Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Jun 2017

  1. Seabird Haven Saved: After Nearly a Century, Desecheo Island Wildlife can Thrive Again

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    Island Conservation  27 Jun 2017 Heath Packard  see full article here

    After more than a decade of conservation intervention, Desecheo National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is once again safe for the Threatened Higo Chumbo cactus, native seabirds, and unique lizards found nowhere else in the world.

    Just one year after the final phase of an ambitious operation to rid Desecheo NWR of introduced, damaging (invasive) rats, conservation biologists have confirmed that these predators are absent from the island, and the operation was a success. This project, the largest conservation operation of its kind to date in the region, would enable the island to return to its former and rightful status: the most important seabird colony in the region. The refuge lost this status due to the presence of invasive mammals for almost a century….

  2. Cities looking to ‘green banks’ to help fund sustainable infrastructure

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    Carey L. Biron June 27, 2017 Washington, DC Citiscope see full article here

    As President Donald Trump this spring moved toward a decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the mayor of the U. S. capital city made her own announcement: She would seek to earmark millions of city dollars to lend to developers and others who want to bolster building efficiency, invest in renewable energy and undertake other ways to reduce carbon emissions.

    In so doing, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser was proposing to create the country’s first city-led “green bank” — a fast-growing strategy for using public money to reduce risk for private-sector investment in sustainable infrastructure and more….

    Q&A:

    • What is a green bank, and are they fundamentally different than a traditional bank?
    • What are some examples of where these models have been particularly successful?
    • Have these models sparked additional interest? Are there any broad global trends on this issue?
    • What is the role of a green bank specifically within the city context, and are there any particular obstacles to cities getting involved in this approach?
    •  What are some of the key cities across the globe that have been successful in this space, and do they share any commonalities?
    “The green banks are really generating a lot of data —demonstrating to the market that green investments are profitable and good business.”
  3. .5 C warming boosted extreme weather; impacts well outside bounds of natural variability

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    June 30, 2017  see full article at phys.org here

    Half a degree Celsius [.5C] of global warming has been enough to increase heat waves and heavy rains in many regions of the planet, researchers reported Friday. Comparing two 20-year periods—1960-79 and 1991-2010—between which average jumped 0.5 C (0.9 F), scientists found that several kinds of extreme weather gained in duration and intensity.

    The hottest summer temperatures increased by more than 1 C (1.8 F) across a quarter of Earth’s , while the coldest winter temperatures warmed by more then 2.5 C (4.5 F). The intensity of extreme precipitation grew nearly 10 percent across a quarter of all land masses, and the duration of hot spells—which can fuel devastating forest fires—lengthened by a week in half of land areas.

    These changes were well outside the bounds of natural variability, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change….

    ….”With the warming the world has already experienced, we can see very clearly that a difference of 0.5 C really does matter,” said co-author Erich Fischer, a scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Earlier research based on computer models, also led by Schleussner, concluded that 2 C of would—compared to 1.5 C—double the severity of crop failures, water shortages and heatwaves in many regions of the world. It also found that holding the rise in temperature to 1.5 C would give coral reefs—the cornerstone of ecosystems that sustain half-a-billion people and a quarter of marine wildlife—a fighting chance of adapting to warmer and more acidic seas….

    Carl-Friedrich Schleussner et al. In the observational record half a degree matters, Nature Climate Change (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3320
  4. Climate change damages US economy, increases inequality

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    • Severe costs ahead especially in south and lower midwest, pioneering analysis projects

    June 29, 2017  Rutgers University  see full ScienceDaily article here

    Unmitigated climate change will make the United States poorer and more unequal, according to a new study published in the journal Science. The poorest third of counties could sustain economic damages costing as much as 20 percent of their income if warming proceeds unabated.

    States in the South and lower Midwest, which tend to be poor and hot already, will lose the most, with economic opportunity traveling northward and westward. Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit the most as health, agriculture and energy costs are projected to improve….

    ….”The ‘hidden costs’ of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data,” said Jina, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of economics at the University of Chicago. “The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.“…

    Solomon Hsiang et al. Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4369

  5. Industrial farming disrupts burn-regrowth cycle in grasslands

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    June 29, 2017 University of California – Irvine  see full ScienceDaily article here

    The world’s open grasslands and the beneficial fires that sustain them have shrunk rapidly over the past two decades, thanks to a massive increase in agriculture, according to a new study led by University of California, Irvine and NASA researchers published today in Science.

    Analyzing 1998 to 2015 data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, the international team found that the total area of Earth’s surface torched by flames had fallen by nearly 25 percent, or 452,000 square miles (1.2 million square kilometers). Decreases were greatest in Central America and South America, across the Eurasian steppe and in northern Africa, home to fast-disappearing lions, rhinoceroses and other iconic species that live on these fire-forged savannas.

    A billion and a half more people have been added to the planet over the past 20 years, livestock has doubled in many places, and wide-open areas once kept open by fire are now being farmed,” said James Randerson, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science at UCI. “Our fire data are a sensitive indicator of the intense pressure humans are placing on these important ecosystems.”…

    Sharp increases in the number of livestock, the expansion of croplands, and new buildings and roads have fragmented the savannas and reduced highly flammable dried grasses. The expanses have become prized assets for private landowners who want to prevent brush fires. Unlike international efforts to combat tropical deforestation, there’s been less focus on protecting these vast semiarid stretches.

    “Humans are interrupting the ancient, natural cycle of burning and recovery in these areas,” Randerson said. Losing a fourth of the planet’s fires has benefits, increasing storage of dangerous carbon emissions and reducing lung-damaging smoke. But the drop-off in smoke in the atmosphere also allows more sunlight to reach the Earth’s surface, causing more global warming.

    The change is not uniform. Consistent with previous reports, more wildfires have occurred in the western U.S. and across North American boreal forests, where climate change is lengthening the fire season and drying out flammable vegetation faster.

    N. Andela, D. C. Morton, L. Giglio, Y. Chen, G. R. Van Der Werf, P. S. Kasibhatla, R. S. Defries, G. J. Collatz, S. Hantson, S. Kloster, D. Bachelet, M. Forrest, G. Lasslop, F. Li, S. Mangeon, J. R. Melton, C. Yue, J. T. Randerson. A human-driven decline in global burned area. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4108

  6. Invasive plants decrease soil microbial activity compared to native grassland communities

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    • Two invasive grasses reduce inorganic nitrate availability, active microbial biomass, and the potential for soil communities to nitrify and denitrify compared to native plant communities in California.
    • These results may help explain why it is difficult to establish native grasses on soils that have been invaded by invasive annual grasses.

    Chelsea J. Carey*, Joseph C. Blankinship, Valerie T. Eviner, Carolyn M. Malmstrom, Stephen C. Hart. Invasive plants decrease microbial capacity to nitrify and denitrify compared to native California grassland communities.  Biol Invasions DOI 10.1007/s10530-017-1497-y Accepted: 26 June 2017

    *Dr. Carey is a Point Blue Senior Soil Scientist

    Abstract: Exotic plant invasions are a major driver of global environmental change that can signicantly alter the availability of limiting nutrients such as nitrogen (N). Beginning with European colonization of California, native grasslands were replaced almost entirely by annual exotic grasses, many of which are now so ubiquitous that they are considered part of the regional ora (‘‘naturalized’’). A new wave of invasive plants, such as Aegilops triuncialis (Barb goatgrass) and Elymus caputmedusae (Med usahead), continue to spread throughout the state today. To determine whether these new-wave invasive plants alter soil N dynamics, we measured inorganic N pools , nitrication and deni trication potentials, and possible mediating factors such as microbial biomass and soil pH in experimental grasslands comprised of A. triuncialis and E. caput medusae. We compared these measure-
    ments with those from experimental grasslands containing: (1) native annuals and perennials and (2) naturalized exotic annuals. We found that A. triuncialis and E. caputmedusae signicantly reduced ion-exchange resin estimates of nitrate (NO3) availability as well as nitrication and denitrication potentials compared to native communities. Active microbial biomass was also lower in invaded soils. In contrast, potential measurements of nitrication and denitrication were similar between invaded and naturalized communities. These results suggest that invasion by A. triuncialis and E. caputmedusae may signicantly alter the capacity for soil microbial communities to nitrify or denitrify, and by extension alter soil N availability and rates of N transformations during
    invasion of remnant native-dominated sites.
  7. Conservation Alert: Your old stuff and eco-friendly products

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    • reuse when possible and buy products that are made from the largest percentage of recycled materials, and remember, recycle your own stuff.
    • see below for online sources

    by Donnie R. Dann July 2017 – Volume 21 Number 4

    The variety of “things” in our lives that can be made from other things is astonishing. Warm fleece clothing, toys, sunglasses, graduation gowns, belts, bikes, wallets, plain bond paper, backpacks, underclothes, exhibition space and footwear can all be made from recycled materials, and that just the tip of the iceberg.

    With the world population producing 1.3 billion tons of waste each year, and each person in the United States accounting for 4.6 pounds of trash every day on average, it is incumbent on all of us not just to recycle, but also to seek out products made from what we and others have discarded, whenever and wherever possible.

    For example, my local waste agency accepts used shoes and boots for recycling. From their website: “Shoes in any condition, from new or gently used, to those that are worn, will be accepted. Even those with stains or holes will be accepted. And, the great news is that 95% or more of all the materials collected will be recycled or reused and not only that – you can be a part of this great effort!”

    Here are just a few sources and their wares, almost all of which were made from recycled materials:

    • SPLAFF, which makes sandals, belts, bags, wallets and guitar straps;
    • RSVLTS’ list of eco-friendly consumer products, including guitars, furniture, chess sets, purses and sunglasses;
    • Mental Floss’ list of products made from recycled materials, including briefcases, backpacks, clothes, kitchen towels and toys;
    • ROTHY’S, which makes women’s shoes from recycled plastic water bottles, 86% of which normally end up in a landfill or incinerator.

    The list above only addresses consumer products; however, industrial recycling and the utility achievable by reusing industrial scrap can make an even greater impact.

    For more details on what you can do to recycle your own household or commercial refuse, please check out the following companies (there are many others) and the recycling services they make available:

    Bottom line is, whenever possible, buy products that are made from the largest percentage of recycled materials, and remember, recycle your own stuff.

    For more from Donnie Dann, contact him at donniebird@me.com.

  8. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity?

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    • New model marries ecology, economics to determine how to protect biodiversity by managing ecosystem services

    June 28, 2017 University of California – Santa Barbara see full ScienceDaily article here

    ….What financial value should be ascribed to, say, plants that improve water quality or wetlands that reduce flooding and property damage from storms? Many ecology and conservation organizations advocate for making such determinations in the interest of land management. Conservation biologists, meanwhile, argue that putting a price tag on nature could weaken the protection of threatened species that have a lower dollar value.

    Therein lies the core issue in the debate: To what degree will biodiversity be protected by managing for ecosystem services?

    To address this question, a team of UC Santa Barbara researchers has developed a new modeling framework that blends a novel mix of ecology and economics. Their findings appear in the journal Ecology Letters.

    ….The team’s framework generates simple criteria for determining how much the value of the service must exceed the costs of management to financially justify protecting all species. This defines the settings whereby protecting all species is the economically optimal choice. The group examined this criterion for six different services and ecosystems, ranging from the pollination of watermelon to carbon storage along coastlines or in tropical dry forests.

    In some cases, protecting all species in an ecosystem is financially motivated. In others, management solely for financial benefits may leave many species at risk.

    Our results define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected,” Dee explained. “The analysis also helps identify when additional policies such as endangered species regulation will be needed to avoid biodiversity losses.”

    Laura E. Dee, Michel De Lara, Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity? Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12790

    Abstract: Society increasingly focuses on managing nature for the services it provides people rather than for the existence of particular species. How much biodiversity protection would result from this modified focus? Although biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, the details of which species are critical, and whether they will go functionally extinct in the future, are fraught with uncertainty. Explicitly considering this uncertainty, we develop an analytical framework to determine how much biodiversity protection would arise solely from optimising net value from an ecosystem service. Using stochastic dynamic programming, we find that protecting a threshold number of species is optimal, and uncertainty surrounding how biodiversity produces services makes it optimal to protect more species than are presumed critical optimal. We define conditions under which the economically optimal protection strategy is to protect all species, no species, and cases in between. We show how the optimal number of species to protect depends upon different relationships between species and services, including considering multiple services. Our analysis provides simple criteria to evaluate when managing for particular ecosystem services could warrant protecting all species, given uncertainty. Evaluating this criterion with empirical estimates from different ecosystems suggests that optimising some services will be more likely to protect most species than others.

  9. Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize; natural sinks weakening?

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    • Atmospheric carbon dioxide rose at record rate in 2015 and 2016
    • Still rising in 2017 despite lack of El Nino and a leveling off of carbon emissions from human activities
    • Are natural sinks weakening?

    By JUSTIN GILLISJUNE 26, 2017 Continue reading the main story

    CAPE GRIM, Tasmania — …For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

    Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

    That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing?

    …Scientists have spent decades measuring what was happening to all of the carbon dioxide that was produced when people burned coal, oil and natural gas. They established that less than half of the gas was remaining in the atmosphere and warming the planet. The rest was being absorbed by the ocean and the land surface, in roughly equal amounts.

    In essence, these natural sponges were doing humanity a huge service by disposing of much of its gaseous waste. But as emissions have risen higher and higher, it has been unclear how much longer the natural sponges will be able to keep up.

    Should they weaken, the result would be something akin to garbage workers going on strike, but on a grand scale: The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would rise faster, speeding global warming even beyond its present rate. It is already fast enough to destabilize the weathercause the seas to rise and threaten the polar ice sheets.

    The record increases of airborne carbon dioxide in 2015 and 2016 thus raise the question of whether this has now come to pass. Scientists are worried, but they are not ready to draw that conclusion, saying more time is needed to get a clear picture.

    Many of them suspect an El Niño climate pattern that spanned those two years, one of the strongest on record, may have caused the faster-than-usual rise in carbon dioxide, by drying out large parts of the tropics. The drying contributed to huge fires in Indonesia in late 2015 that sent a pulse of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Past El Niños have also produced rapid increases in the gas, though not as large as the recent ones.

    Yet scientists are not entirely certain that the El Niño was the main culprit; the idea cannot explain why a high rate of increase in carbon dioxide has continued into 2017, even though the El Niño ended early last year….

    ….Human activity is estimated to be pumping almost 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, an amount that Dr. Canadell of the Global Carbon Project called “staggering.” The atmospheric concentration of the gas has risen by about 43 percent since the Industrial Revolution.  That, in turn, has warmed the Earth by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit, a large number for the surface of an entire planet.