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News & Events On Our Changing Planet

10/24/2014

Amazon Deforestation Reaching New Heights—and the Future May Be Worse

Over the past two months, the Brazilian Amazon has registered a sharp spike in deforestation.
Official figures have not yet been released by the Brazilian government, but new satellite footage shows that the rate of deforestation in the region rose 29 percent last year, and it’s picking up speed, according to a report by The Guardian:
Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.
Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.
The Guardian noted that Brazil’s election season is also impacting the deforestation issue, as President Dilma Rousseff’s administration has forged ties with agribusiness groups and her challenger, AĆ©cio Neves, is a pro-business candidate. Given these options for the country’s top political position, the “world’s largest forest” is in imminent danger of losing its title in the near future.

Truth Dig

10/20/2014

Extinct giant kangaroos didn't hop, they walked

THEY had faces like rabbits and some were 2 metres tall. But now it seems that an extinct giant kangaroo didn't hop – it walked.
Known as "short-faced giant kangaroos", sthenurines roamed Australia for 12.5 million years before being wiped out 30,000 years ago. No one knows what killed off these relatives of modern kangaroos, although they may have struggled as Australia's climate grew more arid.
Unlike kangaroos today, these ancient giants walked just like us. "All our evidence fits with these animals leaning on one leg at a time, like humans," says Christine Janis of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
She and her team took hundreds of measurements of the bones of 66 living species of the kangaroo family and 78 extinct species, including 71 from sthenurines, to calculate the likely size and function of each animal's bones and muscles.
They found that the ill-fated sthenurines had bone structures resembling those of animals that move by shifting weight from one foot to the other, like humans and apes (PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109888). A flange at the base of their shin bones, similar to those found in horses and humans, would have prevented their feet from collapsing sideways under the weight of their body.

Like walking primates, their pelvises fanned out at the rear. "They had big bums, and much more room for these large gluteal muscles than today's kangaroos," says Janis. These muscles would have supported each leg during walking.
Sthenurines had stiffer spines and shorter tails than modern kangaroos, which use their tails like a fifth leg. "It's reasonable that the ancestors of modern-day kangaroos moved differently," says Max Donelan of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada. "If pentapedal walking did not make biomechanical sense to these large, extinct kangaroos, they would have likely found a different solution."
Janis suggests they were browsers, taking advantage of their height and bipedalism to browse trees and shrubs for berries or other food, without having to waste energy hopping between them.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Extinct giant kangaroos didn't hop – they walked"

10/03/2014

Earth Has Lost Half of its Wildlife in the Past 40 Years



Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats. The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found. “If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.
 “We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF. He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably. The steep decline of animal, fish and bird numbers was calculated by analysing 10,000 different populations, covering 3,000 species in total. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative “Living Planet Index” (LPI), reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates. “We have all heard of the FTSE 100 index, but we have missed the ultimate indicator, the falling trend of species and ecosystems in the world,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s director of conservation.
“If we get [our response] right, we will have a safe and sustainable way of life for the future,” he said. If not, he added, the overuse of resources would ultimately lead to conflicts. He said the LPI was an extremely robust indicator and had been adopted by UN’s internationally-agreed Convention on Biological Diversityas key insight into biodiversity.




















A second index in the new Living Planet report calculates humanity’s “ecological footprint”, ie the scale at which it is using up natural resources. Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.
The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.
The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970. “Rivers are the bottom of the system,” said Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater adviser. “Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers.” For example, he said, tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the Ganges in India every year.
As well as pollution, dams and the increasing abstraction of water damage freshwater systems. There are more than 45,000 major dams – 15m or higher – around the world. “These slice rivers up into a thousand pieces,” Tickner said, preventing the healthy flow of water. While population has risen fourfold in the last century, water use has gone up sevenfold. “We are living thirstier and thirstier lives,” he said.
But while freshwater species such as the European eel and the hellbender salamander in the US have crashed, recoveries have also been seen. Otters were near extinct in England but thanks to conservation efforts nowlive in every county.


The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970. From forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates now exceed birth rates, to the Hoolock gibbon in Bangladesh and European snakes like the meadow and asp vipers, destruction of habitat has seen populations tumble. But again intensive conservation effort can turn declines around, as has happened with tigers in Nepal.
Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall, with turtles suffering in particular. Hunting, the destruction of nesting grounds and getting drowned in fishing nets have seen turtle numbers fall by 80%. Some birds have been heavily affected too. The number of grey partridges in the UK sank by 50% since 1970 due to the intensification of farming, while curlew sandpipers in Australia lost 80% of their number in the 20 years to 2005.
The biggest declines in animal numbers have been seen in low-income, developing nations, while conservation efforts in rich nations have seen small improvements overall. But the big declines in wildlife in rich nations had already occurred long before the new report’s baseline year of 1970 – the last wolf in the UK was shot in 1680.
Also, by importing food and other goods produced via habitat destruction in developing nations, rich nations are “outsourcing” wildlife decline to those countries, said Norris. For example, a third of all the products of deforestation such as timber, beef and soya were exported to the EU between 1990 and 2008.
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK said: “The scale of the destruction highlighted in this report should be a wake-up call for us all. But 2015 – when the countries of the world are due to come together to agree on a new global climate agreement, as well as a set of sustainable development goals – presents us with a unique opportunity to reverse the trends.
“We all – politicians, businesses and people – have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for both people and nature.”

Waking Times

8/28/2014

Mega rare blue lobster caught off coast of Maine

An almost unique sea creature made landfall earlier this week - a blue lobster.
Jay LaPlante and his 14-year-old daughter Meghan, were out at sea hauling traps off the coast, near Portland, Maine, when they unloaded a pot containing the spectacular two-pound azure lobster.
Meghan quickly christened the crustacean Skyler, presumably as she is the same shade as the sky.

 Oceanographers estimate that around one in two million lobsters are this alluring shade of blue, the unusual colour caused by a genetic defect which causes the shell-fish to over-produce a certain protein.
Due to his almost unique appearance, Skyler has avoided the dinner plate and has been given to the Maine State aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor.
There he will join another three blue lobsters and an orange one.

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