Conservation Science News Aug 29 2014

Focus of the Week – What Birds Are Telling Us About Our Planet’s Health










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Focus of the Week


Winged Warnings: Built for survival, birds in trouble from pole to pole

By Alanna Mitchell Environmental Health News August 25, 2014 Part 1 of Winged Warnings, published in conjunction with National Geographic

The ice of Antarctica doesn’t faze birds. Nor does the heat of the tropics. They thrive in the desert, in swamps, on the open ocean, on sheer rock faces, on treeless tundra, atop airless mountaintops and burrowed into barren soil.

Some fly nonstop for days on end. With just the feathers on their backs, they crisscross the hemisphere, dodging hurricanes and predators along the way, pinpointing scarce food, tracking down safe resting places, arriving unerringly at a precise spot, year after year.

Sole descendents of the dinosaurs, birds have penetrated nearly every ecosystem on Earth and then tailored their own size, habits and colors to each one, pollinating, dispersing seeds, controlling bugs, cleaning up carrion and fertilizing plants, all the while singing notes so beguiling that hearing them makes even the urban dweller pause to listen.

Birds are the planet’s superheroes, built for survival. But for all their superhuman powers, they are in trouble.

Globally, one in eight – more than 1,300 species – are threatened with extinction, and the status of most of those is deteriorating, according to BirdLife International. And many others are in worrying decline, from the tropics to the poles.

“If birds are having issues, you have to think about whether humans are going to have issues too,” said Geoff LeBaron, an ornithologist with the National Audubon Society based in Massachusetts and international director of the Christmas Bird Count.

Globally, one in eight – more than 1,300 species – are threatened with extinction, and the status of most of those is deteriorating, according to BirdLife International.In North America’s breadbasket, populations of grassland birds such as sweet-trilling meadowlarks are in a free-fall, along with those everywhere else on the planet. Graceful fliers like swifts and swallows that snap up insects on the wing are showing widespread declines in Europe and North America. Eagles, vultures and other raptors are on the wane throughout Africa. Colonies of sea birds such as murres and puffins on the North Atlantic are vanishing, and so are shorebirds, including red knots in the Western Hemisphere. Sandpipers, spoonbills, pelicans and storks, among the migratory birds dependent on the intertidal flats of Asia’s Yellow Sea, are under threat. Australian and South American parrots are struggling and some of the iconic penguins of Antarctica face starvation.


While birds sing, they also speak. Many of their declines are driven by the loss of places to live and breed – their marshes, rivers, forests and plains – or by diminished food supply. But more and more these days the birds are telling us about new threats to the environment and potentially human health in the coded language of biochemistry. Through analysis of the inner workings of birds’ cells, scientists have been deciphering increasingly urgent signals from ecosystems around the world.

Like the fabled canaries that miners once thrust into coal mines to check for poisonous gases, birds provide the starkest clues in the animal kingdom about whether humans, too, may be harmed by toxic substances. And they prophesy what might happen to us as the load of carbon-based, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere and oceans climbs ever higher.

“And no birds sing”

Rachel Carson was the earliest and best-known scientist to link the fate of birds to that of humans. Alerted by reports of sharp declines in birds of prey and songbirds, she began to examine the effects of the pesticide DDT. It was the first modern synthetic pesticide, in wide use after World War II to control mosquitoes and other insects.

Her book Silent Spring, published in 1962 – the title echoes the poet John Keats’ celebrated line “And no birds sing” – explained that DDT moved up through food chains, from the insects it was designed to kill to the creatures that ate them. It accumulated inexorably in tissues, organs and fat in top predators such as peregrine falcons, ospreys, bald eagles and pelicans. “Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song,” Carson wrote.

But it wasn’t just the birds. Carson reasoned that if DDT could accumulate in birds, it would accumulate in humans, too. “We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons without their consent and often without their knowledge,” she wrote. By 1972, after public uproar, DDT was banned in the United States and eventually banned around the world except in malaria-prone countries, mostly in Africa.


Yet DDT’s legacy remains. Traces of the persistent pesticide, classified as a “probable” carcinogen, are still found in most people around the world today and in the land and water they depend on. And, again, it’s birds that are telling us this tale: A recent study reported that birds of prey in South Carolina still carry as much DDT and other legacy pesticides in their bodies as they did before such chemicals were banned in the 1970s, “suggesting exposure has not declined substantially over the past 40 years.” And in the town of St. Louis, Mich., near an old chemical plant, robins are still dropping dead of DDT poisoning, registering some of the highest levels ever recorded in wild birds.

The idea that birds tell us about our own health has gained even more scientific traction in the decades since Silent Spring as biochemical analysis has become more precise. Much of that work stemmed from studies conducted on the Great Lakes, the world’s first and biggest testing ground for contaminants and birds.

The work of Canadian Wildlife Service toxicologist Glen Fox and others began with tales from terns and other fish-eating birds. He found high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, in the Great Lakes and their sediments, and enlarged thyroids that were producing little hormone in the birds. Thyroid hormones are critical for ensuring proper brain development, so altering them can impair intelligence, motor skills and behavior. Building up in food webs just like DDT, PCBs were banned in the United States in 1978, with the rest of the world to follow.

“The birds really told the story, elegantly.” –Theo Colborn, scientist and co-author of Our Stolen Future By the late 1980s, zoologist Theo Colborn, then at the World Wildlife Fund, began examining the Great Lakes studies to see if she could discern a big picture. She recalls reading through stacks of academic papers and tracking the findings in a chart.


The results were stunning: The Great Lakes’ top 16 or 17 bird predators were vanishing. The problem stemmed from assaults on the endocrine system, which controls hormones and reproduction. And that, in turn, was linked to manmade substances in the water and prey. So, birds’ ability to reproduce crashed in multiple ways: Young failed to hatch; babies were deformed; male young were feminized; female young were more masculine; chicks’ immune systems were impaired; parents forgot how to parent. The concept of the “endocrine disruptor” was born.

“The birds really told the story, elegantly,” said Colborn, who co-authored the 1996 book Our Stolen Future, which chronicled the threats of hormone disruption.

Black oystercatcher, Pete Myers

Proxies for people

Once the chemicals’ effects on birds were established, scientists began looking more intensively at humans. Their studies have suggested that those same chemicals also may be altering human hormones. Part of a pregnant mother’s load of chemicals passes to her baby while it is still in the womb, with evidence mounting that suggests the chemicals can alter development of the baby’s brain and its reproductive and immune systems, leading to troubles later in life, such as lower intelligence, behavioral problems and reduced fertility. Some studies suggest a link between endocrine disruptors and a greater risk of prostate and breast cancers and other diseases. Some research even suggests chemicals can switch genes on and off, affecting grandchildren and great-grandchildren – all the unexposed generations, humanity’s future.

When it comes to chemicals and broad planetary changes, birds have shown us that they are in a unique position to tip us off to health threats. That doesn’t mean that birds are more vulnerable than humans, said Pierre Mineau, an expert on pesticide ecotoxicology and its effects on birds who recently retired from Environment Canada. In fact, amphibians such as frogs are likely more vulnerable because their thin skins draw in the chemicals and because they are in constant contact with polluted water. But they are much harder to find, count and assess than birds.

“Birds can tell us a lot about what’s going on around us that we might not be able to see.” –Christy Morrissey, University of Saskatchewan  Birds, on the other hand, are highly visible. People track them, notice them, care deeply about them. Of all the non-human creatures on Earth, birds are by far the most closely scrutinized, said Nicola Crockford, international species policy officer with BirdLife International in England. That translates into a robust body of knowledge about how and where birds live, a baseline for scientists seeking to monitor change.

Looking at birds gives humans the unsurpassed ability to identify and quantify chemical threats across time and space around the globe, noted Christy Morrissey, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Saskatchewan. “Birds can tell us a lot about what’s going on around us that we might not be able to see,” she said.

Perched atop many food webs, birds of prey such as eagles and falcons soak up chemicals from the things they eat. That means looking at birds is a proxy for looking at plants, insects, fish and small mammals, over time. Not only that, but about one in five birds migrates, so those birds are sampling pollutants in many parts of the world. Scientists can capture birds, test them, band them, let them go and then catch them years later to see what’s changed. Birds normally maintain relatively stable numbers, unlike small mammals, so when their populations take a dive, it means something noteworthy is going on.

Many birds also live a long time – for eagles and owls, decades – meaning scientists can study a bird’s life cycle and then extrapolate what would happen to a human exposed to the same chemicals from birth to death, Morrissey said. Reading birds is a reasonable stand-in for a human epidemiological study, especially when it comes to the endocrine system, she added. “Vertebrates are vertebrates,” she said. “The endocrine system is so similar [in birds and mammals]. We all have circulating hormones and a thyroid that regulates the system.” Today, studies on how endocrine-disrupting chemicals affect birds is a main plank of future research that may also have implications for human health.

Beyond DDT and PCBs

On the prairies of Canada, Morrissey is trying to decipher where sanderlings, red knots and semipalmated sandpipers are picking up contaminants as they travel. Then she’s tracking those chemicals – which include PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs – through a bird’s lifespan, examining whether they affect its ability to fatten up and sustain a long migration. She’s also looking at whether the chemicals have affected brain development, robbing them of the ability to navigate and learn when to molt. Early results of birds dosed in captivity in the first days of life say they do.

Barn owls are dying from massive stomach bleeds caused by eating rats laced with rodenticides.In other words, she’s investigating not just whether the chemicals impair the birds’ ability to reproduce, but also their ability to thrive. “If they’re not able to fatten, they won’t make it,” she said, as grackles, orioles and yellow warblers sang in the background.


Morrissey and Mineau also are at the forefront of research globally on the newest class of pesticide, the neonicotinoids or neonics for short. Mineau helped unlock the puzzle in the mid-1990s of how the organophosphate pesticide monocrotophos, which replaced DDT-like insecticides, killed off masses of endangered Swainson’s hawks in Argentina. He said he was originally relieved that neonics replaced organophosphates, which are ferocious bird-killers, but now his research on neonics, including a report for the American Bird Conservancy, has him worried. They are extremely persistent in the environment and water soluble, which means they move around, he said. They take down nearly any insect or crustacean that comes along. “The real issue is the ecosystem-wide effects,” Mineau said.

Sanderlings, Pete Myers 

Contaminants may affect shorebirds’ ability to fatten up before migrating.

Rat-killing poisons also are causing agonizing deaths of not just rodents, but the birds that eat them. Barn owls in Canada, for example, are dying from massive stomach bleeds caused by an extra-strong class of rodenticide.

And in Southeast Asia, tens of millions of vultures have perished from feasting on carcasses of livestock treated with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug. Three vulture species now are teetering on the edge of extinction. In a victory, hopefully not too late, the drug is no longer used for livestock in Asia. Its use is on the rise in Europe, however, particularly in Spain, where it has killed thousands of vultures, eagles and other carrion-eaters in recent years.

Traces of people’s prescription drugs, washed into sewers, also are collecting in fish, which means ospreys and other birds of prey are sometimes exposed to therapeutic doses of heart medications, antidepressants and other drugs.

Perched atop many food webs, birds of prey such as eagles and falcons soak up chemicals from the things they eat. That means looking at birds is a proxy for looking at plants, insects, fish and small mammals, over time. Adding to their burden, birds are contaminated with a whole new spate of pollutants, such as perfluorinated compounds or PFCs, used to manufacture such substances as Teflon and stain-resistant coatings. Brominated chemicals used as flame retardants in furniture foam and electronics also are collecting in bird tissues, just like PCBs. Kestrels exposed in laboratories have fewer chicks, smaller eggs and some behavior issues, such as bad parenting skills and more aggressive males. Some flame retardants seem to mimic estrogen, others mimic or block testosterone. It all adds up to a load of dozens of chemicals, many with consequences still unknown.


In Sweden, for example, ornithologists are racing to figure out why white-tailed sea eagles on the coast of the Baltic Sea, devastated by DDT and PCBs in the 1970s, are again experiencing thin shells and deformed embryos, said Cynthia de Wit, a professor of environmental science at Stockholm University who specializes in human and wildlife exposure to synthetic chemicals. “It’s very alarming; we really don’t know why,” she said, adding that it’s possible that old chemicals are being “remobilized” or that new ones are having effects not yet assessed.

Scientists are closely examining the effects of heavy metals such as mercury and lead. A recent study of Antarctic skuas showed those contaminated with mercury, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants, have more trouble reproducing. Mercury even seems to alter the singing of songbirds. Lead, sometimes lethal to birds of prey that eat it in gut piles left by hunters, also seems to have subtle effects, perhaps interfering with their ability to navigate around obstacles.

Why do people care about birds?

Pragmatically, humans have relied on birds’ superpowers for millennia to let us in on their secrets. Imagine forest-dwellers of ancient times, anxious to avoid snakes and jaguars, listening for the alarm calls of sharp-sighted, high-flying, omnipresent birds. Think of medieval sailors, following fish-eating birds to find out where they should throw their nets, or rejoicing that shore was near when they caught sight of a land-loving cormorant instead of the albatrosses that favor the open ocean. Sailors of old may have even followed the paths of migratory birds to colonize new lands, said Garry Donaldson, a conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Great crested grebe, Pete Myers 

Birds signal the presence of dangerous pathogens such as West Nile virus.

And throughout history, humans have considered birds to be our protectors, the vigilant sentinels, writes the Nobel laureate immunologist Peter Doherty in his 2012 book Their Fate is our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to our Health and Our World. “Way back to mythological times, guard duty has been part of the avian job description. Gods with the body of a man and the head of a bird, like the ibis, falcon, hawk or heron, watched over the ancient Egyptians…Sacred geese in the temple of the Goddess Juno alerted the exhausted defenders of ancient Rome to a nocturnal attack by marauding Gauls,” Doherty wrote.

And to many Native American and other indigenous cultures, birds are messengers sent by the creator, or symbols of change, or protectors and healers. Today they play that role in a non-spiritual sense: They send warnings to tribes about the health risks of eating fish tainted with industrial pollutants.

Birds also herald the presence of pathogens, such as avian influenza and West Nile virus, noted Nicholas Komar, a biologist who specializes in vector-borne diseases with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colo. When birds are found dead of West Nile, it’s proof humans also are at risk. Infected birds don’t transmit the virus to humans – mosquitoes do – but they are a sign that it is present in the environment. He is pressing for more testing of dead birds as a swift means of detecting flashpoints for potential transmission to humans.

Apart from data points, birds also provide us with sheer joy – in their songs and striking colors, and from the spectacle of watching them swoop through the air. “Which of us has not wished we could do that?” asked John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. He said humans intuitively respond to birds’ colors and varied voices, which signal that the year is marching on. “They move with the seasons. It’s a major annual heartbeat we feel.”

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown.” 
John Keats  


In his “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats declares steadfastly that birds must prevail despite us, just as they always have.


But will Keats’s prophecy stand the test of time? In the past five centuries, about 150 bird species have gone extinct at the hand of humanity, including the passenger pigeon and the dodo, according to research by Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm. But that rate is speeding up and will be 10 times higher by the end of this century if trends persist, his study calculates. BirdLife’s most recent survey shows that 197 species are critically endangered, which means they are just one disease outbreak or a couple of bad breeding seasons away from extinction. Hotspots of risk are hot parts of the world: The Atlantic forests of Brazil and the islands of Indonesia are a particular worry because so many birds live there, so much of the land is being cleared and few protections are in place.


 Brian Bienkowski

Ringed-billed gulls in Quebec are highly exposed to flame retardants.

Omens of a dangerous future

The wild card for birds, with the potential to magnify all past and future threats, is the high-carbon world humans have created through the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Scientists are struggling to chronicle the intricate layers of fallout from climate change — and to glimpse once again what birds foretell about humanity’s fate. Frank Gill, who wrote the textbook Ornithology and was president of the National Audubon Society, said the scientific effort has shifted dramatically from the time when Carson’s work on chemicals set the standard. Today, biologists are examining complex, continental effects of climate change on birds’ abundance and distribution.

For instance, brown pelicans, taken off California’s endangered species list in 2009, are in the throes of a catastrophic breeding failure this year, said Dan Anderson, professor emeritus of ecotoxicology and marine ornithology at University of California, Davis, who recently completed his 46th annual census of the birds. The cause appears to be an El Niño event with its strongly warmer ocean currents and high winds. While El Niños are natural and periodic phenomena, they are expected to intensify and become more common. Anderson and others are assessing what effect that could have on pelicans, noting that it would take two or three terrible breeding seasons in a row to seriously affect the population.

Birds have many superpowers that humans can only envy.  Yet we also have the power to make sure birds continue to sing. Already, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count has found that the “center of abundance” of more than half of North American species that stay through the winter has shifted as much as 200 miles north over the past 60 years, a response to warmer average temperatures, LeBaron said. And a study of 40 western North American songbird species found that those inhabiting the highest elevations on mountaintops are moving farther up, rather than farther north, to flee the heat, said David King, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Massachusetts. Inevitably, they will run out of places to go.


 Omens from the birds are not easy to read. So far, they are telling us that this world is shifting where they can live, forcing them to change the timing of their migrations and nesting, making their food harder to find and perhaps fostering diseases such as the West Nile virus.

Pete Myers

Brown pelican populations in California are crashing this year, likely due to warmer ocean currents.


Birds, people share superpowers

Birds have many superpowers that humans can only envy. But we have extraordinary powers, too: The ability to alter the chemistry of the air and the sea, and to create synthetic substances that live longer than we do. Yet we also have the power to make sure birds continue to sing.

Fitzpatrick pointed to the data from around the world that impassioned birdwatchers are feeding to scientists at websites such as – which is growing by 40 percent a year – so they can map birds in real time. Citizen science is part of the reason, for instance, that waterfowl numbers have been bouncing back in North America as people band together to protect and restore wetlands.

“Birds do recover,” Fitzpatrick said, “if we pay attention to what they’re saying.”

In “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the opening chapter of Silent Spring that describes a fictional, nightmarish, poisoned town, Carson wrote, “It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

Muted, perhaps, but not silenced, birds keep sending us winged warnings.

Published in conjunction with
For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at


 Global map: 50 birds at risk Source: BirdLife International, Environmental Health News   Map by Leslie Carlson



Read the rest of our series, Winged Warnings

Part 2: Osprey whisperers

Seven continents: Snapshots of  troubled species


An interactive, global map

The journalists behind Winged Warnings






NOAA analysis reveals significant land cover changes in U.S. coastal regions

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 05:41 PM PDT

A new NOAA nationwide analysis shows that between 1996 and 2011, 64,975 square miles in coastal regions–an area larger than the state of Wisconsin–experienced changes in land cover, including a decline in wetlands and forest cover with development a major contributing factor.
Overall, 8.2 percent of the nation’s ocean and Great Lakes coastal regions experienced these changes. In analysis of the five year period between 2001-2006, coastal areas accounted for 43 percent of all land cover change in the continental U.S.
This report identifies a wide variety of land cover changes that can intensify climate change risks, such as loss of coastal barriers to sea level rise and storm surge, and includes environmental data that can help coastal managers improve community resilience. “Land cover maps document what’s happening on the ground. By showing how that land cover has changed over time, scientists can determine how these changes impact our plant’s environmental health,” said Nate Herold, a NOAA physical scientist who directs the mapping effort at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center in Charleston, S.C. Selected Regional Findings — 1996 to 2011:

  • The Northeast region added more than 1,170 square miles of development, an area larger than Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the District of Columbia combined
  • The West Coast region experienced a net loss of 3,200 square miles of forest (4,900 square miles of forests were cut while 1,700 square miles were regrown)
  • The Great Lakes was the only region to experience a net wetlands gain (69 square miles), chiefly because drought and lower lake levels changed water features into marsh or sandy beach.
  • The Southeast region lost 510 square miles of wetlands, with more than half this number replaced by development
  • Many factors led to the Gulf Coast region’s loss of 996 square miles of wetlands, due to land subsidence and erosion, storms, human-made changes, sea level rise, and other factors
  • On a positive note, local restoration activities, such as in Florida’s Everglades, and lake-level changes enabled some Gulf Coast and Southeast region communities to gain modest-sized wetland areas, although such gains did not make up for the larger regional wetland losses
  • C-CAP moderate-resolution data on the Land Cover Atlas encompasses the intertidal areas, wetlands, and adjacent uplands of 29 states fronting the oceans and Great Lakes. High-resolution data are available for select locations.

All C-CAP data sets are featured on the Digital Coast. Tools like the Digital Coast are important components of NOAA’s National Ocean Service’s efforts to protect coastal resources and keep communities safe from coastal hazards by providing data, tools, training, and technical assistance. Check out other products and services on Facebook ( or Twitter (


Grasslands are being transformed at an alarming rate as woody plants, such as trees and shrubs, take over. This is leading to a loss of critical habitat and causing a drastic change in the ability of ecosystems to produce food. This is one example near the Santa Rita mountains in Arizona. Credit: Osvaldo Sala

Trees, shrubs invading critical grasslands, diminish cattle production

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 01:13 PM PDT

Half of Earth’s land mass is made up of rangelands, which include grasslands and savannas, yet they are being transformed at an alarming rate. Woody plants, such as trees and shrubs, are taking over, leading to a loss of critical habitat and causing a drastic change in the ability of ecosystems to produce food — specifically meat. Researchers have now quantified this loss.

While the phenomenon of woody plant invasion has been occurring for decades, for the first time, we have quantified the losses in ecosystem services,” said Osvaldo Sala, Julie A. Wrigley Chair and Foundation Professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and School of Sustainability. “We found that an increase in tree and shrub cover of one percent leads to a two percent loss in livestock production.” And, woody-plant cover in North America increases at a rate between 0.5 and two percent per year…. In recent years, the U.S. government shelled out millions of dollars in an effort to stop the advance of trees and shrubs. The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service spent $127 million from 2005-2009 on herbicides and brush management, without a clear understanding of its economic benefit….While ranchers clearly depend on grasslands to support healthy livestock, ecosystems also provide a range of other services to humans. Stakeholders such as conservationists, farmers, builders, government entities and private landowners, depend on the land for a variety of reasons and each has different values and land use needs….


J. D. Anadon, O. E. Sala, B. L. Turner, E. M. Bennett. Effect of woody-plant encroachment on livestock production in North and South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320585111



Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought, analysis shows

August 26, 2014

A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass — the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts — than previously thought. The study, reported in Environmental Science and Technology, recalculates the theoretical limit of terrestrial plant productivity, and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.  “When you try to estimate something over the whole planet, you have to make some simplifying assumptions,” said University of Illinois plant biology professor Evan DeLucia, who led the new analysis. “And most previous research assumes that the maximum productivity you could get out of a landscape is what the natural ecosystem would have produced. But it turns out that in nature very few plants have evolved to maximize their growth rates.”


Study Shows Where on the Planet New Roads Should and Should Not Go

Aug. 28, 2014 — Researchers have created a ‘large-scale zoning plan’ that aims to limit the environmental costs of road expansion while maximizing its benefits for human development. More than 25 million kilometres of new roads will be built worldwide by 2050. Many of these roads will slice into Earth’s last wildernesses, where they bring an influx of destructive loggers, hunters and illegal miners. Now, an ambitious study has created a ‘global roadmap’ for prioritising road building across the planet, to try to balance the competing demands of development and environmental protection. The map has two components: an ‘environmental-values’ layer that estimates that natural importance of ecosystems and a ‘road-benefits’ layer that estimates the potential for increased agriculture production via new or improved roads. The authors of the new study, recently published in the journal Nature, write that by combining these layers they have identified areas where new roads have most potential benefit, areas where road building should be avoided, and conflict areas “where potential costs and benefits are both sizable.” “It’s challenging but we think we’ve identified where in the world new roads would be most environmentally damaging,” said co-author Professor Andrew Balmford from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology…..Areas with carbon-rich ecosystems with key wilderness habitats, such as tropical forests, were identified as those where new roads would cause the most environmental damage with the lease human benefit, particularly areas where few roads currently exist. “Our study also shows that in large parts of the world, such as the Amazon, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar, the environmental costs of road expansion are massive,” said Christine O’Connell from the University of Minnesota, USA. The authors emphasise that there will be serious conflicts in the coming decades….Given that the total length of new roads anticipated by mid-century would encircle the Earth more than 600 times, the authors point out that there is “little time to lose.”… full story


William F. Laurance, Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, Sean Sloan, Christine S. O’Connell, Nathan D. Mueller, Miriam Goosem, Oscar Venter, David P. Edwards, Ben Phalan, Andrew Balmford, Rodney Van Der Ree, Irene Burgues Arrea. A global strategy for road building. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13717


Songbirds: Juveniles delay departure, make frequent stopovers during first migration

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 01:47 PM PDT

Juvenile songbirds on spring migration travel from overwintering sites in the tropics to breeding destinations thousands of kilometres away with no prior experience to guide them. Now, a new study has tracked these ‘student pilots’ on their first long-haul flight and found significant differences between the timing of juvenile migration and that of experienced adults….


A school of common bluestripe snappers in the waters off Kenya. A new study conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other organizations reports that further expansion of marine protected areas is needed to protect fish species playing key ecological functions. Credit: Tim McClanahan

Marine Protected Areas Inadequate for Protecting Fish and Ocean Ecology, Study Finds

Aug. 28, 2014 — A new study reports that an expansion of marine protected areas is needed to protect fish species that perform key ecological functions. According to investigators from the Wildlife Conservation Society and other organizations, previous efforts at protecting fish have focused on saving the largest numbers of species, often at the expense of those species that provide key and difficult-to-replace ecological functions. Many vital ecological functions of ocean ecology are performed by fish species that also are food for millions of people. This study uncovers a significant problem: the world’s most ecologically valuable fish communities are currently vulnerable and are being missed by the world’s current network of marine protected areas. If these tropical fish populations and the ecological services that they provide are to be ensured, say the authors, then the world’s existing marine protected area network must be expanded. The paper appears in the current online edition of Ecology Letters. “The recognition that all species are not the same and that some play more important and different roles in ocean ecology prompted this new investigation. The study was expected to identify regions with vulnerable fish populations, something that has been sidetracked by the past species richness focus,” said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS Senior Conservationist and a co-author of the study. “If you lose species with key functions, then you undermine the ability of the ocean to provide food and other ecological services, which is a wake up call to protect these vulnerable species and locations. Our analysis identifies these gaps and should provide the basis to accelerate the protection of ocean functions.” The authors of the study compiled a global database on tropical coastal fish populations from 169 locations around the world, focusing on species occurring in 50 meters of water or less. The team compared these data with distribution maps for 6,316 tropical reef fish species. Human threats such as fishing, pollution, and climate change were also included in the analyses…..full story


Fish and coral smell a bad neighborhood: Marine protected areas might not be enough to help overfished reefs recover

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 11:13 AM PDT

Pacific corals and fish can both smell a bad neighborhood, and use that ability to avoid settling in damaged reefs. Damaged coral reefs emit chemical cues that repulse young coral and fish, discouraging them from settling in the degraded habitat, according to new research. The study shows for the first time that coral larvae can smell the difference between healthy and damaged reefs when they decide where to settle.


Salmon recolonizing newly reconnected zones in rivers of Adour basin

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 06:19 AM PDT

The impact of constructing passes that allow salmon to cross hydroelectric dams and recoloniae newly reconnected zones in the Adour basin has been the focus of recent study. Using population genetics tools, researchers have shown that the sources of this recolonization are very probably the sectors downstream of these passes and that little genetic diversity is lost during recolonization of the newly available zones.  These results suggest a strong potential for the evolution of these newly formed populations.


Sunblock poses potential hazard to sea life

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 08:05 AM PDT

The sweet and salty aroma of sunscreen and seawater signals a relaxing trip to the shore. But scientists are now reporting that the idyllic beach vacation comes with an environmental hitch. When certain sunblock ingredients wash off skin and into the sea, they can become toxic to some of the ocean’s tiniest inhabitants, which are the main course for many other marine animals….



UGA researchers found that Japanese stiltgrass affects arachnid predators. Wolf spiders, like the one above, thrive in the grass. As their numbers grow, more spiders then feed on young American toads, ultimately reducing the amphibian’s survival wherever this grass grows.

More wolf spiders feasting on American toads due to invasive grass, study shows

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 10:18 AM PDT

An invasive grass species frequently found in forests has created a thriving habitat for wolf spiders, who then feed on American toads, a new University of Georgia study has found. Japanese stiltgrass, which was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s, is one of the most pervasive invasive species and has spread to more than a dozen states in the past century, particularly in the Southeast. Typically found along roads and in forests, it can survive in widely diverse ecosystems and has been found to impact native plant species, invertebrate populations and soil nutrients. In a new study recently published in the journal Ecology, UGA researchers found that Japanese stiltgrass also is affecting arachnid predators: Lycosid spiders, commonly known as wolf spiders, thrive in the grass. As their numbers grow, more spiders then feed on young American toads, ultimately reducing the amphibian’s survival wherever this grass grows. John Maerz, an associate professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and one of the paper’s authors, said they found the grass had the greatest negative impact on toad survival in forests where toad survival was naturally high.

“In other words, the grass is degrading the best forests for young toad survival,” Maerz said. “Another important finding was that the invasive grass affects toads by changing interactions among native species rather than the grass having a direct effect on the native toads.”

Jayna DeVore, who led the project while earning her doctorate in the Warnell School, said people often don’t fully realize how much structural changes in an environment can affect how animals interact. “Ecosystems are so incredibly complex that it can be surprisingly difficult to foresee just how environmental changes, such as an invasion, will affect organisms living in affected areas,” said DeVore, who is now a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Sydney in Australia. “I think that one of the unique things about this study is that it not only documents the fact that this plant invasion reduces the survival of a native species, but also determines the mechanism through which that occurs.”…



Research improves temperature modeling across mountainous landscapes

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 01:14 PM PDT

New research provides improved computer models for estimating temperature across mountainous landscapes. Accurate, spatially based estimates of historical air temperature within mountainous areas are critical as scientists and land managers look at temperature-driven changes to vegetation, wildlife habitat, wildfire and snowpack.



Birds Bursting Into Flames over State-of-the-Art Solar Plant

By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and JOHN LOCHER PublishedAugust 18, 2014

IVANPAH DRY LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.  Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.  The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.  The deaths are “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” said Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. “There needs to be some caution.”…




More than 100,000 African elephants killed in three years, study verifies

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 12:52 PM PDT

New research has revealed that an estimated 100,000 elephants in Africa were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012. The study shows these losses are driving population declines of the world’s wild African elephants on the order of 2 percent to 3 percent a year….



The First Annual World Shorebirds Day Kicks off on September 6

Sharol Nelson-Embry, East Bay Regional Park District | August 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

Black-bellied plovers winter along San Francisco Bay shores. This one is in breeding plumage which will molt, leaving the bird overall mottled gray with only black “wing pits” to identify it. (Courtesy of Bob Lewis)

Our shorelines are filling up again with the rustling of wings, quiet “kew-ing” calls and sudden bursts of hundreds of shorebirds in flight. Fall migration is bringing about a million of them back to our beaches, mudflats and rocky shores from the far north where they raised their broods on the tundra and prairies under the midnight sun. For the first time ever, they have a day set aside in their honor: World Shorebirds Day. It’s set to start this September 6 with a worldwide count to assess their populations and celebrations around the globe.

Gyorgy Szimuly, a Hungarian ornithologist with 35 years of birding and conservation experience, initiated the day as an international celebration and focus on shorebirds. An annual shorebird count of Bay Area shorebirds already occurs and Point Reyes Bird Observatory/Point Blue has been keeping local data on Bay Area shorebirds since the 1970s. (You can find the results on their website.) According to the 2011 “State of the Birds of San Francisco Bay” report, our local shorebirds are doing well, for the most part, with the majority at stable population numbers….





What species is this famous bird and why was she famous? Here are a few tips:
* She was named after Martha Washington
* She lived to be about 30 years old
* She grew famous during her time at the Cincinnati Zoo
* She was flown first class all over the country
* Her species were used in pot pies

——> See answer at the end







Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Growing, and Growing More Dangerous, Draft of U.N. Report Says

By JUSTIN GILLIS NY Times AUG. 26, 2014

Where ice once capped the Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier in Greenland, vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean are now clear. Credit Kadir van Lohuizen for The New York Times

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report. Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control. The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities…..


Why global warming is taking a break

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 08:30 AM PDT

The average temperature on Earth has barely risen over the past 16 years. ETH researchers have now found out why. And they believe that global warming is likely to continue again soon. Global warming is currently taking a break: whereas global temperatures rose drastically into the late 1990s, the global average temperature has risen only slightly since 1998 — surprising, considering scientific climate models predicted considerable warming due to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Climate sceptics used this apparent contradiction to question climate change per se — or at least the harm potential caused by greenhouse gases — as well as the validity of the climate models. Meanwhile, the majority of climate researchers continued to emphasise that the short-term ‘warming hiatus’ could largely be explained on the basis of current scientific understanding and did not contradict longer term warming. … In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers conclude that two important factors are equally responsible for the hiatus.

El Niño warmed Earth

One of the important reasons is natural climate fluctuations, of which the weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific are the most important and well known. “1998 was a strong El Niño year, which is why it was so warm that year,” says Knutti. In contrast, the counter-phenomenon La Niña has made the past few years cooler than they would otherwise have been.

Although climate models generally take such fluctuations into account, it is impossible to predict the year in which these phenomena will emerge, says the climate physicist. To clarify, he uses the stock market as an analogy: “When pension funds invest the pension capital in shares, they expect to generate a profit in the long term.” At the same time, they are aware that their investments are exposed to price fluctuations and that performance can also be negative in the short term. However, what finance specialists and climate scientists and their models are not able to predict is when exactly a short-term economic downturn or a La Niña year will occur.

Longer solar cycles

According to the study, the second important reason for the warming hiatus is that solar irradiance has been weaker than predicted in the past few years. This is because the identified fluctuations in the intensity of solar irradiance are unusual at present: whereas the so-called sunspot cycles each lasted eleven years in the past, for unknown reasons the last period of weak solar irradiance lasted 13 years. Furthermore, several volcanic eruptions, such as Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010, have increased the concentration of floating particles (aerosol) in the atmosphere, which has further weakened the solar irradiance arriving at Earth’s surface….


Cause of global warming hiatus found deep in the Atlantic Ocean

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 11:14 AM PDT

Observations show that the heat absent from the Earth’s surface for more than a decade is plunging deep in the north and south Atlantic Ocean, and is part of a naturally occurring cycle. Subsurface warming in the ocean explains why global average air temperatures have flatlined since 1999, despite greenhouse gases trapping more solar heat at Earth’s surface.


Record decline of ice sheets: Scientists map elevation changes of Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 08:05 AM PDT

Researchers have for the first time extensively mapped Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice sheets with the help of the ESA satellite CryoSat-2 and have thus been able to prove that the ice crusts of both regions momentarily decline at an unprecedented rate. In total the ice sheets are losing around 500 cubic kilometers of ice per year….The areas where the researchers detected the largest elevation changes were Jakobshavn Isbrae (Jakobshavn Glacier) in West Greenland and Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.
Since February 2014 scientists know that the Jakobshavn Isbrae is moving ice into the ocean at a record speed of up to 46 meters a day.
The Pine Island Glacier hit the headlines in July 2013. Back then AWI scientists reported that a table iceberg as large as the area of Hamburg had broken off the tip of its ice shelf. But whereas both the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula, on the far west of the continent, are rapidly losing volume, East Antarctica is gaining volume — though at a moderate rate that doesn’t compensate the losses on the other side of the continent….


Greenland And West Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss More Than Doubled In Last Five Years

by Joe Romm Posted on August 22, 2014

That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”…



Most complete Antarctic map for climate research made public

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 05:41 PM PDT

A new satellite image of Antarctica has been made available to the public, and the imagery will help scientists all over the world gain new insight into the effects of climate change. Using Synthetic Aperture Radar with multiple polarization modes aboard the RADARSAT-2 satellite, the CSA collected more than 3,150 images of the continent in the autumn of 2008, comprising a single pole-to-coast map covering all of Antarctica. This is the first such map of the area since RADARSAT-1 created one in 1997.


Ocean warming could drive heavy rain bands toward poles

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 08:32 AM PDT

In a world warmed by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, precipitation patterns are going to change because of two factors: one, warmer air can hold more water; and two, changing atmospheric circulation patterns will shift where rain falls. According to previous model research, mid- to high-latitude precipitation is expected to increase by as much as 50 percent. Yet the reasons why models predict this are hard to tease out….Using a series of highly idealized model runs, Lu et al. found that ocean warming should cause atmospheric precipitation bands to shift toward the poles. The changes in atmospheric circulation brought on by a warming ocean should cause an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events at mid- and high-latitudes, and a reduction in the same near the equator. The changes would mean that, for high-latitude regions, now-rare storms would become much more common. The authors tested the effect of ocean warming on atmospheric circulation and precipitation using a highly idealized “aquaplanet” model, a representation of the Earth that was just sea and sky, but no land. They ran the model at a range of spatial resolutions and found that the changes in precipitation that stem from changing circulation patterns may possibly outweigh changes that derive from other factors.



Jian Lu, L. Ruby Leung, Qing Yang, Gang Chen, William D. Collins, Fuyu Li, Z. Jason Hou, Xuelei Feng. The robust dynamical contribution to precipitation extremes in idealized warming simulations across model resolutions. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; 41 (8): 2971 DOI: 10.1002/2014GL059532


Greenhouse gases: New group of soil micro-organisms can contribute to their elimination

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 08:18 AM PDT

The ability of soils to eliminate N2O can mainly be explained by the diversity and abundance of a new group of micro-organisms that are capable of transforming it into atmospheric nitrogen (N2).


Snowfall in a warmer world

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 10:17 AM PDT

Big snowstorms will still occur in the Northern Hemisphere following global warming, a study shows. While most areas in the Northern Hemisphere will likely experience less snowfall throughout a season, the study concludes that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant warming.


Sunlight, not microbes, key to carbon dioxide in Arctic

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 11:15 AM PDT

The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial activity. However, researchers say that sunlight and not bacteria is the key to triggering the production of CO2 from material released by Arctic soils.


Butterflies’ evolutionary responses to warmer temperatures may compromise their ability to adapt to future climate change

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 08:32 AM PDT

Members of the brown argus butterfly species that moved north in response to recent climate change have evolved a narrower diet dependent on wild Geranium plants, researchers report. However, butterflies that did not move north have more diverse diets, including plants such as Rockrose that are abundant in southern parts of the UK…So although rapid evolutionary changes have allowed the brown argus to move north and track the warming climate, they have led to a more restricted diet. This increased specialization may limit this butterfly’s continued spread north, into areas where Rockrose is common. “Our data confirm that rapid evolutionary change in a species’ diet is important for responding to recent climate change, but as a consequence, variation in this ecologically-important trait may be lost,” said Dr. Jon Bridle, co-author of the Ecology Letters study. “In addition, unlike the brown argus, many butterflies already have restricted diets, so they may be unable to rapidly evolve changes in their diets to survive ongoing climate change,” said co-author Dr. James Buckley.


James Buckley, Jon R. Bridle. Loss of adaptive variation during evolutionary responses to climate change. Ecology Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12340


Climate change could see dengue fever come to Europe

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 05:39 AM PDT

Dengue fever could make headway in popular European holiday destinations if climate change continues on its predicted trajectory, according to research. The study used current data from Mexico, where dengue fever is present, and information about EU countries to model the likelihood of the disease spreading in Europe. They found that coastal regions around the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas, the Po Valley and North East Italy were most at risk.


Historic Wildfires Burn Through Canada As Sub-Arctic Forests Heat Up

by Jeff Spross Posted on August 25, 2014

Wildfire activity in the Northwest Territories is more than six times higher than its 25-year average, and as of August 23 a total of 162 wildfires were burning in British Columbia….



Lifeguards reopen [San Diego] beaches after lightning strikes; at least 1 home damaged

A lightning strike over the ocean during Wednesday’s storm.

By Derek Staahl Story Published: Aug 20, 2014 at 8:48 AM PDT

SAN DIEGO — A summer storm brought heavy rain and hail to parts of San Diego County Wednesday, generating flash-flood warnings and unusual coastal lightning that prompted a temporary closure of beaches from Del Mar to Point Loma. As of 1 p.m., there were 93 lightning strikes tallied over land in San Diego County and 127 over water, said National Weather Service forecaster Tina Stall….A line of thunderstorms began moving over south and central San Diego County around 7:30 a.m., upping the risk for ground and ocean lightning strikes, according to the National Weather Service.

As the unsettled atmospheric conditions continued to intensify, the city of San Diego closed all of its beaches to the public at 9:30 a.m., said Lee Swanson, spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The closure was lifted an hour later, after the NWS advised that the imminent lightning hazards had abated. Such conditions along the local [San Diego] coastline are rare, Swanson said….





Southwest U. S. may face ‘megadrought’ this century

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 09:25 AM PDT

Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts over 30 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century. Because of global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” — one that lasts over 30 years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

The study by Cornell University, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this — we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions.”
As of mid-August, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category.
Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas also loiter between moderate and exceptional drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but he said, “With ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future.” Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said. In computer models, while California, Arizona and New Mexico will likely face drought, the researchers show the chances for drought in parts of Washington, Montana and Idaho may decrease. Beyond the United States, southern Africa, Australia and the Amazon basin are also vulnerable to the possibility of a megadrought. With increases in temperatures, drought severity will likely worsen, “implying that our results should be viewed as conservative,” the study reports. “These results help us take the long view of future drought risk in the Southwest — and the picture is not pretty. We hope this opens up new discussions about how to best use and conserve the precious water that we have,” said Julia Cole, UA professor of geosciences and of atmospheric sciences.


Toby R. Ault, Julia E. Cole, Jonathan T. Overpeck, Gregory T. Pederson, David M. Meko. Assessing the risk of persistent drought using climate model simulations and paleoclimate data. Journal of Climate, 2014; 140122102410007 DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00282.1


Severe drought is causing the western US to rise like a spring uncoiling

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 11:15 AM PDT

The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Scientists have used GPS data to discover that the growing, broad-scale loss of water is causing the entire western US to rise up like an uncoiled spring. Investigating ground positioning data from GPS stations throughout the west, Scripps researchers Adrian Borsa, Duncan Agnew, and Dan Cayan found that the water shortage is causing an “uplift” effect up to 15 millimeters (more than half an inch) in California’s mountains and on average four millimeters (0.15 of an inch) across the west. From the GPS data, they estimate the water deficit at nearly 240 gigatons (62 trillion gallons of water), equivalent to a six-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S….Results of the study, which was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), appear in the August 21 online edition of the journal Science….For Cayan, a research meteorologist with Scripps and USGS, the results paint a new picture of the dire hydrological state of the west. “These results quantify the amount of water mass lost in the past few years,” said Cayan. “It also represents a powerful new way to track water resources over a very large landscape. We can home in on the Sierra Nevada mountains and critical California snowpack. These results demonstrate that this technique can be used to study changes in fresh water stocks in other regions around the world, if they have a network of GPS sensors.”


Adrian Antal Borsa, Duncan Carr Agnew, and Daniel R. Cayan. Ongoing drought-induced uplift in the western United States. Science, 21 August 2014 DOI: 10.1126/science.1260279


West’s historic drought stokes fears of water crisis

Dust blows around a farmer as he discs a dry, fallowed field in Maxwell, Calif., on Aug. 12, 2014. Max Whittaker/Prime for The Washington Post

By Joby Warrick, The Washington Post Posted: 08/18/14

WILLOWS, Calif. When the winter rains failed to arrive in this Sacramento Valley town for the third straight year, farmers tightened their belts and looked to the reservoirs in the nearby hills to keep them in water through the growing season. When those faltered, some switched on their well pumps, drawing up thousands of gallons from underground aquifers to prevent their walnut trees and alfalfa crops from drying up. Until the wells, too, began to fail. Now, across California’s vital agricultural belt, nervousness over the state’s epic drought has given way to alarm. Streams and lakes have long since shriveled up in many parts of the state, and now the aquifers — always a backup source during the region’s periodic droughts — are being pumped away at rates that scientists say are both historic and unsustainable. One state-owned well near Sacramento registered an astonishing 100-foot drop in three months as the water table, strained by new demand from farmers, homeowners and municipalities, sank to a record low. Other wells have simply dried up, in such numbers that local drilling companies are reporting backlogs of six to eight months to dig a new one.

In still other areas, aquifers are emptying so quickly that the land itself is subsiding, like cereal in a bowl after the milk has drained out….

Hardest hit is California. As of last month, nearly 60 percent of the state is officially in an “exceptional” drought — the highest level, above “severe” — and meteorologists are seeing no immediate change in a relentlessly dry forecast. Indeed, scientists are warning that the state’s cyclical droughts could become longer and more frequent as the climate warms. If that happens, the elaborate infrastructure built to deliver water to the state’s 38 million residents and 27 million cultivated acres may not survive the challenge, new research suggests. Already the drought has led to the “greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture,” said a study last month by researchers at the University of California at Davis.
A massive shift to groundwater helped farmers survive this year, but if pumping continues at current rates, some of the state’s aquifers could soon be depleted, the study warned. One of the authors, Richard Howitt, a professor emeritus of resource economics, likened the problem to a “slow-moving train wreck.” “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” Howitt said. “We’re acting like the super rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”…

Damage to aquifers is viewed as more serious because, once depleted, an aquifer takes far longer to replenish — often decades or more, compared with a few years for an empty reservoir, said Thomas Harter, a groundwater specialist from the university’s Land, Air and Water Resources Department. “It’s a downward path,” he said. “We cannot do what we did this year on a permanent basis.”…

But environmentalists and many scientists argue that any long-term solution would have to balance competing interests, including the need for clean water for growing cities as well as thriving habitats for fish and wildlife. A recent modeling study by researchers at UC Davis’s Center for Watershed Sciences suggested that California’s economy could weather far more severe water shortages — and even a decades-long drought similar to the ones that occurred millennia ago. But doing so would require not only more storage for water but also a general willingness by all sides to make do with less. “Keeping the balance may mean reducing the number of irrigated acres, but if you manage the system well you can still do amazing things with it,” said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who participated in the exercise. Lund said he believes Californians are more capable of adjusting, compared with people in other water-challenged parts of the world, because they already possess experience and expertise and “because we happen to be rich, which helps.”

Despite his engineer’s optimism, Lund keeps a prayer of sorts taped to his office door. It is a two-word play on the University of California’s motto, “Fiat Lux,” or, in Latin, “let there be light.”

“Fiat Pluvia,” Lund’s sign reads. Let there be rain.


Climate change will threaten fish by drying out southwest U.S. streams, study predicts

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 01:12 PM PDT

Fish species native to a major Arizona watershed may lose access to important segments of their habitat by 2050 as surface water flow is reduced by the effects of climate warming, new research suggests. Most of these fish species, found in the Verde River Basin, are already threatened or endangered. Their survival relies on easy access to various resources throughout the river and its tributary streams. Their survival relies on easy access to various resources throughout the river and its tributary streams. The species include the speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and Sonora sucker (Catostomus insignis). A key component of these streams is hydrologic connectivity — a steady flow of surface water throughout the system that enables fish to make use of the entire watershed as needed for eating, spawning and raising offspring. Models that researchers produced to gauge the effects of climate change on the watershed suggest that by the mid 21st century, the network will experience a 17 percent increase in the frequency of stream drying events and a 27 percent increase in the frequency of zero-flow days….


K. L. Jaeger, J. D. Olden, N. A. Pelland. Climate change poised to threaten hydrologic connectivity and endemic fishes in dryland streams. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320890111


New satellite data will help farmers facing drought

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 02:25 PM PDT

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission, scheduled to launch this winter, will collect the kind of local data agricultural and water managers worldwide need. SMAP uses two microwave instruments to monitor the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of soil on Earth’s surface. Together, the instruments create soil moisture estimates with a resolution of about 6 miles (9 kilometers), mapping the entire globe every two or three days….For more information about SMAP, visit:


A new study shows that the state has promised more water to individual customers than can be found in California in a given year. Sacramento Bee file

California allocates vastly more water than supplies allow, study shows

By Matt Weiser The Sacramento Bee Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 – 12:16 pm

The state of California has handed out five times more water rights than nature can deliver, a new study by University of California researchers shows. California’s total freshwater runoff in an average year is about 70 million acre-feet, according to the study. But the state has handed out junior water rights totaling 370 million acre-feet. One acre-foot is enough to meet the needs of two average households for a year. The rivers under the most strain, the research indicates, are virtually all that drain into the Central Valley, including the Sacramento, Feather, Yuba, American, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, Kings and San Joaquin rivers. Others near the top include the Salinas, Santa Clara, Santa Ana and Santa Ynez rivers. “It seems clear that in a lot of these cases, we’ve promised a lot more water than what’s available,” said Ted Grantham, the study’s lead author, who conducted the research as part of postdoctoral studies at UC Davis. “There’s never going to be enough water to meet all of these demands.”

More Information:







World’s Largest Dam Removal Unleashes U.S. River After Century of Electric Production

As Washington State’s Elwha River runs free, a habitat for fish and wildlife is restored.

The Elwha River flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, carrying sediment once trapped behind dams. The gradual release has rebuilt riverbanks and created estuary habitat for Dungeness crabs, clams, and other species. Photograph by Elaine Thompson, Associated Press Michelle Nijhuis for National Geographic Published August 26, 2014

Today, on a remote stretch of the Elwha River in northwestern Washington state, a demolition crew hired by the National Park Service plans to detonate a battery of explosives within the remaining section of the Glines Canyon Dam. If all goes well, the blasts will destroy the last 30 feet of the 210-foot-high dam and will signal the culmination of the largest dam-removal project in the world.  In Asia, Africa, and South America, large hydroelectric dams are still being built, as they once were in the United States, to power economic development, with the added argument now that the electricity they provide is free of greenhouse gas emissions. But while the U.S. still benefits from the large dams it built in the 20th century, there’s a growing recognition that in some cases, at least, dam building went too far—and the Elwha River is a symbol of that….


California Adaptation Forum 2014

What do you get when you bring together local, state & federal government representatives; academics; nonprofit practitioners; and private sector adaptation specialists? A lot of conversations, sharing lessons learned, ideas for future collaboration, and new friends. Last week’s California Adaptation Forum (#CAF14) brought together about 800 people to talk about climate adaptation and resilience. With breakout sessions and presentations focusing on everything from technical guidance on developing sea level rise projections to discussions on community engagement to determining success (or progress) in adaptation, the conference touched on all facets of building resilience to climate change. ASAP (American Society of Adaptation Professionals) was proud to sponsor this event and play a small part in making it a success. Having this much energy and excitement (more people attended CAF14 than last year’s National Adaptation Forum) at a regional adaptation event bodes very well for the progress of the field a whole. Congratulations to all the ASAP members (new and old), the Local Government Commission, and thanks to The Kresge Foundation and all the other sponsors who made this event a success.






U.S. to Join Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture
At the recent Africa Leaders Summit event, “Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate,” Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States will join Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). The nexus of food security, climate change, and resilience is finally getting some attention both here and in Africa….





Scientists Invent a Way to Generate Electricity From Your Home’s Windows

A transparent solar concentrator turns window glass and even smartphones into solar panels.

Michigan State University doctoral student Yimu Zhao and Professor Richard Lunt test a luminescent solar concentrator. (Photo: G.L. Kohuth/Getty Images)

August 20, 2014 By Todd Woody

Forget putting solar panels on your roof—in the near future, you may be generating electricity from windows, skylights, or even your iPhone. Researchers at Michigan State University have created a transparent photovoltaic material that can be placed over glass or any other clear surface. It’s not a new idea. Captivated by the notion of transforming glass-walled skyscrapers into giant solar power stations, scientists have spent years tinkering with solar films that can generate electricity. The problem? Most of those materials carry a colored tint, which would make working in a building with such solar windows “like working in a disco,” in the words of Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State. The breakthrough made by researchers led by Lunt was to create a material that is truly see-through. How? The luminescent solar concentrator they developed is composed of organic molecules that absorb wavelengths of sunshine invisible to human eyes, so the device could be made completely transparent. That collected sunlight is then shuttled to the edges of the plastic-like material, where it strikes thin strips of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity….



Tesla Trumps Toyota 3: Why Electric Vehicles Are Beating Hydrogen Cars Today

by Joe Romm Posted on August 25, 2014

While electric vehicles have experienced a marketplace renaissance in the last decade, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles have not. This post examines why — and why that’s great news for climate hawks….



Soon, Europe Might Not Need Any New Power Plants

by Jeff Spross Posted on August 24, 2014 Updated: August 25, 2014

According to UBS, the combined effect of solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles could render centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels economically obsolete.///







California Is ‘Woefully Unprepared’ For Sea Level Rise, Says A New Report

by Jeff Spross Posted on August 21, 2014

California likely faces three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, along with billions in damage to its economy, according to a report from the state’s legislature. The report, picked up by the San Francisco Examiner, was recently released by the Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy. This committee held a string of hearings around the state to collect testimony from scientists and industry leaders on just what the state can expect from sea level rise, and what the consequences could be for its economy and infrastructure In particular, the report highlighted data from the United States’ oldest operating sea level gauge, which sits at Fort Point in the San Francisco Bay. It shows a seven-inch rise in the local sea level over the last one hunted years. The report then pointed to a 2012 analysis by the National Research Council, which said California should prepare for another three feet of sea level rise by 2100 — and that low-lying areas such as the San Francisco International Airport could start flooding within decades. Sea level rise can in fact occur at different speeds from region to region, and California in particular faces a faster pace than surrounding states. That’s because of likely higher local sea levels driven by El Niño climate patterns, and because portions of the state south of Cape Mendocino are subsiding thanks to tectonic plate movement. The Select Committee’s report pointed to storms and king tides that have flooded the Bay Area in recent years as the kind of events that can be exacerbated by sea level rise, and which herald the “new norm” for the state. Flooding could also bring salt water from the ocean into coastal aquifers, contaminating the state’s supply of drinking water, and coastal erosion could do away with some of the natural buffers that protect coastal communities…..




NOAA Lists 20 Coral Species As Threatened Due To Climate Change, Fishing And Pollution

by Katie Valentine Posted on August 28, 2014

The decision is a “result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA,” according to the agency.


Chile Is Poised To Pass South America’s First Carbon Tax

by Andrew Breiner Posted on August 28, 2014

It’s a big year for fighting climate change in Chile….


International scientific team criticizes adoption of ‘novel ecosystems’ by policymakers

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 07:20 AM PDT

Novel ecosystems arise when human activities transform biological communities through species invasions and environmental change. They are seemingly ubiquitous, and thus many policymakers and ecologists argue for them to be accepted as the “new normal” -— an idea the researchers say is a bad one…


Leading scientists call for a stop to non-essential use of fluorochemicals

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 07:02 AM PDT

A number of leading international researchers recommend that fluorochemicals are only used where they are absolutely essential, until better methods exist to measure the chemicals and more is known about their potentially harmful effects. Fluorochemicals are synthetically produced chemicals, which repel water and oil and are persistent towards aggressive physical and chemical conditions in industrial processing. These characteristics
have made the fluorochemicals useful in numerous processes and products, such as coatings for food paper and board.


AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images A Kurdish fighter looks at smoke rising on the horizon following U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants at Mosul Dam.

Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.

by fred pearce 25 Aug 2014 e369Yale
There is a water war going on in the Middle East this summer. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations.Blood is being spilled to capture the giant dams that control the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. These structures hold back vast volumes of water. With their engineers fleeing as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, the danger is that the result could be catastrophe — either deliberate or accidental. “Managing water works along the Tigris and Euphrates requires a highly specialized skill set, but there is no indication that the Islamic State possesses it,” says Russell Sticklor, a water researcher for the CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, who has followed events closely. The stakes are especially high since the Islamic State’s capture earlier this month of the structurally unstable Mosul Dam on the Tigris, which Iraqi and Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. airstrikes, succeeded in retaking last week. Without constant repair work, say engineers, the Mosul Dam could collapse and send a wall of water downstream, killing tens of thousands of people. Fights over water have pervaded the Middle East for a long time now. Water matters at least as much as land. It is at the heart of the siege of Gaza – the River Jordan is the big prize for Israel and the Palestinians. And over the years, water has brought Iraq, Syria and Turkey close to war over their shared rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris….



6 Ways The Washington Post Could Show It’s Serious About Climate Change

by Joe Romm Posted on August 27, 2014 at 9:10 am

Cheers to the Washington Post for (finally) taking human-caused climate change seriously enough to launch a series of editorials demanding a change in both dialogue and action. Jeers for suggesting the paper will now be “more inclined to take op-eds that challenge” their view that climate science is real and that the threat posed by it is “existential.”  The Post’s first editorial in the series this week was about “The country’s sinking debate over global warming.” It begins by stating “the national debate on climate change has devolved.” As the paper’s editorial board explains, it’s devolved from serious talk by both parties before Obama’s election into inaction because “a faction that rejects the science of global warming dragged the GOP into irresponsible head-in-the-sand-ism.”

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt explained to Media Matters why the Post took the unusual step of committing to a week of editorials on climate change: “Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don’t get much bigger than that.” Precisely.

In the spirit of these statements by the paper, here are six ways the Washington Post could show that it truly gets that climate change is an “existential threat.”


1. Fact-check op-eds on climate
2. Stop printing comments and letters from climate science deniers
3. End false balance
4. Restore coverage on climate change
5. Put Juliet Eilperin (and/or another top climate reporter) back on the climate beat
6. Bring on a full-time science blogger






CHART: How Many Birds Are Killed By Wind, Solar, Oil, And Coal?

by Emily Atkin Posted on August 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

In response to growing accusations from both conservationists and conservatives that renewable energy sources like solar and wind kill too many birds, U.S. News and World Report has compiled data on which energy industries are responsible for the most bird deaths every year.

For each power source — wind, solar, oil and gas, nuclear, and coal — the data on bird deaths is gathered from different advocacy and industry groups, academic institutions, and government sources. Because estimates vary so widely on solar, wind, and oil, U.S. News included both low-range and high-range estimates for how many birds are killed by those electricity sources. Either way, the results show that even with high-range estimates for renewables compared to low-range estimates for fossil fuels, fossil fuels are responsible for far more bird fatalities than solar or wind. Note the chart below:

A U.S. News and World Report chart shows estimates of how many birds are killed each year by different fuel sources. CREDIT: U.S. News & World Report

The results should be taken with a grain of salt. As U.S. News noted, each study used a different methodology to come up with their numbers. “There’s no standardized way of doing it that everyone can agree to,” Garry George, the renewable energy director for Audubon California, told the magazine.

In addition, some of the research used is outdated, and does not take into account that renewable power stands to increase in the United States. For example, the study used to estimate bird deaths from United States wind power was from 2009, and wind power has increased substantially in the United States since then. According to the American Wind Energy Association, total installed wind capacity in the U.S. was approximately 35,000 megawatts — a number that has increased to about 61,000 for 2014. Those numbers stand to increase as well, as more than 12,000 megawatts of wind capacity were currently under construction at the end of 2013, according to AWEA. The research also varies by source. Both the low and high estimates of wind power bird deaths came from a peer-reviewed study in the journal Biological Conservation, and was essentially a round-up of all available data peer-reviewed studies on the matter done by other scientists. For oil and gas, both the low and high estimates came from a Bureau of Land Management memo from 2012. The low estimate for bird deaths from solar power comes from the solar company BrightSource, which was recently accused by the Center for Biological Diversity of operating a solar farm that kills as many as 28,000 birds a year. The high estimate comes from the Center for Biological Diversity, whose estimate is just from that one solar farm in California. Bird deaths from solar farms have been estimated to be relatively low, though — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife study earlier this year found only 233 bird deaths at three different solar farms in California over the course of two years. As for coal, those bird death numbers came from a peer-reviewed study in the journal Renewable Energy. That estimate had a more sweeping methodology, though, with the study’s author including everything from coal mining to production — and bird deaths from climate change that coal emissions produce. Together, that amounted to about five birds per gigawatt-hour of energy produced by coal, almost 8 million per year. Either way, U.S. News notes that none of these numbers hold a candle to cats, which are estimated to kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds every year.


The World’s Existing Power Plants Will Emit 300 Billion Tons Of Carbon Dioxide In Their Lifetimes

by Jeff Spross Posted on August 27, 2014

New research published Tuesday is also the first to quantify how fast these “baked in” emissions are growing as more power plants are constructed…..


Cutting emissions pays for itself, study concludes

Posted: 24 Aug 2014 12:23 PM PDT

Health care savings can greatly defray costs of carbon-reduction policies, experts report. But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? Researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the U.S., and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.


Nanoparticle research could enhance oil recovery, tracing of fracking fluid

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 12:35 PM PDT

Researchers are examining how nanoparticles move underground, knowledge that could eventually help improve recovery in oil fields and discover where hydraulic fracking chemicals travel.


Novel recycling methods: Fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 11:13 AM PDT

A new process has been developed that will greatly simplify the process of sorting plastics in recycling plants. The method enables automated identification of polymers, facilitating rapid separation of plastics for re-use.


Turning waste from rice, parsley and other foods into biodegradable plastic

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 08:05 AM PDT

Your chairs, synthetic rugs and plastic bags could one day be made out of cocoa, rice and vegetable waste rather than petroleum, scientists are now reporting. The novel process they developed and their results could help the world deal with its agricultural and plastic waste problems.


Water and sunlight: The formula for sustainable fuel

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 06:07 AM PDT

Scientists have replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen as a fuel.







Climate-Smart Guide, Part II

The Art of the Possible: Identifying Adaptation Options– webinar recording from July

Presenters include:

  • Susan Julius- EPA Global Change Impacts & Adaptation Research Program
  • Jordan M. West – EPA Global Change Impacts & Adaptation Research Program
  • Molly S. Cross – Wildlife Conservation Society

Description: This webinar is the second in a series focused on the recently released guide, Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice. Armed with an understanding of climate vulnerabilities in the context of climate-informed goals, the next step is to identify a full range of possible adaptation responses. This webinar will focus on Chapter 8 of the Guide and will look at a process for using vulnerability information as the basis for generating specific adaptation options. Case studies will be used to illustrate identification of options, considerations for maximizing climate-smart “design” of options, and applicability of options in the context of the dual pathways of managing for change and persistence.


Also, if you missed our last Safeguarding webinar on “The National Climate Assessment: Actionable Science for Natural Systems” held June 3rd, a recording is available at:


Our Coast, Our Future- New State-of-the-Art SF Bay Mapping Tool  August 27 and September 3— both 10-11 am

For sea level rise and storms inside San Francisco Bay. OCOF staff will demonstrate this new, state-of-the-art planning tool and answer your questions. The tool will help Bay Area planners understand, visualize, and anticipate LOCAL coastal and bayside climate change impacts. More info:


Connecting Farmers & Ranchers to Innovative Technology in Bat Conservation
NRCS Webinars—through August 27, 2014; Wednesdays, 11 AM Pacific

Bat Conservation International is pleased to announce the dates for our NRCS Webinar Series entitled “Connecting Farmers & Ranchers to Innovative Technology in Bat Conservation“.    Webinars will be held on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. Central. 

Topics include:

7/23 – Bats and Integrated Pest Management part I

7/30 – Bats and Integrated Pest Management part II

  8/6 –  Bats, Agriculture, and Water for Wildlife

8/13 – Bats, Agriculture, and Wildlife Habitat Monitoring

8/20 – Bats, Agriculture, and Wind Energy Development

8/27 – Bats, Agriculture, and Mine Closures

The webinars are open to all NRCS staff and any producers who would like to attend.  Please feel free to forward this information to other interested parties.  Anyone not already on our e-mail list can register for the series at (if you received this e-mail directly, you do not need to register).




The California State Park and Recreation Commission:

Forum on State Park Management and Restoration of Natural Resources

September 19, 2014 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA

The Forum will be part of the State Park and Recreation Commission quarterly meeting, and will provide an overview of the scope and scale of California State Parks’ natural resource management responsibilities and the department’s approach to natural resource protection. Topics will include Forest Management, Coastal Resources, Invasive Species, and Protected Lands’ Greatest Needs and Challenges. Panel discussions will address California State Parks and partner organizations’ current and planned natural resource management activities. Panel Participants include: Save the Redwoods League, Audubon California, the CA Invasive Plant Council, U.C. Berkeley, Point Blue Conservation Science, and the National Park Service along with State Parks employees on panels and presentations.

The California State Park and Recreation Commission welcomes all to join us, learn more, and offer questions and comments. The Commission Meeting will be live-streamed at

For more information call 916/653-0524 or email P&
A Field Trip will be held on Thursday September 18, 2014, from Noon to 5:30 p.m.*

The public is also invited to accompany State Park’s personnel and Commission Members on a field trip featuring coastal dune and estuary restoration, snowy plover management, forest stand management in the Monterey Bay, and more. (Participants must provide self-transportation.)


***SAVE THE DATE!!***  Sponsored by the CA LCC and CA Dept. of Water Resources

Traditional Ecological Knowledge Workshop September 23rd, 2014 @ California State University, Sacramento

Registration will open in June 2014. Check the California LCC website for details:


Visualizing and Analyzing Environmental Data with R
November 18-19, 2014 Sacramento, CA

This course is designed for participants who wish to gain beginning to intermediate skills in using R for manipulating, visualizing and analyzing their environmental data.
It is applicable to anyone that conducts environmental monitoring or uses environmental data for research, management, or policy-making and is recommended for anyone needing to become proficient with R basics. Read More


Ninth International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress meeting, July 9th 2015

Coming to Portland, Oregon July 5-10, 2015! The symposium, which is held every four years, brings scientists and practitioners from around the globe together to discuss and share landscape ecology work and information. The theme of the 2015 meeting is Crossing Scales, Crossing Borders: Global Approaches to Complex Challenges.



JOBS  (apologies for any duplication; thanks for passing along)



Environment for the Americas has internships for Latino youth ages 18 – 25 years. Contact Natasha Kerr at with questions.









Paul Ehrlich and Ben Santer recently wrote a “Biographical Memoir” of Steve for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The memoir is available free on line at the National Academies of Sciences here.



UN seeks ‘Malala’ on climate change

29 August 2014 Last updated at 01:06 ET

Five hundred people are to learn if they have won the chance to vent their frustration at world leaders over the stalemate on climate policy. They applied to address more than 100 heads of state and government at next month’s UN climate summit in New York. Many of the candidates are established climate campaigners; they span 115 countries and include victims of natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan. Just one winner will be chosen to speak at the plenary session. The rules stipulate that it must be a woman under 30 – which the organisers say will give a voice to the next generation. They maintain that the majority of the poorest in society are women, so they are most likely to suffer worst from climate change.
The UN describes this as its first open competition to select members of the public to address world leaders. It attracted 544 applicants to email mini-videos urging elected leaders to cut the emissions of CO2 that are driving climate change and ocean acidification. The organisers are hoping the chosen one will electrify the conference as Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did when addressing the UN in 2013 as part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child.

Malala had survived being shot in the head the previous year by Taliban gunmen because of her campaign for girls’ rights….


Using the Genes of Israeli Wheat To Fight Climate Change

A New Technology Extracts Useful Features of Wild Plants

Searching For Good Genes: Tamar Krugman, the curator of the Wild Cereal Gene Bank in Haifa, is using the genes of wild wheat to breed a variety that is resistant to drought. courtesy of Tamar Krugman

By Richard Blaustein Published August 20, 2014.

Climate change and population growth have agricultural experts throughout the world increasingly worried. In addition to the usual battles against pests and diseases, poor countries now face threats of food shortages, price spikes and the political instability those conditions can cause. Since the amount of land set aside for agriculture is limited, researchers are therefore eager to find new ways to boost yield, keeping prices down. And as part of that quest, scientists are increasingly turning to wild, non-domesticated wheat to search for useful genes that can be bred into commercial grain. Israel is a center for this new technology. Despite its small size, Israel is home to many genetically diverse populations of wild plants. Wild relatives of crop plants are especially important because they contain genes that make them particularly well-suited to differing ecological settings; they are also more resistant to some diseases and grow in a variety of soil types. The genes that allow this flexibility were often lost during domestication, when genetic diversity was sacrificed so that plants cultivated for farming could take on standardized forms. Of the Israeli wild crops, wild emmer wheat, the progenitor of all domesticated wheat, is of particular interest because Israel is thought to be a secondary site (after Turkey) of wheat domestication: This is where wild emmer populations once mixed with domesticated strains. In addition, Israel is a hotspot of genetic diversity because four large regional botanic zones — the Mediterranean, the Great Rift Valley, the Saharo-Arabian desert and the Irano-Turanian ecoregions — converge here. These tracts support wild wheat populations that have adapted genetically to various ecological conditions, such as different soils and rainfall levels. By obtaining samples from various wild populations, plant scientists can access these wild plant genes and transfer them to crops of the same or even different species.

Today, Israel has repositories for preserving this wild wheat, such as the Israeli Department of Agriculture-funded Israel Plant Gene Bank, which stores wild relatives of crop along with thousands of non-wild samples. Another major repository for wild wheat is the Wild Cereal Gene Bank, which is housed at the University of Haifa’s Institute of Evolution and contains more than 3000 wild wheat samples collected mostly in Israel. Jorge Dubcovsky, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, and the Institute of Evolution recently collaborated in the discovery of a high protein content gene. Dubcovsky used wild wheat from Israel to search for the gene, which can be bred into commercial wheat, producing a nutrient-enhanced cereal that could address serious protein deficiencies and improve infant nutrition in the developing world….


Antibiotics in early life may alter immunity long-term

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 06:59 AM PDT

A new study aims to help scientists understand how different antibiotics affect bacteria that play a positive role in promoting a healthy immune system. “This is the first step to understanding which bacteria are absolutely necessary to develop a healthy immune system later in life,” says the lead researcher.


Home is where the microbes are

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 11:27 AM PDT

A person’s home is their castle, and they populate it with their own subjects: millions and millions of bacteria. Scientists have detailed the microbes that live in houses and apartments. The results shed light on the complicated interaction between humans and the microbes that live on and around us. Mounting evidence suggests that these microscopic, teeming communities play a role in human health and disease treatment and transmission.


Ibuprofen posing potential threat to fish, researchers say

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 06:00 AM PDT

Many rivers contain levels of ibuprofen that could be adversely affecting fish health, researchers report. In what is believed to be the first study to establish the level of risk posed by ibuprofen at the country scale, the researchers examined 3,112 stretches of river which together receive inputs from 21 million people.


An inconvenient truth: Does responsible consumption benefit corporations more than society?

Posted: 26 Aug 2014 08:29 AM PDT

Are environmental and social problems such as global warming and poverty the result of inadequate governmental regulations or does the burden fall on our failure as consumers to make better consumption choices? According to a new study, responsible consumption shifts the burden for solving global problems from governments to consumers and ultimately benefits corporations more than society.


The ABC’s of animal speech: Not so random after all

Posted: 19 Aug 2014 05:02 PM PDT

The calls of many animals, from whales to wolves, might contain more language-like structure than previously thought, according to study that raises new questions about the evolutionary origins of human language.


Paleolithic diet may have included snails 10,000 years earlier than previously thought

Posted: 20 Aug 2014 01:46 PM PDT

Paleolithic inhabitants of modern-day Spain may have eaten snails 10,000 years earlier than their Mediterranean neighbors. Snails were widespread in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, but it is still unknown when and how they were incorporated into human diets.


Why major cow milk allergen is actually allergenic

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 05:39 AM PDT

Cow milk allergy occurs in children and in adults. Scientists have investigated what actually makes the milk allergenic. A specific protein in milk known as beta-lactoglobulin is able to initiate an allergy only when being devoid of iron. Loaded with iron, the protein is harmless. The scientists discovered the same mechanism recently with regard to birch pollen allergy.





We know that people will pay more for an ocean view, but did you know that water actually makes you more creative? That a walk along the coast helps you be more connected? We talk with Wallace J. Nichols, the author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Watch and find out about your Blue Mind! Everyday Action: Spend some time in, on or under water and connect with your “Blue Mind.” Make your favorite ocean or water photo your computer screensaver, and share “Blue Mind” photos with your friends. We invite you to watch this interesting video podcast. A new Thank You Ocean Report will be posted approximately every two weeks. You can subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or onYouTube.

















Little-known fault suspected in Northern California 6.0 quake

David Perlman SF Chronicle Updated 9:59 pm, Sunday, August 24, 2014



What species is this famous bird and why was she famous?

ANSWER: Martha was a Passenger pigeon. She was the last of her species and a motivation for the U.S. to pass the first federal law protecting wildlife and much later the Endangered Species Act.

SOURCE: Lone Passenger Pigeon Escapes Pie Pan, Lands In Smithsonian (NPR, 06/27/14) Why the obsession with this one bird? James says a lot of animals have gone extinct, but it’s rare to be able to go to the zoo and look the last one in the eyes.

RELATED: The Passenger Pigeon’s Everlasting Mark: America’s Most Infamous Extinction (Huffington Post, 08/25/14) We rarely know the exact date and time an entire species goes extinct, but in the case of the passenger pigeon, we do. Martha, the very last of her species, took her final breath at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1st 1914, marking the end of a species that was once the most abundant in North America. This was America’s first infamous extinction.






Ellie Cohen, President and CEO

Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly PRBO)

3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954

707-781-2555 x318  | Follow Point Blue on Facebook!


Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.


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