Wildlife

Pollination Stress

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators exposed to common air pollution are significantly impaired in their ability to sniff out the plants that depend upon them, according to new field research.

British scientists say the pollution, combined with land use changes, are also responsible for an up to 70% drop in the number of pollinating insects. Writing in the journal Environmental Pollution, the team said they exposed a test field to levels of pollution commonly found near highways and observed up to 90% fewer flower visits by the pollinators. They believe the pollution changes the scents of flowers, making them harder to find.

Wildlife

Newly Discovered Penguin Colony Cause for Concern

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown colony of gentoo penguins in one of the southernmost spots these waddling birds have ever been spotted. The discovery is a cause for concern, according to the researchers, who say that climate change is expanding the range of this temperate, non-ice-loving species of penguin.

In addition to this gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colony with 75 nests on Andersson Island, gentoo penguins have also been sighted on an unexplored archipelago off the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip. Both are among the first records of the species breeding so far south on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Previously, these areas were too icy for gentoo penguins, which prefer temperate climes where they can raise their chicks. These penguins, the third-largest living penguin species, are native to warmer sub-Antarctic islands, such as the Falkland Islands off Argentina; and they usually live in ice-free areas, such as flat, rocky beaches and low-lying cliffs where large colonies can gather.

These penguin colonies indicate how how far climate change has gone in terms of turning the Antarctic Peninsula into a more sub-Antarctic or more temperate climate.

Wildlife

Can nonhuman animals drive other animals to extinction?

Imagine looking up at a sky so full of birds, they block out light from the sun. Passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) used to fly in flocks of hundreds of millions, maybe even billions, of birds that took hours to pass overhead. Then, we started shooting them.

Humans began commercially hunting passenger pigeons in the 19th century, and by 1914, they were extinct, according to Audubon magazine. These birds are a prime example of how quickly and efficiently humans can wipe out even the most common species. But is it just us, or can nonhuman animals drive other animals to extinction?

Sort of, but humans are usually involved. Some animals are capable of interspecies decimation if humans put them in the wrong place and they become invasive — species that cause ecological or economic damage to their non-native environment.

For example, Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) from Asia are gobbling up anything that moves in the Florida Everglades. The domestic cat is another example. “They have contributed to the extinction of dozens of species of bird,” he said — the Stephens Island wren (Traversia lyalli) in New Zealand, which went extinct in 1895, is one example. Cats are the leading direct human cause of bird mortality in the U.S. and Canada, according to the American Bird Conservancy. In other words, American birds are under greater threat from pet cats than from guns.

Wildlife

Manatee Deaths

A record number of Florida’s protected manatees died during 2021, with the 1,101 deaths more than double the five-year average. Most were along the state’s eastern coast, where pollution-fed algae blooms were the main cause. The blooms are responsible for wiping out thousands of acres of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, a major feeding area for manatees.

Pristine Coral Reef Discovered

Scientists have discovered a vast, pristine reef of giant rose-shaped corals off the coast of Tahiti apparently unharmed by the bleaching effects of the warming ocean due to climate change, UNESCO announced Thursday.

Mapping approximately 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) long and up to 65 meters (213 feet) wide, UNESCO said it was “one of the most extensive healthy coral reefs on record.”

The United Nations heritage agency said it was “highly unusual” to find healthy coral in cooler waters between 30 and 65 meters deep and that it could suggest that there are more reefs in that ocean depth range that are safer from the impacts of warming waters.

Fish-Breeding Seabed

Scientists say they have discovered the world’s largest fish-breeding area, located in the south of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

Trolling with underwater cameras, they captured images of thousands of Jonah’s icefish nests on the seabed, with a density of about one nest per 30 square feet, which suggests about 60 million breeding sites blanket the seabed. “I went on an expedition to this region about 25 years ago, and one of the big questions then was where do these icefish breed,” said British Antarctic Survey scientist Katrin Linse. “Finding an assemblage on this scale is just mind-blowing to me.”

Wildlife

Tree Climbing Lions

Just six months has passed since the killing and mutilation of six lions in the Ishasha sector of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).

Visitors to the park see these so-called Ishasha lions lazing around in the myriad branches of towering fig trees. This group is one of only two populations of lions known to climb trees, making the majestic beasts fascinating subjects for study and a popular tourist attraction. Sadly, however, these lions face numerous threats, including habitat loss, snaring, human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade and the trafficking of lion body parts.

Because of these threats, the Ishasha lion population includes just 69 individuals; with increasing threats to these endearing fauna, tourism revenues — which make up close to 8% of Uganda’s gross domestic product (at least before the COVID-19 pandemic) — are also threatened.

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Wildlife

Polar Bears Eat Reindeer

Recently, scientists in Hornsund, Svalbard — a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic ocean — witnessed a polar bear pursuing a reindeer into the sea before killing it, dragging it ashore and eating it. Then, two days later, they saw the same bear beside a second fresh reindeer kill.

Their observations are the first detailed account of a complete and successful polar bear hunt of a Svalbard reindeer.

These are far from the first accounts of polar bears varying their diets. Normally, in the months when the sea is frozen, they enjoy a diet of offshore seals. But their use of supplementary food sources in the leaner summer months has been known for decades, with bears gorging on seabird eggs as well as feeding at the Churchill dump (a rubbish and recycling facility) in Hudson Bay. Yet, similar reports of terrestrial feeding have become more frequent in recent years.

Polar bears have evolved to be highly efficient predators of marine mammals. They support themselves on a fat-heavy diet and rely on ice-based prey, primarily ringed and bearded seals. As a result, they are profoundly threatened by a warming climate.

With rising global temperatures, Arctic sea ice is melting earlier in summer and refreezing later in winter. And as the ice-free periods become longer, polar bears are spending more time on land without access to their primary food. Therefore, increasing reports of summer scavenging, foraging and terrestrial hunting are signs of a shift in eating habits that is bound to affect the arctic bioszone profoundly.

Wildlife

Unimaginable diversity of life discovered beneath Antarctic ice shelf

Deep beneath Antarctica’s ice shelves, researchers have discovered dozens of life-forms thriving on a tiny patch of the seafloor —— an unprecedented level of species diversity for an environment that has never seen sunlight.

Far below Antarctic ice, shielded from the energizing rays of the sun, life can exist, but it was thought to be rare. As most ecosystems are built on a foundation of photosynthetic organisms like plants or algae, such dark realms shouldn’t have enough food to support a wide variety of life.

But when Gerhard Kuhn and Raphael Gromig of the Alfred Wegener Institute used boiling hot water to bore through 656 feet (200 meters) of ice on the Ekström Ice Shelf, they were surprised by what they were able to scoop from the seafloor another 328 (100 m) down.

Barnes identified 77 different species, far more than he should have reasonably found. This one sample was even richer with species than he would have expected from a survey of the open shelf. Many of the species identified were bryozoans, or stationary filter feeders that often look like a brain or moss, such as Melicerita obliqua and tube-feeding worms such as Paralaeospira sicula, among others.

Wildlife

Thousands of cranes killed by bird flu – Israel

An outbreak of avian flu has killed more than 5,000 migratory cranes in Israel, prompting authorities to declare a popular nature reserve off-limits to visitors and warn of a possible egg shortage as poultry birds are culled as a precaution. In addition to the 5200 dead, another 10000 are believed to be infected.

“This is the worst blow to wildlife in the country’s history,” Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg tweeted as rangers in hazardous material suits collected carcasses of the cranes from the lake at the Hula Nature Reserve and outlying marshes. Hundreds of thousands of chickens had been culled, she said.

Wildlife

Dead giraffes in Kenya show effects of a year-long drought

A photo of six dead giraffes in Kenya highlights the devastating impact of a prolonged, harsh drought.

The images show six dead giraffes, their emaciated bodies intertwined, at the Sabuli Wildlife Conservancy in Northeastern Kenya. Thet died due to malnutrition caused by a lack of vegetative growth and water due to the drought.

According to the photographer, photojournalist Ed Ram, the giraffes were trying to reach a nearby reservoir desperate for water — but it had dried up.

The drought since December 2020, has killed off crops, wild animals, and livestock. An estimated 2.4 million Kenyans are unable to access food as a result.

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Global Warming

Climate change in Lapland: Reindeer herders struggle

With the Arctic warming three times faster than the rest of the planet, reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland are already seeing the effects of climate change.

Tens of kilometres into the Arctic Circle, reindeer herder Anne Ollila ventures into -25C temperatures to feed her herd. This is an increasingly important task as the animals have difficulty getting enough food for themselves.

A 20-year study of reindeer on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago by the James Hutton Institute revealed in 2016 that reindeer had already got smaller and lighter. And researchers believe climate change is to blame.

Warmer winters mean more rain. When rain falls on snow, it freezes, locking reindeer’s food – such as lichen – beneath the ice. That means the animals are unable to smell or dig for it. As a result, researchers believe the reindeer starve, abort their calves, or give birth to much lighter young.

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Wildlife

Arctic Beavers

Beavers are slowly migrating farther north into the Arctic due to the warming climate, producing what a new U.S. government report says is a “significant impact” on the landscape.

NOAA’s Arctic Report Card 2021 says western Alaska has seen a doubling of its beaver population to more than 12,000 during the past 20 years, compared to none between 1949 and 1955. Their dams are increasing surface water and adding to the rate of permafrost melt, which in turn releases the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide. The ponds are also said to be helping new fish and invertebrate species move in.

Wildlife

True ‘Millipede’ Discovered

Scientists have discovered the world’s first true millipede, a study said Thursday, describing a long, thin and segmented creature with a whopping 1,306 legs – more than any other animal ever.

The record-setting species was discovered 60 metres underground in a drill hole in a mining area in Western Australia and has been dubbed Eumillipes persephone. The string-like creature is less than a millimetre wide but nearly 10 centimetres long and has a cone-shaped head with enormous antennae and a beak for feeding.

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Rodent Resistance

Efforts to entirely eradicate invasive mice from a remote South Atlantic island appear to have failed, causing the project’s leader to say he is “heartbroken.”

Gough Island is roughly midway between the southern tip of Africa and South America, and is home to one of the world’s largest seabird nesting colonies. Mice brought there by sailors in the 19th century have since eaten untold numbers of eggs and chicks. Early this year, scientists targeted the mice with poison. But footage from a remote camera recently revealed that at least one mouse had survived.

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Wildlife

Hybrid Salmon

Canadian officials say a new hybrid species of coho and Chinook salmon has been found between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland, possibly the result of climate change.

Andres Araujo at Fisheries and Oceans Canada says the hybrids look like a mix of the two species, and genetic markers confirm that they are indeed hybrids. He and colleagues point out that dry conditions in recent years have lowered the water level of the Cowichan River spawning area, which delayed the Chinook’s late-summer spawning. This probably brought those fish into contact with the coho and allowed them to interbreed later in autumn.

Wildlife

Rabbit Hotels

Plummeting rabbit populations across the United Kingdom have prompted its National Heritage organization to ask landowners to create innovative rabbit “hotels” to help the bunnies survive.

A new rabbit hemorrhagic viral disease has seen rabbit numbers decrease by 88% in the East Midlands and 83% in Scotland between 1996 and 2018. Across all of Britain, populations fell by 43% between 2008 and 2018. The Shifting Sands project asks people to arrange piles of branches around rabbit warrens to provide safety from predators and to create new sites for females to give birth. Experts say the grazing rabbits promote wildlife diversity, helping rare plants and invertebrates to thrive.

Wildlife

Australian Birds under Threat

A worrying number of Australia’s birds are nearer to extinction than they were a decade ago due to climate change and bushfires, researchers say.

Habitat loss and feral animals are also pushing the 216 threatened bird types closer to being wiped out, a Charles Darwin University and BirdLife Australia report found.

Birds such as the fernwren and golden bowerbird have been forced towards mountaintops as rising temperatures affect their rainforest habitat in Queensland’s tropics. All told, 96 bird types became more threatened in the past 10 years.

Among the 77 species threatened by the increasing number of bushfires, 26 were made more threatened by the Black Summer blazes in 2019-20. This includes 16 on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, almost half of which was burned by an out-of-control bushfire. The tiny Kangaroo Island southern emu wren is among them.

More than 90 bird species have also been affected by more frequent and severe droughts and heatwaves across the nation in the past decade. That list includes one of Australia’s rarest birds: the mukarrthipi grasswren of central western NSW, a species with only two or three pairs left.