Category Archives: Nature

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Writer’s notes show climate impact on plants

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

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Rivers gain legal protection from misuse

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − Climate News Network

*  *  *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − Climate News Network

*  *  *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

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The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

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Human growth robs other species of space

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

*

Food supply falls as fish flee warmer seas

On the fishing grounds, they already know about global warming. As fish flee warmer seas there are winners – but many more losers.

LONDON, 4 March 2019 – Global warming has already begun to affect fishing worldwide as fish flee warmer seas, a new study says.

In the last 80 years, there has been an estimated drop of more than 4% in sustainable catches for many kinds of fish and shellfish. That is the average. In some regions – the East China Sea, for instance, and Europe’s North Sea –  the estimated decline was between 15% and 35%.

In the course of the last century, global average temperatures have crept up by about 1°C above the average for most of human history, as a reaction to the unconstrained burning of fossil fuels. If the world continues to burn ever-greater volumes of coal, oil and natural gas, it could be 3°C warmer or more by the end of the century.

Last year was only the fourth warmest for air surface temperatures, but the warmest since records began for the world’s oceans.

“Fisheries around the world have already responded to global warming. These aren’t hypothetical changes some time in the future”

US researchers report in the journal Science that they looked at the impact of ocean warming in 235 populations of 124 species of fish, crustaceans and molluscs in 38 ecological regions between the years 1930 and 2010.

They then matched the world data on fish catches with ocean temperature maps to estimate what warming has done to the sustainable catch – that is, the biggest haul fishing crews can make without reducing breeding stocks for the seasons to follow.

“We were stunned to find that fisheries around the world have already responded to global warming,” said Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University, and one of the authors. “These aren’t hypothetical changes some time in the future.”

The researchers found that some species in some climate zones actually benefited from warming, and fish with faster life cycles sometimes responded well, sometimes badly to the temperature changes. Some responded by shifting their geographical range.

More climate losers

But overall, said Christopher Free, once of Rutgers and now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “among the populations we studied, the climate losers outweigh the climate winners.”

And his colleague Olaf Jensen, also from Rutgers, said: “Fish populations can only tolerate so much warning, though. Many of the species that have benefited from warming so far are likely to start declining as temperatures continue to rise.”

Fishermen off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, in the Baltic, the Indian Ocean and the northeast US shelf may have seen more productive hauls of fish. But the biggest losses were in the Sea of Japan, the North Sea, off the Iberian coast and the Celtic-Biscay shelf.

Many fish species are adapted to a precise range of temperatures: they flourish not just in specific marine ecosystems but in thermal niches as well. Once things begin to change, they swim away or perish.

Marauding invaders

Fishermen in the North Atlantic have repeatedly observed changes in the available catch, as the cod shift north and the sardines migrate from increasingly uncomfortable warm waters. Warming in Mediterranean waters creates enticing conditions for invaders from the Red Sea and further south, at huge cost to the resident species.

The lesson is that fish stocks must be carefully conserved, and ocean reserves protected. Researchers have consistently warned that global warming and climate change – especially when combined with changes in ocean water chemistry as a consequence of carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere – could soon start to constrain an important source of nutrition: an estimated 3.2 billion people rely on the sea for an estimated 20% of their animal protein, especially in East Asia.

“This means 15% to 35% less fish available for food and employment in a region with some of the fastest-growing human populations in the world,” said Dr Free.

“Knowing exactly how fisheries will change under future warming is challenging, but we do know that failing to adapt to changing fisheries productivity will result in less food and fewer profits relative to today.” – Climate News Network

On the fishing grounds, they already know about global warming. As fish flee warmer seas there are winners – but many more losers.

LONDON, 4 March 2019 – Global warming has already begun to affect fishing worldwide as fish flee warmer seas, a new study says.

In the last 80 years, there has been an estimated drop of more than 4% in sustainable catches for many kinds of fish and shellfish. That is the average. In some regions – the East China Sea, for instance, and Europe’s North Sea –  the estimated decline was between 15% and 35%.

In the course of the last century, global average temperatures have crept up by about 1°C above the average for most of human history, as a reaction to the unconstrained burning of fossil fuels. If the world continues to burn ever-greater volumes of coal, oil and natural gas, it could be 3°C warmer or more by the end of the century.

Last year was only the fourth warmest for air surface temperatures, but the warmest since records began for the world’s oceans.

“Fisheries around the world have already responded to global warming. These aren’t hypothetical changes some time in the future”

US researchers report in the journal Science that they looked at the impact of ocean warming in 235 populations of 124 species of fish, crustaceans and molluscs in 38 ecological regions between the years 1930 and 2010.

They then matched the world data on fish catches with ocean temperature maps to estimate what warming has done to the sustainable catch – that is, the biggest haul fishing crews can make without reducing breeding stocks for the seasons to follow.

“We were stunned to find that fisheries around the world have already responded to global warming,” said Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University, and one of the authors. “These aren’t hypothetical changes some time in the future.”

The researchers found that some species in some climate zones actually benefited from warming, and fish with faster life cycles sometimes responded well, sometimes badly to the temperature changes. Some responded by shifting their geographical range.

More climate losers

But overall, said Christopher Free, once of Rutgers and now at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “among the populations we studied, the climate losers outweigh the climate winners.”

And his colleague Olaf Jensen, also from Rutgers, said: “Fish populations can only tolerate so much warning, though. Many of the species that have benefited from warming so far are likely to start declining as temperatures continue to rise.”

Fishermen off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, in the Baltic, the Indian Ocean and the northeast US shelf may have seen more productive hauls of fish. But the biggest losses were in the Sea of Japan, the North Sea, off the Iberian coast and the Celtic-Biscay shelf.

Many fish species are adapted to a precise range of temperatures: they flourish not just in specific marine ecosystems but in thermal niches as well. Once things begin to change, they swim away or perish.

Marauding invaders

Fishermen in the North Atlantic have repeatedly observed changes in the available catch, as the cod shift north and the sardines migrate from increasingly uncomfortable warm waters. Warming in Mediterranean waters creates enticing conditions for invaders from the Red Sea and further south, at huge cost to the resident species.

The lesson is that fish stocks must be carefully conserved, and ocean reserves protected. Researchers have consistently warned that global warming and climate change – especially when combined with changes in ocean water chemistry as a consequence of carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere – could soon start to constrain an important source of nutrition: an estimated 3.2 billion people rely on the sea for an estimated 20% of their animal protein, especially in East Asia.

“This means 15% to 35% less fish available for food and employment in a region with some of the fastest-growing human populations in the world,” said Dr Free.

“Knowing exactly how fisheries will change under future warming is challenging, but we do know that failing to adapt to changing fisheries productivity will result in less food and fewer profits relative to today.” – Climate News Network

*

Food security at risk as web of life unravels

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

*

Young forests use carbon most effectively

As greenhouse gas consumers, young forests use carbon more industriously in the temperate and cool zones than older forests.

LONDON, 28 February, 2019 − For forests, it really does help to be young. British scientists who have identified the vital factor that shows what makes a forest a good carbon sink say young forests use carbon best and absorb it most efficiently.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems on the face of it to settle an old puzzle with an unsurprising answer. New and young forests make the most efficient and effective carbon sinks.

Humans burn fossil fuels and emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The felling, burning and clearing of natural forest releases ever more carbon.

But green plants absorb CO2 to make tissue and turn the gas into root and branch, leaf and bark, trunk and fruit. So scientists, led by Tom Pugh of the University of Birmingham in England, addressed the question: what kind of forest is best as a carbon sink?

“Ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions”

They gathered data about forest age, devised computer models and looked at the estimates of carbon intake between 2001 and 2010 in old, long-established areas of forest. Then they looked at the data from younger stands of timber that had colonised areas once logged, or damaged by forest fire, or farmed and then abandoned.

They identified an age effect in stands of timber less than 140 years old: big enough to account for 25% of forest carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

And although the great tropical rainforests are regarded as the “lungs” of the planet, and invaluable resources and homes for biodiversity, in fact the most efficient carbon dioxide consumers were forests in the middle and high latitudes: these included areas of land once farmed in the US eastern states, and then left to become part of the US National Forest, and farmland abandoned during the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s.

The finding seems reasonable, if only because the carbon appetite that turns a sapling into a full-grown tree would seem to be more demanding than that of mature or very old trees. But nothing about the notorious “carbon budget problem” is simple.

Uncertain response

It is an axiom of global response to climate change that forests should be protected and restored. But the nature and the mechanisms of forest carbon uptake can be difficult to establish.

In theory forests may absorb around a third of all carbon emissions, but the way trees could respond to the extra carbon dioxide available is still not certain.

As carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere increase, the planet warms and climates change: it could be possible for some forests, some of the time, to actually release more carbon than they absorb.

And while it might seem obvious that young trees would be greedier than old ones, precise measurement of the forest giants doesn’t necessarily tell the same story. Although the importance of forests is not in question, researchers keep making the point that forests are not enough.

Drastic cuts needed

Humans must still find ways to drastically cut fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. But as of 2019, there is no sign that this is happening.

But the latest research confirms the value of some investments. It suggests that the vast reforestation programmes launched in China, and the huge boreal forests of Canada, Russia and Europe, are playing an important role in climate management.

“It’s important to get a clear sense of where and why this carbon uptake is happening, because it helps us make targeted and informed decisions about forest management,” Dr Pugh said.

“The amount of CO2 that can be taken up by forests is a finite amount; ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions.” − Climate News Network

As greenhouse gas consumers, young forests use carbon more industriously in the temperate and cool zones than older forests.

LONDON, 28 February, 2019 − For forests, it really does help to be young. British scientists who have identified the vital factor that shows what makes a forest a good carbon sink say young forests use carbon best and absorb it most efficiently.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems on the face of it to settle an old puzzle with an unsurprising answer. New and young forests make the most efficient and effective carbon sinks.

Humans burn fossil fuels and emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The felling, burning and clearing of natural forest releases ever more carbon.

But green plants absorb CO2 to make tissue and turn the gas into root and branch, leaf and bark, trunk and fruit. So scientists, led by Tom Pugh of the University of Birmingham in England, addressed the question: what kind of forest is best as a carbon sink?

“Ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions”

They gathered data about forest age, devised computer models and looked at the estimates of carbon intake between 2001 and 2010 in old, long-established areas of forest. Then they looked at the data from younger stands of timber that had colonised areas once logged, or damaged by forest fire, or farmed and then abandoned.

They identified an age effect in stands of timber less than 140 years old: big enough to account for 25% of forest carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

And although the great tropical rainforests are regarded as the “lungs” of the planet, and invaluable resources and homes for biodiversity, in fact the most efficient carbon dioxide consumers were forests in the middle and high latitudes: these included areas of land once farmed in the US eastern states, and then left to become part of the US National Forest, and farmland abandoned during the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s.

The finding seems reasonable, if only because the carbon appetite that turns a sapling into a full-grown tree would seem to be more demanding than that of mature or very old trees. But nothing about the notorious “carbon budget problem” is simple.

Uncertain response

It is an axiom of global response to climate change that forests should be protected and restored. But the nature and the mechanisms of forest carbon uptake can be difficult to establish.

In theory forests may absorb around a third of all carbon emissions, but the way trees could respond to the extra carbon dioxide available is still not certain.

As carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere increase, the planet warms and climates change: it could be possible for some forests, some of the time, to actually release more carbon than they absorb.

And while it might seem obvious that young trees would be greedier than old ones, precise measurement of the forest giants doesn’t necessarily tell the same story. Although the importance of forests is not in question, researchers keep making the point that forests are not enough.

Drastic cuts needed

Humans must still find ways to drastically cut fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. But as of 2019, there is no sign that this is happening.

But the latest research confirms the value of some investments. It suggests that the vast reforestation programmes launched in China, and the huge boreal forests of Canada, Russia and Europe, are playing an important role in climate management.

“It’s important to get a clear sense of where and why this carbon uptake is happening, because it helps us make targeted and informed decisions about forest management,” Dr Pugh said.

“The amount of CO2 that can be taken up by forests is a finite amount; ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions.” − Climate News Network

*

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

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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