. Scientific Frontline: Conservation
Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservation. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Older trees help to protect an endangered species

The longest-lived trees in the Pyrenees facilitate the survival of wolf lichen, a species threatened throughout Europe.
Photo Credit: Ot Pasques

The oldest trees in the forest help to prevent the disappearance of endangered species in the natural environment, according to a study led by the University of Barcelona. This is the case of the wolf lichen — threatened throughout Europe —, which now finds refuge in the oldest trees in the high mountains of the Pyrenees. This study reveals for the first time the decisive role of the oldest trees in the conservation of other living beings thanks to their characteristic and unique physiology.

Conserving the oldest trees in forests will be essential to protect biodiversity in forest ecosystems, which are increasingly affected by the impact of global change. This is stated on a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is signed by the experts Sergi Munné-Bosch and Ot Pasques, from the Faculty of Biology and the UB Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio).

Monday, April 1, 2024

Canada lynx historic range in US likely wider than previously thought

The lynx might do well in the future in parts of Utah, central Idaho, and the Yellowstone National Park region.
Photo Credit: Zdeněk Macháček

A broader past could mean a brighter future for Canada lynx in the U.S., according to recent research.

The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, indicates that lynx might do well in the future in parts of Utah, central Idaho and the Yellowstone National Park region, even considering climate change and the lack of lynx in those areas now.

Using a model validated by historic records, researchers first found that in 1900, Canada lynx had more suitable habitat in the U.S. than the few northern corners of the country where they are found currently. The study showed the elusive big cat likely roamed over a larger area in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes region and parts of New England.

“History matters even for wildlife,” said lead author Dan Thornton, a Washington State University wildlife ecologist. “As part of the criteria for species recovery, we have to understand their historic distribution. Otherwise, how can we help recover a species, if we don’t know what we’re recovering to?”

Having a more accurate picture of a species’ past can also help avoid an effect known as “shifting baseline syndrome,” Thornton added, which is a gradual change in what people accept as normal for the environment, or specifically in this case, a species’ habitat.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Rice biologists uncover new species of tiger beetle: Eunota houstoniana

Eunota houstoniana, with male on left and female on right.
Photo Credit: Rice University

Rice University evolutionary biologist Scott Egan and his research team have unearthed a new species of tiger beetle, deemed Eunota houstoniana, honoring the Houston region where it predominantly resides.

The team employed cutting-edge genetic sequencing technology alongside traditional measurements of their physical appearance and geographic range data to redefine species boundaries within the Eunota circumpicta species complex. This approach, known as integrative taxonomy, allowed them to identify distinct biological entities previously overlooked.

The study is published online in Nature Scientific Reports.

“It is amazing that within the city limits of Houston, we still don’t know all the species of insects or plants we share our region with,” Egan said. “I’m always interested in learning more about the biodiversity of the Gulf Coast.”

The Eunota houstoniana was once considered synonymous with the more common Eunota circumpicta, but the team’s research revealed significant differences, emphasizing the need for a refined process to species delineation.

Eunota houstoniana exhibits distinct genetic and physical characteristics. It is slightly smaller in size, its metallic coloring is more subdued, and it has unique behavior and habitat preferences.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

New rapid method to predict effects of conservation actions on complex ecosystems

From left: Dr Matthew Adams, Sarah Vollert, Professor Drovandi
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Queensland University of Technology

A new way to analyze the effects of conservation actions on complex ecosystems has cut the modelling time from 108 days to six hours, QUT statisticians have found:

  • Some conservation efforts backfire, eg eradicating feral cats could lead to rabbit explosion
  • Modeling predicts the cascading effects through species in a complex ecosystem, but is computationally slow
  • New method cuts prediction time from 3.5 months to six hours

PhD researcher Sarah Vollert, from the School of Mathematical Sciences and the QUT Centre for Data Sciences, said it was impossible to predict exactly how conservation actions would affect each species.

“Though well-intentioned, conservation actions have the potential to backfire,” Ms. Vollert said.

“For example, if decision-makers decide to eradicate feral cats, it could lead to explosive populations of their prey species, like rabbits.

“Uncontrolled rabbit populations could then have devastating effects on the vegetation, destroying the habitat native species need to survive.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Honey bees at risk for colony collapse from longer, warmer fall seasons

WSU researchers and students collect samples and perform honey bee colony health assessments in orchards near Modesto, CA.
Photo Credit: Brandon Hopkins

The famous work ethic of honey bees might spell disaster for these busy crop pollinators as the climate warms, new research indicates.

Flying shortens the lives of bees, and worker honey bees will fly to find flowers whenever the weather is right, regardless of how much honey is already in the hive. Using climate and bee population models, researchers found that increasingly long autumns with good flying weather for bees raises the likelihood of colony collapse in the spring.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, focused on the Pacific Northwest but holds implications for hives across the U.S. The researchers also modeled a promising mitigation: putting colonies into indoor cold storage, so honey bees will cluster in their hive before too many workers wear out.

“This is a case where a small amount of warming, even in the near future, will make a big impact on honey bees,” said lead author Kirti Rajagopalan, a Washington State University climate researcher. “It’s not like this is something that can be expected 80 years from now. It is a more immediate impact that needs to be planned for.”

Friday, March 22, 2024

Bees need food up to a month earlier than provided by recommended pollinator plants

Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).
Photo Credit Matthias Becher

New research from the Universities of Oxford and Exeter has revealed that plant species recommended as “pollinator friendly” * in Europe begin flowering up to a month too late in the spring to effectively contribute to bee conservation.

This “hungry gap” results in low colony survival and low production of queens for the following year.

The results showed that pollen and nectar availability during the early colony founding stage is a critical, and previously under-appreciated, factor in bee colony success. **

The study has been published in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity

Senior author Dr Tonya Lander (Department of Biology, University of Oxford) said: “The results give us a simple and practical recommendation to help bees: to enhance hedgerows with early blooming species, especially ground ivy, red dead-nettle, maple, cherry, hawthorn, and willow, which improved colony success rate from 35% to 100%. This approach focuses on existing hedgerows in agricultural land and doesn’t reduce farm cropping area, so can appeal to land managers whilst also providing important conservation outcomes for pollinators.” 

These were assessed using the BEE-STEWARD model, which integrates data and runs simulations to predict how changes in different factors may impact bee populations over time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Rainforest’s next generation of trees threatened 30 years after logging

Logged forests have reduced seedling density, reducing the probability for the next generation to emerge.
Photo Credit David Bartholomew

Rainforest seedlings are more likely to survive in natural forests than in places where logging has happened – even if tree restoration projects have taken place, new research shows.

Scientists monitored over 5,000 seedlings for a year and a half in North Borneo.

They studied a landscape containing both natural forest and areas logged 30 years ago – some of which were recovering naturally, while some had been restored by methods including tree planting.

A drought had triggered “mast fruiting” across the region, with trees simultaneously dropping fruit en masse and new seedlings emerging.

At first, both natural forest and restored forest had similarly high numbers of seedlings, compared to naturally recovering forest – suggesting restoration activities enhanced fruit production.

But these benefits did not last: low seedling survival in the restored forest meant that, by the end of the study, similarly low numbers of seedlings remained in restored and naturally recovering forest. Seedling populations remained higher in natural forests.

Together, these results show that regeneration may be challenged by different factors depending on the restoration approach – seed availability in naturally recovering sites and seedling survival in sites where planted trees have matured. These differences may have longer-term implications for how forests can deliver key ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration.

Researchers discover a coral superhighway in the Indian Ocean

A coral reef in the Seychelles.
Photo Credit: Christophe Mason-Parker

Despite being scattered across more than a million square kilometers, new research has revealed that remote coral reefs across the Seychelles are closely related. Using genetic analyses and oceanographic modelling, researchers at Oxford University demonstrated for the first time that a network of ocean currents scatter significant numbers of larvae between these distant islands, acting as a ‘coral superhighway.’ These results have been published today in Nature Scientific Reports.

"This study couldn’t come at a timelier moment. The world is once again watching, as El Niño devastates coral reefs throughout the Indian Ocean. Now we know which reefs will be crucial to coral recovery, but we can’t pause in our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stopping climate change."
Senior author of the study, Professor Lindsay Turnbull 
Department of Biology, University of Oxford

Dr April Burt (Department of Biology, University of Oxford, and Seychelles Islands Foundation), lead author of the study, said: ‘This discovery is very important because a key factor in coral reef recovery is larval supply. Although corals have declined alarmingly across the world due to climate change and a number of other factors, actions can be taken at local and national scale to improve reef health and resilience. These actions can be more effective when we better understand the connectivity between coral reefs by, for instance, prioritizing conservation efforts around coral reefs that act as major larval sources to support regional reef resilience.’

Monday, March 11, 2024

Halloween toy among plastics swallowed by sea turtles

A rubber witches' finger found inside a dead sea turtle.
Photo Credit: University-of-Exeter

A Halloween toy was among hundreds of plastic items found in the guts of dead sea turtles in the Mediterranean, a new study reveals.

Researchers examined 135 loggerhead turtles either washed up or killed as “bycatch” (accidentally caught) in fishing nets off northern Cyprus.

More than 40% of the turtles contained “macroplastics” (pieces larger than 5mm), including bottle tops and the Halloween toy – a rubber witch’s finger.

The research team, led by the University of Exeter and the North Cyprus Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT), say loggerheads are a potential “bioindicator” species that could help them understand the scale and impact of plastic pollution.

“The journey of that Halloween toy – from a child’s costume to the inside of a sea turtle – is a fascinating glimpse into the life cycle of plastic,” said Dr Emily Duncan, from Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“These turtles feed on gelatinous prey such as jellyfish and seabed prey such as crustaceans, and it’s easy to see how this item might have looked like a crab claw.”

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Loss of nature costs more than previously estimated

Photo Credit: Christian Heitz

Researchers propose that governments apply a new method for calculating the benefits that arise from conserving biodiversity and nature for future generations.

The method can be used by governments in cost-benefit analyses for public infrastructure projects, in which the loss of animal and plant species and ‘ecosystem services’ – such as filtering air or water, pollinating crops or the recreational value of a space – are converted into a current monetary value.

This process is designed to make biodiversity loss and the benefits of nature conservation more visible in political decision-making.

However, the international research team says current methods for calculating the values of ecosystem services “fall short” and have devised a new approach, which they believe could easily be deployed in Treasury analysis underpinning future Budget statements.

Their approach, published in the journal Science, takes into consideration the increase in monetary value of nature over time as human income increases, as well as the likely deterioration in biodiversity, making it more of a scarce resource.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Improving Wood Products Could Be a Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Corrugated cardboard boxes are one of the most important products made from loblolly pine
Photo Credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

Harnessing the ability of wood products to store carbon even after harvest could have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions and change commonly accepted forestry practices, a new study from NC State researchers suggests.

The new study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management uses carbon storage modeling to link the carbon stored in wood products with the specific forest system from which the products originated. Wood products and the forests they come from store different amounts of carbon, and being able to compare the two more specifically would help forest managers better understand these tradeoffs and plan for better carbon storage.

By tracing carbon in southern loblolly pine plantations from planting to harvest, the study also identified specific wood products that are important to improving carbon storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Chief among them were corrugated carboard boxes.

“Corrugated cardboard boxes are one of the most important products made from loblolly pine,” said Sarah Puls, NC State graduate assistant and corresponding author of the study. “If we can extend the effective lifetime of products like these boxes, it could have a significant impact on the carbon storage associated with southern loblolly pine plantations.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Aerial surveys reveal ample populations of rays in southeast Florida

The giant manta ray is designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and is protected in Florida waters.
Photo Credit: Steve Kajiura, Florida Atlantic University

The whitespotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari) and the giant manta ray (Mobula birostris) are rapidly declining globally. Both species are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered worldwide and the giant manta ray is designated as threatened under the United States Endangered Species Act.

In Florida waters, giant manta rays and whitespotted eagle rays are protected species. To provide effective management for these species, it is necessary to gather information on their distribution and abundance.

Using aerial surveys, Florida Atlantic University researchers conducted a unique long-term (2014 to 2021) study to quantify the spatial (latitude) and temporal (month, year) abundance of the whitespotted eagle rays and giant manta rays in Southeast Florida. The researchers conducted 120 survey flights between January 2014 and December 2021 along the Atlantic Coast from Miami north to the Jupiter Inlet. They reviewed the video footage from the flights to quantify the number of rays of each species.

Monday, February 26, 2024

New study uncovers the importance of deepwater ecosystems for endangered species

Hawksbills typically forage on coral reefs where their diet is predominantly sponges.
Photo Credit: Jeanne A Mortimer

Using tracking data, a new study has revealed for the first time that hawksbill turtles feed at reef sites much deeper than previously thought.

Critically endangered hawksbill turtles are found in every ocean and are the most tropical of sea turtles. Adult hawksbills have long been considered to have a close association with shallow (less than 15 meters depth) seas where coral reefs thrive.

Young hawksbills drift in currents during their open water phase of their development before they move to seabed habitats. Hawksbills are usually seen foraging in coral reefs where their diet is predominantly sponges.

To study their feeding habits in more detail, researchers at Swansea, Florida and Deakin universities used high-accuracy GPS satellite tags to track 22 adult female hawksbills from their nesting site on Diego Garcia in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean to their foraging grounds.

Scientists assemble a richer picture of the plight and resilience of the foothill yellow-legged frog

Foothill yellow-legged frogs live in the flowing water of rivers and streams, so are especially vulnerable when these shrink to isolated pools.
Photo Credit: Brome McCreary / USGS

Up to only a few inches in length, with a lemon-hued belly, the foothill yellow-legged frog may seem unassuming. But its range once stretched from central Oregon to Baja California. In 2023, it was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Its rapidly decreasing range is due in part to a fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, that has devastated amphibians around the world.

A team of researchers, including UC Santa Barbara’s Andrea Adams, has conducted the most comprehensive study to date of disease dynamics in foothill yellow-legged frogs. The team’s data — sourced from both wild frogs and specimens in museum collections — enabled them to track patterns of infection across a large geographic range. In a study published in Royal Society Open Science, the researchers reveal that drought, rising temperatures and the increasing conversion of land for agriculture appear to be the largest factors driving Bd infection in this species.

The researchers aimed to assemble as much data as they could, both in space and time. They surveyed in the creeks and rivers of California and Oregon, where they swabbed wild yellow-legged frogs for the presence of Bd. It also led them into fluorescent-lit museum collections to sample specimens from as far back as the 1890s.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Study provides rare glimpse of the ringtail, an important but poorly understood predator

Photo Credit: Jonathan Armstrong, Oregon State University

Secretive species can pose special conservation challenges simply because they are so skilled at staying under the radar that researchers have uncovered comparatively little about their basic needs.

One such species is the ringtail, a relative of the raccoon that has cultural significance to many Indigenous peoples in North America.

A collaboration among scientists from Oregon State University, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Penn State and Cal Poly Humboldt has shed new light on the cat-like animal known for its large eyes and fluffy, striped tail.

The nocturnal carnivore, known scientifically as Bassariscus astutus, usually weighs between 1 and 2 pounds and is around 24 inches long including its tail.

Ringtails use the cavities of living trees or standing dead ones, called snags, to rest, sleep, avoid bad weather, hide from predators and make dens to raise their young.

The research, conducted on the Hoopa Valley Reservation northeast of Eureka, California, found ringtails selected tree cavities in mature and older forests, as well as in younger forests with some older trees still present, rather than oak woodlands or other more open areas.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Spy-satellite images offer insights into historical ecosystem changes

A large forest clear-cut from the 1960s in the vicinity of a one-hectare forest research plot in the Southern Black Forest Region. Although much of the area is forested today, historical harvests have changed the forest structure and composition.
Left: Historical spy-satellite image. Right: Current Google Earth Image.
Image Credit: Courtesy of University of Freiburg

A large number of historical spy-satellite photographs from the Cold War Era were declassified decades ago. This valuable remote sensing data has been utilized by scientists across a wide range of disciplines from archaeology to civil engineering. However, its use in ecology and conservation remains limited. A new study led by Dr. Catalina Munteanu from the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Freiburg, Germany, aims to advance the application of declassified satellite data in the fields of ecology and conservation. Leveraging recent progress in image processing and analysis, these globally available black-and-white images can offer better insights into the historical changes of ecosystems, species populations or changes in human influences on the environment dating back to the 1960s, the researchers suggest.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Genetic analysis and archaeological insight combine to reveal the ancient origins of the fallow deer

Fallow deer
Photo Credit: Nick Fewings

Modern populations of fallow deer possess hidden cultural histories dating back to the Roman Empire which ought to be factored into decisions around their management and conservation.

New research, bringing together DNA analysis with archaeological insights, has revealed how fallow deer have been repeatedly moved to new territories by humans, often as a symbol of colonial power or because of ancient cultures and religions.

The results show that the animal was first introduced into Britain by the Romans and not the Normans, as previously believed. They also reveal how British colonial links during the 17th-19th centuries played a key role in spreading the deer around the world, including the Caribbean island of Barbuda, where it is the national animal.

The research, conducted jointly by the University of Exeter and Durham University, compares contemporary fallow deer records with zooarchaeological samples dating back 10,000 years.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the work has been published in two new studies, simultaneously. The 10,000-year biocultural history of fallow deer and its implications for conservation policy is featured in the latest edition of PNAS, while Ancient and modern DNA tracks temporal and spatial population dynamics in the European fallow deer since the Eemian interglacial is published in Scientific Reports.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

How technology and economics can help save endangered species

The gray wolf is among the animals protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Image Credit: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

A lot has changed in the world since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted 50 years ago in December 1973.

Two researchers at The Ohio State University were among a group of experts invited by the journal Science to discuss how the ESA has evolved and what its future might hold.

Tanya Berger-Wolf, faculty director of Ohio State’s Translational Data Analytics Institute, led a group that wrote on “Sustainable, trustworthy, human-technology partnership.”  Amy Ando, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, wrote on “Harnessing economics for effective implementation.”

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues wrote, “We are in the middle of a mass extinction without even knowing all that we are losing and how fast.” But technology can help address that.

For example, they note the value of tools like camera traps that survey animal species and smartphone apps that allow citizen scientists to count insects, identify bird songs and report plant observations.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Bats declined as Britain felled trees for colonial shipbuilding

A western barbastelle.
Photo Credit: Antton Alberdi

Bat numbers declined as Britain’s trees were felled for shipbuilding in the early colonial period, new research shows.

The study, by the University of Exeter and the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), found Britain’s Western barbastelle bat populations have dropped by 99% over several hundred years.

Animals’ DNA can be analyzed to discover a “signature” of the past, including periods when populations declined, leading to more inbreeding and less genetic diversity.

Scientists used this method to discover the historic decline of Western barbastelles in Britain – and also analyzed modern landscapes to see what helps and harms bats.

They found more genetic diversity among bats in areas rich in broadleaf woodland and diverse habitats.

Artificial light reduced connectivity between populations, probably because bats avoid areas with bright lighting, while rivers and woodlands increased connectivity.

“These bats usually roost in mature oak and beech trees, and move around every few nights – so they benefit from areas with substantial woodland cover,” said Dr Orly Razgour, from the University of Exeter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Allured by Night Light

Skyglow — how bright the night sky is because of artificial light — is a top predictor of where large numbers of migrating birds are going to stop and rest during their migrations across the U.S.
Image Credit: Jeffrey C. Chase

Billions of migrating birds take flight across North America each fall and spring, heading south to their wintering grounds or north to their breeding grounds. 

Most of these birds are songbirds and they’re on the move at night. At times during their long migration, they need to stop, rest and refuel before they take off again. But instead of landing in their typical habitats such as forests or wetlands, artificial light is drawing them within and around cities. 

That’s a problem, said Jeff Buler, a University of Delaware professor of wildlife ecology, because light pollution can be an “ecological trap” for birds. 

“It lures them into cities where they’re at greater risk of colliding with buildings or mortality from other sources like feral cats,” Buler said. 

New research published in the journal Nature Communications finds that skyglow — how bright the night sky is because of artificial light — is a top predictor of where large numbers of migrating birds are going to stop and rest during their migrations across the U.S.

The study, which uses bird stopover data from 2016 to 2020, is a collaboration between UD’s Buler and researchers at Colorado State University, the National Park Service, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Princeton University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Michigan State University. The research was supported with funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

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