
The illegal ivory trade in Vietnam is threatening the survival of South East Asia's dwindling elephant population, a wildlife monitoring organisation says.
Ivory prices in Vietnam are higher than anywhere else in the world, indicating rising demand, researchers from the international group, Traffic, found.
Around 4,000 tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year.
There are thought to be fewer than 150 elephants left in the wild in Vietnam.
The trade in ivory was officially banned in Vietnam 16 years ago - but because of a loophole in the law allowing shops to sell tusks obtained before that year, the trade still carries on.
Traffic, the international organisation that monitors the wildlife trade, believes the ivory business could be growing again in Vietnam, after a survey showed prices were higher there than anywhere else in the world.
Tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year - and the source of these products remains a cause of acute concern to conservationists.
A combination of decades of war, followed by rapid economic and population growth, has degraded many of Vietnam's own forests.
But in Laos, the communist state next door, which has long been under the sway of its more powerful neighbours, there are still extensive forests, with perhaps 1,000 elephants living wild.
These forests and their inhabitants are being plundered at an alarming rate, say conservation groups, to feed demand in Vietnam and China.
A recent study by the WWF found more than 1,000 new species of animal in this region, evidence of its rich biodiversity.
Traffic is asking the Vietnamese government to improve what it describes as erratic monitoring of illegal elephant products, and to close the legal loopholes that allow the ivory trade to continue.
With only about 100 individuals remaining in the wild, it's vital that this young cao-vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus) learns to fend for itself. The Critically Endangered species only found in one location, on the border between Vietnam and China (Image: Fauna and Flora International)
The Pelagonemertes rollestoni. Scientists found that at least 235 species live in both polar regions despite being 6,800 miles apart. Photograph: Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska Fairbanks/Census of Marine Life
Global warming is changing the distribution, abundance and diversity of marine life in the polar seas with "profound" implications for creatures further up the food chain, according to scientists involved in the most comprehensive study of life in the oceans ever conducted.
Researchers from the Arctic Ocean Diversity (Arcod) project have documented rising numbers of warm-water crustaceans in the seas around Norway's Svalbard Islands. Arcod is part of the Census of Marine Life, a huge 10-year project involving researchers in more than 80 nations that aims to chart the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans.
They say an increasing number of these species are extending their range towards the poles as previously cold waters between Norway and the North Pole become warmer and more hospitable.
The team, led by Dr Rolf Gradinger, from the University of Alaska, also collected evidence from the polar Chukchi Sea, between Russia and Alaska, which showed that at least three species have extended their range northwards by up to 500km. The most notable is the snow crab, which has crossed the Bering Strait and is occurring in the Chukchi Sea for the first time.
"This is an example of a general trend we are observing where water is warming further north and making this region more suitable for southerly species," Gradinger said.
The Census is a huge 10-year project involving researchers in more than 80 nations that aims to chart the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans.
The team also found that smaller species are replacing larger ones in some Arctic waters, a shift which could have profound implications further up the food chain.
"We are finding two smaller species of plankton. This difference in size is big enough to cause a problem for the breeding populations of birds and whales as they will be forced to eat smaller species that has less energy content."
Gradinger's team of scientists from the University of Alaska and the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology in Moscow has collected its findings over five years. Their research has been released in conjunction with another survey from the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) following a series of expeditions during International Polar Year 2007-08. Both projects will contribute data on polar regions to the global Census of Marine Life, which is due to be released in 2010.
"In oceanographical terms these [Arctic] changes are huge," said Gradinger. "A change in temperature of just a few degrees will see the loss of sea ice cover and with it the sea ice algae, small animals and crustaceans which depend on it. By 2050 the arctic oceans may be ice free, we will lose these animals and that will have implications further up the food chain."
"From an Arctic perspective it's not only about an increase in temperature, it's a complete change in the ecosystem - salinity, ice melt, flow, currents - all of these together will have an impact."
The Antarctic team also reported evidence that some species of pteropods - snail-like species also known as sea butterflies - are moving further towards the pole. "It is similar to the Arctic – animals adapted to cold water environments are having to head to the poles to keep to colder climes as northern waters warm," said Dr Julian Gutt of the CAML.
By comparing notes, Arcod and CAML scientists found that at least 235 species live in both polar regions despite being 6,800 miles (11,000km) apart. Marine life that both poles share includes grey whales, birds, worms, crustaceans and pteropods. Scientists say the discovery opens a host of future research questions over where they originated and how they ended up at opposite ends of the earth.
Another major finding from the 18 research expeditions conducted by CAML during 2007-08 has revealed that life on the seafloor around the Antarctic continent forms a single bioregion - not separate ecosystems, as previously thought. Sampling from 1m locations around the 5,300 miles (8,500km) of Antarctic seafloor - or benthos - has also confirmed that the system is united by a single high-speed current.
"These findings are a major part of new information because so little was really known historically about these regions," said Ron O'Dor, the chief scientist of the census.
Gradinger added: "It's extremely difficult to get information from polar seas because we don't have good historical data. But we must collect data now to evaluate the impact of climate change and the use of the seas for tourism, fishing and shipping. With the warming of Arctic commercial exploitation might increase and therefore it's important to document what species are occurring currently."
Scientists from around the world have been involved in 17 different marine projects that will inform the census, a 10-year project that will provide a snapshot of life in the world's oceans.
The Earth's ice oceans have already revealed some secrets that have excited scientists. Last year at team of British Antarctic Survey scientists working on the census found that seas surrounding an archipelago near the tip of the Antarctic peninsula are richer in animal life than the Galapagos Islands, challenging the notion that warm seas in tropical zones are higher in biodiversity.
In February last year, giant sea creatures, including sea spiders the size of dinner plates and jellyfish with six-metre long tentacles, were found by Australian scientists working on a census project in the deep waters around Antarctica.
Truckloads of fish dying in the Murray Article from: The Daily Telegraph
By Brad Watts
February 20, 2009 12:00am
HIGHER temperatures and a lack of constant water flow in the Murray River are killing scores of "priceless" Murray cod.
Thousands of native fish - including huge cod almost 100-years-old - have choked to death due to a lack of oxygen in tributaries of the river near Deniliquin, in the state's south.
Exclusive photographs obtained by The Daily Telegraph reveal the severity of the problem in Colligen Creek, where farmers were forced to scoop up the dead fish - some weighing up to 40kg - with tractors.
Local landowners are outraged while the Federal Opposition has labelled the disaster an "environment catastrophe".
"It's just criminal as these are priceless native fish dying and being wiped out," Wakool landowner John Lolicato told The Daily Telegraph.
Liberal MHR for Farrer Sussan Ley said the problem illustrated the intensity of the drought and "there's no greater environmental vandalism than a mass fish kill".
"Some of the older residents actually got to know the fish - that's made it even harder," she said.
Without a constant flow of water along the Wakool River system - which adjoins the Murray near the Victorian border - the fish have no oxygen in the "heated up" water and have been dying en masse.
NSW water authorities have attempted to solve the problem by sending a "pulse" of water along the tributaries, including the Neimur River, Yallakook Creek and Merran Creek, but the move has backfired.
"They have no idea how the systems work and it has killed more fish. It turned from one disaster to a bigger disaster," said landowner Shane McNaul, who revealed that authorities have now built a dam this week to stop the "bad" water going any further.
The farmers want the Federal Government to pump a "constant" water flow in the river system, which supplies 600 businesses and households and thousands of stock animals.
Fingers are pointing at Water Minister Penny Wong. "She's the one with all the water." Ms Ley said.
A spokeswoman for Senator Wong said the Government was well aware of the critical situation in the Murray-Darling Basin. "We have committed $3.1 billion to purchase water to put back into the basin's stressed rivers and wetlands," she said.
But locals say they need more water. "We need a very small constant flow of about 200 megalitres per day which would do the whole thing," Mr McNaul said.
High and dry ... John Kersey at Nangiloc, 35km upstream from Mildura. Pic Tom Klein
Aerial view of wetlands near the mouth of the Murray River at Coorong, South Australia. Pic. Kelly Barnes
Barren landscape where water has been drained from wetlands adjacent to the Murray River at Loveday, south of Cobdogla, SA. Pic. Brenton Edwards
The mouth of the Murray River where it meets the Coorong Lake system and the Southern Ocean ,which is normally under water and is now dry at Goolwa in South Australia. Pic. Graham Crouch
Cruise operator Jock Veenstra stands in water which six months ago would have been up to his waist, in front of his boat 'Spirit of the Murray', at the Captain Sturt Marina on the River Murray at Goolwa. Veenstra is hoping for some good early rains this year. Pic. Kelly Barnes
Severe drought affecting NSW in the Murray River area. Pic. Dean Marzolla
Lake Michigan Fish Populations Threatened By Decline Of Tiny Creature
ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — The quick decline of a tiny shrimp-like species, known scientifically as Diporeia, is related to the aggressive population growth of non-native quagga mussels in the Great Lakes, say NOAA scientists. As invasive mussel numbers increase, food sources for Diporeia and many aquatic species have steadily and unilaterally declined.
A recent research study from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Laboratory published this week in Freshwater Biology documents the recent decline of Diporeia and the explosive growth of quagga mussels in Lake Michigan. Over the past five years quagga mussels have displaced native Diporeia as the dominant bottom dwelling organism, leading to a major disruption in the lake’s food web.
“Quagga mussels have displaced other more energy-rich food sources and leave fish and other aquatic species with fewer food options,” said Tom Nalepa, NOAA research biologist. “The invasive mussels are low in calories and their shell has no nutritional value. Fish feeding on quagga mussels expend considerable energy crushing and passing the indigestible shell.”
Scientists at the NOAA Great Lakes lab project that impacts on fish populations will continue and become more pronounced as quagga mussels further spread to all depths occupied by the dwindling Diporeia. It is estimated that the mass of quagga mussels in the lake is now about four times the mass of all prey fish.
In Lake Michigan, declines in Diporeia masses were first observed in the early 1990s soon after the discovery of invasive mussels in the Great Lakes. By 2005, lake populations of the tiny shrimp decreased 96 percent in the 10-year period of the study, with further observations indicating recovery of Diporeia improbable once it has disappeared.
Historical Photographs Expose Decline In Florida's Reef Fish, Study Finds
Trophy fish caught on Key West charter boats: a) 1957, b) early 1980s and c) 2007. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - San Diego)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) — A unique study by a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego has provided fresh evidence of fishing's impact on marine ecosystems. Scripps Oceanography graduate student researcher Loren McClenachan accessed archival photographs spanning more than five decades to analyze and calculate a drastic decline of so-called "trophy fish" caught around coral reefs surrounding Key West, Florida.
In a paper published online in January and printed in an upcoming issue of the journal Conservation Biology, McClenachan describes a stark 88 percent decline in the estimated weight of large predatory fish imaged in black-and-white 1950s sport fishing photos compared to the relatively diminutive catches photographed in modern pictures. In a companion paper being published in the Endangered Species Research journal, McClenachan employs similar methods to document the decline of the globally endangered goliath grouper fish.
"These results provide evidence of major changes over the last half century and a window into an earlier, less disturbed fish community..." McClenachan said in the Conservation Biology paper.
McClenachan's studies are part of an emerging field called historical marine ecology, in which scientists study photographs, archives, news accounts and other records to help understand changes in the ocean ecosystem over time and establish baselines for future ecosystem restoration.
McClenachan believes that historical ecology can not only help describe the structure of ecosystems that existed in the recent past, but can be used to establish goals for restoration of large predators, both on land and in the water.
While conducting research for her doctoral thesis on coral reef ecosystems of the Florida Keys, McClenachan came across what she describes as a gold mine of photographic data at the Monroe County Library in Key West. Hundreds of archived photographs, snapped by professional photographer Charles Anderson and others, depict sport fishing passengers posing next to a hanging board used to determine the largest "trophy fish" catches of the day. All of the photographs document sport fishing trips targeting coral reef fishes around the Florida Keys. McClenachan supplemented the study with her own photographs and observations on sport fishing trips in 2007.
McClenachan calculated the mean size of the prize catches-including sharks, large groupers and other hefty fish in early photographs-and their decline from nearly two meters (6.5 feet) in length in the 1950s to contemporary catches of small fish such as snappers measuring a mere 34 centimeters (approximately one foot) on average. The fishes' average estimated weight dropped from nearly 19.9 kilograms (43.8 pounds) to 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds) from 1956 to 2007. The average length of sharks declined by more than 50 percent in 50 years, the photographs revealed.
"While the photographs in this study do not provide a direct measurement... they clearly demonstrate that large fish were more abundant in the past," said McClenachan.
Yet while McClenachan's study depicts significant changes over the last 50 years, she indicates in the paper that evidence exists showing that even the Florida Keys ecosystems of the 1950s were not pristine. Commercial fishing in the 1930s and 40s reduced populations of sharks, while numbers of large groupers declined through commercial fishing since at least the 1880s.
"The ongoing debate about the status of fisheries in the Florida Keys is a classic problem of the Shifting Baselines syndrome," says Scripps Professor Jeremy Jackson. "Managers mistakenly assume that what they saw in the 1980s was pristine, but most prized fish species had been reduced to a small fraction of their pristine abundance long before. Historical ecology provides the critical missing data to evaluate what we lost before modern scientific surveys began."
"I think the photos in this very original paper will make lots of people change their mind," said Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre and Zoology Department.
In separate studies, Scripps researchers recently uncovered fishing damages to coral reefs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Scientists studying at the Central Pacific Ocean's Line Islands archipelago have shown that coral reef ecosystems experience drastic changes, including evidence of bacteria-infested corals, when large fish are extracted from an island reef through overfishing, as compared with healthy coral ecosystems off islands that are not fished.
As an interesting side note, McClenachan mentions in her paper that the price of sport fishing trips has not declined in conjunction with the size and weight of the caught fish. Although trophy fish dropped more than 88 percent in average fish weight, the trip costs remained steady, ranging from $40 to $48 per person (adjusted for inflation), per day between 1956 and 2007.
"... The continued viability of sport fishing based on increasingly small individuals in a degraded reef environment indicates a decoupling of the health of the marine environment from the value of the marine-based tourism industry," McClenachan noted in the paper.
Funding for the study was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Preserve America Initiative, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Cooperative Institute; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Fellowship; and the Census of Marine Life History of Marine Animal Populations.
Decline Of Shorebird Linked To Bait Use Of Horseshoe Crabs
Horseshoe crab. Declining numbers of a shorebird called the red knot have been linked to bait use of horseshoe crabs. (Credit: iStockphoto/Dawn Hagan)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) — Declining numbers of a shorebird called the red knot have been linked to bait use of horseshoe crabs.
Long-term surveys of red knots showed that the average weight of red knots when they leave Delaware Bay has declined significantly since their primary food source, eggs of horseshoe crabs, has been reduced. The study also revealed that red knot survivorship is related to departure weight, and that the population size of red knots has declined by more than 75 percent.
"We concluded that the increased harvest of horseshoe crabs led to a reduction in the food supply for red knots at a critical period in their annual cycle, and this led to a dramatic decline in population size," said USGS scientist, Jon Bart, one of the authors of the study.
There is a long tradition in Delaware Bay of harvesting horseshoe crabs for use as bait in various fisheries. In the years from 1992 to 1997, reported harvest of crabs grew 20 fold from about 100,000 individuals harvested to more than 2 million. This newly released study shows that this increase in horseshoe crab harvest has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of spawning crabs and to a 90 percent decline in crab eggs available for shorebirds to eat.
Delaware Bay is globally recognized as an important feeding stopover for migrating shorebirds, especially red knots. Each year, red knots migrate from Arctic breeding grounds to the southern tip of South America and back, covering more than 18,600 miles. In May, large numbers of red knots congregate in the bay during their northward migration where they gorge on horseshoe crab eggs in preparation for their continued migration to the Arctic.
Concern over red knot populations led to restrictions in horseshoe crab harvest starting in 1997. But as Lawrence Niles, a biologist with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and senior author of the new study says, "Despite restrictions, the 2007 horseshoe crab harvest was still well above that of 1990, and no recovery of knots was detectable. Recovery of both horseshoe crabs and red knots may require more restrictions on horseshoe crab harvest, possibly even a complete moratorium for some period. We've proposed a program of adaptive management, including monitoring, that should result in the information managers need to find the right balance."
Fifteen scientists participated in the study, from a wide variety of federal, state, and nongovernmental entities.
1. Niles et al. Effects of Horseshoe Crab Harvest in Delaware Bay on Red Knots: Are Harvest Restrictions Working? BioScience, 2009; 59 (2): 153 DOI: 10.1525/bio.2009.59.2.8
Assisted Colonization Key To Species' Survival In Changing Climate
ScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2009) — Species are adapting slowly to climate change and 'assisted colonisation' can play a vital role in helping wildlife to survive in a warming world.
A team of researchers, led by biologists at Durham and York Universities, has shown that translocation to climatically-suitable areas can work and that butterflies can survive beyond their northern ranges if they're given a 'helping hand' to get to suitable new habitats.
The research, funded by NERC, aimed to examine the implications of climate change for the conservation and management of biodiversity by looking at the distribution of butterflies.
The research team ran a series of climate-change models to identify areas in northern England where, as a result of the climate warming of recent decades, butterflies found further south might thrive but which they had not yet reached. Researchers then transported Marbled White and Small Skipper butterflies to two of these climatically-suitable sites that were well beyond the butterflies' northern range boundaries.
Between 1999 and 2000, free flying individuals were collected from sites in North Yorkshire and translocated, using soft cages, to release sites in disused quarries in County Durham and Northumberland. These sites had ample suitable breeding habitat for the butterflies, and were chosen after careful discussion with local experts. After release, the introduced populations were monitored over the following 8 years.
The research, published in Conservation Letters, involved Durham University, the University of York, the University of Leeds, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Butterfly Conservation. The team's modelling shows that there is a lag between climate change and distribution change, and the practical results prove that butterflies can flourish in habitats that they might not normally be able to reach.
Professor Brian Huntley from Durham University said: "The success of the assisted colonisation demonstrates for the first time that moving species to areas identified as newly climatically-suitable can play a role in wildlife conservation. This is likely to be especially important for rare species and for those species that experience difficulty in crossing areas of unfavourable habitat."
"The results show that, although areas in the north are becoming suitable for a wider range of butterflies, shifts in butterfly distributions are lagging behind climate change because many species have limited mobility or struggle to cross large distances between sites offering suitable habitat."
Although butterflies can be a good indicator of climate change, colonisation of newly-suitable sites can be severely affected by land-use changes that lead to large gaps between suitable habitat patches. With shrinking habitats, the problem will be even more acute for weaker flying butterflies with more limited flight potentials.
Dr Jane Hill, from the Department of Biology at the University of York said: "Many British butterflies are declining because of habitat destruction. These results suggest that, providing there is little risk, assisted colonisation might be a cost-effective tool for conservation."
Prof. Huntley said: "Our experiment also demonstrate the reliability of our predictions of which areas are newly suitable as a result of recent climate change. This is important because, as climate continues to change this century, successful biodiversity conservation will require reliable predictions of species' responses to the changing climate."
The results illustrate the need for a rethink on urban and rural development policies – a sufficient density of habitat patches is vital to assist butterflies and other species to shift their distributions in response to climate change.
Richard Fox, Surveys Manager for the UK charity Butterfly Conservation, who collaborated in the research said: "Britain's butterflies are in steep decline largely due to the destruction and fragmentation of their habitats by human activity such as intensive farming and forestry, and urban development. The warming climate that Britain has experienced over the past few decades should have been a blessing for butterflies, but in reality few have benefited."
"Research, using millions of butterfly sightings collected by our volunteer observers, has suggested that even those butterflies that have spread northwards and colonised new territory as a result of climate change, have been held back by lack of habitat to act as stepping stones or green corridors. As climate change accelerates, more and more species will be threatened by it."
Five Facts about the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris):
1. Can be seen as a butterfly end of June to the start of August. 2. One of the most common species of butterfly. 3. Female lays her eggs on the grass species known as Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus). 4. The caterpillars spend the winter cocooned inside the grass stem. 5. Typical habitats are rough grass and downland, grass verges and woodland clearings.
Five Facts about the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea):
1. Beautiful patterns of striking black and white. 2. One of the more common species in the south. 3. Flies late June to early August. 4. The female drops her eggs to the ground rather than choosing a specific grass species. 5. The Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) and Sheep's Fescue (F. ovina) are the main plants that the caterpillars use.
Miniature woolly star, known to scientists as Eriastrum diffusum, is one of the plants that has been blooming at higher elevations in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains as the summer temperatures warm. (Credit: C. David Bertelsen)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2009) — Plants are flowering at higher elevations in Arizona's Santa Catalina Mountains as summer temperatures rise, according to new research from The University of Arizona in Tucson.
The flowering ranges of 93 plant species moved uphill during 1994 to 2003, compared to where the same species flowered the previous ten years. During the 20-year study period, summer temperatures in the region increased about 1.8 degree Fahrenheit (1 degree C.).
"For years, probably decades now, scientists have been trying to understand how species are going to respond to the anticipated global changes and global warming," said Theresa Crimmins, research specialist for the UA's Arid Lands Information Center and the network liaison for the National Phenology Network.
To better understand how plants respond to climate change, Crimmins and her husband, UA climatologist Michael Crimmins, teamed up with naturalist Dave Bertelsen. He's been hiking the Finger Rock trail about one to two times a week since 1983 and recording what plants were in flower.
The 5-mile hike starts in desert scrub vegetation and climbs 4158 feet (1200 meters), ending in pine forest. Bertelsen has completed 1,206 round-trip hikes and recorded data along the trail for nearly 600 plant species, he said in an e-mail.
Lead author Theresa Crimmins said Bertelsen's data shows that some species flowered farther upslope than before, others stopped flowering at lower elevations, and some species did both.
Because some plant species are moving and others staying put, she said the changes may divide plant communities, increase the growth of invasive species and even cause local extinctions by affecting the food sources of local insects and animals.
"I think we can be confident that things are going to continue to change and we don't necessarily know the ripple effects of all these changes in flowering ranges," Crimmins said.
Theresa Crimmins, Michael Crimmins, assistant professor and climate science extension specialist for the UA's department of soil, water, and environmental science, and Bertelsen will publish their paper, "Flowering range changes across an elevation gradient in response to warming summer temperatures." The paper is published this week in the online Early View of the journal Global Change Biology.
Many scientists have wanted to study the movement of flowering ranges, but lack the years of detailed data required for this research, Theresa Crimmins said.
At a meeting about monitoring plant species held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2005, Crimmins discussed his need for data to study the effect of climate change on ecosystems over time.
Bertelsen was at the meeting and told Crimmins about the extensive data he had collected during his many years hiking Finger Rock trail. Bertelsen had the sense some plants were flowering farther uphill and had observed many changes he attributed to drought.
Bertelsen had begun hiking the trail in 1981 and fell in love with the flora and fauna. He had just taken up macrophotography and took close-up pictures of all types of plants and animals while recording his observations in a journal.
"Somebody once said that I have this compulsion. I don't feel driven at all, it's drawn. If I miss a week, I miss it. I just feel that I'm really part of that canyon and it's a part of what I am. It's just good old human curiosity," Bertelsen said. "There's always something different. It's just absolutely amazing."
In 1983 he developed a checklist to document each species in bloom along each of five one-mile long trail segments. Thus, on a single day, if a particular plant was seen in bloom in three segments, there would be three different records. Bertelsen collected flowering data from 1984 to 2003.
To see whether the plants had shifted their flowering, the Crimminses compared Bertelsen's location records from 1984 to 1993 for 363 plant species with his records from 1994 to 2003 for the same species.
The Crimminses used climate data from six National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Network stations surrounding the trail to see how the temperature varied during the 20-year study period.
The Crimminses' collaboration with Bertelsen is a great example of how scientists and amateur naturalists can work together, Theresa Crimmins said. As part of its mission, the National Phenology Network encourages such collaborations to document events in the life cycles of plants and other organisms.
Theresa and Michael Crimmins plan to do additional analyses of the data to determine whether climate change is also causing flowers to bloom earlier in the year.
"The changes are happening fast enough now that more eyes on the ground are going to be much more useful as the human species tries to understand how these other systems, that we rely upon so dearly, are going to change," Theresa Crimmins said.
"We can really start to think about what the true impacts of those changes are and how can we mitigate these impacts."
This news release was written by Megan Levardo, a NASA Space Grant Intern at The University of Arizona.