Jamble Magazine Green Economy – Green News


August 21, 2018

Rattlesnakes sound warning on biodiversity and habitat fragmentation

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

ScienceDaily: Like the canary in the coal mine, the timber rattlesnake may be telling us something about the environment we share.

Cornell University researchers — using cutting-edge tools including fine-scale molecular genetics and microsatellite markers — tracked the rattlesnakes to understand how wildlife habitats are affected by even modest human encroachment.

“We used this species as a model to investigate general processes underlying population-level responses to habitat fragmentation,” said the authors, led by Cornell post-doctoral researcher Rulon Clark, in the paper “Roads, Interrupted Dispersal and Genetic Diversity in Timber Rattlesnakes,” currently available online and to be published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Researchers discovered that fragmentation of natural habitats by roads — even smaller, low-traffic highways — has had a significant effect over the past 80 years on genetic structure of timber rattlesnakes in four separate regions of upstate New York. Less genetic diversity means populations become more susceptible to illness or environmental changes that threaten their survival.

“Our study adds to a growing body of literature indicating that even anthropogenic habitat modifications that does not destroy a large amount of habitat can create significant barriers to gene flow,” said researchers.

While the rattlesnakes shorter lifespan and method of travel may help make the impact of roadways relatively quick and dramatic, the new findings reinforce earlier work on other terrestrial animals — from grizzly bears to frogs — and provides a fresh warning about habitat fragmentation that all plans for future human development must consider.

Researchers used fine-scale molecular genetics as well as behavioral and ecological data to look at timber rattlesnakes from 19 different hibernacula — shared wintering quarters — in four regions in New York: the Adirondacks, Sterling Forest, Bear Mountain and Chemung County. In each case they used microsatellite markers to track how populations dispersed from their winter dens, their subsequent reproductive patterns, and how roads in these areas altered that gene flow. The roads themselves — all paved roadways built in the late 1920s to early 19030s for motorized traffic — were examined for use and relationship to natural barriers. Tissue samples were examined from more than 500 individual snakes.

“Over all four regions and 19 hibernacula, none of the genetic clusters … spanned either major or minor roads; hibernacula belonging to the same genetic deme were always on the same side of the road,” the paper states. “This fine-scaled analysis, repeated over four geographic regions, underscores the significance of roads as barrier to dispersal and natural population processes for timber rattlesnakes and perhaps other species.”

The research team also included Kelly Zamudio, Cornell University ecology and evolutionary biology professor; William Brown, professor of biology at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and Randy Stechert, an environmental consultant for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Clark is currently an assistant professor at San Diego State University.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the New York State Biodiversity Research Institute.

Tropical forests affected by habitat fragmentation store less biomass and carbon dioxide

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

ScienceDaily: Deforestation in tropical rain forests could have an even greater impact on climate change than has previously been thought. The combined biomass of a large number of small forest fragments left over after habitat fragmentation can be up to 40 per cent less than in a continuous natural forest of the same overall size.

This is the conclusion reached by German and Brazilian researchers who used a simulation model on data from the Atlantic Forest, a coastal rain forest in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, around 88 per cent of which has already been cleared.

The remaining forest fragments are smaller, so the ratio between area and edge is less favourable. The reason for the reduction in biomass is the higher mortality rate of trees at the edges of forest fragments, according to the results published by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the University of São Paulo in Ecological Modelling. This reduces the number of big old trees, which contain a disproportionately high amount of biomass.

Altered wind conditions and light climate lead to a general change in the microclimate at the forest edges. Big old trees are particularly vulnerable to these factors. With the help of FORMIND, a forest simulation software developed at the UFZ, the researchers modelled different sizes of forest patches left over after landscape fragmentation. The smaller a patch of forest is, the worse is the ratio between edge and area. Simulation results suggest that a natural tropical forest of our study area contained approximately 250 tonnes of aboveground biomass per hectare, a forest fragment measuring 100 hectares has around 228 tonnes of biomass per hectare, while a patch of rain forest measuring one hectare has only 140 tonnes of biomass per hectare. In other words, the biomass in the forest remnants in this study fell by as much as 40 per cent.

“This finding is of great significance for the function of rain forests as a biomass store. It is important to be clear about the fact that we are losing more than just the deforested areas. Even the remaining forest is thinned out as a result. It is a mistake to think only in terms of total area. We have to start thinking in terms of the spatial configuration of the remaining forest fragments as well,” says Dr Jürgen Groeneveld of the UFZ, explaining the significance of the study for climate policy. As well as the biomass yield per hectare, these fragmentation-related spatial (edge) effects also have impacts on climate balance and biodiversity, i.e. on several dimensions of sustainability.

The simulation integrated results from other researchers who are conducting unique long-term experiments on fragmentation in Amazonas. However, a large number of questions remain unanswered: Are the edges stable? Can the forest regenerate or does the degradation continue inwards? The researchers therefore view the figures as a preliminary, cautious estimate.

“But if it is confirmed, it is a really fundamental finding,” adds Dr Sandro Pütz of the UFZ. “Forest fragments cannot perform in the same way as continuous forests.” The researchers therefore intend to investigate the long-term effects over the coming years to find out how the rain forest remnants develop in the long term. The results of this study will also have fundamental consequences for forest conservation, at least in terms of the carbon balance: “In any case, in terms of carbon storage, it is better to protect 100 continuous hectares than to protect 100 one-hectare patches,” says Jürgen Groeneveld.

The data used in the model come from the tropical coastal rain forest in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The Atlantic Forest was severely deforested in the second half of the 19th century for construction timber, charcoal and grazing and arable land. Although only around an eighth of the original forest area remains, these remnants are still regarded as international biodiversity hot spots, since they are home to an as yet not fully recorded, but impressive number of endangered animal and plant species that are not found anywhere else. Since 2003, Brazilian and German researchers have therefore been investigating the long-term effects of landscape fragmentation on habitats in the Atlantic Forest, which used to stretch along the whole of Brazil’s east coast and is today one of the most endangered rain forests in the world.

The new findings from the ecological modelling experts led by Andreas Huth and Klaus Henle are also relevant for negotiations at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. Under the heading REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), the conference will be discussing a mechanism for including the forests in climate protection. Forests bind carbon dioxide. Deforestation or degradation of forests leads to a further release or less fixing of carbon dioxide per unit area, thereby increasing the greenhouse effect. Around 20 per cent of total global CO2 emissions comes from the destruction of forests.

Giant Pandas: landscape has big effect on movement of genes within population

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

ScienceDaily: Genetic analysis of giant pandas has shown that features of their landscape have a profound effect on the movement of genes within their population.

Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Genetics found that physical barriers, such as areas lacking bamboo plants and other forest foliage, can separate giant pandas into isolated genetic groups.

Fuwen Wei, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, worked with a team of researchers to study giant pandas in the Xiaoxiangling and Daxiangling mountains. He said, “These results suggest that gene flow will be enhanced if the connectivity between the currently fragmented bamboo forests is increased. This may be of importance to conservation efforts as gene flow is one of the most important factors for maintaining genetic diversity within a species and counteracting the negative effects of habitat fragmentation.”

The giant panda is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. This is the first study to demonstrate that there is a relationship between landscape features and gene flow within their population. Wei and his colleagues recovered 192 fecal samples, which were found to come from 53 unique genotypes. These ‘genetic signatures’ demonstrated signs of fragmentation within the panda population.

The researchers said, “It is vital to reconnect the fragmented habitats and increase the connectivity of bamboo resources within a habitat to restore population viability of the giant panda in these regions.”

Dyes, Laundry Aids, and EPA

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

Environmental News Network: The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) released action plans today to address the potential health risks of benzidine dyes, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and nonylphenol (NP)/nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). The chemicals are widely used in both consumer and industrial applications, including dyes, flame retardants, and industrial laundry detergents. The plans identify a range of actions the agency is considering under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Benzidine dyes are used in the production of consumer textiles, paints, printing inks, paper, and pharmaceuticals and may pose health problems, including cancer.

Benzidine is a manufactured chemical that does not occur naturally. It is a crystalline solid that may be grayish-yellow, white, or reddish-gray. In the environment, benzidine is found in either its “free” state (as an organic base), or as a salt. Benzidine was used to produce dyes for cloth, paper, and leather. It is no longer produced or used commercially in the U.S.

HBCD is used as a flame retardant in expanded polystyrene foam in the building and construction industry, as well as in some consumer products. HBCD has been shown to be persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment and may pose potential reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects in people.

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD or HBCDD) is a brominated flame retardant. It consists of twelve carbon, eighteen hydrogen, and six bromine atoms tied to the ring. Its primary application is in extruded and expanded polystyrene foam that is used as thermal insulation in the building industry. HBCD is highly efficient in this application so that very low levels are required to reach the desired flame retardancy.

NP/NPEs are used in many industrial applications and consumer products such as detergents, cleaners, agricultural and indoor pesticides, as well as food packaging.

NPE nonionic surfactants deliver a combination of economy and performance in a wide variety of applications, including cleaning product formulations, paints and coatings, emulsion polymerization, and many others. These NPE surfactants are used anywhere there is a need for increased surface activity, and provide excellent all-purpose detergency and wetting, as well as solubilization and emulsification. Unfortunately they are not easily removed or treated from waste water and pose potentially severe health problems such as endocrine disruption.

The range of actions on these chemicals include adding HBCD and NP/NPE to EPA’s new Chemicals of Concern list, issuing significant new use rules for all three chemicals, and, for HBCD and benzidine dyes, imposing new reporting requirements on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory and potentially banning or limiting the manufacture or use of the chemicals.

In addition to EPA’s efforts, the Textile Rental Services Association, which represents 98 percent of the industrial laundry facilities in the U.S., has committed to voluntarily phase out the use of NPEs in industrial liquid detergents by Dec. 31, 2013 and industrial powder detergents by the end of 2014.

Read more>>

Ocean pH

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

Environmental News Network: Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by their uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.18 to 8.1. PH is a measure of the acidity  or basicity of a solution. It approximates but is not equal to concentration of hydrogen ions expressed on a logarithmic scale. A low pH indicates a high concentration of hydrogen ions, while a high pH indicates a low concentration. A strong acid would be less than 1 on this scale. A recent study indicates the relative impact on future ocean acidification of different aspects of global climate change mitigation policies such as the year that global emissions peak.

The absorption of CO2 by water results in the formation of acid (carbonic acid) which is similar in concept to acid rain.

Although the natural absorption of CO2 by the world’s oceans
helps to mitigate the climatic effects of high CO2, it is believed that the resulting decrease in pH will have negative consequences, primarily for marine life used to a certain pH level that use CO2 to build carbonate shells. These span the food chain from autotrophs to heterotrophs and include organisms such as coccolithophores, corals, foraminifera, echinoderms, crustaceans and molluscs.

Aside from calcification, organisms may suffer other adverse effects, either directly as reproductive or physiological effects, or indirectly through negative impacts on food resources. Marine life will change as pH levels change. As of yet, there is no complete understanding of the overall effects.

In the Geophyswical Research Letters (VOL. 37, L15704, 5 PP., 2010), there is an article on the influence of environmental mitigation policy on ocean pH changes.

Relative to a scenario where CO2 emissions peak in 2016 and then decrease by 1% per year tend to lead to the same or current pH by 2100. No CO2 emission reduction
leads to a decrease of global mean ocean surface pH to 7.67 to 7.81 in the same time frame.

If emissions are capped for example in 2016 and then reduced by 5% per year, ocean pH may be limited to a minimum of 8.02. This is still more acidic than the nineteenth century’s pH level but better than the worse case projected in these computer simulations.

Unfortunately, the buffering capacity of the oceans is really not known, What is clear is that the ocean’s pH is going down.
Read more>> 

Flood disaster may require largest aid effort in modern history

Category: Green Earth – Admin 12:39 pm

Climatewire: One of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever attempted is now mobilizing to help Pakistan cope with what its government and U.N. agencies are calling the worst natural disaster in modern memory.The death toll is much smaller than in past disasters: About 1,600 are believed dead so far. But experts say initial assessments show the scale of damage and human suffering left by torrential monsoon rains over the past three weeks dwarfs the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2005 Kashmir earthquake, 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster in Burma, and Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti — combined.

“What we face in Pakistan today is a natural calamity of unprecedented proportions,” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said during a special U.N. session to address the crisis, held here yesterday. “These are the worst monsoon floods in living memory.”

Debate is heating up over what caused the catastrophe, with experts pointing to deforestation, intensive land-use practices or mismanagement of the Indus River as possible causes. But top U.N. and Pakistani government officials are now clearly pointing to climate change as the principal culprit.

“Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis,” said Qureshi in his appeal for aid. “The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

Both Qureshi and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hinted that they would use the Pakistan crisis to spur the now-stalled international climate talks. At the very least, the disaster shows that massive funding is needed to make the developing world more resilient to extreme weather events, Ban said.

“Ultimately, we must recognize that climate change will bring more incidents of extreme weather; that is why we must invest more in reducing the risk of future disasters,” he said.

Clinton pledges $150 million, seeks private help

Meanwhile, the focus lies squarely on the humanitarian response in Pakistan.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told government leaders gathered here that the United States would contribute $150 million of the $459 million the United Nations says is needed to finance a 90-day emergency period. She also urged corporations and private citizens to donate money online to the Department of State’s Pakistan Relief Fund or to give small $10 donations through their mobile phones by sending the text message “flood” to the number 27722.

“We know we face a humanitarian disaster of monumental proportions,” Clinton said.

Clinton added that so far, the U.S. military has distributed more than 400,000 meals from storehouses in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on top of 1 million pounds of supplies, including enough shelter material for 100,000 people. At the same time, the World Food Programme says it has distributed enough food rations to meet the needs of more than a million people for one month.

U.K. head of international development Andrew Mitchell said his government would contribute $100 million to relief efforts. An additional $25 million has been raised from private donors in the United Kingdom, he said. Germany has committed €25 million for flood relief.

The response from Muslim nations has been slower but is now building up. Saudi Arabia has told Pakistan that it would contribute relief in excess of $100 million.

Thus far, about 60 percent of the United Nations’ $459 million funding appeal has been met. Billions of dollars more will be needed in the long run “to help Pakistan meet the immediacy of this crisis and then help them recover from it,” Clinton said.

Estimated losses are immense.

Aid coordinators in Islamabad say between 15 million and 20 million people have been hit, losing their homes, livelihoods or access to basic needs like sanitation, health care, food and potable water.

Qureshi said eruptions of violence and rioting over food shortages couldn’t be ruled out.

Impending food and disease crises

“A food crisis is also possible if food assistance is not reached soon enough,” warned Martin Mogwanja, the United Nations’ chief humanitarian relief coordinator in Pakistan. “And if [aid is] not provided soon enough, there could be a second wave of death caused by waterborne diseases such as gastroenteritis and acute waterborne disease,” he told reporters in a teleconference yesterday.

Officials say about 800,000 to 900,000 homes have been destroyed or made unlivable. The government believes 4.6 million have been left homeless in just two provinces, Punjab and Sindh.

Areas in the country’s north and northwest have been hardest hit, especially Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where several communities have been cut off from the outside world after floodwaters washed out key bridges. About 70 percent of bridges and roads have been destroyed here, officials report. Pakistan’s government says little transportation infrastructure remains in the Swat valley, the scene of intense fighting between the army and Islamic insurgents in 2009.

Pakistan’s agricultural economy, the source of income for about 70 percent of the population, has borne the brunt of the damage. “This is where we have been hit the most,” said Qureshi.

More than 17 million acres of farmland was inundated, Qureshi said. U.N. officials figure that more than 200,000 head of livestock have been killed in the flooding. And the nation’s cotton crop, an important source of export earnings, has largely been wiped out after 1 million acres of the crop was lost to floods in Punjab.

The flood disaster could also exacerbate global food prices, in particular wheat. The government of Pakistan says the season’s harvest is pretty much gone and 1 million metric tons of wheat that was sitting in storage is now gone. Droughts in Russia, Australia and Canada had already sent wheat prices soaring in recent weeks.

Following the emergency period, the government’s next goal is to rebuild the nation’s farm economy. Qureshi and others estimate that at least $2 billion will be needed to cover losses to agriculture alone.

Further flood damage expected

Officials are so far refusing to estimate what a larger recovery effort will cost once immediate needs are met, but all agree that the price tag will be tremendous.

The World Bank says it will extend to Pakistan $900 million in loans to meet the broader rebuilding effort. Meanwhile, the government, World Bank and Asian Development Bank are launching a “damage needs assessment” that may not be complete until the end of October.

Officials in Islamabad also say that they will set up an independent body to manage rebuilding funds, hoping to skirt concerns that aid dollars will be lost to corruption. Qureshi promised that relief spending would be fully transparent.

The government is also disputing media suggestions that Taliban fighters and Islamic radicals are taking advantage of the crisis and delivering relief assistance more effectively. Still, Qureshi acknowledged to the press that increased activity by militants was a concern.

Ban said he is considering holding a special donors’ conference at U.N. headquarters in New York in September, when hundreds of world leaders will gather for the annual opening of the General Assembly.

Recovery efforts from disasters of smaller scale have typically come with giant price tags. Most experts say some $10 billion will be needed to help Haiti recover from the devastating January earthquake over the next decade. Aid agencies estimate that the five-year recovery effort following the Indian Ocean tsunami cost roughly $13 billion.

Officials at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva say record high surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean resulted in a huge volume of evaporated moisture entering the atmosphere and drift over the affected area. At the same time, an abnormal airflow pattern prevented the saturated clouds from spreading over a larger area, concentrating the rains in Pakistan’s watershed.

The monsoon could continue in some parts of the country for at least another three weeks. And Pakistan’s chief meteorologist beliefs the floodwaters — now covering an area larger than England — probably won’t recede until mid-September. Further damage is expected in the southern provinces as the huge volume of water makes its way to the ocean.

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
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