Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Category Archive: Ecology

  1. Even modest oil exposure can harm coastal and marine birds

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    • “Even birds with relatively limited exposure to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill sustained damage to circulating red blood cells and had evidence of anemia, which can adversely affect reproduction and reduce survival.”

    October 12, 2017 Wiley read full ScienceDaily article here

    Many birds and other wildlife die following an oil spill, but there are also other potential long-terms effects of oil exposure on animals. study that examined blood samples from birds present in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and 2011 following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even birds with small amounts of oil present on their feathers experienced problems related to their red blood cells.

    The findings show that even modest oil exposure can cause problems for individual birds and bird populations.

    Jesse A. Fallon, Eric P. Smith, Nina Schoch, James D. Paruk, Evan A. Adams, David C. Evers, Patrick G.R. Jodice, Christopher Perkins, Shiloh Schulte, William A. Hopkins. Hematological indices of injury to lightly oiled birds from the deepwater horizon oil spill. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/etc.3983

  2. Better managing plastic waste in 10 rivers could stem ~90% of plastics in the ocean

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    • Scientists have found that 10 rivers around the world where plastic waste is mismanaged contribute 88-95% of global load of plastics in the ocean.
    • Halving plastic pollution in these 10 waterways — eight of which are in Asia — could potentially reduce the total contribution by all rivers by 45 percent.

    October 11, 2017 American Chemical Society see full ScienceDaily article here

    Massive amounts of plastic bits that are dangerous to aquatic life are washing into the oceans and into even the most pristine waters. But how it all gets there from inland cities has not been fully understood. Now scientists have found that 10 rivers around the world where plastic waste is mismanaged contribute to most of the oceans’ total loads that come from rivers.

    ..the amount of plastic in rivers was related to the mismanagement of plastic waste in their watersheds. Additionally, the top 10 rivers carrying the highest amounts accounted for 88 to 95 percent of the total global load of plastics in the oceans, according to the researcher’s calculations.

    The researchers say halving plastic pollution in these 10 waterways — eight of which are in Asia — could potentially reduce the total contribution by all rivers by 45 percent.

    Christian Schmidt, Tobias Krauth, Stephan Wagner. Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea. Environmental Science & Technology, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02368

  3. Hurricane exposes and washes away thousands of sea turtle nests

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    • Hurricane Irma storm surge takes heavy toll on one of world’s most important nesting areas in Florida but some still nesting

    October 4, 2017 University of Central Florida read full ScienceDaily article here

    Marine biologists have released estimates of sea turtle nests lost to Hurricane Irma, finding that 56 percent of green turtle nests and 24 percent of loggerhead nests were lost within Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. Both are endangered species. The losses put a damper on what had been a record year for green turtle nesting….

    ….The UCF Marine Turtle Research Group also found evidence that some green turtle hatchlings have emerged since the hurricane. And some turtles have continued to come ashore and lay new nests. Within the wildlife refuge, 466 new green turtle nests and eight new loggerhead nests were laid in September following Irma. Along the other UCF-monitored beaches, 72 new green nests and three new loggerhead nests were laid…

    …Researchers found significant dune erosion that swept away some nests and exposed the eggs of others. It was a record year for green turtle nesting along the refuge’s beaches in southern Brevard County, but storm surge due to hurricane Irma destroyed many unhatched loggerhead and green turtle nests. University of Central Florida researchers estimate that of nests laid through the end of September, more than half of the season’s green turtle nests and a quarter of loggerhead nests were lost.

    Both species are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and Florida hosts the majority of both species’ U.S. nests. The section of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge monitored by UCF hosts about a third of the Florida’s green turtle nests….

  4. Strips of prairie plants slow loss of soil, nutrients and water from ag fields, double biodiversit

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    • Converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled

    October 2, 2017 USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station read full ScienceDaily article here

    Prairie strips integrated in row crops reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife, and improve water infiltration, a decade of research is demonstrating….

    ….Research suggests that prairie strips reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife and improve water infiltration. According to the study published by PNAS, converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled….

    …”The strips are designed to act as a speed bump to slow water down and give it time to infiltrate the soil,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, the study’s lead author and a professor at Iowa State University. Researchers estimate that prairie strips could be used to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services across 3.9 million hectares of cropland in Iowa and a large portion of the 69 million hectares planted in rowcrops in the United States, much of it in the Midwest.

    Lisa A. Schulte, Jarad Niemi, Matthew J. Helmers, Matt Liebman, J. Gordon Arbuckle, David E. James, Randall K. Kolka, Matthew E. O’Neal, Mark D. Tomer, John C. Tyndall, Heidi Asbjornsen, Pauline Drobney, Jeri Neal, Gary Van Ryswyk, Chris Witte. Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn–soybean croplands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201620229 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620229114

  5. House sparrow decline linked to air pollution and poor diet

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    • City sparrows suffer from more stress than their country cousins, find Spanish researchers, especially during breeding season

    October 3, 2017 Frontiers  read full ScienceDaily article here

    House sparrows are well-adapted to living in urban areas, so it is surprising their numbers have fallen significantly over the past decades. An investigation into this worrying trend finds that sparrows living in urban areas are adversely affected by pollution and poor nutrition. The study also finds the birds suffer more during the breeding season, when resources are needed to produce healthy eggs….

    …if our cities are unhealthy for birds, which is what our study is suggesting, then as their neighbors we should be concerned because we are exposed to the same environmental stressors as house sparrows.”

    …”We took a small blood sample from each bird, according to its weight and physical condition, and released them unharmed,” she explains. The samples were analyzed for signs of oxidative stress, which can be used to measure how much an environmental stressor, such as pollution, is weakening the bird’s natural defenses….

    …”We need to work hard to improve the quality of the urban environment, for example, air quality and the design of green areas. Even the leftovers that we throw in the bin at the park should encourage us to reflect on ourselves: more nuts and fruit and fewer chips and cookies would be better for humans as well as for birds,” Herrera-Dueñas advises.

    Amparo Herrera-Dueñas, Javier Pineda-Pampliega, María T. Antonio-García, José I. Aguirre. The Influence of Urban Environments on Oxidative Stress Balance: A Case Study on the House Sparrow in the Iberian Peninsula. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2017; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00106

  6. Study finds no-tillage not sufficient alone to prevent water pollution from nitrate

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    • no-tillage alone is not sufficient to prevent water pollution from agricultural nitrate pollution
    • study suggests that no-till needs to be complemented with other techniques, such as cover cropping and intercropping or rotation with perennial crops, to improve nitrate retention and water-quality benefits.
    • study found the adoption of no-till resulted in increased nitrate loss via leaching due to the frequent occurrence of macropores, such as those created by dead roots and earthworm burrows, in soils that have been under long-range no-tillage management

    September 22, 2017 Indiana University Read full ScienceDaily article here

    A new study answers a long-debated agricultural question: whether no-tillage alone is sufficient to prevent water pollution from nitrate. The answer is no……The study suggests that no-till needs to be complemented with other techniques, such as cover cropping and intercropping or rotation with perennial crops, to improve nitrate retention and water-quality benefits.

    After studying concentration of nitrate — nitrate amount per water volume unit — and nitrate load, or total amount of nitrate, researchers found surface runoff from no-till fields to contain a similar nitrate load to surface runoff from conventional tillage fields.

    In contrast, nitrate load via leaching was greater with no-till fields than with conventional tillage fields.

    …No-till leaves crop residue on the soil surface and limits soil disturbance except for small slits to add fertilizer. An estimated 20 percent of all croplands in the U.S. are under no-till management. It reduces soil erosion by avoiding tilling year after year, which leads to soil getting washed away into lakes and rivers. Because reducing soil loss reduces nutrient loss, it was assumed that no-till would reduce water pollution, Wang said….

    Stefani Daryanto, Lixin Wang, Pierre-André Jacinthe. Impacts of no-tillage management on nitrate loss from corn, soybean and wheat cultivation: A meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-12383-7

  7. Removing nitrate with buffer zones for healthier ecosystems

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    • For agricultural nitrogen, slow it down, buff it out
    • Understanding where natural nitrate removal is highest can inform management of streams in agricultural settings
    • Nitrate removal in buffer zones was significantly higher than in stream sediments.

    September 27, 2017 American Society of Agronomy read full ScienceDaily article here

    In a new study, researchers have identified nitrate removal hotspots in landscapes around agricultural streams.

    Nitrogen can present a dilemma for farmers and land managers. On one hand, it is an essential nutrient for crops. However, excess nitrogen in fertilizers can enter groundwater and pollute aquatic systems. This nitrogen, usually in the form of nitrate, can cause algal blooms. Microbes that decompose these algae can ultimately remove oxygen from water bodies, causing dead zones and fish kills.

    In a new study, researchers have identified nitrate removal hotspots in landscapes around agricultural streams. “Understanding where nitrate removal is highest can inform management of agricultural streams,” says Molly Welsh, lead author of the study. “This information can help us improve water quality more effectively.”…

    ….Nitrate removal in buffer zones was significantly higher than in stream sediments. “If nitrate removal is the goal of stream restoration, it is vital that we conserve existing buffer zones and reconnect streams to buffer zones,” says Welsh….

    Molly K. Welsh, Sara K. McMillan, Philippe G. Vidon. Denitrification along the Stream-Riparian Continuum in Restored and Unrestored Agricultural Streams. Journal of Environment Quality, 2017; 46 (5): 1010 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2017.01.0006

  8. Nitrogen surplus from agriculture impacts groundwater, according to 70 years of monitoring

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    • A 70 years time-series of monitoring data relays a clear message: When farmers apply more nitrogen to their fields than their crops can absorb, the amount of nitrogen in the groundwater increases. When less nitrogen leaches from the soil, due to either improved management or reduced nitrogen application, the amount found in the groundwater decreases.
    • the study also found that socio-economic development stimulates adoption of measures to protect the environment and that economic growth can curb environmental degradation.
    September 26, 2017 Aarhus University  Read full ScienceDaily article here
    A new study based on 70 years of monitoring data highlights the importance of a consistent national groundwater monitoring program and the need for development of future effective nitrogen mitigation measures in intensive agriculture worldwide in order to protect groundwater resources….

    …In the years 1946 to the mid-1980s nitrogen surplus increased continually. Increasing environmental awareness and national environmental plans have since then curbed this trend — while economic growth continues. Like the nitrogen surplus, the nitrate concentrations in oxic (oxygen present) water reached its peak around the turning point in the 1980s….

    Birgitte Hansen, Lærke Thorling, Jörg Schullehner, Mette Termansen, Tommy Dalgaard. Groundwater nitrate response to sustainable nitrogen management. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-07147-2

  9. Efforts to save sea turtles are a ‘global conservation success story’

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    September 20, 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science Read full ScienceDaily article here

    A new study of the world’s seven sea turtle species provides evidence that their numbers are growing overall (unlike many endangered vertebrates), thanks to years of conservation efforts that have played a key role in sea turtle recovery — even for small sea turtle populations. Sea turtles have historically suffered population declines for reasons that include accidental catch and harvesting adults and eggs…

    Antonios D. Mazaris, Gail Schofield, Chrysoula Gkazinou, Vasiliki Almpanidou and Graeme C. Hays. Global sea turtle conservation successes. Science Advances, 20 Sep 2017 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600730

  10. Protected waters foster resurgence of West Coast rockfish

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    • Recovering species likely seeding surrounding waters with offspring, new research shows
    • Protecting important ocean habitat promotes the long-term recovery of rockfish such as cowcod and bocaccio that have long been a staple of West Coast fishermen
    • Favorable ocean conditions also played a role
    September 20, 2017  NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region read full ScienceDaily article here
    West Coast rockfish species in deep collapse only 20 years ago have multiplied rapidly in large marine protected areas off Southern California, likely seeding surrounding waters with enough offspring to offer promise of renewed fishing, a new study has found.
    The research …shows that protecting important ocean habitat promotes the long-term recovery of rockfish such as cowcod and bocaccio that have long been a staple of West Coast fishermen. Favorable ocean conditions also played a role, according to the study by scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), University of San Diego, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

    “The larvae of several species of rockfish that were once heavily fished increased in number within protected areas over the past decade,” said Andrew Thompson, a research scientist at the SWFSC in La Jolla, Calif. “The larvae have the potential to drift outside the protected region. That’s good for fisheries because it can build populations beyond the protected waters too.”

    …”This is the first research we know of to demonstrate that marine protected areas are producing high abundances of fish larvae that can seed surrounding areas,” Thompson said. “That was an important part of the vision for these areas when they were established, and it’s rewarding that management actions are contributing to the recovery of rockfish in Southern California.”

    Andrew R. Thompson, Dustin C. Chen, Lian W. Guo, John R. Hyde, William Watson. Larval abundances of rockfishes that were historically targeted by fishing increased over 16 years in association with a large marine protected area. Royal Society Open Science, 2017; 4 (9): 170639 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170639