NOAA presented to the U.S. Coast Guard today a new report that finds that 36 sunken vessels scattered across the U.S. seafloor could pose an oil pollution threat to the nation’s coastal marine resources. Of those, 17 were recommended for further assessment and potential removal of both fuel oil and oil cargo.
The sunken vessels are a legacy of more than a century of U.S. commerce and warfare. They include a barge lost in rough seas in 1936; two motor-powered ships that sank in separate collisions in 1947 and 1952; and a tanker that exploded and sank in 1984. The remaining sites are 13 merchant marine ships lost during World War II, primarily along the Atlantic Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. To see a list of the ships and their locations, visit: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/protect/ppw/.
The report, part of NOAA’s Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, identifies the location and nature of potential sources of oil pollution from sunken vessels. Knowing where these vessels are helps oil response planning efforts and may help in the investigation of reported mystery spills–sightings of oil where a source is not immediately known or suspected.
Bird-Friendly Building Design (PDF)
Source: American Bird Conservancy
A unique publication that provides planners, architects designers, bird advocates, local authorities, and the general public with a clear understanding of the nature and magnitude of the threat glass poses to birds and solutions to eliminate the threat. This edition includes a review of the science behind bird collisions, real-world examples of solutions in action, and an investigation into what information is still needed.
A Multi-Platform Draft de novo Genome Assembly and Comparative Analysis for the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Source: PLoS ONE
This Whole Genome Shotgun project has been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession AMXX00000000 (SMACv1.0, unscaffolded genome assembly). The version described in this paper is the first version (AMXX01000000). The scaffolded assembly (SMACv1.1) has been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession AOUJ00000000, and is also the first version (AOUJ01000000). Strong biological interest in traits such as the acquisition and utilization of speech, cognitive abilities, and longevity catalyzed the utilization of two next-generation sequencing platforms to provide the first-draft de novo genome assembly for the large, new world parrot Ara macao (Scarlet Macaw). Despite the challenges associated with genome assembly for an outbred avian species, including 951,507 high-quality putative single nucleotide polymorphisms, the final genome assembly (>1.035 Gb) includes more than 997 Mb of unambiguous sequence data (excluding N’s). Cytogenetic analyses including ZooFISH revealed complex rearrangements associated with two scarlet macaw macrochromosomes (AMA6, AMA7), which supports the hypothesis that translocations, fusions, and intragenomic rearrangements are key factors associated with karyotype evolution among parrots. In silico annotation of the scarlet macaw genome provided robust evidence for 14,405 nuclear gene annotation models, their predicted transcripts and proteins, and a complete mitochondrial genome. Comparative analyses involving the scarlet macaw, chicken, and zebra finch genomes revealed high levels of nucleotide-based conservation as well as evidence for overall genome stability among the three highly divergent species. Application of a new whole-genome analysis of divergence involving all three species yielded prioritized candidate genes and noncoding regions for parrot traits of interest (i.e., speech, intelligence, longevity) which were independently supported by the results of previous human GWAS studies. We also observed evidence for genes and noncoding loci that displayed extreme conservation across the three avian lineages, thereby reflecting their likely biological and developmental importance among birds.
Source: National Research Council
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are responsible for protecting species that are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and for protecting habitats that are critical for their survival. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for registering or reregistering pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and must ensure that pesticide use does not cause any unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, which is interpreted to include listed species and their critical habitats. The agencies have developed their own approaches to evaluating environmental risk, and their approaches differ because their legal mandates, responsibilities, institutional cultures, and expertise differ. Over the years, the agencies have tried to resolve their differences but have been unsuccessful in reaching a consensus regarding their assessment approaches.
As a result, FWS, NMFS, EPA, and the US Department of Agriculture asked the National Research Council (NRC) to examine scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed to listed species by pesticides. Specifically, the NRC was asked to evaluate methods for identifying the best scientific data available; to evaluate approaches for developing modeling assumptions; to identify authoritative geospatial information that might be used in risk assessments; to review approaches for characterizing sublethal, indirect, and cumulative effects; to assess the scientific information available for estimating effects of mixtures and inert ingredients; and to consider the use of uncertainty factors to account for gaps in data. Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides, which was prepared by the NRC Committee on Ecological Risk Assessment under FIFRA and ESA, is the response to that request.
New Report: The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries
Source: Ocean Conservancy
“The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act” is a primer and collection of stories that highlight pioneers of American fishery management as well as innovators who are opening fishing frontiers, revealing:
- How a salmon fishing pioneer’s courage in making sacrifices for long-term sustainability set the stage for Alaska’s success
- How successful fishermen from Alaska to Florida used discipline to turn around two decades of overfishing
- How West Coast fishermen found the flexibility to make a living within rebuilding programs
- How fishing entrepreneurs in Port Clyde, Maine, turned leadership into opportunity
- Why rebuilding important recreational species such as summer flounder, bluefish and lingcod provides economic as well as enjoyment payoffs
- What commercial and recreational fishermen believe we get from good stewardship
Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
From press release:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health. The report states that there are multiple factors playing a role in honey bee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
“There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country’s long term agricultural productivity,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “The forces impacting honeybee health are complex and USDA, our research partners, and key stakeholders will be engaged in addressing this challenge.”
“The decline in honey bee health is a complex problem caused by a combination of stressors, and at EPA we are committed to continuing our work with USDA, researchers, beekeepers, growers and the public to address this challenge,” said Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “The report we’ve released today is the product of unprecedented collaboration, and our work in concert must continue. As the report makes clear, we’ve made significant progress, but there is still much work to be done to protect the honey bee population.”
Horizontal cooling towers: riverine ecosystem services and the fate of thermoelectric heat in the contemporary Northeast US
Source: Environmental Research Letters
The electricity sector is dependent on rivers to provide ecosystem services that help regulate excess heat, either through provision of water for evaporative cooling or by conveying, diluting and attenuating waste heat inputs. Reliance on these ecosystem services alters flow and temperature regimes, which impact fish habitat and other aquatic ecosystem services. We demonstrate the contemporary (2000–2010) dependence of the electricity sector on riverine ecosystem services and associated aquatic impacts in the Northeast US, a region with a high density of thermoelectric power plants. We quantify these dynamics using a spatially distributed hydrology and water temperature model (the framework for aquatic modeling in the Earth system), coupled with the thermoelectric power and thermal pollution model. We find that 28.4% of thermoelectric heat production is transferred to rivers, whereas 25.9% is directed to vertical cooling towers. Regionally, only 11.3% of heat transferred to rivers is dissipated to the atmosphere and the rest is delivered to coasts, in part due to the distribution of power plants within the river system. Impacts to the flow regime are minimal, while impacts to the thermal regime include increased river lengths of unsuitable habitats for fish with maximum thermal tolerances of 24.0, 29.0, and 34.0 ° C in segments downstream of plants by 0.6%, 9.8%, and 53.9%, respectively. Our analysis highlights the interactions among electricity production, cooling technologies, aquatic impacts, and ecosystem services, and can be used to assess the full costs and tradeoffs of electricity production at regional scales.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of the first comprehensive survey looking at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, finding that more than half – 55 percent – are in poor condition for aquatic life.
The 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment reflects the most recent data available, and is part of EPA’s expanded effort to monitor waterways in the U.S. and gather scientific data on the condition of the Nation’s water resources.
EPA partners, including states and tribes, collected data from approximately 2,000 sites across the country. EPA, state and university scientists analyzed the data to determine the extent to which rivers and streams support aquatic life, how major stressors may be affecting them and how conditions are changing over time.
Findings of the assessment include:
- Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels. Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.
- Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. Approximately 24 percent of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover.
- Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.
- Increased mercury levels. More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.
EPA plans to use this new data to inform decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. This comprehensive survey will also help develop improvements to monitoring these rivers and streams across jurisdictional boundaries and enhance the ability of states and tribes to assess and manage water quality to help protect our water, aquatic life, and human health. Results are available for a dozen geographic and ecological regions of the country.
Guns, Excise Taxes, and Wildlife Restoration (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
As a result of the recent debate over guns, gun rights, and gun-related violence, there has
been a marked increase in sales of many weapons as well as ammunition. Through an
excise tax on firearms and ammunition, such sales have a marked beneficial effect on
funding for state wildlife programs through the Wildlife Restoration Program (also known as
Pittman-Robertson or P-R). This report examines these taxes, their allocation, and their use. It
also examines the effects of sequestration of this account, pursuant to the Budget Control Act of
2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25).
Supplemental Feeding for Ecotourism Reverses Diel Activity and Alters Movement Patterns and Spatial Distribution of the Southern Stingray, Dasyatis americana
Source: PLoS ONE
Southern stingrays, Dasyatis americana, have been provided supplemental food in ecotourism operations at Stingray City Sandbar (SCS), Grand Cayman since 1986, with this site becoming one of the world’s most famous and heavily visited marine wildlife interaction venues. Given expansion of marine wildlife interactive tourism worldwide, there are questions about the effects of such activities on the focal species and their ecosystems. We used a combination of acoustic telemetry and tag-recapture efforts to test the hypothesis that human-sourced supplemental feeding has altered stingray activity patterns and habitat use at SCS relative to wild animals at control sites. Secondarily, we also qualitatively estimated the population size of stingrays supporting this major ecotourism venue. Tag-recapture data indicated that a population of at least 164 stingrays, over 80% female, utilized the small area at SCS for prolonged periods of time. Examination of comparative movements of mature female stingrays at SCS and control sites revealed strong differences between the two groups: The fed animals demonstrated a notable inversion of diel activity, being constantly active during the day with little movement at night compared to the nocturnally active wild stingrays; The fed stingrays utilized significantly (p<0.05) smaller 24 hour activity spaces compared to wild conspecifics, staying in close proximity to the ecotourism site; Fed stingrays showed a high degree of overlap in their core activity spaces compared to wild stingrays which were largely solitary in the spaces utilized (72% vs. 3% overlap respectively). Supplemental feeding has strikingly altered movement behavior and spatial distribution of the stingrays, and generated an atypically high density of animals at SCS which could have downstream fitness costs for individuals and potentially broader ecosystem effects. These findings should help environmental managers plan mitigating measures for existing operations, and develop precautionary policies regarding proposed feeding sites.
See: Tourist-Fed Stingrays Change Their Ways (Science Daily)
Source: PLoS ONE
Causes of phenotypic variation are fundamental to evolutionary ecology because they influence the traits acted upon by natural selection. One such cause of phenotypic variation is a maternal effect, which is the influence of the environment experienced by a female (and her corresponding phenotype) on the phenotype of her offspring (independent of the offspring’s genotype). While maternal effects are well documented, the longevity and fitness impact of these effects remains unclear because it is difficult to follow free-living individuals through their reproductive lifetimes. For long-lived species, it has been suggested that maternal effects are masked by environmental variables acting on offspring in years following the period of dependence. Our objective was to use indirect measures of maternal condition to determine if maternal effects have long-lasting influences on male offspring in two species of cervid. Because antlers are sexually selected, we used measures of antler size at time of death, 1.5–21.5 years after gestation to investigate maternal effects. We quantified antler size of 11,000 male elk and mule deer born throughout the intermountain western US (6 states) over nearly 30 years. Maternal condition during development was estimated indirectly using a suite of abiotic variables known to influence condition of cervids (i.e., winter severity, spring and summer temperature, and spring and summer precipitation). Antler size of male cervids was significantly associated with our indirect measure of maternal condition during gestation and lactation. Assuming the correctness of our indirect measure, our findings demonstrate that antler size is a sexually selected trait that is influenced–into adulthood–by maternal condition. This link emphasizes the importance of considering inherited environmental effects when interpreting population dynamics or examining reproductive success of long-lived organisms.
Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa
Source: PLoS ONE
African forest elephants– taxonomically and functionally unique–are being poached at accelerating rates, but we lack range-wide information on the repercussions. Analysis of the largest survey dataset ever assembled for forest elephants (80 foot-surveys; covering 13,000 km; 91,600 person-days of fieldwork) revealed that population size declined by ca. 62% between 2002–2011, and the taxon lost 30% of its geographical range. The population is now less than 10% of its potential size, occupying less than 25% of its potential range. High human population density, hunting intensity, absence of law enforcement, poor governance, and proximity to expanding infrastructure are the strongest predictors of decline. To save the remaining African forest elephants, illegal poaching for ivory and encroachment into core elephant habitat must be stopped. In addition, the international demand for ivory, which fuels illegal trade, must be dramatically reduced.
Source: University of Florida
Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released February 11.
The U.S. saw an upturn in attacks with 53, the most since 2000. There were seven fatalities worldwide, which is lower than 2011 but higher than the yearly average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010. It is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean, which indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
“Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world – Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents,” Burgess said. “What I’ve seen in all situations when there’s been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we’re doing.”
Eighty unprovoked attacks occurred worldwide, slightly more than 2011. Four attacks were recorded in South Africa, three of which resulted in death, which is higher than its recent average of one fatality per year. Australia had an average year with 14 attacks and two fatalities, despite the media attention regarding incidents in Western Australia that resulted in a government-sanctioned culling hunt for endangered white sharks.
Source: Carbon Balance and Management
A regional-scale sensitivity study has been carried out to investigate the climatic effects of forest cover change in Europe. Applying REMO (regional climate model of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology), the projected temperature and precipitation tendencies have been analysed for summer, based on the results of the A2 IPCC-SRES emission scenario simulation. For the end of the 21st century it has been studied, whether the assumed forest cover increase could reduce the effects of the greenhouse gas concentration change.
Based on the simulation results, biogeophysical effects of the hypothetic potential afforestation may lead to cooler and moister conditions during summer in most parts of the temperate zone. The largest relative effects of forest cover increase can be expected in northern Germany, Poland and Ukraine, which is 15–20% of the climate change signal for temperature and more than 50% for precipitation. In northern Germany and France, potential afforestation may enhance the effects of emission change, resulting in more severe heavy precipitation events. The probability of dry days and warm temperature extremes would decrease.
Large contiguous forest blocks can have distinctive biogeophysical effect on the climate on regional and local scale. In certain regions of the temperate zone, climate change signal due to greenhouse gas emission can be reduced by afforestation due to the dominant evaporative cooling effect during summer. Results of this case study with a hypothetical land cover change can contribute to the assessment of the role of forests in adapting to climate change. Thus they can build an important basis of the future forest policy.
See: Planting Trees May Not Reverse Climate Change, but It Will Help Locally (Science Daily)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Bees, both commercially managed honey bees and wild bees, play an important role in global food production. In the United States, the value of honey bees only as commercial pollinators in U.S. food production is estimated at about $15 billion to $20 billion annually. The estimated value of other types of insect pollinators, including wild bees, to U.S. food production is not available. Given their importance to food production, many have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades. In the United States, commercial migratory beekeepers along the East Coast of the United States began reporting sharp declines in 2006 in their honey bee colonies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that overwinter colony losses from 2006 to 2011 averaged more than 32% annually. This issue remained legislatively active in the 110 th Congress and resulted in increased funding for pollinator research, among other types of farm program support, as part of the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246). Congressional interest in the health of honey bees and other pollinators has continued in the 112 th Congress (e.g., H.R. 2381, H.R. 6083, and S. 3240) and may extend into the 113 th Congress.
- Describes changes in managed and wild bee populations, given readily available data and information. It focuses on managed and wild bees only, and excludes other types of pollinators, including other insects, birds, and bats. Data on managed honey bees are limited, and do not provide a comprehensive view of changes in bee populations. Data for wild bee populations are even more limited.
- Provides a listing of the range of possible factors thought to be negatively affecting managed and wild bee populations. In addition to pesticides, other identified factors include bee pests and diseases, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and other environmental stressors, and beekeeping management issues, as well as the possibility that bees are being negatively affected by cumulative, multiple exposures and/or the interactive effects of each of these factors.
- Briefly summarizes readily available scientific research and analysis regarding the potential role of pesticides among the factors affecting the health and wellbeing of bees, as well as the statutory authority and related regulatory activities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to pesticide use.
A 2007 report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, Status of Pollinators in North America, provides a more detailed scientific context for this report and may be consulted for more in depth understanding about bee health. That study concluded that many factors contribute to pollinator declines in North America, and CRS accedes to that conclusion. Accordingly, the focus of this report on bee exposure to pesticides is not intended to imply that pesticides are any more important in influencing the health and wellness of bees than any of the other identified factors influencing bee health. Pesticides are only one of the many influences on bee health.
Because neonicotinoid pesticides have been the focus of concerns in Europe and in the United States, this report briefly describes recent scientific research related to possible effects of exposure to these pesticides on bees. The report concludes with a summary of recent regulatory activity regarding neonicotinoids at EPA, the federal agency charged with assessing risks and regulating U.S. sale and use of pesticides.
Bird song and anthropogenic noise: vocal constraints may explain why birds sing higher-frequency songs in cities
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B
When animals live in cities, they have to adjust their behaviour and life histories to novel environments. Noise pollution puts a severe constraint on vocal communication by interfering with the detection of acoustic signals. Recent studies show that city birds sing higher-frequency songs than their conspecifics in non-urban habitats. This has been interpreted as an adaptation to counteract masking by traffic noise. However, this notion is debated, for the observed frequency shifts seem to be less efficient at mitigating noise than singing louder, and it has been suggested that city birds might use particularly high-frequency song elements because they can be produced at higher amplitudes. Here, we present the first phonetogram for a songbird, which shows that frequency and amplitude are strongly positively correlated in the common blackbird (Turdus merula), a successful urban colonizer. Moreover, city blackbirds preferentially sang higher-frequency elements that can be produced at higher intensities and, at the same time, happen to be less masked in low-frequency traffic noise.
US Forest Service Forecasts Trends and Challenges for Next 50 Years
Source: U.S. Forest Service
A comprehensive U.S. Forest Service report released today examines the ways expanding populations, increased urbanization, and changing land-use patterns could profoundly impact natural resources, including water supplies, nationwide during the next 50 years.
Significantly, the study shows the potential for significant loss of privately-owned forests to development and fragmentation, which could substantially reduce benefits from forests that the public now enjoys including clean water, wildlife habitat, forest products and others.
New Report Finds Illegal Hunting and Trade of Wildlife in Savanna Africa Could Result in a ‘Conservation Crisi s’ if Unchecked
A new report published today by Panthera confirms that widespread illegal hunting and the bushmeat trade occur more frequently and with greater impact on wildlife populations in the Southern and Eastern savannas of Africa than previously thought, and if unaddressed could potentially cause a ‘conservation crisis.’ The report challenges previously held beliefs of the impact of illegal bushmeat hunting and trade in Africa with new data from experts.
While the bushmeat trade has long been recognized as a severe threat to the food resources of indigenous peoples and to wildlife populations in the forests of West and Central Africa, far less attention has been focused on the issue in African savannas, in part due to the misconception that illegal hunting for bushmeat in African savannas is a small-scale phenomenon practiced for subsistence living.