Wildlife

Red Tide – Florida, USA

Marine life in southwest Florida is dying en masse in the worst “red tide” the state has seen since 2006. The toxic algae and seaweed are also hurting tourism and making people sick. The tide, which began in October, stretches across 150 miles of southwest Florida’s shoreline. The toxic algae stay in the seaweed even after the red tide comes to an end. As a result, 267 tons of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and very large sharks, have washed up on Florida’s beaches.

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Wildlife

Kangaroo Invasion

Some of the Australian capital’s frostiest and driest wintertime weather on record has sent mobs of kangaroos hopping into town from the surrounding countryside in search of food.

Very little rain around Canberra during June and July has left hardly any fresh vegetation for the marsupials to eat. So the few remaining green lawns, sports fields and schoolyards in the city have proven to be irresistible to the roos.

A lone kangaroo halted play twice at a soccer field during a National Premier League match in Canberra.

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Wildlife

New Caledonia protects coral reefs

New Caledonia agreed on Tuesday to tougher protections around a huge swathe of some of the world’s last near-pristine coral reefs, in a move conservationists hailed as a major breakthrough.

The Pacific nation, a French overseas territory, is home to a rich array of wildlife including 2.5 million seabirds and over 9,300 marine species, such as dugongs — marine mammals related to manatees — and nesting green sea turtles, many of which thrive in and around remote zones off the island nation’s coast.

The archipelago boasts some of the world’s healthiest reefs, including Astrolabe, Petrie, Chesterfield and Bellona, which are considered exceptional examples of coral ecosystems.

After years of work, the New Caledonia government Tuesday voted to set up marine protected areas (MPAs) surrounding the reefs, and to strengthen an existing one around Entrecasteaux, which is already a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The move will see 28,000 square kilometres (10,810 square miles) of waters safeguarded from commercial and industrial fishing and other exploitation, helping conserve habitats and allow marine life to feed and reproduce undisturbed. Tourist activity around the reefs is also set to be more rigorously controlled.

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Wildlife

New estimate on coral age hints at recovery hope

The symbiotic relationship between corals and micro-algae is much older and more robust than previously thought – a finding that implies the world’s reefs might be more resilient to global warming than predicted.

Coral cells rely on long-term mutually beneficial relationships with algae known as zooxanthellae. These live inside the cells and facilitate the capture and exploitation of sunlight that powers the creation of reefs. It is the death of these plant-like micro-organisms in response to warming temperatures that catalyses coral bleaching.

Research into the evolutionary history of the symbiosis, however, raises at least a faint hope that over longer time periods resilience and recovery may be possible.

Originally held to be a single species, classified in its own genus, Symbiodium, by the turn of the century researchers were noting considerable diversity among the zooxanthellae, and classifying lineages accordingly. However, available sequencing techniques provided only relatively crude results for the age and divergence dates of the newly identified species, together with a rough estimate suggesting the symbiosis with coral began around 60 million years ago.

Past estimates placed the initiation of these symbiotic relationships at 50 to 65 million years ago. The research indicates that modern corals and their algal partners have been entwined with each other for much longer – since the time of the dinosaurs, approximately 160 million years ago.

The relationship between the algae and the coral, thus, began during the Jurassic period – a finding with potentially optimistic implications. During their long existence, they have faced severe episodes of environmental change, but have managed to bounce back after each one.

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Heat-resistant Coral Reefs Found in Indonesia

A recent scientific survey off the coast of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia suggests that some shallow water corals may be less vulnerable to global warming than previously thought.

Between 2014 and 2017, the world’s reefs endured the worst coral bleaching event in history, as the cyclical El Niño climate event combined with anthropogenic warming to cause unprecedented increases in water temperature.

But the June survey found the Sulawesi reefs were surprisingly healthy. In fact they were in better condition than when they were originally surveyed in 2014 – a surprise for British scientist Dr Emma Kennedy, who led the research team.

Indonesia is situated in the heart of the Coral Triangle – home to the greatest levels of marine biodiversity on the planet. There are reefs here that contain more species than the entire Caribbean, which is why the bioregion is of particular interest to scientists looking into reef resilience.

The hope is that if key reefs can be protected from other stressors such as plastic pollution and overfishing, they can ride out the worst impacts of climate change and replenish adversely affected reefs once ocean temperatures stabilise.

The findings of the Sulawesi survey will help scientists and conservationists target coral conservation programmes elsewhere in the world. With perhaps three decades left to rescue a vital global ecosystem from extinction, it is progress that’s sorely needed.

Wildlife

Black Widow Spiders Are Heading North

As climate change warms the earth, black widow spiders are moving north. The spiders are notorious, because venom is 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s. A bite can cause aches, pains, and paralysis of the diaphragm which make breathing difficult.

In a study published in PLOS One on Wednesday, Canadian researchers reported that over the past 60 years the northernmost point black widow spiders live has moved 31 miles north, into southern Canada. The scientists believe that the spread of the spiders, which prefer a temperate climate, is due to climate change.

Wildlife

Heat Refugees

Temperatures have soared so high in Norway’s Arctic region this summer that reindeer are taking shelter from the heat in traffic tunnels and in other shaded places.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration took the unusual measure of urging motorists to be on the lookout for the tundra grazers after at least 44 traffic collisions with reindeer and sheep occurred during July.

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Lost Wilderness

Only 13 percent of the world’s oceans remain untouched by such human influences as shipping, pollution and fishing, according to an international team of researchers.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, they determined that the areas remaining “mostly free of human disturbance” are now almost entirely in the Arctic and Antarctic, and around some isolated Pacific islands.

Wildlife

Canadian Geese – Death-Defying Strategy For Surviving Hailstorms

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These Canadian geese stare up into the sky as hail pounds the pavement all around them.

If you or I were to try this form of high-intensity storm watching, we’d likely walk away with bruises or a black eye. However, according to Jeremy Ross, a biologist and bird expert at the University of Oklahoma, this behavior has been spotted before in feathered creatures when hail is falling. And it probably helps them survive the storms, by presenting a smaller target for the falling ice, he said.

What’s more, “a few individuals seem to be actually reacting to individual hailstones,” Ross said. “So not only are they looking up into the sky to reduce their profile, but perhaps when a hailstone was imminently going to hit them in the face, they dodge it really quickly.”

Vanishing Penguins

The population of king penguins in what was once the world’s largest colony has plummeted by nearly 90 percent over the last 35 years, and scientists say they don’t know why.

The Île aux Cochons colony in the southern Indian Ocean was also once the second-largest colony of all penguins. But satellite images revealed the number of birds there dropped from 502,400 breeding pairs in 1982 to 59,200 in April 2017.

Scientists say overfishing, feral cats and invasive diseases or parasites could be responsible for the disappearing penguins in the remote French territory.

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Wildlife

This Duck Supermom Leads 76 Ducklings

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While it’s not unusual to see 20 or 30 ducklings following a single mom, a group of 50 or more is really remarkable. This Common Merganser duck mom almost certainly did not hatch all those ducklings herself. Female ducks can usually lay only about a dozen eggs at once and can incubate up to 20.

How a mother duck might come to incubate more eggs than she actually laid could be due to the fact that female ducks have an interesting habit of leaving a few of their eggs in other mothers’ nests. It’s probably a way to ensure that at least some of her offspring have a chance to hatch even if something tragic should happen to her or her nest.

Furthermore, in a duck crèche, female birds will sometimes entrust their newborn young into the care of an older, wiser female.

Koalas Starve – Australia

Animal rescuers on an Australian island off the south coast say koalas are starving to death as residents cut down trees to prevent bushfires, destroying the native animal’s habitat and food source.

Australia is currently experiencing extreme dry weather, although the most intense drought conditions are located further north in the state of New South Wales.However, in trying to prevent uncontrolled fires, the clearing of land threatens koalas, which mostly survive off a diet of eucalyptus leaves.

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Wildlife

Red Tide Affecting Florida’s Marine Wildlife

Scores of dead fish litter the shorelines of beaches in southwest Florida, and hundreds of dead and ailing sea turtles have washed up on shores there in recent weeks — all victims of a toxic red tide caused by the single-cell alga Karenia brevis.

Algal blooms occur seasonally in the Gulf of Mexico, when water conditions enable their populations to explode and spread. But this year’s event includes especially high quantities of algae that produce a toxin, and the impact on marine wildlife is devastating, affecting sea birds as well as fish and turtles in unprecedented numbers.

A 230-pound male loggerhead turtle was suffering from the effects of red tide.

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Wildlife

Worms Frozen for 42,000 Years in Siberian Permafrost Wriggle to Life

In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.

Their findings, published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Doklady Biological Sciences, represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after a long-term slumber in Arctic permafrost, the researchers wrote.

However, the nematodes weren’t the first organism to awaken from millennia in icy suspension. Previously, another group of scientists had identified a giant virus that was resuscitated after spending 30,000 years frozen in Siberian permafrost. (Amoebas are the only animal affected by this ancient attacker.)

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Wildlife

Geese Fly to Exhaustion in Race Against Climate Change

Every spring, thousands of barnacle geese make a grand migration from their temperate winter habitat in northern Europe and northwestern Russia to their summer nesting grounds in the Arctic. It’s a journey of more than 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) that usually takes about a month, but new research has found that rising temperatures in the Arctic are pressuring the geese to make the trip in a grueling one-week sprint.

Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) are medium-size water birds found in Europe, Russia, the United Kingdom, Wales and the Arctic. Until recent years, the timing of the birds’ spring migration meant they arrived in the Arctic right as the snowmelt exposed their nesting sites and initiated plant growth. The birds would almost immediately lay their eggs, which would then hatch 30 or so days later, right at the peak season for plant growth — perfect timing for hungry, growing goslings.

But in the past few decades, scientists noticed that things have changed. Temperatures in the Arctic have been getting warmer earlier and earlier in the season — by about a day per year — and this is putting significant pressure on the migrating barnacle geese.

The geese are trying to keep up with these environmental changes, but they’re struggling. Scientists have found that the geese still leave at about the same time every year, but the animals have shortened their travel time to the Arctic. A trip that used to take about a month now takes the geese only about a week, as the birds will spend less time at their stopover sites or will skip them altogether and just keep flying.

Instead of promptly laying their eggs as they usually do when they arrive at their Arctic nesting grounds, the exhausted geese need more than a week to recuperate and build up enough energy before they can start nesting. By the time the animals are ready to lay their eggs, the grasses and plants the birds feed on have been growing for a few weeks. As a result, goslings emerge from their eggs after the peak growing season rather than during it, and that’s causing the young birds’ survival rate to decline.

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Wildlife

8 Endangered Rhinos Died in Mission to Save Them

A mission meant to save critically endangered rhinoceroses by transferring them to a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya has ended in tragedy, with the deaths of eight of the odd-toed ungulates, according to Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism.

But the culprit wasn’t poaching. Rather, it was likely salty water, the ministry said.

Preliminary investigations showed that once the black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) arrived at the newly created sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park, they gulped down water with a high salt content. The more salty water the rhinos drank, the thirstier they became, leading to a vicious cycle ending in tragedy, the ministry reported on July 13.

Wildlife

Indonesian Villagers Kill Nearly 300 Crocodiles In Revenge Attack

Indonesian villagers armed with knives, hammers and clubs slaughtered 292 crocodiles in revenge for the death of a man killed by a crocodile at a breeding farm, an official said.

Photographs showed bloodied carcasses of the crocodiles in a large pile in the Sorong district of the eastern Indonesian province of West Papua.

The 48-year-old victim had entered the crocodile farm and was likely picking grass for animal feed when he was attacked. After the burial of the man on Saturday, villagers entered the farm and killed all the crocodiles.

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Wildlife

New Stone Age

A small group of wild monkeys on a Panamanian island appears to have entered into its own version of the stone age, scientists say.

While only a handful of the many white-faced capuchin monkeys that live on Jicarón have displayed the ability to use stones to crack open nuts and shellfish, they join only three other groups of nonhuman primates that have used stones for tools.

Other species that appear to have learned the practice by chance include chimpanzees in West Africa, macaques in Thailand and other species of capuchins in South America.

Until a few decades ago, it was believed humans were the only species to turn stones into tools.

Party Crasher

The rare sight of a southern right whale frolicking in New Zealand’s Wellington Harbor forced officials to postpone the city’s annual fireworks display. The untimely arrival of the marine mammal coincided with the Maori new year celebration known as Matariki.

Concerns from experts that the flashes and sounds of the pyrotechnics could cause the whale to harm itself or the boats in the harbor loaded with people wanting to enjoy the festivities, prompted the event to be postponed for a week.

New Bat Species

Two species of lemon-yellow bats were recently discovered in Kenya.

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Global Warming

Subtle Effects of Climate Change – Monarch Butterflies

Climate change could make a showy invasive milkweed called a bloodflower a menace for monarch butterflies.

Monarch caterpillars, which feed on plants in the milkweed family, readily feast on Asclepias curassavica. Gardeners in the southern United States plant it for its showy orange blooms, yet the species “is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare,” says Mark Hunter of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) migrating south to Mexico in the fall come across bloodflower bonanzas and don’t bother to keep on flying. Full migration normally prevents a harmful Ophryocistis parasite from building up in the insect population. Cutting the migration cycle short lets infection flourish.

In experiments, bloodflowers grown in outdoor enclosures under high carbon dioxide concentrations, around 760 parts per million, don’t make as much medicinal cardenolide as normal. Caterpillars need these compounds to help fight parasites. Levels of two particularly potent forms of cardenolide stayed low. Parasites were more damaging to caterpillars chewing through these CO2-rich flowers than to those caterpillars fattening on plants grown under current atmospheric conditions.

Higher temperatures due to climate change, however, may boost cardenolides instead of reducing them. That could turn the bloodflower species toxic to monarchs, according to a test growing milkweeds in enclosures with daytime temperatures raised some 3 degrees Celsius higher than outside air. A native milkweed, A. incarnata, didn’t get close to toxic.

Researchers don’t know how the opposing effects of CO2 and heat might act on cardenolides overall. Regardless of how further research on that question turns out, bloodflowers are already a threat to monarchs. Hunter urges gardeners who can’t resist growing the plants to at least cut them back in the fall, so that they won’t derail the monarch migration.

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