Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Poles attract marine life avoiding rising heat

In a warming ocean, some species will swim, others sink. But all agree: the poles attract marine life without exception.

LONDON, 3 April, 2020 − It’s the same the whole world over: everywhere in the oceans of this warming planet, the poles attract marine life.

Molluscs are on the move, haddock are feeling the heat, and penguins are shifting further south. Nautilus are heading north, and plankton are edging towards both poles.

New analysis of marine species has confirmed what commercial fishermen already know to their cost: that as the oceans warm, the sea’s citizens shift their grounds.

Researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they surveyed the evidence assembled in 540 records of 304 widely distributed marine animals over the last century, to find that all of them are shifting their range: away from the equatorial waters, and in both hemispheres nearer to the poles.

In the past century, overall, the world’s oceans have warmed by around 1°C. By 2050, the rise may reach 1.5°C, and all the evidence so far suggests fish and shellfish, along with the microbial creatures at the bottom of the food chain and the marine mammals and seabirds that prey on them all, will have shifted their latitudinal range.

“Both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem”

The greatest abundance of any species, the researchers found, was likely to be at the poleward edge of the preferred range, and the sparsest nearest to the tropical waters.

“The main surprise is how pervasive the effects were. We found the same trend across all groups of marine life we looked at, from plankton to marine invertebrates, and from fish to seabirds,” said Martin Genner, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Bristol in the UK.

“This matters because it means that climate change is not only leading abundance changes, but intrinsically affecting the performance of species locally. We see species such as the Emperor penguin becoming less abundant as the water becomes too warm at their equatorward edge, and we see some fish such as the European sea bass thriving at their poleward edge, where historically they were uncommon.”

Fish and many marine animals have a preferred range of temperatures, and even seemingly imperceptible shifts can have unpredictable effects. Both individual research and commercial catch data have confirmed a series of shifts in response to global heating.

Winners and losers

Tropical fish are shifting away from the hottest waters, North Sea catches are more likely to be found in north Atlantic waters, and some Mediterranean species have now shifted to the waters of Western Europe.

The latest research suggests that whole ecosystems may be on the move, and with them Atlantic herring and Adelie penguins, loggerhead turtles and phytoplankton.

“Some marine species appear to benefit from climate change, particularly some populations at the poleward limits that are now able to thrive,” said Louise Rutterford, another of the research team at Bristol.

“Meanwhile, some marine life suffers as it is not able to adapt fast enough to survive warming, and this is most noticeable in populations nearer the equator.

“This is concerning, as both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

In a warming ocean, some species will swim, others sink. But all agree: the poles attract marine life without exception.

LONDON, 3 April, 2020 − It’s the same the whole world over: everywhere in the oceans of this warming planet, the poles attract marine life.

Molluscs are on the move, haddock are feeling the heat, and penguins are shifting further south. Nautilus are heading north, and plankton are edging towards both poles.

New analysis of marine species has confirmed what commercial fishermen already know to their cost: that as the oceans warm, the sea’s citizens shift their grounds.

Researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they surveyed the evidence assembled in 540 records of 304 widely distributed marine animals over the last century, to find that all of them are shifting their range: away from the equatorial waters, and in both hemispheres nearer to the poles.

In the past century, overall, the world’s oceans have warmed by around 1°C. By 2050, the rise may reach 1.5°C, and all the evidence so far suggests fish and shellfish, along with the microbial creatures at the bottom of the food chain and the marine mammals and seabirds that prey on them all, will have shifted their latitudinal range.

“Both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem”

The greatest abundance of any species, the researchers found, was likely to be at the poleward edge of the preferred range, and the sparsest nearest to the tropical waters.

“The main surprise is how pervasive the effects were. We found the same trend across all groups of marine life we looked at, from plankton to marine invertebrates, and from fish to seabirds,” said Martin Genner, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Bristol in the UK.

“This matters because it means that climate change is not only leading abundance changes, but intrinsically affecting the performance of species locally. We see species such as the Emperor penguin becoming less abundant as the water becomes too warm at their equatorward edge, and we see some fish such as the European sea bass thriving at their poleward edge, where historically they were uncommon.”

Fish and many marine animals have a preferred range of temperatures, and even seemingly imperceptible shifts can have unpredictable effects. Both individual research and commercial catch data have confirmed a series of shifts in response to global heating.

Winners and losers

Tropical fish are shifting away from the hottest waters, North Sea catches are more likely to be found in north Atlantic waters, and some Mediterranean species have now shifted to the waters of Western Europe.

The latest research suggests that whole ecosystems may be on the move, and with them Atlantic herring and Adelie penguins, loggerhead turtles and phytoplankton.

“Some marine species appear to benefit from climate change, particularly some populations at the poleward limits that are now able to thrive,” said Louise Rutterford, another of the research team at Bristol.

“Meanwhile, some marine life suffers as it is not able to adapt fast enough to survive warming, and this is most noticeable in populations nearer the equator.

“This is concerning, as both increasing and decreasing abundances may have harmful knock-on effects for the wider ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Coal exit will benefit health, wealth and nature

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

Human economies still depend on hydrocarbon fuels. But there are ways to achieve a coal exit, cut emissions and protect health.

LONDON, 30 March, 2020 − A fast coal exit and a switch away from all fossil fuels will offer multiple global benefits. In almost all circumstances, electric cars will be more climate-friendly than petrol-driven machines, even when that electricity is generated by coal combustion.

And nations that so far rely on coal will save substantially on health costs and environmental damage if they close the pits and convert to renewable energy.

The making and use of concrete – a big source of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere – remains an obdurate source of global warming. But even so there are ways to cut the climate and health damage costs of cement and mortar by more than 40%.

Each of these three studies is a reminder that there is for the moment no way to stop all carbon emissions in human economies. But each also confirms that a switch away from fossil fuels continues to make economic sense.

Clear reduction

Almost one fourth of all the fossil fuel combustion emissions that threaten a climate crisis come from passenger road transport and household heating. It takes energy to manufacture an electric car, or a heat pump, and it takes energy to generate the electricity to make them function.

Dutch and British researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they considered the challenge in 59 regions of the globe and found that in 53 of their studies the switch to electric meant a clear reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

By 2050, half of all cars on the road could be electric. This would cut global emissions by up to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is about what Russia puts into the atmosphere now.

The switch from homes heated by gas, coal or oil to electric pumps could save 800 million tonnes. This is about the same as Germany’s current greenhouse gas emissions.

Mythical increase

Lifetime emissions from electric cars in Sweden and France − which already get most of their electricity from renewables or nuclear power − would be up to 70% lower than from petrol-driven cars, and 30% lower in the UK.

“The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars and household heat pumps over fossil-fuel alternatives,” said Florian Knobloch, of Radboud University in the Netherlands and Cambridge in the UK.

“In other words, the idea that electric vehicles or electric heat pumps could increase emissions is a myth. We’ve seen a lot of discussion of this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. Here is a definitive study that can dispel those myths.”

The 53 regions in the study represent 95% of world transport and heating demand. The scientists took into account energy use from the production chain at the beginning of a car’s or a heating system’s life, and the waste processing at the end, to find that the only exceptions were in places like Poland, which is still heavily dependent on coal.

“We decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far”

In 2015, the world’s nations agreed at an historic Paris meeting to attempt to limit average planetary warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. Right now, by 2100 global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 3°C.

A new study in Nature Climate Change confirms that to get to the 2°C target it doesn’t just make climate sense to shut the mines and close down the coal-burning power stations: it would save money as well, just in terms of reducing the health hazards associated with pollution and the damage to ecosystems and the loss of wildlife.

“We’re well into the 21st century now and still rely heavily on burning coal, making it one of the biggest threats to our climate, our health and our environment.

“That’s why we decided to comprehensively test the case for a global coal exit: does it add up, economically speaking? The short answer is: yes, by far,” said Sebastian Rauner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

Concrete burden

And his colleague Gunnar Luderer added: “Benefits from reduced health and ecosystem impacts clearly overcompensate the direct economic costs of a coal exit – they amount to a net saving of about 1.5% of global economic output by 2050. That is, $370 (£300) for every human on Earth in 2050.”

Around 8% of all greenhouse gases come from the concrete industry: it too is a source of air pollution and environmental destruction. Cement has to be baked from stone, and aggregate has to be gathered, hauled and brought to building sites, and the two have to be mixed.

US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they quantified the costs in terms of climate, death and illness from the industry and arrived at damages of about $335bn a year.

They looked at ways of cleaner combustion in kiln fuel, the more efficient use of mineral additions that might replace cement, and the applications of clean energy: all of them available now.

Neglect of health

Methods to capture and store carbon emissions from the process are not yet ready: these could reduce climate damage costs by 50% to 65%.

If manufacturers used a fuel that burned more efficiently, they could reduce health damages by 14%. A mix of already available methods could, together, reduce climate and health damage by 44%.

“There is a high emissions burden associated with the production of concrete because there is so much demand for it,” said Sabbie Miller of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“We clearly care a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. But we haven’t paid as much attention to health burdens, which are also driven in large part by this demand.” − Climate News Network

Fast pandemic response could tackle climate crisis

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − 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.

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − 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.

Rainforest and reef systems face collapse

rainforest

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

Tropical forests may be heating Earth by 2035

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – Climate News Network

Climate change so far has meant more vigorous forest growth as greenhouse gases rise. The tropical forests may soon change that.

LONDON, 6 March, 2020 – Within about fifteen years, the great tropical forests of Amazonia and Africa could stop absorbing atmospheric carbon, and slowly start to release more carbon than growing trees can fix.

A team of scientists from 100 research institutions has looked at the evidence from pristine tracts of tropical forest to find that – overall – the foliage soaked up the most carbon, most efficiently, more than two decades ago.

Since then, the measured efficiency of the forests as a “sink” in which carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere has been dwindling. By the last decade, the ability of a tropical forest to absorb carbon had dropped by a third.

All plant growth is a balancing act based on sunshine and atmospheric carbon and rainfall. Plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and surrender it as they die.

In a dense, undisturbed wilderness, fallen leaves and even fallen trees are slightly less likely to decompose completely: the atmospheric carbon in leaf and wood form has a better chance of being preserved in flooded forests as peat, or being buried before it can completely decompose.

The forest becomes a bank vault, repository or sink of the extra carbon that humans are now spilling into the atmosphere from car exhausts, factory chimneys and power station furnaces.

Theory and practice

And in theory, as more and more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, plants respond to the more generous fertilisation by growing more vigorously, and absorbing more carbon.

But as more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to become more extreme. Summers get hotter, rainfall more capricious. Then trees become vulnerable to drought, forest fire and invasive diseases, and die more often, and decompose more completely.

Wannes Hubau, once of the University of Leeds in the UK and now at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and more than 100 colleagues from around the world, report in the journal Nature that they assembled 30 years of measurement from more than 300,000 trees in 244 undisturbed plots of forest in 11 countries in Africa, and from 321 plots of forest in Amazonia, and did the sums.

In the 1990s, intact tropical forests removed around 46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By the 2010s, the uptake had fallen to around 25 billion tonnes. This means that 21 billion tons of greenhouse gas that might otherwise have been turned into timber and root had been added to the atmosphere.

This is pretty much what the UK, France, Germany and Canada together spilled into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion over a 10-year period.

“We’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun. This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models”

“Extra carbon boosts tree growth, but every year this effect is being increasingly countered by the negative impacts of higher temperatures and droughts which slow growth and can kill trees,” said Dr Hubau.

“Our modeling shows a long-term decline in the African sink and that the Amazon sink will continue to rapidly weaken, which we predict will become a carbon source in the mid-2030s.”

Tropical forests are an integral factor in the planetary carbon budget – a crude accounting system that climate scientists rely upon to model the choice of futures that face humankind as the world heats up.

Around half of Earth’s carbon is stored in terrestrial vegetation and the tropical forests account for about a third of the planet’s primary productivity. So how forests respond to a warmer world is vital.

Because the Amazon region is being hit by higher temperatures, and more frequent and prolonged droughts than forests in tropical Africa, Amazonia is weakening at a faster rate.

But decline has also begun in Africa. In the 1990s, the undisturbed tropical forests alone inhaled 17% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In the decade just ended, this proportion fell to 6%.

Catastrophic prospect

In roughly the same period, the area of intact forest fell by 19%, and global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 46%. Even so, the tropical forests store 250 billion tonnes of carbon in their trees alone: 90 years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate. So their sustained loss would be catastrophic.

“Intact tropical forests remain a vital carbon sink but this research reveals that unless policies are put in place to stabilise the Earth’s climate, it is only a matter of time until they are no longer able to sequester carbon,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and one of the authors.

“One big concern for the future of humanity is when carbon-cycle feedbacks really kick in, with nature switching from slowing climate change to accelerating it.

“After years of work deep in the Congo and Amazon rainforests, we’ve found one of the most worrying impacts of climate change has already begun.

“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models. There is no time to lose in tackling climate change.” – Climate News Network

Shrinking Arctic ice slows fish breeding rates

A food source for many species spawns under the Arctic ice. Now fish breeding problems, caused by ice melt, threaten its future.

LONDON, 3 March, 2020 − It’s relatively small, not particularly well-known, but it’s a key indicator of global warming, which is putting some fish breeding rates at risk: enter the polar cod (Boreogadus saida), the smaller cousin of the more familiar north-east Arctic cod.

A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Norway has found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, are causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

This has grave implications − not just for future stocks of polar cod, but for the survival of many other Arctic species as well. The polar cod is a vital part of the Arctic food chain. After spawning under the ice in the early months of the year, the fish – feeding on a diet of zooplankton − grows quickly. It then becomes a food for other larger fish and for sea birds, seals and whales.

“Unfortunately, climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030”, says Mats Huserbråten, one of the study’s authors. “The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad.”

End of breeding

If trends in ice reduction and the heating of Arctic waters continue, the reproductive cycle of the polar cod could collapse, say the researchers.

The fish is endemic to the polar regions (found nowhere else) and has developed in ways which make it dependent on the presence of ice. Its eggs are spawned under the ice, where they grow, even in sub-freezing temperatures. The larvae then feed on the zooplankton − plentiful in mid-year, when the annual ice melt occurs.

Winter ice cover in the Arctic has been in decline since the 1970s, with a sizeable part of the reduction happening in the Barents Sea.

The polar cod stock there has been monitored annually by a joint Norwegian-Russian survey since 1986. In the IMR study, researchers found that not only were stocks diminishing, but that what are described as spawning assemblages of the polar cod were moving further north.

“Climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030. The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad”

As climate change warms the planet’s oceans, many fish species have been observed moving away from the equator in search of cooler waters. While such fish movements have resulted in bigger catches in some areas, fish stocks in many more southern regions are in sharp decline.

The reduction in winter ice cover in the Arctic caused by climate change is affecting a wide variety of species – from polar bears to the smallest marine life. It has also made the polar region more accessible – to cruise operators, shipping companies and to the fossil fuel industry.

The Norwegian study says growing human activity in the Arctic is putting further pressure on the polar cod and other vulnerable species.

“Together, these factors mean we need a better understanding of the possible impacts on Arctic ecosystems, to provide a basis for sustainable management of the high north”, say the researchers. “We have excellent tools at our disposal in the shape of models that can help us to understand trends and long-time series of survey data.” − Climate News Network

A food source for many species spawns under the Arctic ice. Now fish breeding problems, caused by ice melt, threaten its future.

LONDON, 3 March, 2020 − It’s relatively small, not particularly well-known, but it’s a key indicator of global warming, which is putting some fish breeding rates at risk: enter the polar cod (Boreogadus saida), the smaller cousin of the more familiar north-east Arctic cod.

A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Norway has found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, are causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

This has grave implications − not just for future stocks of polar cod, but for the survival of many other Arctic species as well. The polar cod is a vital part of the Arctic food chain. After spawning under the ice in the early months of the year, the fish – feeding on a diet of zooplankton − grows quickly. It then becomes a food for other larger fish and for sea birds, seals and whales.

“Unfortunately, climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030”, says Mats Huserbråten, one of the study’s authors. “The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad.”

End of breeding

If trends in ice reduction and the heating of Arctic waters continue, the reproductive cycle of the polar cod could collapse, say the researchers.

The fish is endemic to the polar regions (found nowhere else) and has developed in ways which make it dependent on the presence of ice. Its eggs are spawned under the ice, where they grow, even in sub-freezing temperatures. The larvae then feed on the zooplankton − plentiful in mid-year, when the annual ice melt occurs.

Winter ice cover in the Arctic has been in decline since the 1970s, with a sizeable part of the reduction happening in the Barents Sea.

The polar cod stock there has been monitored annually by a joint Norwegian-Russian survey since 1986. In the IMR study, researchers found that not only were stocks diminishing, but that what are described as spawning assemblages of the polar cod were moving further north.

“Climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030. The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad”

As climate change warms the planet’s oceans, many fish species have been observed moving away from the equator in search of cooler waters. While such fish movements have resulted in bigger catches in some areas, fish stocks in many more southern regions are in sharp decline.

The reduction in winter ice cover in the Arctic caused by climate change is affecting a wide variety of species – from polar bears to the smallest marine life. It has also made the polar region more accessible – to cruise operators, shipping companies and to the fossil fuel industry.

The Norwegian study says growing human activity in the Arctic is putting further pressure on the polar cod and other vulnerable species.

“Together, these factors mean we need a better understanding of the possible impacts on Arctic ecosystems, to provide a basis for sustainable management of the high north”, say the researchers. “We have excellent tools at our disposal in the shape of models that can help us to understand trends and long-time series of survey data.” − Climate News Network

Hunger threat as tropical fish seek cooler waters

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

As climate heating drives tropical fish to seek survival elsewhere, humans will be left without the protein they need.

LONDON, 2 March, 2020 − Stocks of tropical fish that have provided vital protein for local people for generations may soon disappear as the oceans warm, leaving empty seas in their wake, scientists believe. But there could be help in international protection schemes.

Already researchers have found that fish are voting with their fins by diving deeper or migrating away from equatorial seas to find cooler waters. But now they have calculated, in a study published in the journal Nature, that tropical countries stand to lose most if not all of their fish stocks, with few if any species moving in to replace them.

Although scientists have known that the composition of stocks is changing in many world fisheries, they have not until now fully appreciated the devastating effect the climate crisis will have on tropical countries.

In the North Sea, for example, when fish like cod move north to find cooler and more congenial conditions for breeding, they are replaced by fish from further south which also have a commercial value, such as Mediterranean species like red mullet. But when fish move from the tropics there are no species from nearer the equator that are acclimatised to the hotter water and able to take their place.

Now Jorge García Molinos of Hokkaido University and colleagues in Japan and the US have undertaaken a comprehensive study of 779 commercial fish species to see how they would expand or contract their range under both moderate and more severe global warming between 2015 and 2100, using 2012 as a baseline for their distribution.

“The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate change-vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation could significantly ease the impact on those nations”

The computer model they used showed that under moderate ocean warming tropical countries would lose 15% of their fish species by the end of this century. But if higher greenhouse gas emissions continued, fuelling more severe heat, that would rise to 40%.

The worst-affected countries would be along the north-west African seaboard, while south-east Asia, the Caribbean and Central America would also experience steep declines.

Alarmed by their findings, because of the effect they would have on the nutrition of the people who relied on fish protein for their survival, the scientists examined existing fisheries agreements to see if they took into account the fact that stocks might move because of climate change.

Analysis of 127 publicly-available international agreements showed that none contained language to deal with climate change or stock movements to other waters.

Some dealt with short-term stock fluctuations but not permanent movements, and did not deal with the possible over-fishing of replacement stocks.

Global help

The scientists suggest an urgent look at the issue at the annual UN climate talks because of the loss of fish stocks and the financial damage that warming seas will do to the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.

They go further, suggesting that poor countries could apply for compensation for damage to their fisheries during negotiations under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), and also raise the possibility of help from the Green Climate Fund, set up to help the poorest countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Professor García Molinos, based at Hokkaido’s Arctic Research Center,  said: “The exit of many fishery stocks from these climate-change vulnerable nations is inevitable, but carefully designed international cooperation together with the strictest enforcement of ambitious reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, especially by the highest-emitter countries, could significantly ease the impact on those nations.”

While the research relies on computer models to see how fish will react to warming seas in the future, the scientific evidence available shows that they are already responding. It also shows that keeping the world temperature increase down to 1.5°C, the preferred maximum agreed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, would help fisheries globally.

And the Hokkaido research demonstrates yet again how it is the poorest nations, which have contributed least to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, that will suffer most from their effects. − Climate News Network

A third of plants and animals risk mass extinction

As planetary temperatures rise, the chances of species survival lessen. Mass extinction is coming. The challenge is to measure the loss.

LONDON, 25 February, 2020 – Within 50 years, a third of all plant and animal species could be caught up in a mass extinction, as a consequence of climate change driven by ever-rising temperatures. What is new about this warning is the method, the precision, the timetable and the identification of a cause.

And – entirely felicitously – support for the prediction is backed by a series of separate studies of individual species survival in a world rapidly warming because of human commitment to fossil fuels.

Tiny marsupial insect-hunters in Australia could, on the evidence of direct experiment, fail to adapt to ever-higher thermometer readings, and quietly disappear.

As frogs and other amphibians in Central America are wiped out by invasive fungal pathogens – perhaps assisted by climate change – a set of snake species that prey upon them have also become increasingly at risk.

And directly because the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, the polar bears of Baffin Bay in Canada are thinner than they were 30 years ago, and have fewer cubs. That’s because Ursus maritimus hunts its seal prey on the sea ice. And as the winter ice forms later and melts earlier each decade, the bears have begun to go hungry.

Biologists, ecologists and conservationists have been warning for four decades that planet Earth could be on the edge of a sixth Great Extinction, as a simple consequence of the growth of human numbers and human economies, and the parallel destruction of natural habitat.

They have also repeatedly warned that climate change driven by human-triggered planetary heating would inevitably accelerate the losses.

Repeated surveys

But researchers from the University of Arizona have now confirmed the climate connection by using another approach: they decided to look directly at the numbers. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they selected data from 538 species and 581 places around the globe: they chose these numbers and sites because they could be sure that specific animal and plant species had been repeatedly surveyed over intervals of at least a decade.

They also factored in the changes in local climate conditions at each site, and isolated 19 different variables in the climate machine to work out what it could be about global heating that would directly pose the most significant threats. They also considered the options open to their chosen species: could these, for instance, migrate easily, or tolerate longer periods of extreme heat?

And then they did the calculations. They found that 50% of the chosen species went extinct locally if temperatures rose by more than 0.5°C, and 95% if the mercury reached an additional 2.9°C.

In the last century, the planet has warmed by 1°C above the average for most of human history and prehistory. Right now, thanks to ever-increasing fossil fuel use and continued forest destruction, the planet could be more than 3°C warmer by 2100.

But the researchers also found that the climate factor most closely linked to the extinction of any population was simply the maximum annual count the hottest daily highs in summer.

This also implies that extinction could be two or even four times as frequent in the tropics as in the temperate zones: it is in the tropics – the reefs, the rainforests, the wetlands and savannahs – that the world’s species are concentrated.

Antechinis flavipes, or yellow-footed antechinus, is a native Australian: it is not exactly a mole, or a mouse, or a shrew. It is a little marsupial carnivore with an unhappy love life: males mate in a frenzy and then tend to die from stress-related immune system breakdown.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half”

It is also sensitive to temperature. When the mercury drops, the creature can go into a torpor and once comatose can even sleep through a bushfire.

Norwegian scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Physiology that they exposed 19 captive juveniles to spells of cold (17°C) and hot (25°C) temperatures, measured their growth and metabolic rate, and observed changes in behaviour. They conclude that, while individuals of the species can cope with short periods of high temperature, they may not have any way of surviving extended heat extremes.

Which is a problem for antechinus, because all the predictions for Australia – and indeed most of the planet – is that as the century proceeds and ever more greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, the hottest spells will become hotter, more frequent and more extended.

North American researchers have been tracking the polar bears who hunt seals and mate in Baffin Bay, between north-eastern Canada and Greenland, for almost three decades. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that when sea ice retreats, the bears wait on Baffin Island and live on their accumulated fat.

In the 1990s, the average stay on land – and away from the bears’ preferred prey – was 60 days. In the last decade, this rose to 90 days. Sampled females proved to be thinner than they had been, and were more likely to have one cub rather than two, all because unseasonally high temperatures in the Arctic mean that the hunting season on the ice is becoming ever shorter.

In 2004, the population of amphibians in a national park in Panama started to perish on a huge scale, and an estimated 30 species of frog and other creatures all but vanished in the wake of a pathogen fungus outbreak.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they set out to look at their wildlife observational data before and after the outbreak to measure the effect on the region’s snake species that prey on amphibians.

Rarely observed snakes

Even though the scientists logged 594 surveys in the seven years before the outbreak and 513 in the six years that followed, they had to use mathematical techniques to come up with probabilities of local snake extinction, because snakes are hard to observe at any time. Of the 36 snake species recorded there, 12 have been observed only once, and five only twice.

The bad news is there is an 85% probability that there are now fewer snake species than there had been, simply because of the disappearance of amphibian prey.

The study also highlights another worry for conservationists and ecologists: extinction of species is happening at an accelerating rate, but biologists still cannot put a number to the total of species at risk. Most of them have never been described or named. Like some of the snakes of Panama, they will have gone before scientists even knew they were there.

The climate connection with the worldwide loss of amphibian species is still uncertain. The certainty is that climate change will make life too hot for many species that – because what was once wilderness has now been cleared for cities, quarries, farms and commercial plantations – can no longer shift to cooler terrain.

John Wiens of the University of Arizona, one of the authors behind the research that predicts massive extinctions by 2070, thinks there is something that can be done.

In 2015 in Paris more than 190 nations vowed to act to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C. “In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,’” he said.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.” – Climate News Network

As planetary temperatures rise, the chances of species survival lessen. Mass extinction is coming. The challenge is to measure the loss.

LONDON, 25 February, 2020 – Within 50 years, a third of all plant and animal species could be caught up in a mass extinction, as a consequence of climate change driven by ever-rising temperatures. What is new about this warning is the method, the precision, the timetable and the identification of a cause.

And – entirely felicitously – support for the prediction is backed by a series of separate studies of individual species survival in a world rapidly warming because of human commitment to fossil fuels.

Tiny marsupial insect-hunters in Australia could, on the evidence of direct experiment, fail to adapt to ever-higher thermometer readings, and quietly disappear.

As frogs and other amphibians in Central America are wiped out by invasive fungal pathogens – perhaps assisted by climate change – a set of snake species that prey upon them have also become increasingly at risk.

And directly because the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, the polar bears of Baffin Bay in Canada are thinner than they were 30 years ago, and have fewer cubs. That’s because Ursus maritimus hunts its seal prey on the sea ice. And as the winter ice forms later and melts earlier each decade, the bears have begun to go hungry.

Biologists, ecologists and conservationists have been warning for four decades that planet Earth could be on the edge of a sixth Great Extinction, as a simple consequence of the growth of human numbers and human economies, and the parallel destruction of natural habitat.

They have also repeatedly warned that climate change driven by human-triggered planetary heating would inevitably accelerate the losses.

Repeated surveys

But researchers from the University of Arizona have now confirmed the climate connection by using another approach: they decided to look directly at the numbers. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they selected data from 538 species and 581 places around the globe: they chose these numbers and sites because they could be sure that specific animal and plant species had been repeatedly surveyed over intervals of at least a decade.

They also factored in the changes in local climate conditions at each site, and isolated 19 different variables in the climate machine to work out what it could be about global heating that would directly pose the most significant threats. They also considered the options open to their chosen species: could these, for instance, migrate easily, or tolerate longer periods of extreme heat?

And then they did the calculations. They found that 50% of the chosen species went extinct locally if temperatures rose by more than 0.5°C, and 95% if the mercury reached an additional 2.9°C.

In the last century, the planet has warmed by 1°C above the average for most of human history and prehistory. Right now, thanks to ever-increasing fossil fuel use and continued forest destruction, the planet could be more than 3°C warmer by 2100.

But the researchers also found that the climate factor most closely linked to the extinction of any population was simply the maximum annual count the hottest daily highs in summer.

This also implies that extinction could be two or even four times as frequent in the tropics as in the temperate zones: it is in the tropics – the reefs, the rainforests, the wetlands and savannahs – that the world’s species are concentrated.

Antechinis flavipes, or yellow-footed antechinus, is a native Australian: it is not exactly a mole, or a mouse, or a shrew. It is a little marsupial carnivore with an unhappy love life: males mate in a frenzy and then tend to die from stress-related immune system breakdown.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half”

It is also sensitive to temperature. When the mercury drops, the creature can go into a torpor and once comatose can even sleep through a bushfire.

Norwegian scientists report in the journal Frontiers in Physiology that they exposed 19 captive juveniles to spells of cold (17°C) and hot (25°C) temperatures, measured their growth and metabolic rate, and observed changes in behaviour. They conclude that, while individuals of the species can cope with short periods of high temperature, they may not have any way of surviving extended heat extremes.

Which is a problem for antechinus, because all the predictions for Australia – and indeed most of the planet – is that as the century proceeds and ever more greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, the hottest spells will become hotter, more frequent and more extended.

North American researchers have been tracking the polar bears who hunt seals and mate in Baffin Bay, between north-eastern Canada and Greenland, for almost three decades. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that when sea ice retreats, the bears wait on Baffin Island and live on their accumulated fat.

In the 1990s, the average stay on land – and away from the bears’ preferred prey – was 60 days. In the last decade, this rose to 90 days. Sampled females proved to be thinner than they had been, and were more likely to have one cub rather than two, all because unseasonally high temperatures in the Arctic mean that the hunting season on the ice is becoming ever shorter.

In 2004, the population of amphibians in a national park in Panama started to perish on a huge scale, and an estimated 30 species of frog and other creatures all but vanished in the wake of a pathogen fungus outbreak.

US scientists report in the journal Science that they set out to look at their wildlife observational data before and after the outbreak to measure the effect on the region’s snake species that prey on amphibians.

Rarely observed snakes

Even though the scientists logged 594 surveys in the seven years before the outbreak and 513 in the six years that followed, they had to use mathematical techniques to come up with probabilities of local snake extinction, because snakes are hard to observe at any time. Of the 36 snake species recorded there, 12 have been observed only once, and five only twice.

The bad news is there is an 85% probability that there are now fewer snake species than there had been, simply because of the disappearance of amphibian prey.

The study also highlights another worry for conservationists and ecologists: extinction of species is happening at an accelerating rate, but biologists still cannot put a number to the total of species at risk. Most of them have never been described or named. Like some of the snakes of Panama, they will have gone before scientists even knew they were there.

The climate connection with the worldwide loss of amphibian species is still uncertain. The certainty is that climate change will make life too hot for many species that – because what was once wilderness has now been cleared for cities, quarries, farms and commercial plantations – can no longer shift to cooler terrain.

John Wiens of the University of Arizona, one of the authors behind the research that predicts massive extinctions by 2070, thinks there is something that can be done.

In 2015 in Paris more than 190 nations vowed to act to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C. “In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,’” he said.

“If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.” – Climate News Network

Many species face threat of insect extinction

Rainforests can get too hot for beetles. Mayflies can succumb to seasonal change, bumblebees to drought. Insect extinction may soon await myriad species.

LONDON, 13 February, 2020 – Humankind could be about to bid farewell to friends it never got to know, as insect extinction overtakes countless species.

Most of the millions of insects that support life on the planet have yet to be named or described. And yet perhaps 500,000 species of beetles, butterflies, bees, ants and other six-legged creatures vital to the efficient working of natural ecosystems and commercial economies could be about to disappear – as a consequence of climate change and other pressures driven by human population growth.

And this note of alarm has been sounded within a few days in which other research groups have separately warned of the climate threats to beetles in the Amazon forest, to the burrowing mayflies of the American mid-west and to the bumblebees of North America and Europe.

Insects pollinate growing plants, dispose of dying ones and serve as lunch or supper for birds, amphibians, reptiles, bats and other mammals. There could be as many as 5.5 million distinct species of insect, of which no more than one in five has been observed, identified and catalogued by entomologists.

A million or more creatures fashioned by aeons of evolution and natural selection could be at imminent risk of extinction because of human advance. A group of 30 experts now urgently warns in the journal Biological Conservation that half of these could be insects.

“From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services”

“It is surprising how little we know about biodiversity at a global level, when only about 10 to 20% of insect and other invertebrate species have been described and named. And of those with a name, we know little more than a brief morphological description, maybe part of the genetic code and a single site where it was seen some years ago,” said Pedro Cardoso, of the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, who led the study.

“With species loss, we lose not only another piece of the complex puzzle that is our living world, but also biomass, essential to feed other animals in the living chain, unique genes and substances that might one day contribute to cure diseases, and ecosystem functions on which humanity depends.”

The researchers argue that insect species are vulnerable to human changes to their natural habitat; to pesticide and fertiliser use; to light pollution, industrial pollution and even noise pollution. Climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion amplifies the hazard: the unfamiliar seasonal temperatures and the advance of spring mean for instance that butterflies have emerged ahead of the nectar plants that normally nourish them.

And a series of separate studies explore some of the impact of human-triggered changes to natural systems. Researchers report in the journal Biotropica that hotter and drier episodes in the Amazon rainforests have led not only to disastrous fires but to a dramatic collapse of dung beetle populations.

Vanishing beetles

These little creatures spread nutrients and seeds, and ecologists see them as evidence of the overall health of an ecosystem, which is why international teams of scientists have been monitoring dung beetles from 98 species across 30 forest plots in the Brazilian state of Pará.

In 2010, they counted 8000 beetles. In 2017, after an El Niño event had brought drought and fire to the region, they found only 2,600.

Mayflies, too, are seen as indicators of the health of rivers, lakes and streams: the more there are, the better the water quality. The burrowing mayfly makes a spectacular emergence each year from US waterways to darken the skies. Researchers have estimated more than 87 billion insects in one swarm, weighing more than 3,000 tonnes of potential bird and fish food.

But researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that between 2015 and 2019 scientists used radar to monitor the swarms over Lake Erie and found that as a consequence of a warming climate and other pressures, numbers fell in that four-year sequence by 84%.

And in the journal Science, Canadian and British scientists report that they looked at more than a century of records of 66 species of bumblebee in North America and Europe, to find that, within one human generation, as global heating amplified the frequency of extreme temperatures and droughts, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place had fallen on average by 30%.

Not insects alone

That insects may be in trouble is not news: naturalists have measured huge losses over time in sample locations, often as a consequence of habitat destruction, but also as a consequence of local climate shifts in response to global heating. These losses have been mirrored in bird predator populations and even in changes in insects themselves.

As the authors of the Biological Conservation paper point out, the damage goes beyond the insect world. Other creatures depend on insects, directly or indirectly. So do humans.

“With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species,” Dr Cardoso and his colleagues write. “We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenisation, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions.

“Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.” – Climate News Network

Rainforests can get too hot for beetles. Mayflies can succumb to seasonal change, bumblebees to drought. Insect extinction may soon await myriad species.

LONDON, 13 February, 2020 – Humankind could be about to bid farewell to friends it never got to know, as insect extinction overtakes countless species.

Most of the millions of insects that support life on the planet have yet to be named or described. And yet perhaps 500,000 species of beetles, butterflies, bees, ants and other six-legged creatures vital to the efficient working of natural ecosystems and commercial economies could be about to disappear – as a consequence of climate change and other pressures driven by human population growth.

And this note of alarm has been sounded within a few days in which other research groups have separately warned of the climate threats to beetles in the Amazon forest, to the burrowing mayflies of the American mid-west and to the bumblebees of North America and Europe.

Insects pollinate growing plants, dispose of dying ones and serve as lunch or supper for birds, amphibians, reptiles, bats and other mammals. There could be as many as 5.5 million distinct species of insect, of which no more than one in five has been observed, identified and catalogued by entomologists.

A million or more creatures fashioned by aeons of evolution and natural selection could be at imminent risk of extinction because of human advance. A group of 30 experts now urgently warns in the journal Biological Conservation that half of these could be insects.

“From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services”

“It is surprising how little we know about biodiversity at a global level, when only about 10 to 20% of insect and other invertebrate species have been described and named. And of those with a name, we know little more than a brief morphological description, maybe part of the genetic code and a single site where it was seen some years ago,” said Pedro Cardoso, of the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, who led the study.

“With species loss, we lose not only another piece of the complex puzzle that is our living world, but also biomass, essential to feed other animals in the living chain, unique genes and substances that might one day contribute to cure diseases, and ecosystem functions on which humanity depends.”

The researchers argue that insect species are vulnerable to human changes to their natural habitat; to pesticide and fertiliser use; to light pollution, industrial pollution and even noise pollution. Climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion amplifies the hazard: the unfamiliar seasonal temperatures and the advance of spring mean for instance that butterflies have emerged ahead of the nectar plants that normally nourish them.

And a series of separate studies explore some of the impact of human-triggered changes to natural systems. Researchers report in the journal Biotropica that hotter and drier episodes in the Amazon rainforests have led not only to disastrous fires but to a dramatic collapse of dung beetle populations.

Vanishing beetles

These little creatures spread nutrients and seeds, and ecologists see them as evidence of the overall health of an ecosystem, which is why international teams of scientists have been monitoring dung beetles from 98 species across 30 forest plots in the Brazilian state of Pará.

In 2010, they counted 8000 beetles. In 2017, after an El Niño event had brought drought and fire to the region, they found only 2,600.

Mayflies, too, are seen as indicators of the health of rivers, lakes and streams: the more there are, the better the water quality. The burrowing mayfly makes a spectacular emergence each year from US waterways to darken the skies. Researchers have estimated more than 87 billion insects in one swarm, weighing more than 3,000 tonnes of potential bird and fish food.

But researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that between 2015 and 2019 scientists used radar to monitor the swarms over Lake Erie and found that as a consequence of a warming climate and other pressures, numbers fell in that four-year sequence by 84%.

And in the journal Science, Canadian and British scientists report that they looked at more than a century of records of 66 species of bumblebee in North America and Europe, to find that, within one human generation, as global heating amplified the frequency of extreme temperatures and droughts, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place had fallen on average by 30%.

Not insects alone

That insects may be in trouble is not news: naturalists have measured huge losses over time in sample locations, often as a consequence of habitat destruction, but also as a consequence of local climate shifts in response to global heating. These losses have been mirrored in bird predator populations and even in changes in insects themselves.

As the authors of the Biological Conservation paper point out, the damage goes beyond the insect world. Other creatures depend on insects, directly or indirectly. So do humans.

“With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species,” Dr Cardoso and his colleagues write. “We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenisation, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions.

“Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.” – Climate News Network

Rare trees saved from Australia’s wildfires

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Buried amid the horrific news from Australia about climate change and out-of-control wildfire was a positive story: the saving of rare trees.

CHICAGO, 5 February, 2020 − An Associated Press story  titled Firefighters in Australia save unique prehistoric trees brought a scarce gleam of hope: “Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildfire bore down… the firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist, and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for two months edged closer.”

This news had particular significance to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the successful protection of this endangered species could hint at things to come − if we play our cards right.

For another, I know the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (though I have not been to that grove of trees − whose exact location has been kept a secret by botanists ever since it was first discovered in 1994.)

I spent four years down-under, first as an American researcher on a Fulbright grant to see what we in the States could learn from looking at the Australian experience, and then as a roving foreign correspondent for science-related US magazines such as International Wildlife, Scientific American, and the journal Science, among others.

My job was to travel over the land down-under, reporting on natural history, the environment, and science in the Great South Land for publications back home in the States − as well as magazines like Australian Geographic.

Easy to miss

Which was how I became acquainted with the Blue Mountains, a lesser-known area about 120 miles west of Sydney. They’re a surprisingly steep, thickly wooded, and easily overlooked mountain chain, much like an Aussie version of our Appalachians. And much like the Appalachians, their deep ravines held up westward exploration and expansion for a long time. But there the parallels end.

Walking in Australia’s Blue Mountains is an unworldly experience. There are no squirrels or chipmunks; instead, parrots occupy that ecological niche. My edition of the Field Guide to the Birds of Australia lists 23 different species of parrots alone.

Just a short list of the formal names of some of the individual species gives an idea of the colorful diversity you can see: Blue-winged, Orange-bellied, Golden-shouldered, Scarlet-chested, Red-rumped, and Turquoise parrots. Not to mention Elegant, Paradise, Superb, and King parrots.

And instead of smelling pine trees, your nose registers the scent of eucalypts. Look up at the stars at night, and there’s not a single familiar constellation; instead you see celestial objects like the Jewel Box Cluster − while hearing the mocking laugh of kookaburras.

Even the food tastes different − in place of pepperoni or sausage, toppings at the Australian Pizza Kitchen in Canberra include emu and kangaroo (I prefer the kangaroo).

“These trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs”

And some of the trees in parts of the Blueys − as they’re called − resemble nothing so much as short stumps with ferns popping out of their sides willy-nilly; everything looks so primeval you half-expect to see escapees from Jurassic Park poking their snouts out.

Indeed, in far-north Queensland I and my parents were to be stalked by a full-grown, adult male cassowary, defending his mate. We took shelter behind a large tropical tree, trying to keep the trunk between us and the approximately 200-pound, 6-foot-tall creature as it circled around.

This pervasive feeling of encounters with the primeval is appropriate. Australia is a very ancient land, which used to be part of what geologists call Gondwana − when most of the world’s landmasses were linked together in the distant past.

But while the other landforms went on to become continents such as South America and Africa, Australia remained a giant island continent, cut off from the rest of the planet. And species that died out elsewhere continued to thrive, and evolve, here.

(Just why species do so well on islands, and why evolution seems to speed up on them, is something that kept Charles Darwin busy. An entire field of island biogeography has sprung up to delve into its mysteries.)

Human rarities

Even now, some parts of Australia are so isolated that the wildlife has seldom seen humans. So far as researchers can tell, no Aborigines, Melanesians, Micronesians, Polynesians, or Caucasians ever settled on Australia’s Lord Howe Island until 1834; consequently, the wildlife never learned to be afraid of humans.

When I went there, you could stand at the foot of Lord Howe’s tallest mountain, call up to the providence petrels nesting as much as a hundred feet above, and watch the birds glide down to land at your feet. If you’re really good, you may be able to touch them, or at least have one land on your outstretched arm.

Due to these vagaries of isolation, ancient and unique species seem to abound in Australia − though they can be easily overlooked. Drive along the highway outside Shark Bay in the state of Western Australia, and you’ll spot weird dark, mushroom-shaped, rock-like structures in the shallows of the hyper-salty water; they’re actually living mats of blue-green algae known as stromatolites − Greek for “layered rock.”

Stromatolites are one of the oldest forms of life that we know of, essentially unchanged since their ancestors flourished 3.5 billion years ago. They were previously known to us only from fossils, until first discovered in this region in the 1980s.

So it’s not entirely surprising that Wollemi Pines should survive in the wild, undetected, a relatively short drive from Sydney for so many years; after all, these trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs − though they now exist in the wild in only one place in the world, with fewer than 100 adult specimens known.

Survivors for sale

What was surprising was that these wild specimens were saved from the wildfires, in a complex operation that involved firefighters being lowered from helicopters into the narrow steep-sided ridges where the trees dwell, along with planes strategically bombing the advancing firefront with fire retardant.

And well in advance of events these past months, authorities had covered their bets by doing all they could to increase the species’ chance of survival. Since 2006, a propagation program has made these trees available to botanical gardens so their numbers could be increased; I’ve subsequently run across Aussies who have grown the plants from seeds in their living rooms. (In Australia, seedlings can even be ordered online,  and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney offer information on Wollemi care, conservation, and research.)

More than that, when it looked like the wildfires were in imminent danger of destroying the only existing stand of these trees in the wild, leaders had the foresight to rely on the recommendations of scientists, firefighters, and other experts as to how to proceed. They then worked out a plan and put it into action − actively dealing with the problem rather than denying it existed.

In short, in the time since the Wollemi Pines were discovered, government agencies, nonprofit organisations, private enterprise and volunteer efforts successfully worked together over decades to protect the trees from extinction.

Which makes one wonder, once again, what we in the States could learn from observing the Australian experience. − Climate News Network

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Buried amid the horrific news from Australia about climate change and out-of-control wildfire was a positive story: the saving of rare trees.

CHICAGO, 5 February, 2020 − An Associated Press story  titled Firefighters in Australia save unique prehistoric trees brought a scarce gleam of hope: “Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildfire bore down… the firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist, and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for two months edged closer.”

This news had particular significance to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the successful protection of this endangered species could hint at things to come − if we play our cards right.

For another, I know the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (though I have not been to that grove of trees − whose exact location has been kept a secret by botanists ever since it was first discovered in 1994.)

I spent four years down-under, first as an American researcher on a Fulbright grant to see what we in the States could learn from looking at the Australian experience, and then as a roving foreign correspondent for science-related US magazines such as International Wildlife, Scientific American, and the journal Science, among others.

My job was to travel over the land down-under, reporting on natural history, the environment, and science in the Great South Land for publications back home in the States − as well as magazines like Australian Geographic.

Easy to miss

Which was how I became acquainted with the Blue Mountains, a lesser-known area about 120 miles west of Sydney. They’re a surprisingly steep, thickly wooded, and easily overlooked mountain chain, much like an Aussie version of our Appalachians. And much like the Appalachians, their deep ravines held up westward exploration and expansion for a long time. But there the parallels end.

Walking in Australia’s Blue Mountains is an unworldly experience. There are no squirrels or chipmunks; instead, parrots occupy that ecological niche. My edition of the Field Guide to the Birds of Australia lists 23 different species of parrots alone.

Just a short list of the formal names of some of the individual species gives an idea of the colorful diversity you can see: Blue-winged, Orange-bellied, Golden-shouldered, Scarlet-chested, Red-rumped, and Turquoise parrots. Not to mention Elegant, Paradise, Superb, and King parrots.

And instead of smelling pine trees, your nose registers the scent of eucalypts. Look up at the stars at night, and there’s not a single familiar constellation; instead you see celestial objects like the Jewel Box Cluster − while hearing the mocking laugh of kookaburras.

Even the food tastes different − in place of pepperoni or sausage, toppings at the Australian Pizza Kitchen in Canberra include emu and kangaroo (I prefer the kangaroo).

“These trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs”

And some of the trees in parts of the Blueys − as they’re called − resemble nothing so much as short stumps with ferns popping out of their sides willy-nilly; everything looks so primeval you half-expect to see escapees from Jurassic Park poking their snouts out.

Indeed, in far-north Queensland I and my parents were to be stalked by a full-grown, adult male cassowary, defending his mate. We took shelter behind a large tropical tree, trying to keep the trunk between us and the approximately 200-pound, 6-foot-tall creature as it circled around.

This pervasive feeling of encounters with the primeval is appropriate. Australia is a very ancient land, which used to be part of what geologists call Gondwana − when most of the world’s landmasses were linked together in the distant past.

But while the other landforms went on to become continents such as South America and Africa, Australia remained a giant island continent, cut off from the rest of the planet. And species that died out elsewhere continued to thrive, and evolve, here.

(Just why species do so well on islands, and why evolution seems to speed up on them, is something that kept Charles Darwin busy. An entire field of island biogeography has sprung up to delve into its mysteries.)

Human rarities

Even now, some parts of Australia are so isolated that the wildlife has seldom seen humans. So far as researchers can tell, no Aborigines, Melanesians, Micronesians, Polynesians, or Caucasians ever settled on Australia’s Lord Howe Island until 1834; consequently, the wildlife never learned to be afraid of humans.

When I went there, you could stand at the foot of Lord Howe’s tallest mountain, call up to the providence petrels nesting as much as a hundred feet above, and watch the birds glide down to land at your feet. If you’re really good, you may be able to touch them, or at least have one land on your outstretched arm.

Due to these vagaries of isolation, ancient and unique species seem to abound in Australia − though they can be easily overlooked. Drive along the highway outside Shark Bay in the state of Western Australia, and you’ll spot weird dark, mushroom-shaped, rock-like structures in the shallows of the hyper-salty water; they’re actually living mats of blue-green algae known as stromatolites − Greek for “layered rock.”

Stromatolites are one of the oldest forms of life that we know of, essentially unchanged since their ancestors flourished 3.5 billion years ago. They were previously known to us only from fossils, until first discovered in this region in the 1980s.

So it’s not entirely surprising that Wollemi Pines should survive in the wild, undetected, a relatively short drive from Sydney for so many years; after all, these trees are descendants of individuals that had survived since the era of the dinosaurs − though they now exist in the wild in only one place in the world, with fewer than 100 adult specimens known.

Survivors for sale

What was surprising was that these wild specimens were saved from the wildfires, in a complex operation that involved firefighters being lowered from helicopters into the narrow steep-sided ridges where the trees dwell, along with planes strategically bombing the advancing firefront with fire retardant.

And well in advance of events these past months, authorities had covered their bets by doing all they could to increase the species’ chance of survival. Since 2006, a propagation program has made these trees available to botanical gardens so their numbers could be increased; I’ve subsequently run across Aussies who have grown the plants from seeds in their living rooms. (In Australia, seedlings can even be ordered online,  and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney offer information on Wollemi care, conservation, and research.)

More than that, when it looked like the wildfires were in imminent danger of destroying the only existing stand of these trees in the wild, leaders had the foresight to rely on the recommendations of scientists, firefighters, and other experts as to how to proceed. They then worked out a plan and put it into action − actively dealing with the problem rather than denying it existed.

In short, in the time since the Wollemi Pines were discovered, government agencies, nonprofit organisations, private enterprise and volunteer efforts successfully worked together over decades to protect the trees from extinction.

Which makes one wonder, once again, what we in the States could learn from observing the Australian experience. − Climate News Network