Wildlife

Wildfires disrupt moth-flower relationships, increasing risk of extinctions

New research in Portugal suggests wildfires disrupt unique relationships between flowers and the specialized moths that pollinate them.

In the wake of wildfire, wildflowers take advantage of an ecosystem cleared of larger plant species. Post-fire wildflower blooms prove a boon to daytime pollinators like bees and butterflies, but new research showed moths, which visit flowers at night, aren’t so lucky.

When scientists surveyed moths from sites across Portugal, they found the insects carry a surprising amount of pollen. In the spring, 95 percent of the moths captured and analyzed were carrying pollen. Scientists also found the pollen of 80 percent of the native flower species being carried by surveyed moths.

However, pollen levels measured on moths caught in areas recently scorched by wildfire were five times lower than moths found in fire-free areas.

Wildfires disrupt moth flower relationships increasing risk of extinctions

Wildlife

Arctic Voyager

An Arctic fox was tracked by Norwegian researchers as it wandered on foot for 2,737 miles from northern Norway to northern Greenland, then finally into Canada’s far north. They say it is one of the longest treks ever recorded for an Arctic fox.

A tracking device put on the animal in July 2017 allowed a team from the Norwegian Polar Institute to follow the now 2-year-old female as it moved across vast stretches of sea ice and glaciers.

The animal traveled an average of about 29 miles each day for 76 days. But at times, she walked nearly 100 miles in a single day.

No other of the species tracked by the institute wandered beyond Norway.

Cat Killers

When cats roam free, small wild animals die. And the body count in Australia exceeds 2 billion native animals per year.

Environmental researchers in Australia compiled the alarming figure by combing through hundreds of studies on the predatory habits of Australia’s free-ranging pet cats as well as feral felines.

In just one day, Australia’s millions of cats kill approximately 1.3 million birds, 1.8 million reptiles and over 3.1 million mammals.

Cats were introduced to Australia in the 18th century by European colonizers, and a report in 2017 found that feral cats could be found in 99.8% of the continent, including on 80% of Australia’s islands.

Current estimates of the number of feral cats in Australia range from about 2 million to more than 6 million during years with a lot of rainfall, when prey is abundant. And every feral cat kills about 740 native animals annually

Wildlife

Caribbean Reefs Damaged By Mysterious Disease

There’s a mysterious disease currently ravaging the reefs of the Caribbeans, leaving only white skeletons of corals behind.

This was recently discovered by divers, all of whom were busy monitoring reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands back in January. As they were collecting data, they started noticing some white lesions breaking up the colorful tissues of corals. This continued for quite some time, with some suffering for up to four weeks, while some died by the very next day, marked by their white stony skeletons. More than half of the reef has already suffered.

For now, scientists are suspecting that the mysterious disease could be stony coral tissue loss disease, sometimes referred to as SCTLD, or “skittle-D.” The disease is supposedly responsible for one of the worst coral disease outbreak the world has ever experienced, and was first seen in Florida back in 2014.

062819 CM coral disease feat

Wildlife

Sharks and Rays get Entangled in Plastic Waste.

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Scientists counted more than 1,000 documented instances of sharks and rays becoming tangled in our plastic debris in a recent study published yesterday (July 4) in the journal Endangered Species Reports. The actual number is probably much higher.

Sharks and rays are at higher risk of extinction than most other animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with only 23% of species classified as “least concern.”.

In 2016, while conducting research in Winyah Bay, South Carolina, researchers pulled on board a sandbar shark that had become badly entangled in plastic packaging twine. The plastic had sliced a ring all the way around the shark’s body, horrifying the researchers.

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The USA to Dump Rat Poison on Farallon Islands

For most humans, life on these jagged islands off the coast of San Francisco would be a nightmare: Waves lash the shore with treacherous force, the stench of guano fills the air, and the screech of seagulls is so loud that resident scientists wear earplugs to bed.

But wildlife thrive on “the Devil’s Teeth” — the name given to the Farallon Islands by sailors over a century ago.

The islands boast one of the world’s largest breeding colonies for seabirds, including the rare ashy storm-petrel, and their beaches are covered with lolling sea lions and seals. The waters surrounding the islands teem with 18 species of whales and dolphins.

The islands also host tens of thousands of house mice — an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the native ecosystem, according to biologists.

The explosive growth in mice has attracted burrowing owls, who not only eat the mice but also prey upon the storm-petrels, a rare bird with a declining population.

The federal government contends that the only way to get rid of the mice is to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison pellets from a helicopter onto the islands. But Bay Area conservationists are worried that the poison, an increasingly controversial rodenticide called brodifacoum, will kill other species and make its way up the food chain.

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Wildlife

Iguanas Take Over Florida, USA

Iguanas thrive in warmer weather. And now Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has issued a notice encouraging homeowners to “kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible.”

A proliferation of iguanas comes with a host of problems biologists say, including erosion, degradation of infrastructure (such as canal banks, sea walls, building foundations), and harm to landscaping and indigenous plants.

According to scientists, climate change is helping iguanas spread further north and more quickly. Between 2000 and 2018, for example, Grand Cayman island saw its iguana population expand from almost none to an estimated 1.6 million. Now, Florida is trying to take control before things in the state become similarly explosive.

Wildlife

Massive Seaweed Bloom

For eight years, thick mats of seaweed have smothered coral reefs, trapped sea turtles and brought economic instability to coastal communities as reddish-brown gobs of foul-smelling sargassum wash onto beaches along the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and tropical Atlantic.

These phenomena are symptoms of a massive seaweed bloom scientists are calling the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt. Stretching up to 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico to just off the coast of western Africa, the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt appears to be the product of natural and human-caused factors.

The bloom began around 2009 when discharge from the Amazon River brought unusually high levels of nutrients into the Atlantic Ocean. Upwelling of nutrient-rich water off the west coast of Africa in the winter of 2010 further enriched surface waters with deep-sea nutrients; that upwelling also lowered temperatures of that surface water, allowing sargassum to thrive in the summer of 2011.

A similar combination of factors led to especially large blooms in 2014, 2015 and 2017. The largest recorded bloom occurred in 2018, when the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt grew to a mass of more than 20 million metric tons. The high levels of nutrients from the Amazon River come from deforestation and fertilizer use in the Amazon basin.

Under normal circumstances, sargassum provides critical habitat for marine life. The seaweed oases attract fish, birds and sea turtles as well. Dolphins and sea turtles also benefit from the tiny patches of life floating in the open ocean, but thick mats of sargassum pose big problems for some wildlife and coastal communities. Sea turtles sometimes can’t swim through the dense mats to return to open water after laying their eggs.

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Wildlife

Cooked Mussels

Unseasonable heat along the Northern California coast during June thoroughly cooked mussels exposed above the water at low tide, leaving their shells gaping wide in 100-degree heat.

It was the largest die-off of mussels in at least 15 years at Bodega Head, where some say it was worse than during the 2004 heat wave.

The hottest weather north of San Francisco typically occurs later in the summer, when the low tides exposing the mussels happen in the cooler mornings or at night.

Wildlife

Wasp “Super Nests”

Yellow jacket wasps in Alabama may be in the midst of a colossal craze; they’re making humongous “super nests” that can house 15,000 worker wasps, according to an entomologist there. That’s three to four times the size of typical wasp nests, which are the size of a volleyball and house about 4,000 to 5,000 workers.

It’s likely because Alabama had a warmer than usual mild winter and there’s plenty of food for these hungry insects, which usually don’t survive the cold winter months.

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Wildlife

Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling

Japanese whaling ships prepared on Sunday to set to sea, with crews gathering on decks in a northern port a day ahead of Japan’s first commercial whaling hunt in more than 30 years.

Japan announced last year it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and would resume commercial whaling on July 1, sparking global condemnation and fears for the world’s whales.

Japan has long maintained that eating whale is an important part of its culture and that most species are not endangered.

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Wildlife

Octopus fishing halted after whale deaths in Cape

The South African government took decisive steps on Friday to temporarily stop the practice of octopus fishing after a spate of whale entanglements around the country’s ecologically sensitive coastline led to mounting public concern.

The recent whale entanglements have led to a public outcry. The City of Cape Town on Thursday joined the chorus of calls for a moratorium on octopus fishing. The City said time that three whales had become entangled in octopus fishing nets and two had died as a result of octopus fishing.

Wildlife

Domestic honeybee diseases threaten wild bumblebees

Bee populations around the world are in decline, among them many species of wild bumblebees.

New research by the University of Vermont in the US has found that diseases transmitted by domestic honeybees could be to blame for this.

Lead researcher Samantha Alger, an expert beekeeper and researcher in the university’s Department of Plant and Soil Science and Gund Institute for Environment, found that several of the viruses affecting bumblebees had spread from managed bees in apiaries to nearby populations of wild bumblebees.

Her research had shown that this was occurring due to different species of bees sharing flowers during pollination.

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) were at a high risk, due to numerous factors, including land degradation and the use of pesticides, she said.

Native bee populations such as the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) were being listed as severely threatened in terms of the Endangered Species Act in the US, as populations had declined by an estimated 90%.

This species had long been a key pollinator of various fruit crops such as cranberries, plums, apples and other agricultural plants.

The research team discovered that two well-known RNA viruses found in honeybees, the deformed wing virus and the black queen cell virus were more prevalent in bumblebees collected less than 300m from commercial beehives.

The study also found that active infections of the deformed wing virus were higher near commercial apiaries, but no deformed wing virus infections were found in the bumblebees collected where foraging honeybees and apiaries were absent.

Wildlife

Sewage Spill Wipes out Thousands of Fish – Texas, USA

One-hundred thousand gallons of sewage spilled into a Williamson County’s Bushy Creek, wiping out several thousand fish from the ecosystem. The sewage killed everything in the water, according to local reports. Texas Parks and Wildlife said it was Monday’s storms that knocked out power at the wastewater treatment plant. Now several thousand game and non-game fish have been wiped out from Brushy Creek.

Wildlife

Zimbabwe ready to sell elephants to ‘anyone who wants wildlife’

Zimbabwe plans to sell elephants to Angola and is prepared to ship wild animals to any other interested countries as the southern African nation seeks to reduce its elephant population due to growing conflict between people and wildlife.

“We have no predetermined market for elephant sales, we are open to everyone who wants our wildlife,” tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira said in an interview on the sidelines of a wildlife summit in Victoria Falls. “`the country has ‘excess’ of 30,000 of the animals.”

“The main problem is landmines in Angola, so we are trying to assist them by having a fund to deal with those before we send the animals.”

Wildlife

Poachers poison hundreds of Botswana vultures

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Poachers have poisoned hundreds of raptors in northern Botswana using three elephant carcasses as bait. The information has just been released by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

The incident took place just south of world famous Chobe National Park. Two tawny eagles and 537 vultures were found dead near the carcasses, which had their tusks chopped out. The poisoning killed 10 Cape, 4 lappet-faced, 17 white-hooded, 28 hooded and 468 white-backed vultures.

This might be the largest mass poisoning of vultures in Southern Africa. In 2013, 500 were poisoned in Zambezi (formerly Caprivi Strip) under similar circumstances, which was then deemed the highest such killing.

“This is one of the biggest knocks to vultures in our history,” writes the vulture programme VulPro. “It is breeding season, so many are adults which means not only are they directly affected but their eggs/chicks have died too.”

Vultures are very good at finding carrion and will soon circle and land. This is a giveaway for poachers wishing to remain in the area, so the birds have become a secondary casualty of rising poaching numbers in Botswana, a country that just lifted the ban on hunting.

The poisoning of carcasses shows a high level of sophistication in the activities of the poaching syndicates and would massively multiply the damage wrought on Botswana’s famous wildlife. While raptors are the first responders, other predators soon follow.

A poisoned carcass is likely to kill lions, hyenas, jackals and other smaller vertebrates as well as a range of smaller birds. The National Parks dispatched a team to decontaminate the area and the poison was being analysed.

Vultures provide essential ecosystem services and are vital for the healthy functioning of ecosystems, in many cases keeping them free of contagious diseases. They have extremely corrosive stomach acid that allows them to consume rotting animal corpses. These scavenged leftovers are often infected with anthrax, botulinum toxins and rabies, which would otherwise kill other animals.

The recent rapid increase in elephant and rhino poaching throughout Africa has led to a substantial increase in vulture mortality, as poachers have turned to poisoning carcasses specifically to eliminate vultures, whose overhead circling might otherwise reveal the poachers’ illicit activities.

The illegal trade in vulture body parts for use in traditional medicine is also a significant threat that is increasing in intensity.

Flushed Goldfish

A monstrously huge goldfish was recently captured in the Niagara River in New York. The goldfish was presumably a discarded house pet that may have been illegally released or survived a traumatic flush down a toilet. An even more supersized goldfish was nabbed in California’s Lake Tahoe in 2013; it weighed in at just over 4 lbs. (2 kilograms) and measured nearly 2 feet (61 cm) long.

Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus) are native to eastern Asia and belong to the carp family. They usually reach about 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) in length when they live in aquariums or small fish tanks; at most, they grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) in captivity.

But when goldfish are released into streams and rivers, they often grow to be 12 to 14 inches (31 to 36 cm) long. The first sightings of goldfish in New York waterways date to 1842; more than a dozen other states also noted the appearance of goldfish in rivers and streams by the end of the 19th century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The fish can survive year-round in the Lake Erie watershed, and goldfish reproduce very quickly; a handful of goldfish released into a Colorado lake in 2012 multiplied to number in the thousands just three years later. Invasive goldfish directly compete with native fish, and in large numbers, they upset the natural biodiversity of vulnerable freshwater environments.

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Wildlife

Displaced Polar Bears – Russia

A visibly exhausted and starving polar bear wandered into a major Russian industrial city on Tuesday, hundreds of kilometres away from its natural habitat, as widespread wildfires rage across the Arctic Circle. The footage showed an emaciated polar bear in Norilsk, an industrial city in Siberia, located above the Arctic Circle. It is the first polar bear seen in the city in more than 40 years, according to local environmentalists.

Polar bears have increasingly been spotted far away from their natural sea-ice habitats as climate change pushes them further afield for food.

A polar bear was flown back to the northern arctic region of Chukotka in April by Russian authorities after it was found in a village around 700km away. Two months earlier, a Russian archipelago asked for help to tackle “a mass invasion of polar bears into inhabited areas.”

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Dolphin Deaths

More than 260 dolphins have become stranded since February on Gulf of Mexico beaches from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.

The U.S. environment agency NOAA declared the marine mammal deaths an “unusual mortality event.” The agency says it is unclear what has caused the deaths, which are three times greater in number than average.

Some experts believe the deaths could be from the lingering effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Others think they are from changes in salinity due to river runoff, amplified by massive flooding upstream across the Midwest.