Beavers Offer Lessons About Managing Water in a Changing Climate, Whether the Challenge Is Drought or Floods

Wetlands created by beavers, like this one in Amherst, Massachusetts, store floodwaters and provide habitat for animals and birds.
Christine Hatch, CC BY-ND

It’s no accident that both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology claim the beaver (Castor canadensis) as their mascots. Renowned engineers, beavers seem able to dam any stream, building structures with logs and mud that can flood large areas.

As climate change causes extreme storms in some areas and intense drought in others, scientists are finding that beavers’ small-scale natural interventions are valuable. In dry areas, beaver ponds restore moisture to the soil; in wet zones, their dams and ponds can help to slow floodwaters. These ecological services are so useful that land managers are translocating beavers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom to help restore ecosystems and make them more resilient to climate change.

Scientists estimate that hundreds of millions of beavers once dammed waterways across the Northern Hemisphere. They were hunted nearly to extinction for their fur in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and North America but are making comebacks today in many areas. As a geoscientist specializing in water resources, I think it’s important to understand how helpful beavers can be in the right places and to find ways for humans to coexist with them in developed areas.

Scientists are studying ways to use beavers to mitigate wildfire and drought risks in the western U.S.

How beavers alter landscapes

Beavers dam streams to create ponds, where they can construct their dome-shaped lodges in the water, keeping predators at a distance. When they create a pond, many other effects follow.

Newly flooded trees die but remain standing as bare “snags” where birds nest. The diverted streams create complicated interwoven channels of slow-moving water, tangled with logs and plants that provide hiding places for fish. The messy complexity behind a beaver dam creates many different kinds of habitats for creatures such as fish, birds, frogs, and insects.

Human dams often block fish passage upstream and downstream, even when the dams include fish ladders. But studies have shown that fish have no trouble migrating upstream past beaver dams. One reason may be that the fish can rest in slow pools and cool pond complexes after navigating the tallest parts of the dams.

The slow-moving water behind beaver dams is very effective at trapping sediment, which drops to the bottom of the pond. Studies measuring total organic carbon inactive and abandoned beaver meadows suggest that before the 1800s, active and abandoned beaver ponds across North America stored large amounts of carbon in sediment trapped behind them. This finding is relevant today as scientists look for ways to increase carbon storage in forests and other natural ecosystems.

Curved dam in a marsh, made of wood, grass and mud.
A beaver dam in Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia, creates a pond behind it that can spread out and slow down floodwaters during a storm.
Virginia State Parks, CC BY

Beavers may persist in one location for decades if they aren’t threatened by bears, cougars, or humans, but they will move on if food runs out near their pond. When abandoned beaver dams fail, the ponds drain and gradually become grassy meadows as plants from the surrounding land seed them.

Dried meadows can serve as floodplains for nearby rivers, allowing waters to spill out and provide forage and spawning areas for fish during high flows. Floodplain meadows are valuable habitats for ground-nesting birds and other species that depend on the river.

The value of slowing the flow

As human settlements expand, people often wish to make use of every acre. That typically means that they want either land that is solid and dry enough to farm or waterways they can navigate by boat. To create those conditions, humans remove floating logs from streams and install drains to draw water off of fields and roads as quickly and efficiently as possible.

But covering more and more land surfaces with barriers that don’t absorb water, such as pavement and rooftops, means that water flows into rivers and streams more quickly. Rainfall from an average storm can produce an intense river flow that erodes the banks and beds of waterways. And as climate change fuels more intense storms in many places, it will amplify this destructive impact.

Some developers limit this kind of damaging flow by using nature-based engineering principles, such as “ponding” water to intercept it and slow it down; spreading flows out more widely to reduce the water’s speed; and designing swales, or sunken spots, that allow water to sink into the ground. Beaver wetlands do all of these things, only better. Research in the United Kingdom has documented that beaver activity can reduce the flow of floodwaters from farmlands by up to 30%.

Beaver meadows and wetlands also help cool the ground around and beneath them. Wet soil in these zones contains a lot of organic matter from buried and decayed plants, which holds onto moisture longer than soil formed only from rocks and minerals. In my wetland research, I have found that after a storm, water entering the ground passes through pure mineral sand in hours to days but can remain in soils that are 80%-90% organic matter for as long as a month.

Cool, wet soil also serves as a buffer against wildfires. Recent studies in the western U.S. have found that vegetation in beaver-dammed river corridors is more fire-resistant than in areas without beavers because it is well watered and lush, so it doesn’t burn as easily. As a result, areas near beaver dams provide temporary refuge for wildlife when surrounding areas burn.

Making room for beavers

The ecological services that beavers provide are most valuable in zones where nobody minds if the landscape changes. But in the densely developed eastern U.S., where I work, it’s hard to find open areas where beaver ponds can spread out without flooding ditches or roads. Beavers also topple expensive landscaped trees and will feed on some cultivated crops, such as corn and soybeans.

Beavers are frequently blamed for flooding in developed areas, even though the real problem often is road design, not beaver dams. In such cases, removing the beavers doesn’t solve the problem.

Pipe in the middle of a flooded rural road
Debris carried by intense rains in July 2021 overtopped a beaver dam (still standing in the background) and washed out this undersized 3-foot culvert in western Massachusetts. It has since been replaced by a more resilient 9-foot structure.
Christine Hatch, CC BY-ND

Culvert guards, fences, and other exclusion devices can keep beavers a safe distance from infrastructure and maintain pond heights at a level that won’t flood adjoining areas. Road crossings over streams that are designed to let fish and other aquatic animals through instead of blocking them are beaver-friendly and will be resilient to climate change and extreme precipitation events. If these structures are large enough to let debris pass through, then beavers will build dams upstream instead, which can help catch floodwaters.

A growing body of research shows that setting aside pockets of land for beavers is good for wetland ecosystems, biodiversity, and rivers. I believe we can learn from beavers’ water management skills, coexist with them in our landscapes, and incorporate their natural engineering in response to weather and precipitation patterns disrupted by climate change.The Conversation

By Christine E. Hatch, Professor of Geosciences, UMass Amherst

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

E.O. Wilson’s Lifelong Passion for Ants Helped Him Teach Humans About How to Live Sustainably With Nature

E. O. Wilson in 2003. Photo by Jim Harrison via Wiki-Commons

E. O. Wilson was an extraordinary scholar in every sense of the word. Back in the 1980s, Milton Stetson, the chair of the biology department at the University of Delaware, told me that a scientist who makes a single seminal contribution to his or her field has been a success. By the time I met Edward O. Wilson in 1982, he had already made at least five such contributions to science.

Wilson, who died Dec. 26, 2021, at the age of 92, discovered the chemical means by which ants communicate. He worked out the importance of habitat size and position within the landscape in sustaining animal populations. And he was the first to understand the evolutionary basis of both animal and human societies.

Each of his seminal contributions fundamentally changed the way scientists approached these disciplines and explained why E.O. – as he was fondly known – as an academic god for many young scientists like me. This astonishing record of achievement may have been due to his phenomenal ability to piece together new ideas using information garnered from disparate fields of study.

E.O. Wilson reflects on insect society, human society, and the importance of biodiversity in 2009.

Big insights from small subjects

In 1982 I cautiously sat down next to the great man during a break at a small conference on social insects. He turned, extended his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Ed Wilson. I don’t believe we’ve met.” Then we talked until it was time to get back to business.

Three hours later I approached him again, this time without trepidation because surely now we were the best of friends. He turned, extended his hand, and said “Hi, I’m Ed Wilson. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

Wilson forgetting me, but remaining kind and interested anyway, showed that beneath his many layers of brilliance was a real person and a compassionate one. I was fresh out of graduate school, and doubt that another person at that conference knew less than I — something I’m sure Wilson discovered as soon as I opened my mouth. Yet he didn’t hesitate to extend himself to me, not once but twice.

Thirty-two years later, in 2014, we met again. I had been invited to speak in a ceremony honoring his receipt of the Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin Medal for Earth and Environmental Science. The award honored Wilson’s lifetime achievements in science, but particularly his many efforts to save life on Earth.

My work studying native plants and insects, and how crucial they are to food webs, was inspired by Wilson’s eloquent descriptions of biodiversity and how the myriad interactions among species create the conditions that enable the very existence of such species.

I spent the first decades of my career studying the evolution of insect parental care, and Wilson’s early writings provided a number of testable hypotheses that guided that research. But his 1992 book, “The Diversity of Life,” resonated deeply with me and became the basis for an eventual turn in my career path.

Though I am an entomologist, I did not realize that insects were “the little things that run the world” until Wilson explained why this is so in 1987. Like nearly all scientists and nonscientists alike, my understanding of how biodiversity sustains humans was embarrassingly cursory. Fortunately, Wilson opened our eyes.

Throughout his career, Wilson flatly rejected the notion held by many scholars that natural history – the study of the natural world through observation rather than experimentation – was unimportant. He proudly labeled himself a naturalist and communicated the urgent need to study and preserve the natural world. Decades before it was in vogue, he recognized that our refusal to acknowledge the Earth’s limits, coupled with the unsustainability of perpetual economic growth, had set humans well on their way to ecological oblivion.

Wilson understood that humans’ reckless treatment of the ecosystems that support us was not only a recipe for our own demise. It was forcing the biodiversity he so cherished into the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history, and the first one caused by an animal: us.

Color-coded map of forest losses.
E.O. Wilson long advocated conserving the world’s biodiversity hot spots – zones with high numbers of native species where habitats are most endangered. This image shows deforestation from 1975 to 2013 in one such area, West Africa’s Upper Guinean Forest.

A broad vision for conservation

And so, to his lifelong fascination with ants, E. O. Wilson added a second passion: guiding humanity toward a more sustainable existence. To do that, he knew he had to reach beyond the towers of academia and write for the public, and that one book would not suffice. Learning requires repeated exposure, and that is what Wilson delivered in “The Diversity of Life,” “Biophilia,” “The Future of Life,” “The Creation” and his final plea in 2016, “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life.”

As Wilson aged, desperation and urgency replaced political correctness in his writings. He boldly exposed ecological destruction caused by fundamentalist religions and unrestricted population growth, and challenged the central dogma of conservation biology, demonstrating that conservation could not succeed if restricted to tiny, isolated habitat patches.

In “Half-Earth,” he distilled a lifetime of ecological knowledge into one simple tenet: Life as we know it can be sustained only if we preserve functioning ecosystems on at least half of planet Earth.

But is this possible? Nearly half of the planet is used for some form of agriculture, and 7.9 billion people and their vast network of infrastructure occupy the other half.

As I see it, the only way to realize E.O.’s lifelong wish is to learn to coexist with nature, in the same place, at the same time. It is essential to bury forever the notion that humans are here and nature is someplace else. Providing a blueprint for this radical cultural transformation has been my goal for the last 20 years, and I am honored that it melds with E.O. Wilson’s dream.

There is no time to waste on this effort. Wilson himself once said, “Conservation is a discipline with a deadline.” Whether humans have the wisdom to meet that deadline remains to be seen.

By Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology, University of Delaware

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Saola Is Endangered and What We Can Do?

By Russell McLendon | Treehugger 

Not much is known about the saola, a mysterious horned mammal native to forests in the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. At least one thing seems fairly certain, though: The saola is a very endangered species.

It’s unclear exactly how many saolas exist, and there is scant information on which to base even loose estimates. The species was unknown to Western science until 1992, when researchers encountered saola horns in the home of a local hunter. It remains incredibly elusive, especially for an animal of its size (which is why it’s sometimes called the “Asian unicorn,” even though it has two horns, not one). Scientists have only managed to record a saola in the wild five times—and only with camera traps.

Based on a combination of factors, however, it’s clear the saola is in trouble. It’s listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which estimates six to 15 isolated subpopulations are left, each with just tens of individuals. The species’ total population is “undoubtedly less than 750, and likely much less,” according to the IUCN. Some estimates suggest fewer than 100 saolas remain.

Despite meager data, all available information about the saola points to a “clear and protracted decline throughout its small range,” the IUCN warns, noting the rate of decline is poised to continue worsening. And with zero saolas in captivity anywhere on Earth, the loss of wild populations would mean the loss of the species.

Here is a closer look at what little we know about this elusive bovid, including why it’s endangered, how people are trying to save it, and what you can do to help.

Saola horns
Saola horns at the Zoological Museum, Copenhagen.FunkMonk / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain


The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) belongs to the taxonomic tribe Bovini, which also includes all wild and domestic cattle as well as bison. Yet it’s the only surviving member of the Pseudoryx genus, having diverged from all other living bovids more than 13 million years ago, so it’s only distantly related to other species.

Adult saolas stand about 33 inches tall at the shoulder, but they can weigh 220 pounds, and their two parallel horns—found on both males and females—can grow 20 inches long. They may be smaller than most cattle and bison, but few animals of their size have managed to hide from humanity as well as saolas have. They are likely the world’s largest land animal that has never been seen in the wild by a biologist, according to the IUCN’s Saola Working Group.

Unfortunately, not even the stealthy saola can hide from humans entirely. While it continues to evade scientists, the saola is nonetheless suffering the effects of humanity’s presence, both directly and indirectly.


Hunting is the main danger for the saola, according to the IUCN, even though most hunters in the species’ range have little interest in killing or capturing it. Local wildlife is mainly hunted for the bushmeat or traditional medicine trades, and specific demand for saola is “almost non-existent” in either trade, the IUCN explains.

Unlike many other animals in its habitat, the saola is not featured in the traditional Chinese pharmacopeia, so there isn’t much financial incentive for hunters to target saolas for export. The species’ meat is not considered especially appealing compared with other, more common ungulates in the same forests, like muntjacs or sambar deer, so it isn’t highly valued as bushmeat, either.

Yet that does not mean saolas are safe. Even though they aren’t the target of most hunters in the Annamite Mountains, they’re often incidentally killed amid the general pursuit of other wildlife for the region’s intensive wildlife trade. Some saolas fall victim to bushmeat hunters, but the main threat comes from wire snares set by professional poachers, according to the Saola Working Group.

The scale of hunting and trapping in the saola’s range is “hard to adequately describe,” according to the IUCN. Wildlife like bears, tigers, and sambar are widely killed in large numbers with indiscriminate means—namely snares—that also claim non-target species like saolas. And while some species in the Annamites may be populous and widespread enough to withstand this onslaught, the saola has much less of a buffer.

Saola hooves
Saola hooves on display at Zoological Museum, Copenhagen.FunkMonk / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Habitat Loss

Another major threat to the saola is a familiar one for wildlife all over the world: the loss and fragmentation of its habitat. Human development has helped isolate various subpopulations from one another, with barriers ranging from roads and farmland to mining and hydropower development.

The development of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, for example, has reportedly already affected saola subpopulations by fragmenting forests, as well as by increasing human access for logging, hunting, and spiriting wildlife away to urban markets. The road has also led to more deforestation in several key areas for the saola, according to the IUCN, especially the Hue Saola Nature Reserve and Quang Nam Saola Reserve.

There are between six and 15 subpopulations of saolas living in the Annamite Mountains, but each group is isolated from the others in non-contiguous habitats. This kind of habitat fragmentation can erode a species’ genetic diversity and make it less resilient to additional dangers, such as hunting, disease, or climate change.

Although there is still enough potential saola habitat in Laos and Vietnam to support a larger saola population, the IUCN notes, that would require a significant change in current trends. Not only are saolas trapped in pockets of habitat, but the region is experiencing a high growth rate in human populations, which will likely add to the pressures already fueling the saola’s decline.

Lack of Captive Breeding

Saolas have been taken into captivity about 20 times since 1992, and all have died shortly afterward, except for two that were released back into the wild. There are currently no captive saolas anywhere, and thus no backup for wild populations.

While some declining wildlife can cling to existence with help from captive breeding programs—sometimes even after the species has vanished from the wild, like the Hawaiian crow—the saola enjoys no such buffer. If a captive breeding program can’t be established before the last wild saolas fade away, the species will be lost forever.

What We Can Do

Saving the saola from extinction won’t be easy, but it does seem to still be technically possible. That might not sound like much, but by the standards of Earth’s current mass extinction event, it’s a basis for hope that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The largest subpopulation of saolas likely has fewer than 50 individuals, according to the IUCN, and with the entire species possibly down to double digits, it may already be too late to save saolas in the wild. It’s still worth trying, of course: Even if there isn’t an undiscovered population hiding out there somewhere, there’s at least a chance the known survivors could prove more resilient than expected.


Sea Otters Demonstrate That There Is More To Muscle Than Just Movement – It Can Also Bring the Heat

Life in the cold can be difficult for animals. As the body chills, organs including the brain and muscles slow down.

The body temperature of animals such as reptiles and amphibians mostly depends on the temperature of their environment – but mammals can increase their metabolism, using more energy to warm their body. This allows them to live in colder areas and stay active when temperatures drop at night or during the winter months.

Although scientists know mammals can increase their metabolism in the cold, it has not been clear which organs or tissues are using this extra energy to generate more heat. Staying warm is especially challenging for small, aquatic mammals like sea otters, so we wanted to know how they have adapted to survive the cold.

We assembled a research team with expertise in both human and marine mammal metabolism, including Heidi Pearson of the University of Alaska Southeast and Mike Murray of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Understanding energy use in animals adapted to life in the cold may also provide clues for manipulating human metabolism.

Sea otter metabolism

It is especially difficult for water-living mammals to stay warm because water conducts heat away from the body much faster than air. Most marine mammals have large bodies and a thick layer of fat or blubber for insulation.

Sea otters are the smallest of marine mammals and do not have this thick layer of blubber. Instead, they are insulated by the densest fur of any mammal, with as many as a million hairs per square inch. This fur, however, is high maintenance, requiring regular grooming. About 10% of sea otters’ daily activity involves maintaining the insulating layer of air trapped in their fur.

Grooming is a never-ending job.

Dense fur is not enough, by itself, to keep sea otters warm. To generate enough body heat, their metabolic rate at rest is about three times higher than that of most mammals of similar size. This high metabolic rate has a cost, though.

To obtain enough energy to fuel the high demand, sea otters must eat more than 20% of their body mass in food each day. In comparison, humans eat around 2% of their body mass – about 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms) of food per day for a 155-pound (70 kg) person.

Where does the heat come from?

When animals eat, the energy in their food cannot be used directly by cells to do work. Instead, the food is broken down into simple nutrients, such as fats and sugars. These nutrients are then transported in the blood and absorbed by cells.

Within the cell are compartments called mitochondria where nutrients are converted into ATP – a high-energy molecule that acts as the energy currency of the cell.

The process of converting nutrients into ATP is similar to how a dam turns stored water into electricity. As water flows out from the dam, it makes electricity by spinning blades connected to a generator – similar to wind turning the blades on a windmill. If the dam is leaky, some water – or stored energy – is lost and cannot be used to make electricity.

Similarly, leaky mitochondria are less efficient at making ATP from nutrients. Although the leaked energy in the mitochondria cannot be used to do work, it generates heat to warm the sea otter’s body.

All tissues in the body use energy and make heat, but some tissues are larger and more active than others. Muscle makes up 30% of the body mass of most mammals. When active, muscles consume a lot of energy and produce a lot of heat. You have undoubtedly experienced this, whether getting hot during exercise or shivering when cold.

To find out if muscle metabolism helps keep sea otters warm, we studied small muscle samples from sea otters ranging in size and age from newborn pups to adults. We placed the muscle samples in small chambers designed to monitor oxygen consumption – a measure of how much energy is used. By adding different solutions that stimulated or inhibited various metabolic processes, we determined how much energy the mitochondria could use to make ATP – and how much energy could go into a heat-producing leak.

We discovered the mitochondria in sea otter muscles could be very leaky, allowing otters to turn up the heat in their muscles without physical activity or shivering. It turns out that sea otter muscle is good at being inefficient. The energy “lost” as heat while turning nutrients into movement allows them to survive the cold.

Remarkably, we found newborn pups have the same metabolic ability as adults, even though their muscles have not yet matured for swimming and diving.

Broader implications

Our research clearly demonstrates that muscle is important for more than just movement. Because muscle makes up such a large portion of body mass, even a small increase in muscle metabolism can dramatically increase how much energy an animal uses.

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This has important implications for human health. If scientists discover ways to safely and reversibly increase skeletal muscle metabolism at rest, doctors could possibly use this as a tool to reduce climbing rates of obesity by increasing the number of calories a patient can burn. Conversely, reducing skeletal muscle metabolism could conserve energy in patients suffering from cancer or other wasting diseases and could reduce food and resources needed to support astronauts on long-duration spaceflight.The Conversation

By Traver Wright, Research Assistant Professor of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University; Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Professor of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, and Randall Davis, Regents Professor, Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s Being Done to Help Save Endangered Bornean Elephants?

Like Asian elephants in general, Bornean elephants have been considered endangered with a decreasing global population since 1986, though they were believed to be “very rare” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as early as 1965. Today, there are estimated to be less than 1,500 individuals left on Earth.

The smallest of the Asian elephant subspecies, Bornean elephants (sometimes referred to as pygmy elephants) average anywhere from 8.2 to 9.8 feet tall. They typically also have longer tails, larger ears, and straighter tusks than their mainland cousins. Still, these majestic animals typically represent the largest mammals in their native habitats, which range from the lowland forests of Lower Kinabatangan in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo to the Indonesian state of East Kalimantan.

As to how exactly this elephant subspecies came to exist on their island homes has remained somewhat of a mystery to scientists, with some studies suggesting that they’ve lived in Borneo since the end of the Pleistocene period—about 11,000 to 18,000 years ago—when the island was part of a larger landscape.

Whichever way they arrived, one thing is clear: Bornean elephants are facing a variety of threats that may be leading to their extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts, however, we just may be able to save these deeply unique mammals from an uncertain future.


Bornean elephant conservation faces similar challenges to Asian elephants, such as habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, and poaching. Factors like deforestation influenced by an increase in global demand for palm oil have created more conflicts between humans and elephants as animals are forced to venture further into developed areas.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is the primary threat to Bornean elephants. Large mammals like elephants require large areas to forage, and losing entire blocks of forests to fragmentation and conversion to commercial plantations or logging can reduce contact between subpopulations.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Sabah has lost 60% of its elephant habitat to cultivation over the last 40 years.

Human Conflict

Shrinking forests have elevated the frequency of contact with people and levels of human-elephant conflicts in Borneo.

Elephants are more likely to raid plantations in search of food or travel through developed areas. This sometimes leads to locals retaliating against the animals when they destroy their crops or threaten human settlements.


Complete conversion of forests has also led to an increased level of poaching among Bornean elephants, which studies show have increased over the years. Between 2010 and 2017, a total of 111 elephant deaths were reported in Borneo due to poaching, compared to at least 25 during 2018 alone.

What We Can Do

Given their limited natural range and elusive nature, the plight of the Bornean elephant went relatively unnoticed for many years. Starting in the early 2000s, however, conservation groups began making their way to Borneo to manage projects like satellite tracking to better understand the subspecies’ movements and use of their forest homes.

A program led by veterinarian Cheryl Cheah, the Elephant Conservation Unit at WWF-Malaysia, and the Sabah State Forestry Department successfully attached satellite collars to at least 25 elephants from different herds between 2013 and 2020. Based on this research, local organizations can make recommendations to properly manage elephant forests, identify wildlife corridors, and maintain the most critical forest habitat areas.


Indian Wolf is One of World’s Most Endangered Wolves

Indian wolves.
Mihir Godbole / The Grasslands Trust

Very little is known about the Indian wolf. A medium-sized, light-colored subspecies of the gray wolf, the animal looks different from its relatives because it has less of a shaggy coat.1

Researchers sequenced the genome of the Indian wolf for the first time and uncovered more about this enigmatic canine.2

Results showed the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) is genetically distinct from other neighboring gray wolves.3 The Indian wolf is also one of the world’s most endangered gray wolf populations and could represent the most ancient surviving lineage of wolves.2

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Lead author Lauren Hennelly, a doctoral student with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Mammalian Ecology Conservation Unit, first learned about the species while on her first trip to India in 2013. That sparked her interest in Indian wolves.4

“Early genetic research based on mitochondrial DNA also suggested that Indian wolves may be evolutionarily distinct, which I grew more and more interested in studying these little-known wolves,” Hennelly tells Treehugger.

“In 2014 to 2015, I conducted fieldwork in Maharashtra to study Indian wolf behavior and saw first-hand the many challenges these wolves face in their shrinking habitats. Being able to observe these wild Indian wolves during this fieldwork was inspiring and provided me with a strong motivation that propelled me throughout the ups and downs of research.”

Studying DNA

Indian wolf howling
Indian wolf howling. Mihir Godbole / The Grasslands Trust

To take a closer look, Hennelly and her colleagues sequenced the genomes of four Indian and two Tibetan wolves and compared those to 31 other canid genomes.3

They found that Indian and Tibetan wolves are distinct from each other and from other gray wolf populations.3

“Early research on the mitochondrial DNA hinted that Indian wolves were somewhat distinct within gray wolves. However, the mitochondrial DNA suggested Indian wolves were not as evolutionarily distinct as Tibetan wolves,” Hennelly says.

“So I was very surprised that our research using the entire genome showed that Indian wolves are the most evolutionarily distinct gray wolf population.”

The researchers are recommending that the populations be recognized as evolutionarily significant units (ESUs). That’s an interim designation until more research can be done and scientists can discuss whether the species should be classified separately.3

The temporary designation would help with conservation measures in the meantime.4

“These findings will have taxonomic-level changes to the Indian wolf and will strengthen on-the-ground efforts towards their conservation. Currently, all wolves spanning India to Turkey are considered as the same population. Our study highlights a need to reassess taxonomic designations of the Indian wolf, which will significantly affect their conservation priority,” Hennelly says.

“This change in taxonomy and greater recognition of their endangered status will strengthen the on-the-ground efforts led by NGOs, universities, and governmental agencies to help protect these wolves. Hopefully, Indian wolves can serve as a flagship species for conserving the remaining grassland ecosystems in India and Pakistan.”

Ancient and Endangered

gray wolf distribution
Gray wolf distribution. Lauren Hennelly, UC Davis

The findings indicate Indian wolves are only found in India and Pakistan, where their habitat is threatened by land-use changes and human population shifts.2

“Our study suggests that Indian wolves represent the world’s most evolutionarily divergent wolf lineage. Additionally, our study highlights that this evolutionarily distinct Indian wolf lineage is potentially only found within the Indian subcontinent,” Hennelly says.

“Currently, there is no population estimate for Indian wolves in Pakistan. In India, the last population estimate for the Indian wolf was done almost 20 years ago, and it estimated around 2,000-3,000 individuals. That means there are likely more tigers in India than there are Indian wolves—highlighting how endangered the Indian wolf populations are.”

Both Indian and Tibetan wolves come from an ancient lineage that is older than Holarctic wolves, which are found in North America and Eurasia. The researchers say their findings suggest that Indian wolves could represent the most ancient surviving lineage2

“This paper may be a game-changer for the species to persist in these landscapes,” co-author Bilal Habib, a conservation biologist with the Wildlife Institute of India, said in a statement. “People may realize that the species with whom we have been sharing the landscape is the most distantly divergent wolf alive today.”2

By Mary Jo DiLonardo | Treehugger

Mary Jo DiLonardo is a senior writer and editor at MNN. She has covered health, education, parenting, pets, and more for media outlets such as WebMD and Atlanta magazine, and has contributed to CNN.com, Ladies Home Journal, Parents and Family Fun magazines. She wrote a family travel book for Random House and worked on several national radio shows.



‘Momentous’ Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining Adopted at Global Biodiversity Summit

A pair of fish swim near the ocean floor off the coast of Mauritius. A motion calling for an end to deep-sea mining of minerals was adopted at the world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature this week. (Photo: Roman Furrer/Flickr/cc)

By Julia Conley | Common Dreams

A vote overwhelmingly in favor of placing a moratorium on deep-sea mineral mining at a global biodiversity summit this week has put urgent pressure on the International Seabed Authority to strictly regulate the practice.

The vast majority of governments, NGOs, and civil society groups voted in favor of the moratorium at the world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Wednesday, after several conservation groups lobbied in favor of the measure.

“Member countries of the ISA, including France which hosted this Congress, need to wake up and act on behalf of civil society and the environment now, and take action in support of a moratorium.” —Matthew Gianni, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Eighty-one government and government agencies voted for the moratorium, while 18 opposed it and 28, including the United Kingdom, abstained from voting. Among NGOs and other organizations, 577 supported the motion while fewer than three dozen opposed it or abstained.

Deep-sea mining for deposits of copper, nickel, lithium, and other metals can lead to the swift loss of entire species that live only on the ocean floor, as well as disturbing ecosystems and food sources and putting marine life at risk for toxic spills and leaks.

Fauna and Flora International, which sponsored the moratorium along with other groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Synchronicity Earth, called the vote “a momentous outcome for ocean conservation.”

The motion called for a moratorium on mining for minerals and metals near the ocean floor until environmental impact assessments are completed and stakeholders can ensure the protection of marine life, as well as calling for reforms to the International Seabed Authority (ISA)—the regulatory body made up of 167 nations and the European Union, tasked with overseeing “all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area for the benefit of mankind as a whole.”

In June, a two-year deadline was set for the ISA to begin licensing commercial deep-sea mining and to finalize regulations for the industry by 2023.

“Member countries of the ISA, including France which hosted this Congress, need to wake up and act on behalf of civil society and the environment now, and take action in support of a moratorium,” said Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, in a statement.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, another co-sponsor of the motion, called on the ISA to reject the deep-sea mining industry’s claims that mining for metals on the ocean floor is a partial solution to the climate crisis.

“The pro-deep seabed mining lobby is… selling a story that companies need deep seabed minerals in order to produce electric cars, batteries, and other items that reduce carbon emissions,” said Jessica Battle, a senior expert on global ocean policy and governance at the organization. “Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster. We can decarbonize through innovation, redesigning, reducing, reusing, and recycling.”

Pippa Howard of Fauna and Flora International wrote ahead of the IUCN summit that “we need to shatter the myth that deep seabed mining is the solution to the climate crisis.”

“Far from being the answer to our dreams, deep seabed mining could well turn out to be the stuff of nightmares,” she wrote. “Deep seabed mining—at least as it is currently conceived—would be an utterly irresponsible and short-sighted idea. In the absence of any suitable mitigation techniques… deep-sea mining should be avoided entirely until that situation changes.”

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Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years

By | The Mind Unreleased

Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.

Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.

The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.

Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.

It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.

I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”

Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.

I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.

“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”

Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.

“It is true that the data we have pointed to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.

Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.

In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”

In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.

Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.

A typical blue whale is 20-24 meters long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 meters and 170 tonnes have been found.

Yellowstone is Losing Its Snow as the Climate Warms, and that Means Widespread Problems for Water and Wildlife

When you picture Yellowstone National Park and its neighbor, Grand Teton, the snowcapped peaks and Old Faithful Geyser almost certainly come to mind. Climate change threatens all of these iconic scenes, and its impact reaches far beyond the parks’ borders.

A new assessment of climate change in the two national parks and surrounding forests and ranchland warns of the potential for significant changes as the region continues to heat up.

Map showing the parks and forest land within the Greater Yellowstone Area

The Greater Yellowstone Area includes both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, as well as surrounding national forests and federal land. National Park Service

Since 1950, average temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone Area have risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 C), and potentially more importantly, the region has lost a quarter of its annual snowfall. With the region projected to warm 5-6 F by 2061-2080, compared with the average from 1986-2005, and by as much as 10-11 F by the end of the century, the high country around Yellowstone is poised to lose its snow altogether.

The loss of snow there has repercussions for a vast range of ecosystems and wildlife, as well as cities and farms downstream that rely on rivers that start in these mountains.

Broad impact on wildlife and ecosystems

The Greater Yellowstone Area comprises 22 million acres in northwest Wyoming and portions of Montana and Idaho. In addition to geysers and hot springs, it’s home to the southernmost range of grizzly bear populations in North America and some of the longest intact wildlife migrations, including the seasonal traverses of elk, pronghorn, mule deer and bison.

The area also represents the one point where the three major river basins of the western U.S. converge. The rivers of the Snake-Columbia basin, Green-Colorado basin, and Missouri River Basin all begin as snow on the Continental Divide as it weaves across Yellowstone’s peaks and plateaus.

How climate change alters the Greater Yellowstone Area is, therefore, a question with implications far beyond the impact on Yellowstone’s declining cutthroat trout population and disruptions to the food supplies critical for the region’s recovering grizzly population. By altering the water supply, it also shapes the fate of major Western reservoirs and their dependent cities and farms hundreds of miles downstream.

Rising temperatures also increase the risk of large forest fires like those that scarred Yellowstone in 1988 and broke records across Colorado in 2020. And the effects on the national parks could harm the region’s nearly US$800 billion in annual tourism activity across the three states.

A group of scientists led by Cathy Whitlock from Montana State University, Steve Hostetler of the U.S. Geological Survey and myself at the University of Wyoming partnered with local organizations, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, to launch the climate assessment.

We wanted to create a common baseline for discussion among the region’s many voices, from the Indigenous nations who have lived in these landscapes for over 10,000 years to the federal agencies mandated to care for the region’s public lands. What information would ranchers and outfitters, skiers and energy producers need to know to begin planning for the future?

Shifting from snow to rain

Standing at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station and looking up at the snow on the Grand Teton, over 13,000 feet above sea level, I cannot help but think that the transition away from snow is the most striking outcome that the assessment anticipates – and the most dire.

Today the average winter snowline – the level where almost all winter precipitation falls as snow – is at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. By the end of the century, warming is forecast to raise it to at least 10,000 feet, the top of Jackson Hole’s famous ski areas.

The climate assessment uses projections of future climates based on a scenario that assumes countries substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. When we looked at scenarios in which global emissions continue at a high rate instead, the differences by the end of century compared with today became stark. Not even the highest peaks would regularly receive snow.

In interviews with people across the region, nearly everyone agreed that the challenge ahead is directly connected to water. As a member of one of the regional tribes noted, “Water is a big concern for everybody.”

As temperature has risen over the past seven decades, snowfall has declined, and peak streamflow shifted earlier in the year across the Greater Yellowstone Area. 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, CC BY-ND

Precipitation may increase slightly as the region warms, but less of it will fall as snow. More of it will fall in spring and autumn, while summers will become drier than they have been, our assessment found.

The timing of the spring runoff, when winter snow melts and feeds into streams and rivers, has already shifted ahead by about eight days since 1950. The shift means a longer, drier late summer when drought can turn the landscape brown – or black as the wildfire season becomes longer and hotter.

The outcomes will affect wildlife migrations dependent on the “green wave” of new leaves that rises up the mountain slopes each spring. Low streamflow and warm water in late summer will threaten the survival of coldwater fisheries, like the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and Yellowstone’s unique species like the western glacier stonefly, which depends on the meltwater from mountain glaciers.

Temperatures are projected to rise in the Greater Yellowstone Area in the coming decades. The chart shows two potential scenarios, based on different projections of what global warming might look like in the future – RCP 8.5, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high rate; and RCP 4.5, if countries take substantial steps to slow climate change. The temperatures are compared with the 1900-2005 average. 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment

Preparing for a warming future

These outcomes will vary somewhat from location to location, but no area will be untouched.

We hope the climate assessment will help communities anticipate the complex impacts ahead and start planning for the future.

As the report indicates, that future will depend on choices made now and in the coming years. Federal and state policy choices will determine whether the world will see optimistic scenarios or scenarios where adaption becomes more difficult. The Yellowstone region, one of the coldest parts of the U.S., will face changes, but actions now can help avoid the worst. High-elevation mountain towns like Jackson, Wyoming, which today rarely experience 90 F, may face a couple of weeks of such heat by the end of the century – or they may face two months of it, depending in large part on those decisions.

The assessment underscores the need for discussion. What choices do we want to make?

Bryan Shuman, Professor of Paleoclimatology and Paleoecology, University of Wyoming

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

EPA Inaction Blamed as US Bees Suffer Second Highest Colony Losses on Record

By Andrea Germanos | Common Dreams

Beekeepers this year in the United States reported the second-highest annual loss of managed honey bee colonies since records began in 2006, according to results of a nationwide survey released Wednesday.

The non-profit Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) said in its preliminary analysis that beekeepers—ranging from small backyard keepers to commercial operations—lost 45.5% of their colonies between April 2020 and April 2021. The results are based on a survey of over 3,300 U.S. beekeepers managing a combined 192,384 colonies.

“The worrisome part is we see no progress towards a reduction of losses.”

“This year’s survey results show that colony losses are still high,” said Nathalie Steinhauer, BIP’s science coordinator and a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Maryland Department of Entomology, in a statement.

The annual loss is 6.1 percentage points higher than the average loss rate of 39.4% over the last 10 years, the researchers said.

“Though we see fluctuations from year to year,” said Steinhauer, “the worrisome part is we see no progress towards a reduction of losses.”

During winter beekeepers reported losses of 32.2%—9.6 percentage points higher than last year and 3.9 points higher than the 15-year average. Summer losses came in at 31.1%. While that figure is 0.9 percentage points lower than last year, it’s 8.6 points higher than the survey average.

The beekeepers attributed the losses this year to a number of factors, with the parasitic Varroa destructor mite being cited most frequently for winter losses and queen issues most frequent for summer losses. Other causes of colony loss beekeepers cited included starvation, weather, and pesticides.

Continued losses are bad news for food security, as agricultural crops like blueberries and almonds rely on the bees for pollination.

“Beekeepers of all types consistently lose a high number of colonies each year, which puts a heavy burden on many of them to recoup those losses in time for major pollination events like California almonds,” said survey co-author Geoffrey Williams, an assistant professor of entomology at Auburn University.

“Colony losses remain elevated,” he said, “and this year’s annual and summer loss rates are among the highest recorded.”

For Jason Davidson, senior food and agriculture campaigner with Friends of the Earth, the survey results were a damning indictment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to act on what conservation advocates call an “insect apocalypse” that was furthered by the Trump administration’s pro-pesticide industry decisions.

“These bee losses highlight the disturbing lack of progress from the EPA in the fight to protect pollinators from toxic pesticides,” said Davidson, urging the EPA not to “sit on the sidelines while beekeepers experience horrific losses year after year.”

“It will take meaningful policy protection and rapid market change to reverse these unsustainable declines in honey bees and to protect the future of our food supply,” he added.

BIP’s findings were delivered during National Pollinator Week and as Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) reintroduced (pdf) the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.

Pollinators, Blumenauer said Wednesday, are “critically important to the food we eat and the environment that sustains us. Unfortunately, our pollinators weren’t immune from [former President Donald] Trump’s war on science and the environment. In fact, they were a target, as the previous administration actually fought to allow more bee-killing pesticides back on the market.”

“Now, it’s up to us to work overtime to protect them, which is why I’ve reintroduced Saving America’s Pollinators Act,” he said.

According to Emily Knobbe, policy manager at the Center for Food Safety, which endorsed the legislation, “National Pollinator Week is the perfect time for Rep. Blumenauer to reintroduce his progressive pollinator protection bill—and a perfect time to ask legislators to support this continued dedication to pollinators.”

She said the latest version of the bill rightly responds to the decline in pollinator health, pointing to the 80% decline in 20 years of the Eastern Monarch butterfly populations as one example. She also pointed to a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics, as key to pollinator recovery, given their links to pollinator harm.

“Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would require not a suspension, but a ban on all neonicotinoid pesticides,” wrote Knobbe. “This change to the proposed legislation reflects that the time for requesting incremental action from the EPA has passed.”

“Pollinators need swift action in order to survive—banning neonicotinoids would provide a lifeline for these essential species,” she said.

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Climate Crisis and Negligent Policymakers Blamed for ‘Record Sickening Levels’ of Manatee Deaths in Florida

By Julia Conley | Common Dreams

Conservation advocates in Florida are warning that 1,000 manatees in the state’s water could die this year—hundreds more than in recent years—due to starvation drove by water pollution, the climate crisis, and other man-made harms to the mammals’ ecosystem.

As The Guardian reported Monday, 749 manatees died between January 1 and May 21, compared with 637 deaths in all of 2020, qualifying as an “unusual mortality event” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“Manatees are literally that sentinel species. They’re warning us of what else is going to come if we don’t do a better job while there’s still time to do something about it. If we don’t, our own lives will suffer.”
—Patrick Rose, Save the Manatee Club

Experts in the state point to the death of seagrass, manatees’ primary food source, including the majority of 80,000 acres of the plants in the Indian River Lagoon due to blue-green algae blooms—”which have themselves been caused by decades of human nutrient pollution from wastewater and runoff that continues unabated to this day,” Bob Graham, a former Democratic Florida governor and co-founder of Save the Manatee, wrote in the Tampa Bay Times last month.

Runoff containing fertilizers, microplastics, and other chemicals has been linked to the growth of blooms.

Warmer water temperatures linked to the climate crisis have also been known to foster the growth of algae, which cover the water’s surface and deprive seagrasses of sunlight. In response, manatees overgraze the remaining seagrass.

As The Guardian reported, toxic wastewater leaks into Tampa Bay from the Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee County, Florida has led to water-poisoning red tide algae blooms, with the FWC linking at least 12 manatee deaths to the algae.

A study by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in March also found traces of pesticides in more than 55% of the manatees the group tested.

“Our beloved chubby sea cows are dodging boat strikes, reeling from red tide and starving in the Indian River Lagoon because of water pollution,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the CBD, told The Guardian. “It’s heartbreaking to add chronic glyphosate exposure to the list of factors threatening manatee survival.”

With just 7,500 manatees remaining, the unabated threats could mean the species is wiped out within a few years, as well as killing off other marine species and causing disaster for Florida’s beaches and tourism industry.

“Manatees are literally that sentinel species,” Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, told CNN. “They’re warning us of what else is going to come if we don’t do a better job while there’s still time to do something about it. If we don’t, our own lives will suffer.”

Rose’s warning was echoed on social media.

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board published a scathing editorial earlier this month, slamming policymakers for allowing manatees to die “at record sickening levels” this year.

“Our careless contempt for keeping Florida’s waters clean now has caught up with these gentle creatures. This isn’t just a coincidence,” the editors wrote, condemning state lawmakers as woefully out of touch with residents who want to save the state’s manatees and marine life:

The average Floridian has always respected wild surroundings and wants to protect the fragile parts, including its crystalline freshwater springs, its moss-draped woodlands and its rare animals.

The average state legislator, on the other hand, has always respected campaign contributions from wealthy polluters like phosphate mines and from developers whose goal is to cover sensitive land with subdivisions and golf courses that spew killing fertilizer into waterways.

Voters have said over and over again—loudly and unambiguously—that they want state money spent on the environment. Consider the 75% voter support for Amendment 1 in 2014.

The constitutional amendment ordered the state to use 33% of the proceeds—that was $750 million in 2015—of an already-existing real-estate tax called documentary stamps to improve and protect water resources and to buy preservation land.

Instead, then-state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, now the Supervisor of Elections in Lake County, chaired a committee that hijacked all but $37 million to feed bloated state bureaucracy, pay off state debt and keep the corporate welfare flowing. That’s disgusting on two levels—the damage to the environment and the disrespect to the voters.

The editors also denounced former Gov. Rick Scott for “mercilessly slashing employees” from the Department of Environmental Protection, calling on the agency to loosen water quality rules, and barring local governments from regulating the use of harmful fertilizers.

“The reason sensitive manatees are dying is no big mystery,” they wrote. “Environmentalists heralded this foul die-off. Politicians were deaf to the warning. Florida has at least some rules for protecting land and animals but has had almost no enforcement in the past decade. Dead manatees are just the beginning.”

Graham called on the Biden administration to “demand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other federal agencies make protecting manatees and recovering seagrasses and other submerged aquatic vegetation a top priority in ensuring that our aquatic ecosystems are nursed back to health,” following a 2019 decision by FWS to change manatees’ status from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Duane De Freese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon Council, called on policymakers to recognize the threats facing manatees as endangering entire ecosystems.

“This is about more than just the environment,” De Freese told CNN. “It’s about human health, it’s about quality of life, it’s about the economic vitality of our coastal communities. And if we fail to act in a science-driven way to solve these problems, as the population grows, these problems will grow with it.”

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Do Marine Protected Areas Work?

Watered-down management plans limit the effectiveness of MPAs.

MPAs aim to protect marine life, such as the Hawksbill turtle, which is critically endangered.

In the field of marine conservation, a marine protected area (MPA) is an expanse of sea, ocean, estuaries, coastal waters, and in the United States, the U.S. Great Lakes, where fishing, mining, drilling, and other extractive human activity is restricted in an effort to protect the waters’ natural resources and marine life.

Deep-sea corals, for example, which can be up to 4,000 years old, can be damaged by fishing trawls that drag along the ocean floor, scooping up bottom-dwelling fish and crustaceans. By not allowing humans to deplete, disturb, or pollute waterways at will, MPAs discourage such damage and disregard for sea life. But while MPAs provide a framework for us to sustainably interact with Earth’s waters, weak enforcement of their rules and regulations means they’re not always as effective as they aim to be.

The Evolution of Marine Protected Areas

A sign marker for a marine protected area
An MPA sign in the Cook Islands. The island’s Indigenous Peoples call the concept of conservation “ra’ui”.Patrick Nunn / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The idea of restricting access to marine areas as a way to revitalize them has existed for centuries. The Indigenous Peoples of the Cook Islands, for example, practice the “ra’ui” system, a tradition enacted by the Koutu Nui (traditional leaders) which temporarily prohibits fishing and foraging whenever a food source is in low supply.1

Modern-day MPAs, however, evolved over a period of decades from the 1960s onward, as myriad global conferences and conventions increased awareness of threats to our oceans. Some of the events that helped propel global MPAs forward include the 1962 First World Conference on National Parks, which explored the idea of creating marine parks and reserves to defend marine areas from human interference; and the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) 1973 critical marine habitats project, which developed criteria for selecting and managing MPA sites. Also helping to shape global MPAs was the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea—a collection of treaties and international agreements, which established that nations “have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources,” but that they should do so “in accordance with their duty to protect and serve the marine environment.”

Meanwhile, the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, which prohibited ocean dumping, was largely responsible for kicking off the MPA movement in the United States. That same year, the U.S. Congress established an MPA program managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Today, more than 15,000 MPAs cover roughly 7% of the world’s marine environment. Nearly 1,000 of that number are in the United States.2

Are Marine Protected Areas Effective?

MPAs provide a multitude of conservation and climate benefits, including improving water quality, protecting species during spawning periods, and promoting greater biodiversity (variation of marine flora and fauna). A study in Science Magazine found that coral reefs that faceless fishing pressure and that are located away from human populations see the greatest chance at recovery, whereas those facing intense human impacts rebound more slowly.

The potential benefits of MPAs are so bountiful that in 2004, and again in 2010, the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity set a target of converting 10% of the world’s marine areas into MPAs by 2020. While nations missed this international target, about 8.5% of oceans, or an area the size of North America, is now covered by MPAs, according to the Marine Conservation Institute’s marine protection atlas.3 Zoom in on the United States, and that number increases to 26%, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).2

However, recent research suggests that the aerial coverage of MPAs may not be as important to marine safeguarding as two other factors: the type of MPA—”no-take” or partially-protected—that is implemented, and how closely an MPA site’s rules and regulations are followed.

“No-Take” Marine Reserves Offer the Greatest Benefits

No-take MPAs, which are also known as “marine reserves,” ban all activities that remove or harm marine life, whereas partially protected MPAs allow some degree of human activity, such as fishing, boating, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, or more, within its borders.

Because of this, some scientists, including social ecologist John Turnbull and his colleagues at the University of New South Wales in Australia, say partially protected MPAs merely “create an illusion of protection.” Conservationist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Enric Sala, also recognizes the benefit of no-take over partially-protected MPAs. According to his analysis published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, fish biomass (the weight used to interpret health) in marine reserves is over three times greater than that in partially-protected MPAs.

Only 3% of global ocean areas and 3% of U.S. waters are in highly protected no-take zones.3

Stricter Regulation and Enforcement Is Needed

Of course, even if no-take MPAs are in place, there’s no guarantee that people will abide by their rules and regulations. Despite the fact that MPA zones and boundaries are mapped by NOAA, and are physically marked with buoys and signs, many are located in remote parts of the world and aren’t routinely policed, meaning the honor code system is largely in effect.

Divers survey the waters in a marine sanctuary
A diver maintains a mooring buoy in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries / Flickr / Public Domain

Sadly, visitors don’t always act in a trustworthy manner when no one is looking. In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for example, mooring buoys are installed so that visitors, who are allowed to boat, fish, and dive in the partially-protected MPA, may do so without damaging the reef with boat anchors. (Mooring buoys give boats a place to tie up to, and thereby avoid the need to drop anchor.) However, over 500 vessel groundings, on average, occur within the sanctuary every year.

Such violations occur within international MPAs, too. A 2020 study conducted by Oceana, a nonprofit organization that works to influence policy decisions to preserve and restore the world’s oceans, revealed that 96% of the nearly 3,500 European MPAs surveyed, including the Natura 2000 MPAs, allowed at least one extractive or industrial activity, or infrastructural development (such as an oil/gas rig) within their boundaries. Oceana also found that 53% of MPA sites reported no active management. And where management plans did exist, 80% of those plans were incomplete or failed to address major threats affecting the sites.

One remedy to the problem of ineffective MPA management is stricter oversight. Perhaps as the global community works toward the international goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, it can also take the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of MPAs by adopting innovative surveillance tools, such as drones, satellite-tracking systems for vessels, and passive acoustics systems which use sound to detect when a vessel is nearby, into its MPA management plans.

For the rest of this article please go to the source link below.

By Tiffany Means | Treehugger 


Weather, Climate, Environment, Science


The University of North Carolina at Asheville, Johns Hopkins University


Tiffany Means is a meteorologist-turned-science-writer who has been writing articles about weather and climate since 2012. Her work has been featured in publications including Yale Climate Connections, Live Science, and The Farmers’ Almanac.

Means has experienced such weather greats as the 1993 Storm of the Century. She is also a budding nature photographer and has an insatiable interest in Disney Parks, history, and nostalgia.


Means joined Treehugger in 2021, but she isn’t exactly new to the Dotdash family — she was an About.com and ThoughtCo. contributor from 2012 to 2017.

Before fully transitioning to a career in science writing, Means worked for CNN and NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. In 2018, she helped edit and publish the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

Means is a member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Association of Science Writers.


Means holds a Bachelor of Science in atmospheric science (with a weather forecasting concentration) from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. After discovering a passion for science communication, she transitioned into science journalism and is currently earning a Masters of Arts in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

Sharks Use Earth’s Magnetic Fields to Guide Them Like a Map

Bonnethead shark.
Credit: © Wrangel / 123RF.com

By Cell Press | Science Daily

Sea turtles are known for relying on magnetic signatures to find their way across thousands of miles to the very beaches where they hatched. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on May 6 have some of the first solid evidence that sharks also rely on magnetic fields for their long-distance forays across the sea.

“It had been unresolved how sharks managed to successfully navigate during migration to targeted locations,” said Save Our Seas Foundation project leader Bryan Keller, also of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. “This research supports the theory that they use the earth’s magnetic field to help them find their way; it’s nature’s GPS.”

Researchers had known that some species of sharks travel over long distances to reach very specific locations year after year. They also knew that sharks are sensitive to electromagnetic fields. As a result, scientists had long speculated that sharks were using magnetic fields to navigate. But the challenge was finding a way to test this in sharks.

“To be honest, I am surprised it worked,” Keller said. “The reason this question has been withstanding for 50 years is that sharks are difficult to study.”

Keller realized the needed studies would be easier to do in smaller sharks. They also needed a species known for returning each year to specific locations. He and his colleagues settled on bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo).

“The bonnethead returns to the same estuaries each year,” Keller said. “This demonstrates that the sharks know where ‘home’ is and can navigate back to it from a distant location.”

The question then was whether bonnetheads managed those return trips by relying on a magnetic map. To find out, the researchers used magnetic displacement experiments to test 20 juvenile, wild-caught bonnetheads. In their studies, they exposed sharks to magnetic conditions representing locations hundreds of kilometers away from where the sharks were actually caught. Such studies allow for straightforward predictions about how the sharks should subsequently orient themselves if they were indeed relying on magnetic cues.

If sharks derive positional information from the geomagnetic field, the researchers predicted northward orientation in the southern magnetic field and southward orientation in the northern magnetic field, as the sharks attempted to compensate for their perceived displacement. They predicted no orientation preference when sharks were exposed to the magnetic field that matched their capture site. And, it turned out, the sharks acted as they’d predicted when exposed to fields within their natural range.

The researchers suggest that this ability to navigate based on magnetic fields may also contribute to the population structure of sharks. The findings in bonnetheads also likely help to explain impressive feats by other shark species. For instance, one great white shark was documented to migrate between South Africa and Australia, returning to the same exact location the following year.

“How cool is it that a shark can swim 20,000 kilometers round trip in a three-dimensional ocean and get back to the same site?” Keller asked. “It really is mind-blowing. In a world where people use GPS to navigate almost everywhere, this ability is truly remarkable.”

In future studies, Keller says he’d like to explore the effects of magnetic fields from anthropogenic sources such as submarine cables on sharks. They’d also like to study whether and how sharks rely on magnetic cues not just during long-distance migration but also during their everyday behavior.

This work was supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press.

Journal Reference:

  1. Bryan A. Keller, Nathan F. Putman, R. Dean Grubbs, David S. Portnoy, Timothy P. Murphy. Map-like use of Earth’s magnetic field in sharksCurrent Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.103

Scientists: As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent

By   | TheMindUnleshed.com

The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and the North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to the global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

What Types of Freshwater Tropical Fish Can Live Together?

One of the beautiful additions you can have in your home is a red sea aquarium. If you have an active ecosystem that has different fish swimming together, you will find that it doesn’t just improve the beauty of your home, but also serves as a source of entertainment.

One of the important considerations in setting up an aquarium is the size of the fish. If the smaller ones are not separated from the larger ones, they are likely to fight and kill each other. This situation also prevents the smaller ones from exploring the environment.

If you are looking to fill your aquarium with fish, you can check out “Splashy Fish Store – live freshwater fish for sale online“ for more information on where you can get species that thrive in diverse conditions. After buying the fish, the next important step is to create a conducive environment to enable them to live together. Species that eat similar foods are good to keep together as feeding them will be much easier.

In this article, we will discuss how to maintain a conducive community fish tank and also outline fish that can live together. Please read on as we explain more.

How to Maintain a Conducive Community Tank

The following are some tips to guide you:

Aquarium Size

Fish need adequate space as it aids them in getting along. When the aquarium is crowded, you will find that they will become agitated and quarrel regularly. The acceptable procedure in stocking the tank is 1’’ (inch) of adult fish per gallon of the aquarium’s capacity. However, territorial ones demand more space, such as redtail catfish, one of the fast-growing freshwater fish, and will need a 1000 gallon tank.

A good point to note is that they grow fast and this means that the space provided may not be enough after a short while especially when you consider gravel, internal dimensions, and decorations. Furthermore, what is considered to be a big aquarium is only a portion of what fish are familiar with naturally.

Aquarium Dimension

One of the important considerations in setting up an aquarium is the dimension. Fish have their preferences in swimming spaces and shapes and you have to consider this factor when buying an aquarium. Aquariums that have wider shapes give breeds like barbs and danios the needed space to spread out and this helps them in getting along well.

On the other hand, narrow, tall aquariums are attractive to look at and they can easily fit into small spaces. However, they do not offer adequate swimming space like a wide aquarium.

Plants and Decorations

Aquarium decorations aid with freshwater and saltwater compatibility. Most fish want a territory to call theirs and they also define this space with physical boundaries. Additionally, not being able to see one another makes them mind their business. Caves, rocks, driftwood as well as other decorations aid in defining boundaries for cichlids.

Bushy plants give species such as barbs, rasboras, tetras, danios territories to occupy. If you are introducing fresh cichlids to an existing population, include some new rocks to rearrange the existing decoration. This is done to destroy territories that are controlled by dominant species.


Fish have different ways of communication and most times the signals they give can be misunderstood since different breeds from across the globe have different communication patterns. You need to research the respective species before you buy. It is also recommended that you fill your tank with species from one region. And feed them accordingly. For example, only buy koi fish food for a koi pond.

Cichlids, loaches, mormyrids, and some shark species don’t share their space with related breeds. Large aquariums that have enough cover are a great option but most of these species thrive better when they are kept alone or they have tank mates that are not closely related.


Young species are naturally easygoing. Regardless of how aggressive they turn out as adults, they are usually free when they are young and this makes them mix freely with tank mates. There are reports of predatory fish mixed with feeder goldfish which they can easily feed on but they don’t because they were all purchased at the same size/age.

Fish Size

Most species eat others if they feel they can. The knowledge of this should make you go for species that are of the same size. When combining territorial species, new ones should be the same size as the most aggressive species in the aquarium.


Male species are more aggressive and territorial especially when mating. You should avoid having two males of the same species if there are females in the same tank. A good ratio will be two to three females for each male to prevent mating-related problems among the males.

Territory Hierarchy

It is natural to find pecking orders especially in communities where there are cichlid species. If the submissive ones are constantly harassed, you may have to remove them. Another option you can consider is to remove the aggressor but the next in line in terms of size may just dominate the community and thus continue the cycle.

Close monitoring of the aquarium will allow you to know the appropriate step to take at any given time. This will prevent any case of continued dominance by an aggressor.

Freshwater Tropical Fish that Can Live Together

The following are some species that can live together:

  • Bettas
  • Rainbowfish
  • Goldfish
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Swordtail fish
  • Platies

Another group of species that can live together includes:

  • Zebra Danios
  • Tetras
  • Barbs
  • Gouramis
  • Swordfish
  • Killifish
  • Corydoras
  • Angelfish

These species are quite easy to keep and maintain and are known to cohabit peacefully. However, do not be quick to add a new species and always carry out a background study to see how it can cope with the already existing ones. If you need tips on how to maintain fish in your aquarium, you can check here: https://www.petmd.com/fish/care/evr_fi_how-to-care-of-fish


Keeping an aquarium improves the aesthetic value of an apartment. It is also a good way to keep yourself entertained especially if you are a lover of nature. We have outlined some species that you can put together in your aquarium. Feel free to check them out.