Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Ireland looks forward to a greener future

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Nature’s accounts show what the world does for us

People go on getting richer, and the planet pays a mounting price. There’s a better way to balance nature’s accounts.

LONDON, 24 June, 2020 – It may take a while to catch on, but one day the financial pages of the daily newspaper could be quoting a new register of national wealth: called gross ecosystem product, this way of balancing nature’s accounts makes clear how much we really depend on the Earth.

And it would be a real-world indicator of prosperity you could have confidence in: a measure in cash terms of the health of the forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife of both nations and regions and – more precisely – of the benefits heedless humans take for granted.

These include the insect pollination of crops; the control of insect pests by birds and bats; the supply of fresh, safe water from mountain streams, rivers, springs and lakes; the management of waste by scavengers and microbes; the recycling of nutrients; and all the myriad services provided by plants, animals and topography. This is sometimes called “natural capital.”

The measure has already formally been tested in one province in China and matched with the more familiar indicator: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

Flying blind

Chinese scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the year 2000, the gross ecosystem product or GEP of Qinghai province was greater than its GDP.

By 2015, after phenomenal economic growth, it was still three-fourths the size of its GDP. And the form this natural wealth took? Mostly water supplies to other crowded regions: Qinghai is where the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers rise.

“We’re basically flying blind when it comes to knowing where and how much nature to protect,” said Gretchen Daily, an environmental scientist at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences in California, and one of the report’s authors.

“GEP tracks the vital contributions of nature to society, informs investments in securing them and helps evaluate the performance of leaders and policies.”

And her British co-author, Ian Bateman, an economist at the University of Exeter, said: “The global economy as conventionally measured by GDP more than doubled between 1990 and 2015. However, at the same time our stocks of ‘ecosystem assets’ – such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, fertile soils and biodiversity – have come under increasing pressure.”

“We were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation”

He continued: “These things are obviously valuable in many ways – including to human wellbeing. However, in this study we examine the benefits they bring us measured in a way that governments and business can understand.”

Naturalists, conservationists and economists have repeatedly argued that it makes better economic sense to conserve nature rather than to exploit it: untouched natural forest or grassland contributes more to everybody’s wealth than any clear-felling project or conversion to cattle-grazing.

Scientists and economists have again and again tried to calculate the cash value to humankind of nature’s goods and services, and to steer development in a sustainable fashion.

They have repeatedly warned that global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels is almost certain to hit the pockets of the poorest most cruelly.

And they have warned that uncontrolled exploitation of once untouched natural forests, mangrove estuaries, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs that precipitates mass extinction of species is certain to impoverish billions in the long run.

Direct test

But to persuade governments that natural capital represents an investment with measurable returns, economists need a standard global measure. GEP could be it.

The measure was tested directly in what is sometimes called the “water tower” of Asia. The logic is that if the people of that region care for their natural habitat, and people downstream benefit directly from that care, then those downstream should also contribute to the costs of care.

“Qinghai is rich in natural capital but its GDP alone does not reflect that value”, said the study’s lead author, Zhiyun Ouyang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Using this new metric we were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation.” – Climate News Network

People go on getting richer, and the planet pays a mounting price. There’s a better way to balance nature’s accounts.

LONDON, 24 June, 2020 – It may take a while to catch on, but one day the financial pages of the daily newspaper could be quoting a new register of national wealth: called gross ecosystem product, this way of balancing nature’s accounts makes clear how much we really depend on the Earth.

And it would be a real-world indicator of prosperity you could have confidence in: a measure in cash terms of the health of the forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife of both nations and regions and – more precisely – of the benefits heedless humans take for granted.

These include the insect pollination of crops; the control of insect pests by birds and bats; the supply of fresh, safe water from mountain streams, rivers, springs and lakes; the management of waste by scavengers and microbes; the recycling of nutrients; and all the myriad services provided by plants, animals and topography. This is sometimes called “natural capital.”

The measure has already formally been tested in one province in China and matched with the more familiar indicator: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

Flying blind

Chinese scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the year 2000, the gross ecosystem product or GEP of Qinghai province was greater than its GDP.

By 2015, after phenomenal economic growth, it was still three-fourths the size of its GDP. And the form this natural wealth took? Mostly water supplies to other crowded regions: Qinghai is where the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers rise.

“We’re basically flying blind when it comes to knowing where and how much nature to protect,” said Gretchen Daily, an environmental scientist at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences in California, and one of the report’s authors.

“GEP tracks the vital contributions of nature to society, informs investments in securing them and helps evaluate the performance of leaders and policies.”

And her British co-author, Ian Bateman, an economist at the University of Exeter, said: “The global economy as conventionally measured by GDP more than doubled between 1990 and 2015. However, at the same time our stocks of ‘ecosystem assets’ – such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, fertile soils and biodiversity – have come under increasing pressure.”

“We were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation”

He continued: “These things are obviously valuable in many ways – including to human wellbeing. However, in this study we examine the benefits they bring us measured in a way that governments and business can understand.”

Naturalists, conservationists and economists have repeatedly argued that it makes better economic sense to conserve nature rather than to exploit it: untouched natural forest or grassland contributes more to everybody’s wealth than any clear-felling project or conversion to cattle-grazing.

Scientists and economists have again and again tried to calculate the cash value to humankind of nature’s goods and services, and to steer development in a sustainable fashion.

They have repeatedly warned that global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels is almost certain to hit the pockets of the poorest most cruelly.

And they have warned that uncontrolled exploitation of once untouched natural forests, mangrove estuaries, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs that precipitates mass extinction of species is certain to impoverish billions in the long run.

Direct test

But to persuade governments that natural capital represents an investment with measurable returns, economists need a standard global measure. GEP could be it.

The measure was tested directly in what is sometimes called the “water tower” of Asia. The logic is that if the people of that region care for their natural habitat, and people downstream benefit directly from that care, then those downstream should also contribute to the costs of care.

“Qinghai is rich in natural capital but its GDP alone does not reflect that value”, said the study’s lead author, Zhiyun Ouyang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Using this new metric we were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation.” – Climate News Network

Threatened mangrove forests won’t protect coasts

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

Forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

Millions of species face extinction emergency

An extinction emergency unparalleled in the history of life on Earth could soon overtake millions of species – thanks to us.

LONDON, 8 June, 2020 – More than 500 terrestrial vertebrate species – birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles – are on the brink of a worldwide extinction emergency. These are animal species with surviving populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. They are to be found in tropical and subtropical regions and, significantly, they are concentrated in regions heavily affected by human activities.

Extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. But the number of simultaneously threatened species, and the link to direct human pressure, adds support for the argument that humanity is now witnessing the sixth, and possibly greatest, mass extinction in the history of life.

The same research has identified 388 vertebrate species with fewer than 5000 individuals in the surviving populations. Of these, more than four-fifths cling to survival in the same threatened regions, and may therefore also be heading for the brink of extinction.

Three distinguished scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they analysed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species to identify 29,400 terrestrial vertebrates, 1.7% of which had fewer than 1,000 remaining individuals anywhere in the world.

There are many cases of local extinction: for a mix of reasons, birds or butterflies might disappear from places where they once were many, but continue to flourish in other zones. But too many local extinctions soon amount to global obliteration: the researchers identified 237,000 populations of vertebrates that had vanished since 1900.

Massive impact ahead

They see an ecological catastrophe in the making, and they urge governments and international agencies to act.

“What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species,” said study lead author Gerardo Ceballos, a senior researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Ecology.

“We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”

And his co-author Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University in California said: “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system.

“The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption, to which it is linked.”

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes”

Nearly a fourth of all species on the planet could face extinction. In the course of the 11,000 years since the invention of agriculture human numbers have multiplied from about one million to 7.7 billion, and are rising fast. In the last 450 million years there have been at least five major extinctions, each destroying 70% to 90% of all life on Earth.

Although creatures alive on Earth today account for only 2% of all the creatures that have ever lived, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before. “It is into such a biologically diverse world that we humans evolved, and such a world that we are destroying,” the authors write.

Extinction may be the greatest environmental problem, because it is irreversible. It is now happening at rates perhaps a thousand times faster than the “background rate” over the last tens of millions of years.

When a species disappears, it takes with it a unique set of biological riches, and – perhaps more dangerously – it creates a loss for other species that may in some way depend upon it. Extinction breeds extinction, the authors argue.

And as plants and animals vanish into oblivion, the biosphere’s capacity to recycle atmosphere, water and nutrients, to pollinate and fertilise, and to dispose of the dead and the waste, is diminished.

‘Ecological zombies’

Ecosystems that support and enrich all life also support and enrich humanity. At one stage 60 million bison maintained the prairie ecosystems of North America and in the course of doing so supported the then Native American population.

By 1884 only 325 individuals were left. The prairies are now largely farmland, and the 4000 surviving wild bison can be considered, the authors say, as “ecological zombies.”

Among other steps, they want to see a halt to the trade in wildlife – thought to be linked to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. All three have considerable reputations within science and they have all been making much the same argument for many years.

They calculate that in the last century 543 species of land vertebrate were extinguished. The same number could go in the next two decades. Human action created the problem: only human action can repair the damage.

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes,” said Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the third of the signatories. – Climate News Network

An extinction emergency unparalleled in the history of life on Earth could soon overtake millions of species – thanks to us.

LONDON, 8 June, 2020 – More than 500 terrestrial vertebrate species – birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles – are on the brink of a worldwide extinction emergency. These are animal species with surviving populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. They are to be found in tropical and subtropical regions and, significantly, they are concentrated in regions heavily affected by human activities.

Extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. But the number of simultaneously threatened species, and the link to direct human pressure, adds support for the argument that humanity is now witnessing the sixth, and possibly greatest, mass extinction in the history of life.

The same research has identified 388 vertebrate species with fewer than 5000 individuals in the surviving populations. Of these, more than four-fifths cling to survival in the same threatened regions, and may therefore also be heading for the brink of extinction.

Three distinguished scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they analysed the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species to identify 29,400 terrestrial vertebrates, 1.7% of which had fewer than 1,000 remaining individuals anywhere in the world.

There are many cases of local extinction: for a mix of reasons, birds or butterflies might disappear from places where they once were many, but continue to flourish in other zones. But too many local extinctions soon amount to global obliteration: the researchers identified 237,000 populations of vertebrates that had vanished since 1900.

Massive impact ahead

They see an ecological catastrophe in the making, and they urge governments and international agencies to act.

“What we do to deal with the current extinction crisis in the next two decades will define the fate of millions of species,” said study lead author Gerardo Ceballos, a senior researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Ecology.

“We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged.”

And his co-author Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University in California said: “When humanity exterminates populations and species of other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system.

“The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a national and global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to climate disruption, to which it is linked.”

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes”

Nearly a fourth of all species on the planet could face extinction. In the course of the 11,000 years since the invention of agriculture human numbers have multiplied from about one million to 7.7 billion, and are rising fast. In the last 450 million years there have been at least five major extinctions, each destroying 70% to 90% of all life on Earth.

Although creatures alive on Earth today account for only 2% of all the creatures that have ever lived, the absolute number of species is greater now than ever before. “It is into such a biologically diverse world that we humans evolved, and such a world that we are destroying,” the authors write.

Extinction may be the greatest environmental problem, because it is irreversible. It is now happening at rates perhaps a thousand times faster than the “background rate” over the last tens of millions of years.

When a species disappears, it takes with it a unique set of biological riches, and – perhaps more dangerously – it creates a loss for other species that may in some way depend upon it. Extinction breeds extinction, the authors argue.

And as plants and animals vanish into oblivion, the biosphere’s capacity to recycle atmosphere, water and nutrients, to pollinate and fertilise, and to dispose of the dead and the waste, is diminished.

‘Ecological zombies’

Ecosystems that support and enrich all life also support and enrich humanity. At one stage 60 million bison maintained the prairie ecosystems of North America and in the course of doing so supported the then Native American population.

By 1884 only 325 individuals were left. The prairies are now largely farmland, and the 4000 surviving wild bison can be considered, the authors say, as “ecological zombies.”

Among other steps, they want to see a halt to the trade in wildlife – thought to be linked to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. All three have considerable reputations within science and they have all been making much the same argument for many years.

They calculate that in the last century 543 species of land vertebrate were extinguished. The same number could go in the next two decades. Human action created the problem: only human action can repair the damage.

“It’s up to us to decide what kind of a world we want to leave to coming generations – a sustainable one, or a desolate one in which the civilisation we have built disintegrates rather than builds on past successes,” said Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the third of the signatories. – Climate News Network

Pandemic and climate extremes hit India together

A fearsome cyclone, other climate extremes, Covid-19 and now locust swarms – Indians may think life could hardly get worse.

DELHI, 2 June, 2020 – India is no stranger to coping with climate extremes and natural emergencies, but this year is likely to lodge in the national memory as one of the most challenging in recent history.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a global scourge, but India also has many regional and national afflictions to make 2020 a year to forget – a massive heatwave, its strongest recorded cyclone, thunderstorms bringing huge hailstones, and floods. Now it is being assailed by all-devouring locust swarms, the worst in 25 years, leaving the land scarred.

Government figures showed more than 5,000 Covid-19 deaths by the end of May. The pandemic is causing a humanitarian crisis as well, with a huge reverse migration of penniless unskilled labourers who have lost their jobs in the cities and are now returning to their rural homes.

Five states – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra – have been invaded by the locusts. The swarms normally arrive to breed in June or July but this year the first flew in in mid-April, helped to spread by a strong west wind. Climate scientists say warmer waters in the western Indian Ocean also worsened the problem.

The only saving grace is that there are not many standing crops in many of the affected districts, as the monsoon sowing is yet to begin. “It is only the vegetables, orchards and trees that are the victims of this attack,” an official said.

“This is an emergency situation. These desert locusts will not only leave a severe impact on India’s food production but also deal a double whammy to the farmers, who are already reeling from the economic lockdown”

As the locust threat developed, a range of devastating climate events hit the country in May, starting with heavy rain and hail which killed 29 people in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Next came Cyclone Amphan, bringing sustained windspeeds of 270 kms per hour.

It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal. When it hit the coast on 20 May more than 80 people died. West Bengal, on the eastern coast bordering Bangladesh, suffered a trail of destruction. The winds even damaged the tiger stronghold of the Sundarbans, the islands  whose mangrove forests in the delta of three major rivers normally give Bengal some protection from the storms.

Amphan’s rampage caused the evacuation of 300,000 people to shelter. Many acres of agricultural land near the coast were flooded by salty water and are now unusable. The government estimated the initial losses caused by the cyclone at one trillion rupees (US$13.2 billion).

Amphan’s storm surge was among its most dangerous threats. Global sea levels have already increased by about 23 cm as a result of human carbon emissions – dramatically increasing the distance that the surges can reach. Sea levels in the North Indian Ocean have risen more quickly than in many oceans elsewhere in recent years.

Assam struck

Amphan’s tail also left its mark on the northeastern state of Assam, which experienced heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas, and then several days later a massive thunderstorm. On 27 May, as the Brahmaputra and its tributaries rose above danger point at several places, over 300 villages experienced heavy flooding.

Nor was that all. The same week maximum temperatures reached 40-45C° in much of northern and central India. While Delhi sizzled at 45-46°, Churu in Rajasthan touched 50°C. Fortunately, there have been no deaths reported this year of farm workers and street vendors, as many people remain locked in their homes because of the virus.

As India braces for the annual monsoon, the government is claiming that it has contained much of the locust threat. But Devinder Sharma, an agriculture and trade policy expert, said: “The government’s preparedness has been too slow to keep pace with this rapid increase in locust swarms.

“This is an emergency situation and requires emergency measures. These desert locusts will not only leave a severe impact on India’s food production but also deal a double whammy to the farmers, who are already reeling from the economic lockdown caused by Covid-19.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. She can be reached at nivedita_him@rediffmail.com or @nivedita_Him

A fearsome cyclone, other climate extremes, Covid-19 and now locust swarms – Indians may think life could hardly get worse.

DELHI, 2 June, 2020 – India is no stranger to coping with climate extremes and natural emergencies, but this year is likely to lodge in the national memory as one of the most challenging in recent history.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a global scourge, but India also has many regional and national afflictions to make 2020 a year to forget – a massive heatwave, its strongest recorded cyclone, thunderstorms bringing huge hailstones, and floods. Now it is being assailed by all-devouring locust swarms, the worst in 25 years, leaving the land scarred.

Government figures showed more than 5,000 Covid-19 deaths by the end of May. The pandemic is causing a humanitarian crisis as well, with a huge reverse migration of penniless unskilled labourers who have lost their jobs in the cities and are now returning to their rural homes.

Five states – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra – have been invaded by the locusts. The swarms normally arrive to breed in June or July but this year the first flew in in mid-April, helped to spread by a strong west wind. Climate scientists say warmer waters in the western Indian Ocean also worsened the problem.

The only saving grace is that there are not many standing crops in many of the affected districts, as the monsoon sowing is yet to begin. “It is only the vegetables, orchards and trees that are the victims of this attack,” an official said.

“This is an emergency situation. These desert locusts will not only leave a severe impact on India’s food production but also deal a double whammy to the farmers, who are already reeling from the economic lockdown”

As the locust threat developed, a range of devastating climate events hit the country in May, starting with heavy rain and hail which killed 29 people in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Next came Cyclone Amphan, bringing sustained windspeeds of 270 kms per hour.

It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal. When it hit the coast on 20 May more than 80 people died. West Bengal, on the eastern coast bordering Bangladesh, suffered a trail of destruction. The winds even damaged the tiger stronghold of the Sundarbans, the islands  whose mangrove forests in the delta of three major rivers normally give Bengal some protection from the storms.

Amphan’s rampage caused the evacuation of 300,000 people to shelter. Many acres of agricultural land near the coast were flooded by salty water and are now unusable. The government estimated the initial losses caused by the cyclone at one trillion rupees (US$13.2 billion).

Amphan’s storm surge was among its most dangerous threats. Global sea levels have already increased by about 23 cm as a result of human carbon emissions – dramatically increasing the distance that the surges can reach. Sea levels in the North Indian Ocean have risen more quickly than in many oceans elsewhere in recent years.

Assam struck

Amphan’s tail also left its mark on the northeastern state of Assam, which experienced heavy rainfall and flooding in low-lying areas, and then several days later a massive thunderstorm. On 27 May, as the Brahmaputra and its tributaries rose above danger point at several places, over 300 villages experienced heavy flooding.

Nor was that all. The same week maximum temperatures reached 40-45C° in much of northern and central India. While Delhi sizzled at 45-46°, Churu in Rajasthan touched 50°C. Fortunately, there have been no deaths reported this year of farm workers and street vendors, as many people remain locked in their homes because of the virus.

As India braces for the annual monsoon, the government is claiming that it has contained much of the locust threat. But Devinder Sharma, an agriculture and trade policy expert, said: “The government’s preparedness has been too slow to keep pace with this rapid increase in locust swarms.

“This is an emergency situation and requires emergency measures. These desert locusts will not only leave a severe impact on India’s food production but also deal a double whammy to the farmers, who are already reeling from the economic lockdown caused by Covid-19.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. She can be reached at nivedita_him@rediffmail.com or @nivedita_Him

Natural forests are best at storing carbon

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

Plastic waste now litters Antarctic shore

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

From the deep Mediterranean marine mud to the desolate beaches of the Southern Ocean, plastic waste now gets everywhere.

LONDON, 12 May, 2020 – The throwaway society now has a global reach. British and German scientists have found astonishing concentrations of plastic waste in the form of tiny fibres on the sea floor. In just one square metre of marine ooze, they have counted as many as 1.9 million fragments less than a millimetre in length.

And two studies have identified sickening levels of plastic waste in the Southern Ocean that washes around Antarctica. One team reports ever greater counts of debris on the beaches of islands in South Georgia and South Orkney; the other on the increasing quantities ingested by the wandering albatross and the giant petrel, two iconic birds of the south polar seas.

An estimated 10 million tonnes of discarded food wrapping, drinking straws, disposable cups, bottles, carrier bags and fishing gear are tipped into the sea each year: plastic waste has now been found in all the world’s oceans, and even in the polar ice, an indestructible reminder of human impact on the natural world.

Tiny textile particles or microfibres of plastic have been found in every sampled litre of sea water, in the stomachs of seabirds and in the bellies of whales.

In fact the visible debris – the polystyrene cups and drinking straws and carrier bags floating on or near the surface – is thought to account for a tiny proportion of the total. Around 99% is thought to be in the deep oceans.

“Microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas”

And researchers now report in the journal Science that they have found an indicator as to the final fate of most of it. They collected sediment at depths of up to 900 metres from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the Italian peninsula and began counting the particles of indestructible polymer material in the marine mud, carried there by deep ocean currents.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found on the sea floor,” said Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, in the UK, one of the authors.

“We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents that concentrate them in certain areas.”

These same deep currents also carry oxygen-rich water and nutrients, which suggests that toxic microplastics are being carried into vital deep ecosystems. But the surface-borne debris has far-reaching consequences too.

Remedial efforts

British and Australian scientists who made surveys over three decades of beached plastic, metal, glass, paper and rubber at locations in the Southern Ocean report in the journal Environment International that between 1989 and March 2019, they recovered 10,112 items of waste weighing in total more than 100kg from Bird Island off South Georgia, and 1,304 items weighing in all 268 kg from the remote shores of Signy Island in the South Orkney archipelago.

Almost 90% of the total was plastic. The peak of the debris count was in the 1990s, which suggests that some attempts have been made to reduce the levels discarded from shipping and other sources.

And a second study in the same journal reports that in the same 30 years, levels of plastic pollution had been consumed in increasing quantities by two out of three species of albatross, and another sea bird.

Annual intake in Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, had increased 14-fold, and in the giant petrel Macronectes giganteus the intake had increased six-fold.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that fishing and other vessels make a major contribution to plastic pollution,” said Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey. “It’s clear that marine plastics are a threat to seabirds and other wildlife, and more needs to be done.” – Climate News Network

Tigers retreat before spreading road networks

The global push to save an iconic species from extinction struggles, as tigers retreat before the relentless growth of roads.

LONDON, 4 May, 2020 − Humans have made inroads into the last territory of the tiger – literally: the inexorable increase in roads is driving the tigers’ retreat.

A new study of the wilderness set aside for the rapidly-dwindling populations of Panthera tigris in 13 countries warns that more than half of all this supposedly untouched reserve is within 5kms of a road.

Altogether, tiger conservation landscapes considered crucial for the recovery of an endangered species are now home to 134,000 kilometres of road. This intrusion alone may have reduced the abundance of both the carnivore and its natural prey by about one fifth.

And by 2050 researchers expect that another 24,000kms of road will have been built through the 1.16 million square kilometres of wilderness officially conserved in Russia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan. Many of these will have been built under China’s so-called “belt-and-road initiative” in the developing world.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, overall, tigers face a ubiquitous and mounting threat from road networks across much of their 13-country range,” said Neil Carter, of the University of Michigan in the US, who led the research.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and average species abundance in all 76 blocks of land set aside for tiger conservation, to confirm conservationists’ worst fears.

Encroaching roads discourage the herbivores that tigers might prey upon; they degrade the habitat for all wildlife in the region; and they provide easier access for poachers, for whom a tiger carcass is a valuable commodity. In the Russian Far East, collisions with road vehicles were enough to reduce tiger survival rates.

The road seems the first enemy of conservation. Researchers have recently established that even the presence of human intrusion – the border of a ranch, a commercial clearing, a palm oil plantation or just a simple road – is enough to weaken and in some way damage the integrity of the 500 metres of wilderness next to the clearing.

The global record for the protection of those areas set aside for the conservation of endemic species is not good: another study found that, worldwide, since 1993, more than 280,000 sq kms of natural reserve had been subjected to “intense human pressure.”

And a third study fingered the road itself as the problem, and a growing problem: roads already fragment the world’s landscapes, and by 2050 governments will have added another 25 million kilometres of asphalt, traffic and settlement, most of it in the developing world.

Numbers still dropping

Thanks to human population growth and climate change, the planet is poised for the extinction of wild creatures and plants on a massive scale. So the tiger study reflects a wider pattern.

The difference is that for more than 50 years conservationists and governments have encouraged international efforts to conserve one of the most iconic and at the same time one of the most endangered of all the big cats, but the numbers are still falling, as roads turn what had been undisturbed habitat into an archipelago of little “tiger islands” in which populations are isolated from each other.

The scientists found that those areas most strictly protected in the tiger conservation were less densely interrupted by roads: however, these densities varied widely across countries. China’s average road density in tiger conservation landscapes was almost eight times greater than, for example, Malaysia’s.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late,” Dr Carter said.

“Given that roads will be a pervasive challenge to tiger recovery in the future, we urge decision-makers to make sustainable road development a top priority.” − Climate News Network

The global push to save an iconic species from extinction struggles, as tigers retreat before the relentless growth of roads.

LONDON, 4 May, 2020 − Humans have made inroads into the last territory of the tiger – literally: the inexorable increase in roads is driving the tigers’ retreat.

A new study of the wilderness set aside for the rapidly-dwindling populations of Panthera tigris in 13 countries warns that more than half of all this supposedly untouched reserve is within 5kms of a road.

Altogether, tiger conservation landscapes considered crucial for the recovery of an endangered species are now home to 134,000 kilometres of road. This intrusion alone may have reduced the abundance of both the carnivore and its natural prey by about one fifth.

And by 2050 researchers expect that another 24,000kms of road will have been built through the 1.16 million square kilometres of wilderness officially conserved in Russia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan. Many of these will have been built under China’s so-called “belt-and-road initiative” in the developing world.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, overall, tigers face a ubiquitous and mounting threat from road networks across much of their 13-country range,” said Neil Carter, of the University of Michigan in the US, who led the research.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and average species abundance in all 76 blocks of land set aside for tiger conservation, to confirm conservationists’ worst fears.

Encroaching roads discourage the herbivores that tigers might prey upon; they degrade the habitat for all wildlife in the region; and they provide easier access for poachers, for whom a tiger carcass is a valuable commodity. In the Russian Far East, collisions with road vehicles were enough to reduce tiger survival rates.

The road seems the first enemy of conservation. Researchers have recently established that even the presence of human intrusion – the border of a ranch, a commercial clearing, a palm oil plantation or just a simple road – is enough to weaken and in some way damage the integrity of the 500 metres of wilderness next to the clearing.

The global record for the protection of those areas set aside for the conservation of endemic species is not good: another study found that, worldwide, since 1993, more than 280,000 sq kms of natural reserve had been subjected to “intense human pressure.”

And a third study fingered the road itself as the problem, and a growing problem: roads already fragment the world’s landscapes, and by 2050 governments will have added another 25 million kilometres of asphalt, traffic and settlement, most of it in the developing world.

Numbers still dropping

Thanks to human population growth and climate change, the planet is poised for the extinction of wild creatures and plants on a massive scale. So the tiger study reflects a wider pattern.

The difference is that for more than 50 years conservationists and governments have encouraged international efforts to conserve one of the most iconic and at the same time one of the most endangered of all the big cats, but the numbers are still falling, as roads turn what had been undisturbed habitat into an archipelago of little “tiger islands” in which populations are isolated from each other.

The scientists found that those areas most strictly protected in the tiger conservation were less densely interrupted by roads: however, these densities varied widely across countries. China’s average road density in tiger conservation landscapes was almost eight times greater than, for example, Malaysia’s.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late,” Dr Carter said.

“Given that roads will be a pervasive challenge to tiger recovery in the future, we urge decision-makers to make sustainable road development a top priority.” − Climate News Network

Threats to the insect world are growing

The insect world is dwindling. By 2100, half of all insects could be gone. But there could be gainers too.

LONDON, 30 April, 2020 − The butterflies are quietly flying away, the beetles are buzzing off, and the insect world is shrinking. The Earth’s  land-based insects are in steady decline, their numbers falling by around a quarter every three decades.

And although there could be a whole world of reasons for the global loss of a vital class of animals, European scientists have pinpointed at least one, in one location.

Insect food plants are being lost in the Swiss canton of Zurich, and with them, many of the hoverflies, bumblebees, bees and butterflies that depend on them.

Scientists from Germany and Russia report in the journal Science that they examined the bigger story told by data from 166 surveys of insects and arachnids – that is, not just flies but spiders too – across 1,676 sites worldwide, over periods from 1925 to 2018, and many of them of around 20 years.

Largely missed

They found that those insects that based their lives on land rather than water were slipping away at an average of 0.92% per year. “0.92% might not sound like much, but in fact it means 24% fewer insects in 30 years’ time and 50% fewer over 75 years,” said Roel van Klink of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and based at the University of Leipzig.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next. It’s like going back to the place where you grew up. It’s only because you haven’t been there for years that you suddenly realise how much has changed, and all too often not for the better.”

He is not the first to draw attention to insect loss: other groups have warned of dramatic instances of decline and imminent extinction, along with the changes in insect populations and the disappearance of the habitat on which so many species depend.

But the researchers found the decline wasn’t uniform. Those insects – midges and mayflies, for example – that are essentially aquatic were actually increasing in number, on average by more than 1% a year. Flying insects overall however are in decline, and ground-dwellers and grassland insects too are slowly losing the battle for survival, while the numbers of insects in the woodland treetops remain about the same.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next”

Insect declines in Europe and the US West and Midwest were marked, but those insects that live for part of their lives in water in northern Europe and the western US showed a 38% increase over 30 years: this may reflect national and international attempts to limit pollution of the waterways. In both decline and revival, the scientists at work see the impact of human handling of natural habitat.

“Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed under water,” Dr van Klink said. “They want to come up while we keep pushing them down. But we can reduce the pressure so they rise again.

“The freshwater insects have shown us this is possible. It’s just not always easy to identify the causes of declines, and thus the most effective measures to reverse them. And these may also differ between locations.”

But within a day of the publication of the Science analysis, German and Swiss scientists had identified the cause of decline in one closely-observed area. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that over the past century there had been an overall decline in wild food plants for all kinds of insects in the Zurich canton.

Urban spread

Wetlands had shrunk by around 90%, the cities and towns had expanded, intensive farming had meant the loss of meadows and farmland habitats.
With help from 250 volunteers, researchers had made detailed studies of the 1,719 seed plant species in 1km plots of land at 3km intervals across the whole canton, between 2012 and 2017.

They then identified 966 of those plants visited by daytime pollinators, and compared their findings with highly-detailed data assembled about the vegetation of the canton before 1930.

Some specialised groups of insects evolved in partnership with equally specialised insects. The scientists found that, for instance, greater knapweed or Centaurea scabiosa was in decline, which was bad news for those bumblebees, bees and butterflies with tongues long enough to reach the nectar. The poisonous plant aconite, or Aconitum napellus, is pollinated by a bumblebee impervious to its toxin. Once again, the loss of floral variety and insect life even in one much-occupied place may not have been obvious.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what vegetation looked like 100 years ago,” said Michael Kessler, a botanist at the University of Zurich. “But our data showed that about half of all species have experienced significant decline in their abundance, while only about 10% of the species have increased.” − Climate News Network

The insect world is dwindling. By 2100, half of all insects could be gone. But there could be gainers too.

LONDON, 30 April, 2020 − The butterflies are quietly flying away, the beetles are buzzing off, and the insect world is shrinking. The Earth’s  land-based insects are in steady decline, their numbers falling by around a quarter every three decades.

And although there could be a whole world of reasons for the global loss of a vital class of animals, European scientists have pinpointed at least one, in one location.

Insect food plants are being lost in the Swiss canton of Zurich, and with them, many of the hoverflies, bumblebees, bees and butterflies that depend on them.

Scientists from Germany and Russia report in the journal Science that they examined the bigger story told by data from 166 surveys of insects and arachnids – that is, not just flies but spiders too – across 1,676 sites worldwide, over periods from 1925 to 2018, and many of them of around 20 years.

Largely missed

They found that those insects that based their lives on land rather than water were slipping away at an average of 0.92% per year. “0.92% might not sound like much, but in fact it means 24% fewer insects in 30 years’ time and 50% fewer over 75 years,” said Roel van Klink of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and based at the University of Leipzig.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next. It’s like going back to the place where you grew up. It’s only because you haven’t been there for years that you suddenly realise how much has changed, and all too often not for the better.”

He is not the first to draw attention to insect loss: other groups have warned of dramatic instances of decline and imminent extinction, along with the changes in insect populations and the disappearance of the habitat on which so many species depend.

But the researchers found the decline wasn’t uniform. Those insects – midges and mayflies, for example – that are essentially aquatic were actually increasing in number, on average by more than 1% a year. Flying insects overall however are in decline, and ground-dwellers and grassland insects too are slowly losing the battle for survival, while the numbers of insects in the woodland treetops remain about the same.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take much notice from one year to the next”

Insect declines in Europe and the US West and Midwest were marked, but those insects that live for part of their lives in water in northern Europe and the western US showed a 38% increase over 30 years: this may reflect national and international attempts to limit pollution of the waterways. In both decline and revival, the scientists at work see the impact of human handling of natural habitat.

“Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed under water,” Dr van Klink said. “They want to come up while we keep pushing them down. But we can reduce the pressure so they rise again.

“The freshwater insects have shown us this is possible. It’s just not always easy to identify the causes of declines, and thus the most effective measures to reverse them. And these may also differ between locations.”

But within a day of the publication of the Science analysis, German and Swiss scientists had identified the cause of decline in one closely-observed area. They report in the journal Ecological Applications that over the past century there had been an overall decline in wild food plants for all kinds of insects in the Zurich canton.

Urban spread

Wetlands had shrunk by around 90%, the cities and towns had expanded, intensive farming had meant the loss of meadows and farmland habitats.
With help from 250 volunteers, researchers had made detailed studies of the 1,719 seed plant species in 1km plots of land at 3km intervals across the whole canton, between 2012 and 2017.

They then identified 966 of those plants visited by daytime pollinators, and compared their findings with highly-detailed data assembled about the vegetation of the canton before 1930.

Some specialised groups of insects evolved in partnership with equally specialised insects. The scientists found that, for instance, greater knapweed or Centaurea scabiosa was in decline, which was bad news for those bumblebees, bees and butterflies with tongues long enough to reach the nectar. The poisonous plant aconite, or Aconitum napellus, is pollinated by a bumblebee impervious to its toxin. Once again, the loss of floral variety and insect life even in one much-occupied place may not have been obvious.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what vegetation looked like 100 years ago,” said Michael Kessler, a botanist at the University of Zurich. “But our data showed that about half of all species have experienced significant decline in their abundance, while only about 10% of the species have increased.” − Climate News Network