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CRS — Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (February 9, 2015)

February 23, 2015 Comments off

Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Over the past few decades there has been heightened concern about the plight of honey bees as well as other bee species. Given the importance of honey bees and other bee species to food production, many have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades. Although honey bee colony losses due to bee pests, parasites, pathogens, and disease are not uncommon, there is the perception that bee health has been declining more rapidly than in prior years, both in the United States and globally. This situation gained increased attention in 2006 as some commercial beekeepers began reporting sharp declines in their honey bee colonies. Because of the severity and unusual circumstances of these colony declines, scientists named this phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD). Since then, honey bee colonies have continued to dwindle each year, for reasons not solely attributable to CCD. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that CCD may not be the only or even the major cause of bee colony losses in recent years. In the United States, USDA estimates of overwinter colony losses from all causes have averaged nearly 30% annually since 2006.

The precise reasons for honey bee losses are not yet known. USDA and most scientists working on the subject seem to agree that no research conclusively points to one single cause for the large number of honey bee deaths. This general conclusion was reconfirmed in a 2013 joint report by USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Reasons cited for bee declines include a wide range of possible factors thought to be negatively affecting pollinator species. However, one issue widely noted is the role that pesticides—in particular, neonicotinoid pesticides—might play in overall bee health. Pesticides are the focus of this report. Pesticides are among many identified factors known to affect bee health, including 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 several of these factors.

A lack of response of the financial behaviors of biodiversity conservation nonprofits to changing economic conditions

February 17, 2015 Comments off

A lack of response of the financial behaviors of biodiversity conservation nonprofits to changing economic conditions
Source: Ecology and Evolution

The effectiveness of conservation organizations is determined in part by how they adapt to changing conditions. Over the previous decade, economic conditions in the United States (US) showed marked variation including a period of rapid growth followed by a major recession. We examine how biodiversity conservation nonprofits in the US responded to these changes through their financial behaviors, focusing on a sample of 90 biodiversity conservation nonprofits and the largest individual organization (The Nature Conservancy; TNC). For the 90 sampled organizations, an analysis of financial ratios derived from tax return data revealed little response to economic conditions. Similarly, more detailed examination of conservation expenditures and land acquisition practices of TNC revealed only one significant relationship with economic conditions: TNC accepted a greater proportion of conservation easements as donated in more difficult economic conditions. Our results suggest that the financial behaviors of US biodiversity conservation nonprofits are unresponsive to economic conditions.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crop System Puts Monarch Butterflies at Brink of Extinction

February 13, 2015 Comments off

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crop System Puts Monarch Butterflies at Brink of Extinction
Source: Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety (CFS) today released a detailed, 80 page scientific report, “Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America.” The comprehensive report reveals the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops on the monarch population, which has plummeted over the past twenty years. The report makes it abundantly clear: two decades of Roundup Ready crops have nearly eradicated milkweed – the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food – in cropland of the monarch’s vital Midwest breeding ground. At the urgent request of scientists and public interest groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Pew Study Identifies the Outback Among Earth’s Strongholds of Nature

February 5, 2015 Comments off

Pew Study Identifies the Outback Among Earth’s Strongholds of Nature
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

The Australian Outback is one of the last immense regions of nature left on Earth, but its future health depends on having more people, not fewer, living in and actively managing it, a new study by global research and public policy organisation The Pew Charitable Trusts has found.

The peer-reviewed study ranks the Outback alongside the natural wonders of the Amazon basin; the boreal forests and tundra of far northern Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland; and the Sahara.

The study, The Modern Outback: Nature, People and the Future of Remote Australia, represents the first major attempt to reach beyond many myths and to coherently define the Australian Outback as a tangible place with distinct needs.

Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events

January 17, 2015 Comments off

Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Mass mortality events (MMEs) are rapidly occurring catastrophic demographic events that punctuate background mortality levels. Individual MMEs are staggering in their observed magnitude: re- moving more than 90% of a population, resulting in the death of more than a billion individuals, or producing 700 million tons of dead biomass in a single event. Despite extensive documentation of individual MMEs, we have no understanding of the major features characterizing the occurrence and magnitude of MMEs, their causes, or trends through time. Thus, no framework exists for contextualizing MMEs in the wake of ongoing global and regional perturbations to natural systems. Here we present an analysis of 727 published MMEs from across the globe, affecting 2,407 animal populations. We show that the magnitude of MMEs has been intensifying for birds, fishes, and marine invertebrat es; invariant for mammals; and decreasing for reptiles and amphibians. These shifts in magnitude proved robust when we accounted for an increase in the occurrence of MMEs since 1940. However, it remains unclear whether the increase in the occurrence of MMEs represents a true pattern or simply a perceived increase. Regardless, the increase in MMEs appears to be associated with a rise in disease emergence, biotoxicity, and events produced by multiple interacting stressors, yet temporal trends in MME causes varied among taxa and may be associated with increased de- tectability. In addition, MMEs with the largest magnitudes were those that resulted from multiple stressors, starvation, and disease. These results advance our understanding of rare demographic processes and their relationship to global and regional perturba- tions to natural systems.

See: Mass Die-Offs of Birds and Fish on the Rise (AllGov.com)

The ecology of religious beliefs

January 5, 2015 Comments off

The ecology of religious beliefs
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Although ecological forces are known to shape the expression of sociality across a broad range of biological taxa, their role in shaping human behavior is currently disputed. Both comparative and experimental evidence indicate that beliefs in moralizing high gods promote cooperation among humans, a behavioral attribute known to correlate with environmental harshness in nonhuman animals. Here we combine fine-grained bioclimatic data with the latest statistical tools from ecology and the social sciences to evaluate the potential effects of environmental forces, language history, and culture on the global distribution of belief in moralizing high gods (n = 583 societies). After simultaneously accounting for potential nonindependence among societies because of shared ancestry and cultural diffusion, we find that these beliefs are more prevalent among societies that inhabit poorer environments and are more prone to ecological duress. In addition, we find that these beliefs are more likely in politically complex societies that recognize rights to movable property. Overall, our multimodel inference approach predicts the global distribution of beliefs in moralizing high gods with an accuracy of 91%, and estimates the relative importance of different potential mechanisms by which this spatial pattern may have arisen. The emerging picture is neither one of pure cultural transmission nor of simple ecological determinism, but rather a complex mixture of social, cultural, and environmental influences. Our methods and findings provide a blueprint for how the increasing wealth of ecological, linguistic, and historical data can be leveraged to understand the forces that have shaped the behavior of our own species.

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?

December 24, 2014 Comments off

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?
Source: USGS/PLoS ONE

The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

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