Category Archives: Nature

Biggest animals face extinction for food

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

Megafauna is a mouthful of a word. And that is the problem. The biggest animals are being hunted for their meat.

LONDON, 19 February, 2019 – The world’s biggest animals – the largest birds, the bigger mammals and even reptiles, sharks and amphibians – are in increasing danger of extinction. Climate change, habitat loss and pollution may all be part of the problem, but the biggest and most direct threat is a simple one.

They are being hunted to death. They are being killed for meat, for trophies such as horns and tusks, and for body parts used in Asian medicine.

The findings, reported in the journal Conservation Letters, are stark. Of 362 mammals, sharks and rays larger than 100 kilograms and birds and reptiles larger than 40kg, 200 species or more were in decline and more than 150 could become extinct. And when the researchers composed a catalogue of hazards to species survival, they found that hunting was for most large animals the biggest danger.

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at the Oregon State University school of forestry in the US.

Traditional medicine’s toll

“Through the consumption of various body parts, users of traditional Asian medicine also exert heavy tolls on the largest species. In the future, 70% will experience further population declines and 60% of the species could become extinct or very rare.”

Biologists already have databases of the body mass and habitats of most described species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has for decades kept and updated a catalogue of extinction risks.

Professor Ripple and colleagues from the US, Canada, Australia, France and Mexico selected all the information they could about the bigger species, and those known to be threatened. They subdivided the potential threats into a range of categories – ranch and livestock farming, logging and wood harvesting, aquaculture, fishing and so on – for 362 species, and found to their surprise that hunting was the biggest danger for 98% of those species for which they could find threat data.

The lesson is: it’s bad to be big. “Megafauna species are more threatened and have a relatively higher percentage of decreasing populations than all vertebrates together,” they write. “Notably, the top-ranked threat within each megafauna class was direct harvesting by humans, although there were typically multiple co-occurring threats, mostly related to habitat degradation.”

“Our results suggest we’re in the process of eating megafauna to extinction”

Meat consumption, they found, was the most common motive for hunting mammals, birds and the cartilaginous fish; the reptiles were more likely to be pursued for their eggs.

The loss of species – and the decline in numbers of surviving individuals – is not news: researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change, driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use, raises the odds of extinction.

But the sheer growth in human numbers and national economies in the last century has devastated what was once the wilderness, and biologists now believe they may be witnessing the sixth great extinction.

The latest study fits into this pattern. What makes it different is the unequivocal identification of human beings as the super-predators, pursuing the biggest and most charismatic of the surviving large animals, sometimes simply as sporting trophies, more often for food or for parts that can be sold.

In retreat everywhere

Nine megafauna – the word for a large animal – have gone extinct in the wild in the past 250 years. But large species numbers everywhere are falling. Their numbers were always fewer, and often their meat more prized.

With first the spear and the arrow, and then the gun, humans mastered the art of killing from a safe distance. And bigger animals became the most obvious targets. In 500 years, 0.8% of all vertebrates have gone extinct. For large animals, the ratio of extinction is 2%.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Professor Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it as well as cultural and social obstacles.

“But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.” – Climate News Network

UK vegetable and fruit supplies at risk

Britons’ familiar and well-loved fish and chips could become scarcer as politics and climate change imperil UK vegetable and fruit supplies.

LONDON, 5 February, 2019 − A combination of Brexit − Britain’s move to leave the European Union − and climate change is threatening UK vegetable and fruit supplies for its 66 million people.

Brexit-associated delays at ports could result in widespread shortages of a range of imported vegetables and fruit such as lettuces and tomatoes, particularly if the UK crashes out of Europe at the end of March this year with no deal in place.

Now there’s more bad news on the British food front; a just-released report says climate change and resulting abnormal weather conditions are causing significant decreases in the UK’s own vegetable and fruit harvests.

The study, produced by the Climate Coalition in association with the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds in the UK, says about 60% of food consumed in Britain is domestically produced.

The unusually warm summer in 2018 – the hottest ever in England since records began in 1910, according to the report – led to a drop in the onion harvest of 40% and a decline of between 25% and 30% in the carrot crop.

In 2017 the UK’s apple growers lost 25% of their produce due to unseasonably warm weather followed by an unusually late series of frosts.

“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and extreme weather pushes you over the edge”

The study says climate change-related extreme and unpredictable weather is putting at risk future supplies of potatoes – a staple of the British diet.

“The UK could lose almost three-quarters of the area of land currently well-suited for potatoes by the 2050s under climate projections”, says the report.

Last year there was a 20% drop in potato yields in England and Wales, it says. More than 80% of potatoes consumed in the UK are home-grown.

“The climate extremes of the past few years – including the snowfall and freezing temperatures of February and March 2018 and one of the driest June months in England and Wales since 1910 – have been devastating for UK fruit and vegetable farmers”, the report says.

Matt Smee, who runs a vegetable growing and delivery service in the north-west of England, told the report’s authors that weather patterns in 2018 made his job near-impossible.

“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and extreme weather pushes you over the edge”, says Smee. “I’d be devastated if I had to deal with this year (2018) again.”

Livelihoods at risk

Lee Abbey, head of horticulture at the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU), says farmers’ livelihoods are being hit.

“Farmers and growers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the weather but if we have two or three extreme years in a row it has the potential to put growers out of business.”

The study says that more than half of all farms in the UK report being affected by severe flooding or storms over the past decade, while water shortages in the increasingly hot summer months are a growing problem.

“With climate scientists now predicting stronger and longer-lasting heatwaves for the UK, growers are faced with increasing risks to their operations and survival”, says the study.

The report’s authors say the priority for everyone – not just the food and farming sector – is to work to reduce carbon emissions.

The study reports some positive developments; the NFU says the aim is for the UK’s farming sector to be net zero in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Increasing numbers of British farmers are investing in renewable energy. − Climate News Network

Britons’ familiar and well-loved fish and chips could become scarcer as politics and climate change imperil UK vegetable and fruit supplies.

LONDON, 5 February, 2019 − A combination of Brexit − Britain’s move to leave the European Union − and climate change is threatening UK vegetable and fruit supplies for its 66 million people.

Brexit-associated delays at ports could result in widespread shortages of a range of imported vegetables and fruit such as lettuces and tomatoes, particularly if the UK crashes out of Europe at the end of March this year with no deal in place.

Now there’s more bad news on the British food front; a just-released report says climate change and resulting abnormal weather conditions are causing significant decreases in the UK’s own vegetable and fruit harvests.

The study, produced by the Climate Coalition in association with the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds in the UK, says about 60% of food consumed in Britain is domestically produced.

The unusually warm summer in 2018 – the hottest ever in England since records began in 1910, according to the report – led to a drop in the onion harvest of 40% and a decline of between 25% and 30% in the carrot crop.

In 2017 the UK’s apple growers lost 25% of their produce due to unseasonably warm weather followed by an unusually late series of frosts.

“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and extreme weather pushes you over the edge”

The study says climate change-related extreme and unpredictable weather is putting at risk future supplies of potatoes – a staple of the British diet.

“The UK could lose almost three-quarters of the area of land currently well-suited for potatoes by the 2050s under climate projections”, says the report.

Last year there was a 20% drop in potato yields in England and Wales, it says. More than 80% of potatoes consumed in the UK are home-grown.

“The climate extremes of the past few years – including the snowfall and freezing temperatures of February and March 2018 and one of the driest June months in England and Wales since 1910 – have been devastating for UK fruit and vegetable farmers”, the report says.

Matt Smee, who runs a vegetable growing and delivery service in the north-west of England, told the report’s authors that weather patterns in 2018 made his job near-impossible.

“It’s really hard work growing fruit and vegetables, but erratic and extreme weather pushes you over the edge”, says Smee. “I’d be devastated if I had to deal with this year (2018) again.”

Livelihoods at risk

Lee Abbey, head of horticulture at the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU), says farmers’ livelihoods are being hit.

“Farmers and growers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the weather but if we have two or three extreme years in a row it has the potential to put growers out of business.”

The study says that more than half of all farms in the UK report being affected by severe flooding or storms over the past decade, while water shortages in the increasingly hot summer months are a growing problem.

“With climate scientists now predicting stronger and longer-lasting heatwaves for the UK, growers are faced with increasing risks to their operations and survival”, says the study.

The report’s authors say the priority for everyone – not just the food and farming sector – is to work to reduce carbon emissions.

The study reports some positive developments; the NFU says the aim is for the UK’s farming sector to be net zero in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Increasing numbers of British farmers are investing in renewable energy. − Climate News Network

Coffee harvests face risk from rising heat

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

Warmer waters leave Irish anglers fishless

Irish anglers are having little luck as fish feel the effects of warmer waters − which are also increasing greenhouse gases.

WEST OF IRELAND, 16 January, 2019 − Unusually high temperatures in 2018 have left many Irish anglers frustrated as fish struggle to survive in the Emerald Isle’s lakes and rivers, with the rising heat also causing an increase in methane emissions.

Now changes in climate could threaten the anglers’ activities, putting in jeopardy what is a multi-million euro leisure industry.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), a state agency, says that a heat wave across Ireland in the summer of 2018 caused temperatures in the country’s lakes and rivers to rise to what it describes as lethal levels for a number of freshwater fish species.

The IFI’s findings, reported in the Irish Times newspaper, indicate that the two most affected species were salmon and trout – both prized by the freshwater fishing community.

“The 2018 summer water temperatures need to be considered in the context of climate change predictions”, Cathal Gallagher, the IFI’s head of research, told the Irish Times.“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk.”

Long heat

The warming trends were most noted in the west of Ireland, says the IFI. One of the worst affected rivers was the Owenriff in County Galway, where temperatures well above summer time norms were recorded over a prolonged period.

Dr Gallagher says high temperatures could lead to localised extinction of native fish diversity in the future; there would be knock-on economic losses.

“We would reach a stage where the Owenriff catchment or similar catchments become inhospitable to brown trout and salmon over the summer period in the near future.”

The IFI says it’s looking at ways to combat extreme weather events and help safeguard fish stocks. These include planting more trees along river banks to provide increased shade and cool river waters.

“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk”

Recent studies indicate that climate change and rising temperatures will have further negative impacts on lakes in Ireland and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

The increasing warmth is encouraging the growth of various reed-type plants in and around freshwater lakes. When these plants die and rot in lake waters the process leads to a considerable increase in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2.

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest and driest in Ireland on record.

Ireland is noted for its abundant rainfall and its verdant vegetation. For a prolonged period in 2018 water restrictions were put in place and grasslands turned from green to a drought-ridden brown.

The Irish government’s Environmental Protection Agency  says the long-term trend has been for an increase in temperatures, with less rainfall in many regions and warmer winters. − Climate News Network

Irish anglers are having little luck as fish feel the effects of warmer waters − which are also increasing greenhouse gases.

WEST OF IRELAND, 16 January, 2019 − Unusually high temperatures in 2018 have left many Irish anglers frustrated as fish struggle to survive in the Emerald Isle’s lakes and rivers, with the rising heat also causing an increase in methane emissions.

Now changes in climate could threaten the anglers’ activities, putting in jeopardy what is a multi-million euro leisure industry.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), a state agency, says that a heat wave across Ireland in the summer of 2018 caused temperatures in the country’s lakes and rivers to rise to what it describes as lethal levels for a number of freshwater fish species.

The IFI’s findings, reported in the Irish Times newspaper, indicate that the two most affected species were salmon and trout – both prized by the freshwater fishing community.

“The 2018 summer water temperatures need to be considered in the context of climate change predictions”, Cathal Gallagher, the IFI’s head of research, told the Irish Times.“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk.”

Long heat

The warming trends were most noted in the west of Ireland, says the IFI. One of the worst affected rivers was the Owenriff in County Galway, where temperatures well above summer time norms were recorded over a prolonged period.

Dr Gallagher says high temperatures could lead to localised extinction of native fish diversity in the future; there would be knock-on economic losses.

“We would reach a stage where the Owenriff catchment or similar catchments become inhospitable to brown trout and salmon over the summer period in the near future.”

The IFI says it’s looking at ways to combat extreme weather events and help safeguard fish stocks. These include planting more trees along river banks to provide increased shade and cool river waters.

“If temperatures continue to increase, sensitive cold water fish species will be at risk”

Recent studies indicate that climate change and rising temperatures will have further negative impacts on lakes in Ireland and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

The increasing warmth is encouraging the growth of various reed-type plants in and around freshwater lakes. When these plants die and rot in lake waters the process leads to a considerable increase in releases of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2.

The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest and driest in Ireland on record.

Ireland is noted for its abundant rainfall and its verdant vegetation. For a prolonged period in 2018 water restrictions were put in place and grasslands turned from green to a drought-ridden brown.

The Irish government’s Environmental Protection Agency  says the long-term trend has been for an increase in temperatures, with less rainfall in many regions and warmer winters. − Climate News Network

Migrant birds face risk in earlier springs

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Spring in the high latitudes is arriving ever earlier. But migrant birds from the tropics may not realise that, and faulty timing could cost them their lives.

LONDON, 11 January, 2019 – Biologists have identified another tale of conflict and bloodshed as African migrant birds compete with European natives for resources in a fast-warming world.

Death rates among male pied flycatchers – African carnivores that migrate each spring to the Netherlands to breed – have risen in the 10 years between 2007 and 2016, as winters have warmed and springs have arrived earlier.

And in some years, almost one in 10 of the male migrant flycatchers has been found pecked to death by great tits that have already taken up residence in nest boxes that both species favour.

Jelmer Samplonius, then of the University of Groningen and now at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a colleague report in the journal Current Biology that they became interested in the competition between the migrant Ficedula hypoleuca and the European garden bird Parus major because both compete for the same resources.

These are the spring explosion of the caterpillar population, and the nest boxes established by householders who like to encourage wildlife. Both species try to time their breeding calendar to coincide with the arrival of plentiful, nourishing food for their chicks, and both species have become accustomed to colonising available nest boxes.

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”

But, the scientists say, climate change driven by global warming, in turn fired by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has brought new challenges.

Climate change poses a hazard for many species that are precisely adapted to their immediate environment.
They become more vulnerable as their breeding timetable goes out of synchrony with the food supply, or they become more at risk from predation in once relatively secure nesting sites in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The northern hemisphere spring now arrives much earlier. Some migrant species have been able to adapt, and the great tit in particular has shown itself to be resourceful and ready to cope with new challenges.

It now gets to the nesting sites to breed on average 16.6 days earlier than the pied flycatcher which winters in West Africa, and therefore has no way of knowing the right moment to head for a breeding site so far to the north in Europe.

Growing violence

And the late arrival of the African competitor has meant a marked increase in conflict. When the researchers checked the nest boxes, they counted 86 male flycatchers dead from injuries delivered by great tits, and two killed by the smaller species, the blue tit.

“The dead flycatchers were all found in active tit nests and had severe head wounds, and often their brains had been eaten by the tits,” they write.

“This could exhibit a significant mortality cause on male pied flycatchers in some years, with up to 8.9% of all males … known to defend a nest box being killed in a single year.”

Some years there were almost no little feathered corpses: other years were marked by conspicuous slaughter, and the researchers put the variation in the kill count down to what they define as a problem of synchrony. Tits killed more flycatchers when the competitors turned up at the peak of the tits’ breeding season.

Powerful claws

“When a flycatcher enters a box with a great tit inside, it doesn’t stand a chance”, Dr Samplonius said. “The great tit is heavier, as the flycatchers are built for a long migration from Europe to Western Africa and back. Also, great tits have very strong claws.”

The finding doesn’t seem to mean that the flycatcher is in immediate danger of local extinction: the scientists say that most of the slaughter occurred among surplus males; those who turned up late were less likely to find a breeding partner, and more likely to die from competition with great tits.

A surplus of males acts as a “buffer” to protect the overall population. But in the long run, the flycatcher could lose the race for survival.

“If buffers are diminished,” the scientists write, “population consequences of interspecific competition may become apparent, especially after warm winters that are benign to resident species.” – Climate News Network

Satellites can be sustainable monitors

Remote sensing by satellites and sound recorders could yield answers to complex global questions and reveal what is happening in the world’s great forests.

LONDON, 9 January, 2019 − High tech answers using satellites and sound recorders could contribute to solving the global information crisis. To check on progress towards world development and conservation goals, researchers could exploit the highest technology of all.

Satellite data and number-crunching computer analysis could identify the world’s poorest households, and those on the way to new hope. And subtle listening devices planted in primal rainforest and near human settlements could provide a low-cost, high-speed check on biodiversity loss and conservation efforts in the developing world.

In effect, researchers argue in two entirely separate studies, the look-and-listen approach could deliver effective levels of information at relatively low expense, and keep nations and international monitoring organisations informed on issues ultimately inseparable from climate change driven by human appropriation of the planet’s resources.

At the heart of each is the search for a sustainable way of monitoring sustainable development. The governments of 93 nations have committed themselves to the UN’s sustainable development goals, to help lift their citizens out of poverty while maintaining the natural resources on which they must rely.

“When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better”

Danish, British and US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if social scientists were to rely on traditional methods of research − house-to-house surveys and questionnaires of sample populations on an annual basis and so on − the cost could add up, over the lifetime of the programme, to $253 billion. This is almost twice what the world spent on global development assistance in 2013.

But satellite studies, already massed for other purposes, could hold most of the answers in fine detail already. “Based on high resolution satellite images, we can very precisely assess the poverty at household level in rural areas in developing countries,” said Jens-Christian Svenning, a bioscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“The method that we have developed is designed to analyse the satellite images in a way that takes into account that people have access to and use different resources in the landscape at different levels,” he said.

“Some use the area just around their house, while others use the common areas of a village. When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better than we have previously been able to.”

Better prospects

There are 17 declared sustainable development goals that could, by 2030, make the world a better place for the people of the poorest countries, without loss of the wildlife around them and without adding to the profligate use of fossil fuels to deliver the energy to fuel potentially catastrophic global warming along with economic growth.

The Aarhus team has already tested their approach in rural western Kenya, to confirm that satellite data could account for 62% of the variation in household wealth: the size of buildings within one homestead, the amount of bare ground within it and the size of the agricultural land around it − and the length of the growing season − were enough to answer important questions.

And since the body of data available from satellite observation is continuously growing, this would offer a substitute for on-the-ground annual monitoring visits, which, they say, would be “prohibitively expensive.”

Within the same week, US and Australian scientists argue in the journal Science for a simple, bio-acoustics approach to ways of measuring and monitoring conservation efforts in the world’s tropical forests.

Listening in

These could yield treasuries of information. Important ecological data could be recovered from what they call “soundscapes” of animal and human activity in the vast tracts of forest that provide a home for most of the world’s terrestrial species, while at the same time drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into timber to slow the seemingly-inexorable rise in greenhouse gas concentrations that has already lifted global average temperatures by 1°C, reachimg perhaps a devastating 3°C increase by the end of the century.

Satellite images can answer questions about the loss of forests on a wide scale. But these cannot easily identify other problems, among them overhunting, fires or invasion by exotic species. And field surveys are costly, time-consuming and possible only over small samples of forest. But sound-recorders linked to satellites, and suspended in choice areas of forest, and near areas of human exploitation, can pick up subtle signals of change.

They can measure animal sounds and birdsong from distances of several hundred metres. They can be turned on at required times or used continuously, and they can identify sounds of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians: to make the case, researchers already have a set of multi-year bio-acoustics registers of change in chosen test zones.

Plants make no such noises − but since all animals depend on vegetation in ways that are both general and specific, the sound of animal life would also be indirect evidence of the health and vigour of the green things around them.

Check on intruders

And, if researchers could build a global organisation to host a platform available for such data, this could provide the basis not just for valuable ecological understanding, but for ways of monitoring human behaviour in the forests.

Big business has in many countries committed itself to economic activity without destroying any more forest, but checks on such promises are hard to make. Bio-acoustic monitors however could as easily tune into the sound of a tractor as to a toucan, to a chainsaw as to the chatter of monkeys, to the sound of a poacher’s gun as to the screech of a parrot.

“Companies are adopting zero deforestation commitments, but these policies do not always translate to protecting biodiversity due to hunting, habitat degradation, and sub-canopy fires,” said Rhett Butler, one of the authors, and founder of Mongabay.com.

“Bioacoustic monitoring could be used to augment satellites and other systems to monitor compliance with these commitments, support real-time action against prohibited activities like illegal logging and poaching, and potentially document habitat and species recovery.” − Climate News Network

Remote sensing by satellites and sound recorders could yield answers to complex global questions and reveal what is happening in the world’s great forests.

LONDON, 9 January, 2019 − High tech answers using satellites and sound recorders could contribute to solving the global information crisis. To check on progress towards world development and conservation goals, researchers could exploit the highest technology of all.

Satellite data and number-crunching computer analysis could identify the world’s poorest households, and those on the way to new hope. And subtle listening devices planted in primal rainforest and near human settlements could provide a low-cost, high-speed check on biodiversity loss and conservation efforts in the developing world.

In effect, researchers argue in two entirely separate studies, the look-and-listen approach could deliver effective levels of information at relatively low expense, and keep nations and international monitoring organisations informed on issues ultimately inseparable from climate change driven by human appropriation of the planet’s resources.

At the heart of each is the search for a sustainable way of monitoring sustainable development. The governments of 93 nations have committed themselves to the UN’s sustainable development goals, to help lift their citizens out of poverty while maintaining the natural resources on which they must rely.

“When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better”

Danish, British and US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if social scientists were to rely on traditional methods of research − house-to-house surveys and questionnaires of sample populations on an annual basis and so on − the cost could add up, over the lifetime of the programme, to $253 billion. This is almost twice what the world spent on global development assistance in 2013.

But satellite studies, already massed for other purposes, could hold most of the answers in fine detail already. “Based on high resolution satellite images, we can very precisely assess the poverty at household level in rural areas in developing countries,” said Jens-Christian Svenning, a bioscientist at Aarhus University in Denmark.

“The method that we have developed is designed to analyse the satellite images in a way that takes into account that people have access to and use different resources in the landscape at different levels,” he said.

“Some use the area just around their house, while others use the common areas of a village. When we use space data with a socio-ecological insight, we capture the financial status and, in this way, also the development in an area much better than we have previously been able to.”

Better prospects

There are 17 declared sustainable development goals that could, by 2030, make the world a better place for the people of the poorest countries, without loss of the wildlife around them and without adding to the profligate use of fossil fuels to deliver the energy to fuel potentially catastrophic global warming along with economic growth.

The Aarhus team has already tested their approach in rural western Kenya, to confirm that satellite data could account for 62% of the variation in household wealth: the size of buildings within one homestead, the amount of bare ground within it and the size of the agricultural land around it − and the length of the growing season − were enough to answer important questions.

And since the body of data available from satellite observation is continuously growing, this would offer a substitute for on-the-ground annual monitoring visits, which, they say, would be “prohibitively expensive.”

Within the same week, US and Australian scientists argue in the journal Science for a simple, bio-acoustics approach to ways of measuring and monitoring conservation efforts in the world’s tropical forests.

Listening in

These could yield treasuries of information. Important ecological data could be recovered from what they call “soundscapes” of animal and human activity in the vast tracts of forest that provide a home for most of the world’s terrestrial species, while at the same time drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into timber to slow the seemingly-inexorable rise in greenhouse gas concentrations that has already lifted global average temperatures by 1°C, reachimg perhaps a devastating 3°C increase by the end of the century.

Satellite images can answer questions about the loss of forests on a wide scale. But these cannot easily identify other problems, among them overhunting, fires or invasion by exotic species. And field surveys are costly, time-consuming and possible only over small samples of forest. But sound-recorders linked to satellites, and suspended in choice areas of forest, and near areas of human exploitation, can pick up subtle signals of change.

They can measure animal sounds and birdsong from distances of several hundred metres. They can be turned on at required times or used continuously, and they can identify sounds of birds, mammals, insects and amphibians: to make the case, researchers already have a set of multi-year bio-acoustics registers of change in chosen test zones.

Plants make no such noises − but since all animals depend on vegetation in ways that are both general and specific, the sound of animal life would also be indirect evidence of the health and vigour of the green things around them.

Check on intruders

And, if researchers could build a global organisation to host a platform available for such data, this could provide the basis not just for valuable ecological understanding, but for ways of monitoring human behaviour in the forests.

Big business has in many countries committed itself to economic activity without destroying any more forest, but checks on such promises are hard to make. Bio-acoustic monitors however could as easily tune into the sound of a tractor as to a toucan, to a chainsaw as to the chatter of monkeys, to the sound of a poacher’s gun as to the screech of a parrot.

“Companies are adopting zero deforestation commitments, but these policies do not always translate to protecting biodiversity due to hunting, habitat degradation, and sub-canopy fires,” said Rhett Butler, one of the authors, and founder of Mongabay.com.

“Bioacoustic monitoring could be used to augment satellites and other systems to monitor compliance with these commitments, support real-time action against prohibited activities like illegal logging and poaching, and potentially document habitat and species recovery.” − Climate News Network

Nine vital signs found for forest health

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Forests help to moderate climate change, which can itself affect forest health. Researchers still puzzle over how the canopy affects the global carbon exchange.

LONDON, 3 January, 2019 – It is a given of climate science that forest health, the consequence of protected and biodiverse forests, will play a vital role in containing global warming. Now a new study for the first time offers foresters, botanists and conservationists the tools to test the health of a vast woodland.

And a second, separate study confirms an ominous discovery: trees can be counted upon to greedily consume ever more atmospheric carbon dioxide – but only while the natural supply of nitrogen holds out.

Trees use photosynthesis to build tissue from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and store the carbon in the form of leaves, fruits and timber while respiring oxygen. In doing so, they reduce levels of global warming.

Humans – by clearing forests, ploughing fields, grazing cattle and burning fossil fuels – tip about 34 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, and the world’s trees take up an estimated 11 bn tonnes of it. But quite how, and how reliably, forests store carbon is still a puzzle.

“The limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests”

US researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they decided to find out. They analysed data from 421 plots of forest around the world, and took direct samples in 66 of them. They measured temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure, sunlight and wind speed.

Their search spanned 100 degrees of latitude and more than 3,300 metres in altitude. Altogether the scientists gathered information on 55,983 individual trees greater than 2 cms in diameter and divided into 2,701 tree species.

By the time they had finished they had identified nine vital signs that might help with a diagnosis of a forest’s health. These are two different measures of leaf area, as well as wood density, tree height, the counts of leaf carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and the important ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus.

Armed with these measures, they began to look at precisely how climate might affect a tree population. Two climatic factors in particular had a disproportionate impact.

New pointers

One was temperature variability – that is, the swing from the lowest to the highest mercury levels – and the other was vapour pressure. And they confirmed that, overall, the measured traits are responding to overall global warming.

Such research offers a new set of signposts for understanding how atmosphere, climate and forests interact. The response of the woodlands has become one of the big unresolved questions.

Researchers have found, a little to their surprise, the “urban forests” – the limes, planes, magnolias and poplars that line boulevards and shade city parks – could be just as significant to carbon budget calculations as tropical rainforests.

They have measured unexpected ways in which trees have responded to the rise of 1°C in global average temperatures in the last century, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Concern over nitrogen

But they have also taken serious stock of the planet’s cover of trees, to find that humans are destroying trees at the rate of 15 billion a year and that climate change and human intrusion pose the threat of extinction to many of the world’s 40,000 tropical tree species.

A second team of the US researchers is now sure of one of the mechanisms that might affect the overall health of forests in a warming world. They report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on an intensive examination of the response of 15,000 trees in the wilds of West Virginia to a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Yes, the extra greenhouse gas is fertilising forest growth. But climate change is extending the growing season, as spring arrives earlier and autumn leaf fall happens ever later. A study of the nitrogen isotopes in the leaves suggests that the supply of that other, all-important nutrient, could be on the way down.

If so, the growth of the forests could soon peak, and with that the capacity of forests to moderate climate change could diminish. – Climate News Network

Global water supply shrinks in rainier world

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

Extinction toll may be far worse than thought

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network

Yet again, researchers have confirmed that climate change threatens the natural world with a soaring extinction toll. The danger may be much higher than anyone imagined.

LONDON, 11 December, 2018 − Two scientists want the world to think again about the extinction toll, the rate at which species could vanish as the planet warms. They warn that the worst fears so far may have been based on underestimates. Tomorrow’s rates of extinction could be 10 times worse.

That is because the loss of one or two key species could turn into a cascade that could spell the end for whole ecosystems. “Primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg,” they warn.

In their study, long before the complete loss of one species, other species locked into the same ecosystem started to perish. There is no need to worry about the rare but real hazard of an asteroid impact, or a burst of gamma rays from a nearby exploding star. The message from the simulators is that global average warming of between 5° and 6°C above the level for most of history since the end of the last Ice Age would be enough to wipe out most life on the hypothetical Earths.

“This makes it difficult to be optimistic about the future of species diversity in the ongoing trajectory of global change, let alone in the case of additional external, extraplanetary catastrophes.”

Giovanni Strona of the European Commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy and Corey Bradshaw of Finders University in Adelaide, Australia write in the journal Scientific Reports that they turned to computer simulation to resolve an enduring ecological question: quite what is it that drives biodiversity loss?

“Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list”

The growth in human numbers, and the exploitation of the planet’s surface for economic growth, has destroyed habitats and disrupted ecosystems on a scale without parallel: global warming and climate change will make things worse.

Researchers have confirmed, repeatedly, that ecosystems are under threat; that climate change could be even more damaging than anyone suspected; that half of 976 species in one study were already being extinguished in local ecosystems, even if they survived elsewhere as the thermometer rose.

But most such studies were based on sample examinations of specific patches of woodland, grassland, marsh or lake, or surveys of published literature, and they measured change in a planet that has – since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – warmed by about 1°C as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the clearance of the great forests. The latest study involved testing life on a planet to destruction.

The two scientists constructed 2,000 “virtual Earths” and populated them with interacting species: that is with a food web composed of competing predators and prey, multiple consumers and consumed. Then they subjected these notional biospheres to extreme environmental change, ranging from runaway global warming driven by ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions to the sudden, intense cooling of a “nuclear winter” in which sunlight is blocked by the dust of global thermonuclear war.

And the experiments, they say, demonstrated, once again, the co-dependency of living things in a stable environment. They set up two scenarios. In one of them a species was subjected to temperature change to the point of extinction. In the other, the researchers triggered a series of co-extinction cascades. They then matched the two outcomes.

More than species

And they found that failure to take into account the complex, entangled interdependencies of living things led to an underestimate, by 10 times, of the magnitude of mass extinction by climate change alone. The message is: don’t just save the giant panda, save the forest.

“Conservationists and decision makers need to move fast beyond a species-specific approach, and look with increasing attention at interaction networks as a fundamental conservation target,” Dr Strona said. “Whenever a species leaves our planet, we lose much more than a name on a list.”

Other such simulations have delivered catastrophic conclusions: one examination of runaway global warming left the Earth uninhabitable, while another found that in the most dreadful outcomes, at least one life form, the tardigrade, might survive.

Any computer model of life on Earth must have its weaknesses, if only because the unknown and unnamed list of creatures is at least 10 times greater than those already catalogued in the world’s botanical gardens, zoos and natural history museums. That is, biologists still don’t know nearly enough about the diversity of life on Earth. There are, the researchers concede, “obvious limitations in our ambitions model.”

But, said Dr Strona: “Our results are consistent with real-world patterns for which we have empirical evidence. This makes us confident that the many assumptions we had to take in order to build a functional model are sound. On the other hand, it would be misleading to just focus on raw numbers.” − Climate News Network

Better land use could slash US emissions

New research confirms again that nature knows best. The US could cut a fifth of its greenhouse gas emissions through better land use.

LONDON, 7 December, 2018 – US scientists have found a new way to cut or offset 22% of the greenhouse gas emissions from American factory chimneys, car exhausts and power stations: better land use.

Their answer is to leave it to nature. What they identify as 21 natural climate solutions – better use of croplands, the restoration of forests and tidal wetlands, slowing the felling of timber and the containment of urban sprawl – could help limit global warming, slow climate change and reduce sea level rise for the nation that has over the last century emitted more greenhouse gas than any other country.

The most effective single action in a study launched by the US Nature Conservancy and 21 other institutions, and published in the journal Science Advances, would be to step up reforestation: this alone could absorb the emissions of 65 million passenger cars.

“One of America’s greatest assets is its land. Through changes in management, along with protecting and restoring natural lands, we demonstrated we could reduce carbon pollution and filter water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and have better soil health to grow our food — all at the same time,” said Joseph Fargione, director of science for the Nature Conservancy, who led the study.

New thinking – and old

“Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming. In combination with transitioning to zero carbon energy production, natural climate solutions can help protect our climate for future generations.”

Paradoxically, some of the solutions rely not on new thinking, but on old. If areas of the US that were forested before the European settlers arrived were returned to woodland, the land could absorb 381 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. If commercial foresters extended the cycles of logging and improved forest management practices, they could effectively save 267 million tonnes a year of CO2.

Around 4,000 square kilometres of grassland is converted to cropland in a year: the act of ploughing releases 28% of the soil carbon to the atmosphere. The scientists reckon that at least 52,000 square kilometres of marginal or unprofitable cropland could be restored to natural grassland or prairie.

Right now, 27% of US tidal wetlands are cut off from the ocean and being flooded by river water: accordingly, these release huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane. All it would take to stop this would be to restore the twice-daily marine inundation: reconnection with the ocean, sometimes just by a culvert under a road, would save 12 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.

“Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming”

The researchers identified just 10 of their 21 possible solutions that together could reduce emissions by more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

That more efficient use of land is a net benefit is not news: researchers have repeatedly argued that world food security is consistent with forest restoration, and that forests left untouched are of greater overall economic value than cleared land, and that considered changes to farming practices could both deliver more food and leave farmers better off.

But, ironically, efforts to promote natural climate solutions in the US get only 0.8% of public and private climate finance, even though these could provide 37% of the climate mitigation needed by 2030. The scientists argue that if the US is to commit to the Paris Accord of 2015, to contain global average warming to 2°C or less above the levels for most of human history, then natural climate solutions make a promising start.

Lynn Scarlett, a former acting secretary of the US Department of the Interior and now at the Nature Conservancy, said: “This study provides good news that making investments in nature will make a big difference, while offering the potential for new revenue to farmers, ranchers, foresters and coastal communities at the same time.” – Climate News Network

New research confirms again that nature knows best. The US could cut a fifth of its greenhouse gas emissions through better land use.

LONDON, 7 December, 2018 – US scientists have found a new way to cut or offset 22% of the greenhouse gas emissions from American factory chimneys, car exhausts and power stations: better land use.

Their answer is to leave it to nature. What they identify as 21 natural climate solutions – better use of croplands, the restoration of forests and tidal wetlands, slowing the felling of timber and the containment of urban sprawl – could help limit global warming, slow climate change and reduce sea level rise for the nation that has over the last century emitted more greenhouse gas than any other country.

The most effective single action in a study launched by the US Nature Conservancy and 21 other institutions, and published in the journal Science Advances, would be to step up reforestation: this alone could absorb the emissions of 65 million passenger cars.

“One of America’s greatest assets is its land. Through changes in management, along with protecting and restoring natural lands, we demonstrated we could reduce carbon pollution and filter water, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, and have better soil health to grow our food — all at the same time,” said Joseph Fargione, director of science for the Nature Conservancy, who led the study.

New thinking – and old

“Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming. In combination with transitioning to zero carbon energy production, natural climate solutions can help protect our climate for future generations.”

Paradoxically, some of the solutions rely not on new thinking, but on old. If areas of the US that were forested before the European settlers arrived were returned to woodland, the land could absorb 381 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. If commercial foresters extended the cycles of logging and improved forest management practices, they could effectively save 267 million tonnes a year of CO2.

Around 4,000 square kilometres of grassland is converted to cropland in a year: the act of ploughing releases 28% of the soil carbon to the atmosphere. The scientists reckon that at least 52,000 square kilometres of marginal or unprofitable cropland could be restored to natural grassland or prairie.

Right now, 27% of US tidal wetlands are cut off from the ocean and being flooded by river water: accordingly, these release huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane. All it would take to stop this would be to restore the twice-daily marine inundation: reconnection with the ocean, sometimes just by a culvert under a road, would save 12 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.

“Nature offers us a simple, cost-effective way to help fight global warming”

The researchers identified just 10 of their 21 possible solutions that together could reduce emissions by more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

That more efficient use of land is a net benefit is not news: researchers have repeatedly argued that world food security is consistent with forest restoration, and that forests left untouched are of greater overall economic value than cleared land, and that considered changes to farming practices could both deliver more food and leave farmers better off.

But, ironically, efforts to promote natural climate solutions in the US get only 0.8% of public and private climate finance, even though these could provide 37% of the climate mitigation needed by 2030. The scientists argue that if the US is to commit to the Paris Accord of 2015, to contain global average warming to 2°C or less above the levels for most of human history, then natural climate solutions make a promising start.

Lynn Scarlett, a former acting secretary of the US Department of the Interior and now at the Nature Conservancy, said: “This study provides good news that making investments in nature will make a big difference, while offering the potential for new revenue to farmers, ranchers, foresters and coastal communities at the same time.” – Climate News Network