Monday, May 13, 2013

Climate Change Research:Policy Makers Should Act to Prevent Global-Scale Loss of Common Plants and Animals

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

Hyderabad, May 13(2013) Man is the maker of his own destiny, says the adage. It is all in our hands whether we want our progeny to see the global flora and fauna survive the vagaries of nature or not.

If we fail to intensify measures to prevent drastic decline in climate change, we are bound to lose more than half of common plants and one third of the animal species by the year 2080, scientists warn.

Research, conducted by the University of East Anglia and published today in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at 50,000 globally widespread and common species, threatening the biodiversity.

This means that geographic ranges of common plants and animals will shrink globally and biodiversity will decline almost everywhere.

But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times (1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe.

The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Collaborators include Dr.Jeremy VanDerWal at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, also at UEA's school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Warren said: "While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

"This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.

"Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.

"We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.

"There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.

"The good news is that our research provides crucial new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time -- up to four decades -- for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate change."

The research team quantified the benefits of acting now to mitigate climate change and found that up to 60 per cent of the projected climatic range loss for biodiversity can be avoided.

Dr Warren said: "Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt."

Information on the current distributions of the species used in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA's school of Environmental Studies, said: "Without free and open access to massive amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist holding the data and pull it all together. So this research would not be possible without GBIF and its global community of researchers and volunteers who make their data freely available."//EOM//

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Colorful Snails Facing Extinction in Limestone Ecosystems

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

Hyderabad,April 18(2013) They are brightly coloured canivorous terrestrial snails,but are facing extinction in their own limestone ecosystems of Thailand due to mindless mining activity for the mineral.

Interestingly, one species of the snails is endemic to a particular range of montains. They donot allow any other species of their ilk to invade their jurisdiction – a unique trait in deed in the animal world.

Terrestrial snails are primarily herbivores and only a rare few groups like this one are carnivorous. The animals come from several limestone areas across the world, including some threatened by human exploitation, especially by quarrying.

Three new species from the genusPerrottetia were described from north and northeastern Thailand. The species show extraordinary endemism, with each of these colourful snails occurring as "One Hill One Species."

This is a very peculiar phenomenon where each one of these highly endemic snails is specific and the only one inhabiting a certain mountain range. They live in rock crevices, feeding on tinier snails, insect larvae and some earthworms species.

These beautiful animals are now at risk from extinction with the destruction of limestone ecosystems. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.
Limestone ecosystems in the world are now being destroyed at an alarming rate. This means we are losing biodiversity resources, a tendency especially threatening for the hot spot areas like Thailand.

The new research findings show that key terrestrial invertebrates, such as several new bright carnivorous land snails are still persisting in such areas and are being described even from the highly endangered quarried sites.

This demonstrates that there are still remnants of some fundamental ecosystem, which lives and is struggling for survival, a great experience for humankind to learn.

"The three new Perrottetia species exhibit distinct morphological characteristics, which make for a great example for evolutionary studies in unstable environments," comments one of the authors, Dr Somsak Panha.

"More than 50% of limestone ecosystems in this region have been or still are being destroyed. This astonishing case of biodiversity persistence gives a valuable reason to put effort in the conservation of this important world ecosystem. "

Researchers from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok and the Natural History Museum, London (Thanit Siriboon, Chirasak Sutcharit, Fred Naggs and Somsak Panha) discovered many new taxa of the brightly coloured carnivorous terrestrial snails family Streptaxidae. //EOM//

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Wildlife: African Wild Elephants are Poached to Extinction

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

New Delhi, Mar 5(2013) The wild elephants may face extinction within the next decade in Central Africa if the current trend of poaching the animals for their valuable tusks is unchecked.

Effective, rapid, multi-level action is imperative to save elephants. A drastic increase of funding, and an immediate focus on the most effective protection strategies, are essential to avoid future huge losses to the remaining elephant populations, conservationists aver.

A study titled "Devastating Decline in Forest Elephants in Central Africa", just published in the online journal PLOS ONE shows that across their range in central Africa, a staggering 62 percent of all forest elephants have been killed for their ivory over the past decade.

"The analysis confirms what conservationists have feared: the rapid trend towards extinction -- potentially within the next decade -- of the forest elephant," says Dr. Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), one of the lead authors of the study.

"Saving the species requires a coordinated global effort in the countries where elephants occur -- all along the ivory smuggling routes, and at the final destination in the Far East. We don't have much time before elephants are gone," says the other lead author Dr. Fiona Maisels also of WCS.

The study, which examines the largest ever amount of Central African elephant survey data, comes as 178 countries gather in Bangkok to discuss wildlife trade issues, including poaching and ivory smuggling.

The study -- the largest ever conducted on the African forest elephant -- includes the work of more than 60 scientists between 2002 and 2011, and an immense effort by national conservation staff who spent 91,600 person-days surveying for elephants in five countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo), walking over 13,000 kilometers (more than 8,000 miles) and recording over 11,000 samples for the analysis.

The paper shows that almost a third of the land where African forest elephants were able to live 10 years ago has become too dangerous for them.

Co-author Dr. John Hart of the Lukuru Foundation says: "Historically, elephants ranged right across the forests of this vast region of over 2 million square kilometers (over 772,000 square miles), but now cover in just a quarter of that area.

Although the forest cover remains, it is empty of elephants, demonstrating that this is not a habitat degradation issue. This is almost entirely due to poaching. Recent surveys from Democratic Republic of Congo showed a major decline of elephants in the Okapi Faunal Reserve, considered the last stronghold for elephants in the region.

Results show clearly that forest elephants were increasingly uncommon in places with high human density, high infrastructure density such as roads, high hunting intensity, and poor governance as indicated by levels of corruption and absence of law enforcement.

Distinct from the African savannah elephant, the African forest elephant is slightly smaller than its better known relative and is considered by many to be a separate species. They play a vital role in maintaining the biodiversity of one of Earth's critical carbon sequestering tropical forests.

Prof. Lee White CBE, head of Gabon's National Parks Service says: "A rain forest without elephants is a barren place. They bring it to life, they create the trails and keep open the forest clearings other animals use; they disperse the seeds of many of the rainforest trees -- elephants are forest gardeners at a vast scale.

Their calls reverberate through the trees reminding us of the grandeur of primeval nature. If we do not turn the situation around quickly the future of elephants in Africa is doomed. These new results illustrate starkly just how dramatic the situation has become. Our actions over the coming decade will determine whether this iconic species survives."

Research carried out by the CITES-MIKE program has shown that the increase in poaching levels across Africa since 2006 is strongly correlated with trends in consumer demand in the Far East, and that poaching levels are also strongly linked with governance at the national level and poverty at the local scale. This has resulted in escalating elephant massacres in areas previously thought to be safe.

"We have been carrying out surveys in the forests of Gabon for over a decade and seen an increasing number of elephant carcasses over the years" say co-authors Mr. Rostand Aba'a of the Gabon National Parks Service, and Mr. Marc Ella Akou of WWF Gabon.

Earlier this month, the government of Gabon announced the loss of approximately 11,000 forest elephants in Minkébé National Park between 2004 and 2012; previously holding Africa's largest forest elephant population.

President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon says: "Gabon's elephants are under siege because of an illegal international market that has driven ivory prices in the region up significantly. I call upon the international community to join us in this fight. If we do not reverse the tide fast the African elephant will be exterminated."

Dr. George Wittemyer of Save the Elephants and Colorado State University, says: "This study provides unequivocal evidence of the rapid demise of one of the planet's most charismatic and intelligent species. The world must wake up to stem this destruction of species due to conspicuous consumption."

Dr. Stephen Blake of the Max Planck Institute, says: "Forest elephants need two things: they need adequate space in which to range normally, and they need protection. Unprotected roads, most often associated with exploitation for timber or other natural resources, push deeper and deeper into the wilderness, tolling the death knell for forest elephants. Large road-free areas must be maintained, and the roads that do exist must have effective wildlife protection plans if forest elephants are to survive."

Reducing chronic corruption and improving poor law enforcement, which facilitate poaching and trade, are crucial. It is also vital to improve control of import and sales of wildlife goods by the recipient and transit countries of illegal ivory, especially in Asia.

The recipient nations, with the international community, should invest heavily in public education and outreach to inform consumers of the ramifications of the ivory trade.

Although the challenge is daunting, China and other Asian countries demonstrated that strong political will can quickly and successfully modify behavior and governance, as was witnessed during the 2003 SARS threat. Similar action, focused on curbing ivory demand is key, if elephants are to survive.//EOM//

Friday, March 01, 2013

Agriculture: Protect Wild Insects to Promote Pollination

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

New Delhi, Mar 1(2013) Farmers Beware! Protect and Preserve the wild insects such as bees, flies, butterflies and beetles that promote crop pollination and thus result in higher farm yields.

Mere bee keeping is not enough. Integrated pest management is the key to enhance global yields of animal-pollinated crops and promote long-term agriculture production.

 “These practices should include conservation/restoration of natural or semi-natural areas within croplands, promotion of a variety of land use, addition of diverse floral and nesting resources, and more prudent use of insecticides that can kill pollinators,” a new global study says.

Appalled over the rapidly declining wild insect species world over due to unscientific farm practices, the researchers studied data from 600 fields in 20 countries. They found that farm management with mere honey bees was not enough but successful farming includes protection of wild insects that promote crop pollination.

Flowers of most crops need to receive pollen before making seeds and fruits, a process that is enhanced by insects that visit flowers.

These pollinators, including bees, flies, butterflies and beetles, usually live in natural or semi-natural habitats, such as the edges of forests, hedgerows or grasslands.

As these habitats are lost, primarily owing to conversion to agriculture, the abundance and diversity of pollinators decline and crops receive fewer visits from wild insects.

The study found that the proportion of flowers producing fruits was considerably lower in sites with fewer wild insects visiting crop flowers.

 Therefore, the reduction of wild insects in agricultural landscapes will likely impact both our natural heritage and agricultural harvest.

The study, which prompts an urgent call to maintain and manage pollinator diversity for long-term agricultural production, is published today in the journal Science.

The 50 international researchers, including Lawrence Harder(see Pic), professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary(Canada), analysed data from 41 crop systems around the world including fruits, seeds, nuts, and coffee to examine the consequences of having abundant wild pollinators for crop pollination.

"Our study demonstrates that production of many fruit and seed crops that make diets interesting, such as tomatoes, coffee and watermelon, is limited because their flowers are not adequately pollinated. Adding more honey bees often does not fix this problem, but that increased service by wild insects," says Harder.

Paradoxically, most common approaches to increase agricultural efficiency, such as cultivation of all available land and the use of pesticides, reduce the abundance and variety of wild insects that could increase production of these crops.//EOM//

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leatherback Turtles Extinct in 20 Years

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

New Delhi,Feb 27(2013) The largest but the critically endangered leatherback marine turtles may be extinct in 20 years if the current trend of their hunting on high seas and unscientific management of nesting sites continue unabated at the animal's last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean.

This is the outcome of a study by an international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) which recorded a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).

The team identified four major problems facing leatherback turtles: nesting beach predators, such as pigs and dogs that were introduced to the island and eat the turtle eggs; rising sand temperatures that can kill the eggs or prevent the production of male hatchlings; the danger of being caught by fisheries during migrations; and harvesting of adults and eggs for food by islanders.

The study, published online on Feb 26 in the Ecological Society of America's scientific journal Ecosphere, reveals leatherback nests at Jamursba Medi Beach in Papua Barat, Indonesia -- which accounts for 75 percent of the total leatherback nesting in the western Pacific -- have fallen from a peak of 14,455 in 1984 to a low of 1,532 in 2011. Less than 500 leatherbacks now nest at this site annually.

"If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction. That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback. " says Prof.Thane Wibbels of UAB's Reproductive Biology wing who had studied marine turtles since 1980.
"The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes," addsd Wibbels.
Other members of the research team include scientists from State University of Papua (UNIPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia.
Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.

While it is hard to imagine that a turtle so large and so durable can be on the verge of extinction, Ricardo Tapilatu, the research team's lead scientist and Fulbright Scholar in the UAB Department of Biology, points to the leatherback's trans-Pacific migration, where they face the danger of being caught and killed in fisheries.

"They can migrate more than 7,000 miles and travel through the territory of at least 20 countries, so this is a complex international problem," Tapilatu said. "It is extremely difficult to comprehensively enforce fishing regulations throughout the Pacific."

The team, along with paper co-author Peter Dutton, discovered thousands of nests laid during the boreal winter just a few kilometers away from the known nesting sites, but their excitement was short-lived.

"We were optimistic for this population when year round nesting was discovered in Wermon Beach, but we now have found out that nesting on that beach appears to be declining at a similar rate as Jamursba Medi," said Dutton, head of the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center's Marine Turtle Genetics Program.

The study has used year-round surveys of leatherback turtle nesting areas since 2005, and it is the most extensive research on the species to date.

Tapilatu, a native of western Papua, Indonesia, has studied leatherback turtles and worked on their conservation since 2004. His efforts have been recognized by NOAA, and he will head the leatherback conservation program in Indonesia once he earns his doctorate from UAB and returns to Papua.

He has worked to educate locals and limit the harvesting of adults and eggs. His primary focus today is protecting the nesting females, eggs and hatchlings. A leatherback lays up to 10 nests each season, more than any other turtle species.

Tapilatu is designing ways to optimize egg survival and hatchling production by limiting their exposure to predators and heat through an extensive beach management program.

"If we relocate the nests from the warmest portion of the beach to our egg hatcheries, and build shades for nests in other warm areas, then we will increase hatching success to 80 percent or more," said Tapilatu.

"The international effort has attempted to develop a science-based nesting beach management plan by evaluating and addressing the factors that affect hatching success such as high sand temperatures, erosion, feral pig predation and relocating nests to maximize hatchling output," said Manjula Tiwari, a researcher at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif.

Wibbels, who is also the Ph.D. advisor for Tapilatu, says that optimizing hatchling production is a key component to leatherback survival, especially considering the limited number of hatchlings who survive to adulthood.

"Only one hatchling out of 1,000 makes it to adulthood, so taking out an adult makes a significant difference on the population," Wibbels said. "It is essentially the same as killing 1,000 hatchlings."

The research team believes that beach management will help to decrease the annual decline in the number of leatherback nests, but protection of the leatherbacks in waters throughout the Pacific is a prerequisite for their survival and recovery.

Despite their prediction for leatherback extinction, the scientists are hopeful this species could begin rebounding over the next 20 years if effective management strategies are implemented.//EOM//

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Mobile Phone Detects Mercury Contamination in Water on the Spot.

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna

New Delhi, Feb 7(2013) A camera-fitted mobile phone can now detect in a jiffy contamination of water with mercury, one of the most toxic elements that can poison all animal life including humans, leave alone fish.

Kudos to the team of chemists at the University of Burgos(Spain) which made it possible by devising a fine membrane that changes colour in presence of water contaminated with mercury.

It works like a litmus paper and we could see the result with our naked eye. The concentration of the poison can be quantified when you take the photograph of the membrane with the mobile phone.

Mercury contamination is a problem that is particularly affecting developing countries. It poses a risk to public health since it accumulates in the brain and the kidneys causing long term neurological illnesses. It is emitted from industrial and mining waste, especially small-scale gold mining.

With the new technique, the toxin can be detected in a cheap, quick and in situ way," says José Miguel García, one of the authors of the study, the details of which have been published in the 'Analytical Methods' journal.
The method consists of placing the fine sheet created by the researchers in the water for five minutes. If it turns red, this signals the presence of mercury.

 “Changes can be seen by the naked eye and anyone, even if they have no previous knowledge, can find out whether a water source is contaminated with mercury above determined limits," says  García.

In addition, if we take a photograph of the sheet with a digital camera, like those in mobile phones or tablet computers, we can find out the concentration of the metal.

We only need image treatment software (the team used the open access GIMP programme) to see the colour coordinates. The result is then compared with reference values.

The membrane contains a florescent organic compound called rhodamine, which acts as a mercury sensor. It is insoluble in water but we chemically fix it to a hydrophilic polymer structure in such a way that when put into water it swells and the sensory molecules are forced to remain in the aqueous medium and interact with mercury.

The exact composition of the sheet can be adjusted to the desired parameters. More specifically, the researchers have calibrated the sheet so that it changes colour when limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States are exceeded: 2 ppb (parts per billion) of divalent mercury –Hg(II), one of the most reactive, in water destined for human consumption.

Having also developed a method for other elements like iron or cyanide, the researchers believe that the water drunk in Spain "is of excellent quality due to highly efficient controls." Therefore, the technique could be used there for detecting mercury in certain spills and for studying its presence in fish.

Mercury Poison-A Global Menace:

A recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) demonstrates that a large part of human exposure to this toxic metal is due to consumption of contaminated fish.

Named the Global Mercury Assessment 2013, the report analysed for the first time the mercury released into the rivers and lakes around the whole world.

The small-scale extraction of gold and the combustion of coal for electricity generation seem to be behind the increase in the emissions of developing countries.

As for the sea, in the last century the mercury quantity has doubled in the first hundred meters from the surface of the planet's oceans. Concentrations in deep water have also increased by up to 25%.

To stop the global contamination of this metal, in January more than 140 countries came together in Geneva and approved the start-up of the Minamata Convention, a new international binding regulation bearing the name of the Japanese city where hundreds of people died in the 1950's due to mercury poisoning.//EOM//

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Global Goat Gene Pool Seriously Threatened

BY: Dr.Y.Bala Murali Krishna
New Delhi,Feb 6(2013): World's many breeds of goat,which have been a great source of rich pritein,priced wool besides milk for people in the impoverished countries, are facing a serious threat of extinction.
India,China and Mangolia where cashmere goats have been reared for genertions for their wool, are no exception.
The alarm bell was sounded for the first time by researchers of the Asturias(Spain) based Regional Service of Agro-Food Research and Development(SERIDA) in their first monographic study tackling the global impact of this species.
The researchers presented their study “Goat grazing, its interactions with other herbivores and biodiversity conservation issues" in Small Ruminant Research.
The scientists had analysed the situation of the global goat population,taking into account the state of different breeds, the multiple implications of their conservation, the interaction with other animal species (wild and domestic) and the consequences of goat grazing from an environmental point of view.
"The risk of the gene pool of the goat disappearing has increased due to intensive animal husbandry systems that use a very limited number of breeds. Strangely enough, the biggest loss in the genetic resources of indigenous animals has been observed in Europe, although the situation is unknown in many areas," according to Rocío Rosa García, researcher at SERIDA and coauthor of the study.
The bad reputation given to goats stems from one of its main virtues: it has an extraordinary capacity to adapt to the most difficult of environmental conditions in places where other domestic livestock species would not survive.
"It is a reality that the grazing of these animals can cause damaging effects on the environment but ecosystems become overloaded because of inadequate practices of handling," say scientists.
The largest number of goats can be found in the poorest of countries and especially those which have difficult environmental conditions and mountainous, desert and semi-desert regions, according to FAO.
"In poor regions, poor communities are commonplace and often the goat is the only source of animal protein in their diet," explains Rosa García.
The team led by Koldo Osoro Otaduy, manager of the Animal Production Systems Area at SERIDA, undertook a large part of the field work in areas in which the role of the goat is very relevant and have certain similarities with hostile environments in other parts of the world.
"Many national and international projects have been carried out in less-favoured areas, like the Asturian mountains which are home to steep slopes, poor soil, an aging population and a high risk of depopulation and abandonment of traditional activities," the researchers said.
Poor handling of grazing, which does not consider the livestock species and their most fitting habitat, is the main cause of the damaging effects that goats can cause on the environment,the study says.
Uncontrolled growth of the cashmere goat to increase production of its prized wool,had in some cases,ovefloaded the ecosystems. This has not only affected vegetation but also certain indigenous species in India, China and Mongolia.
On the otherhand, the study in some cases noted that the species plays an important role in environmental conservation,as the goats have been used in the fight against fires in areas dominated by bushes and in controlling exotic vegetation plagues that could put ecosystems at risk.
"We wanted to perform a global review, taking into account very different regions of the world, from the Himalayan peaks to tropical areas, and analysing to what extent the goat competes with local fauna in each region and whether it interferes with the survival of the most sensitive species," says Rosa García.//EOM//