Monday, October 31, 2011

More Madagascar

Since I'll be talking about Madagascar again today briefly I thought I'd post a clip from the BBC series about the island

Friday, October 28, 2011

Habitat Corridors for the Canadian Lynx

As of 2002, the Canadian lynx was listed as an endangered species by the United States’ standards. Efforts were therefore made to bring the population back up to a stable number. As there was uncertainty as to whether the lynxes occupied a continuous habitat or existed in patchy habitats, ecologists took to measuring genetic variation amongst lynxes in varying geographical regions. After finding that the lynxes were relatively similar in terms of genetics, researchers determined that the habitats were probably connected and hypothesized that lynxes utilize the connectivity to travel over large areas and spread their genes.

As a result of the lynxes’ tendency to travel, the possibility of incorporating habitat corridors seems likely to be successful. Protection of isolated habitats alone will not benefit the lynxes as much because they will restrict the movement that the lynxes have demonstrated to be part of their regular behavior.

During a subsequent survey of lynx distribution in the United States, a few of the researchers submitted lynx fur that came from captive lynxes, causing something of a scandal. Though this fake data could have potentially thrown off distribution counts, fellow researchers insist that the captive lynx fur did not significantly alter the distribution data. The study therefore continues to show that the implementation of habitat corridors could serve the lynx population well, helping it to become more stable.

Wolves Could Be the Key to Saving the Canadian Lynx

Leopold, author of the Evolutionary-Ecologic land ethic, believed that all things are part of a complex web that work and interact with each other, even if this relationship may not be obvious. The article, “How wolves could save threatened lynx species,” by Colin Ricketts, emphasizes Leopold’s point that everything is indeed connected with each other.
Researchers from Oregon State University have studied the connection between the wolf and the Canadian lynx populations. Their argument is that as the wolf populations was destroyed, coyote populations have been allowed to flourish in the absence of their predators. As the coyote populations increase, extra pressure has been put on the snowshoe hares. Not only have snowshoe hare populations declined, but the lynx population has declined as well, due to the fact that the lynx is also a predator of snowshoe hares.
Before the wolf population was exterminated, they kept the coyote population in control not only through direct predation, but through indirect effects such as the “ecology of fear,” in which their fear of wolves altered their behavioral patterns, and the coyotes preyed on a wide variety of species. However, without the wolves, they are free to exploit their preferred diet of rabbits and snowshoe hares. In addition, coyotes have expanded their distribution.
As discussed in lecture, there are, in many cases, multiple causes for a decline in species number. For the lynx, it was placed on the threatened species list in 2000 with the following reasons for decline: loss of food, changes to its habitat, and effects of climate change. These may all work together to further accelerate the rate of decline if the wolf species are not able to keep the coyote populations in check. An example of a success story is that in Yellowstone National Park, wolf populations have returned, and the coyote numbers declined by 50%, indicating that reviving the wolf populations may be a good way to conserve the lynx species and prevent further decline.

Ricketts, Colin. “How wolves could save threatened lynx species.” Earth Times. 31 Aug 2011.

Rainforest Etiquette in a World Gone Mad

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa BarbaraPresents
"Rainforest Etiquette in a World Gone Mad"
Suprabha Seshan, Ecologist, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Kerala, India
Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, 4:30 p.m.
Bren Hall 1414

"Suprabha focuses on restoring natural habitats through integrated conservation practices — those that account for existing links between plants, climate, lands, humans, and livelihoods. She seeks to create a healthy alliance between people and the environment." - Mary Collins, host and Bren PhD student
Co-sponsored by the Bren Student Environmental Justice Club
In this talk, Subrabha draws on her twenty years of experience in the forests of southern India to share the lives of plants, animals, and humans, as well as her mountain home in the Wayanad District. She invites an exploration of a life in community with non-humans,and of the two contrasting aspects of nature that ecosystem gardeners work with: resilience and fragility. The forest and its myriad inhabitants can return, but only when certain conditions are met and only with the right kind of help. This is critical: with the right kind of help, the forest and its beings grows outward again. The truth, however, is that 93 percent of the Western Ghat mountains are already destroyed. The remaining habitats are fragmented badly. Suprabha calls attention to the beauty of these mountain forests and their precarious toehold in an India where the environment is frequently sacrificed to economic interests. The questions that drive the sanctuary’s work echo through her presentation: What must we do to bring the forests back? What is it to listen to the natural world? What do the plants have to say? Whom do we love?

Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Expanding oil fields in Arctic Alaska causes increased predation of ground nestlings

Arctic Alaska draws tens of thousands of breeding birds to its coastal plan annually during the short summer season. This article describes a conservation biologist, Joe Liebezeit’s studies on the effects of oil development and human activity on nesting birds in this area. Some species such as foxes and ravens take shelter in the new development on the oil fields, and take advantage of the free food and safety it provides. This has caused a very high rise in their numbers, and in turn is causing a decline in the population of nesting birds around these sites. This decline can also be linked to loss of habitat.

One of the sites studied was in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, and the other was about 150 miles west of this, far from any human contact. Leibezeit and his colleagues predicted that Arctic Foxes, Ravens, and any other predators aided by this new human presence at the first site on the oil field would be the top killers, while predators that did not depend on human resources would be top killers on the second site far away from the oil field. It turns out that after years of study, the Arctic Fox was the most common predator feasting on eggs from ground nests on the first site, and an Arctic ground squirrel was the most common in the latter, which aligns with their predictions.

This article concludes optimistically, by stating that along with the push for oil development there is an understanding of the oil companies “to refine their management of the subsidized predator problem.” The oil companies are already working on their excess food problem.

Angela Wood

Seven Billion

As we head into the end of the month you'll hear more about this upcoming milestone as the UN has declared October 31st as a symbolic '7 Billion Day'. On, or around, this day the earth will contain 7 billion people. The Wall Street Journal had an article on how this date was calculated.

This is relevant to our last two weeks discussion since most of the threats to species are caused by people, and specifically, too many people and an ever increasing demand for resources.

National Geographic had an article earlier this year with their usual array of interesting photographs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Future Forests May Soak Up More Carbon Dioxide Than Previously Believed ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2011) — North American forests appear to have a greater

As a result, they could help slow the pace of human-caused climate warming more than most scientists had thought, a U-M ecologist and his colleagues have concluded.

The results of a 12-year study at an experimental forest in northeastern Wisconsin challenge several long-held assumptions about how future forests will respond to the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide blamed for human-caused climate change, said University of Michigan microbial ecologist Donald Zak, lead author of a paper published online this week in Ecology Letters.

"Some of the initial assumptions about ecosystem response are not correct and will have to be revised," said Zak, a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

To simulate atmospheric conditions expected in the latter half of this century, Zak and his colleagues continuously pumped extra carbon dioxide into the canopies of trembling aspen, paper birch and sugar maple trees at a 38-acre experimental forest in Rhinelander, Wis., from 1997 to 2008.

Some of the trees were also bathed in elevated levels of ground-level ozone, the primary constituent in smog, to simulate the increasingly polluted air of the future. Both parts of the federally funded experiment -- the carbon dioxide and the ozone treatments -- produced unexpected results.

In addition to trapping heat, carbon dioxide is known to have a fertilizing effect on trees and other plants, making them grow faster than they normally would. Climate researchers and ecosystem modelers assume that in coming decades, carbon dioxide's fertilizing effect will temporarily boost the growth rate of northern temperate forests.

Previous studies have concluded that this growth spurt would be short-lived, grinding to a halt when the trees can no longer extract the essential nutrient nitrogen from the soil.

But in the Rhinelander study, the trees bathed in elevated carbon dioxide continued to grow at an accelerated rate throughout the 12-year experiment. In the final three years of the study, the CO2-soaked trees grew 26 percent more than those exposed to normal levels of carbon dioxide.

It appears that the extra carbon dioxide allowed trees to grow more small roots and "forage" more successfully for nitrogen in the soil, Zak said. At the same time, the rate at which microorganisms released nitrogen back to the soil, as fallen leaves and branches decayed, increased.

"The greater growth has been sustained by an acceleration, rather than a slowing down, of soil nitrogen cycling," Zak said. "Under elevated carbon dioxide, the trees did a better job of getting nitrogen out of the soil, and there was more of it for plants to use."

Zak stressed that growth-enhancing effects of CO2 in forests will eventually "hit the wall" and come to a halt. The trees' roots will eventually "fully exploit" the soil's nitrogen resources. No one knows how long it will take to reach that limit, he said.

The ozone portion of the 12-year experiment also held surprises.

Ground-level ozone is known to damage plant tissues and interfere with photosynthesis. Conventional wisdom has held that in the future, increasing levels of ozone would constrain the degree to which rising levels of carbon dioxide would promote tree growth, canceling out some of a forest's ability to buffer projected climate warming.

In the first few years of the Rhinelander experiment, that's exactly what was observed. Trees exposed to elevated levels of ozone did not grow as fast as other trees. But by the end of study, ozone had no effect at all on forest productivity.

"What happened is that ozone-tolerant species and genotypes in our experiment more or less took up the slack left behind by those who were negatively affected, and that's called compensatory growth," Zak said. The same thing happened with growth under elevated carbon dioxide, under which some genotypes and species fared better than others.

"The interesting take home point with this is that aspects of biological diversity -- like genetic diversity and plant species compositions -- are important components of an ecosystem's response to climate change," he said. "Biodiversity matters, in this regard."

Co-authors of the Ecology Letters paper were Kurt Pregitzer of the University of Idaho, Mark Kubiske of the U.S. Forest Service and Andrew Burton of Michigan Technological University. The work was funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Forest Service.

Journal Reference:

Donald R. Zak, Kurt S. Pregitzer, Mark E. Kubiske, Andrew J. Burton. Forest productivity under elevated CO2 and O3: positive feedbacks to soil N cycling sustain decade-long net primary productivity enhancement by CO2. Ecology Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01692.x

Ryan Tjan

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unicorn chaser

Not only is the previous post depressing but the last two weeks are, I think, the most depressing of the course. I can't promise you solutions in the future but we will be covering some slightly less depressing topics. In case any of you need a unicorn chaser, here are some of the numerous pictures of penguins in sweaters that have surfaced since the appeal for penguin sweaters was made.
'Over 15,000 jumpers were collected, which will be stored in Oil Spill Response Kits around Tasmania.'
(Their goal was to stockpile 100 sweaters so I guess you can say they met that goal).

The turtleneck is probably more practical but a tuxedo sweater on a penguin is hard to resist.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alarming Scale of Global Shark Fin Trade Revealed in New Photos

Pew Environment Group this week released a series of photos that are simply jaw-dropping as they reveal the scale of shark fishing for fins. The group released a report earlier this year noting the world's 20 largest shark catchers, including Taiwan, which is where these photos were taken.

According to Pew, the images captured depict "fins and body parts of biologically vulnerable shark species, such as scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, being readied for market."

And it isn't hard to determine that this is just a snapshot of the larger picture of shark finning.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mushroom Bloom!

In New York City "seemingly from every nook, cranny and sidewalk crack, in cemeteries and street-tree pits and median strips, months of biblical rains have yielded a prodigious harvest of mushrooms in a riot of rainbow colors and in every possible shape, size, texture and degree of edibility – savory, poisonous, even psychotropic."-Andy Newman, Nature Adds Water, and Everything Mushrooms- The New York Times

This article reminded me of the invading mushrooms in San Francisco, and is a quick read if you're interested! Its an almost funny unforeseen consequence to global climate change in New York. Now, after Hurricane Irene causing flooding in New York, changes in weather patterns along the eastern sea board have lead to massive rains causing spores to grow into a diverse array of mushrooms in New York City. I really hope after the hurricane, flooding, blizzards, and rains, that New York won't have a terribly harsh weather range..

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sperm Banks: Now for Coral

The endangered “elkhorn coral,” was formerly the dominant reef-producing species in the Caribbean. Over the course of 30 years, 80% of corals in the Caribbean have been decimated due to coral diseases caused by a deterioration of water quality from human activity. An increase in ocean acidity has led to the corrosion of coral reefs. In Gambino’s article, she informs us of the grim reality: “About one-third of all corals are in threat of extinction, and some coral experts say that we could lose reefs as we know them by 2050.”

Coral only spawns one day a year, three days after a full moon. They release a chemical into the water that alerts nearby colonies to begin spawning. “For two to four nights, each individual coral polyp on a colony releases a bundle of eggs and sperm into the water column. (Gambino)” These bundles float to the surface and mix with eggs and sperm from other colonies to fertilize one another. In the case of biologists who collect these gametes for sperm banks, they place fine nets over individual corals that rise to the surface where the samples are then collected and examined for viability before being frozen.

A marine biologist from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Mary Hagedorn began the first “frozen repositories of coral sperm and embryonic cells,” at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. The “sperm banks” contain samples from elkhorn as well as Hawaiian mushroom coral. In an article by Tim Wall, Hagedorn said, “It is crucial that we begin ex situ conservation on coral reefs while their genetic diversity is still high.” While she hopes that they never have to use the banks, the coral sperm and embryonic cells could be thawed out to restore diversity to dying coral populations. Hagedorn hopes to expand her bank to include gametes from rice coral, which is a Hawaiian species at risk for disease and bleaching. Besides the application of cryopreservation toward coral sperm and embryonic cells, she is working on developing a method of freezing small fragments of coral to utilize its ability to reproduce asexually as well (Gambino).

Sperm banks for coral would aid in the protection of their genetic diversity and prevent further extinction. Coral reefs are also places that one-quarter of marine species call home. In this way, the preservation of coral reefs would not only benefit the reef species, but also prevent the habitat degradation of many other marine species. Reefs are also very beneficial to humans as well, since “they protect shorelines from hurricanes and tsunamis and are a source of potential biopharmaceuticals.”

Gambino, Megan. “Saving Coral…Through Sperm Banks?” Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution., 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 21 October 2011.

Wall, Tim. “Banking Coral Sperm.” Discovery News. Discovery Communications., 19 May 2011. Web. 21 October 2011.

Overfishing Implicated in Sea Urchin Epidemics

Over the past several decades, overfishing and overexploitation have had a detrimental effect on the marine community. For instance, according to an article in Conservation Magazine (January, Vol. 6), the overfishing of sea urchin predators, such as the California spiny lobster, has proven to have both an indirect and negative effect on tropical reefs. When these predators are overfished, it leaves sea urchins more susceptible to disease, thus leading to an eventual decrease in the sea urchin population that would otherwise be regulated by its predators. Without sea urchins around, seaweed and algae, the sea urchin’s primary source of food, are free to grow over the tropical corals, thereby destroying the reef. This not only affects the coral themselves, but other species that might otherwise find shelter and/or food amongst the coral. This is just one example of what can happen when there are no regulations in place to limit the overfishing and overexploitation of marine species. Unintended consequences can trigger a domino effect with wide-ranging implications.


By Michael Lewallen

The Paradox of Value

I had been hoping to focus my blog on the Anthropogenic Allee Effect since first hearing about it in lecture. What a crazy thing for mankind to do; discover rarity and push it to the limit—simply for the fleeting thrill of the hunt, joy in the exotic treasurer, or satisfaction with a complete collection. So with already a few opinions on the nature of my fellow man, this trend had me intrigued, a little irritated, and ready to learn more.

In case you don’t quite remember what the Anthropogenic Allee Effect (AAE) is, Courchamp et al. describe it in their article as, “The value attributed to rarity in some human activities that could precipitate the extinction of rare species.” There they list six different human activities that do, or have the potential to, induce an AAE. These are: Collections, Trophy Hunting, Luxury Items, Exotic Pets, Ecotourism, and Traditional Medicine. All of these activities place value on species that are exceedingly rare and, in doing so, continue to add to the their rarity as they take organisms out of their natural habitat for their own interests. Examples we discussed in class, and are mentioned in Courchamp et al.’s article, include Big Horn sheep—which hunters may pay up to $400,000 to hunt! and the Napoleon wrasse, which is highly valued for its uh, delicious?? lips.

But the Anthropogenic Allee Effect is not only a threat to the most charismatic and emblematic species, but also to the most inconspicuous invertebrate, as long as rarity renders it fashionable to exploit for one reason or another (Courchamp et al. 2006).

The consequences of the AAE are ultimately disastrous. If rarity continues to be the most desirable factor, then eventually everything will go extinct! And then where will we stand? Happy to collect cockroaches perhaps?

To learn more about the Anthopogenic Allee Effect or the Napoleon wrasse, please check out the sites listed below.

Courchamp F, Angulo E, Rivalan P, Hall RJ, Signoret L, et al. 2006 Rarity Value and Species Extinction: The Anthropogenic Allee Effect. PLoS Biol 4(12): e415. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040415

Humphead Wrasses Awareness Campaign. The Humphead Wrasse. IUCN and Species Survival Commission. Web. 9 Aug. 2011.

Photo credit:

Darren JEW/WWF-Canon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Just who is native?

In the headlines, well the local headlines anyway, this week is the final  removal of elk and mule deer from Santa Rosa Island.

The restoration of the Channel Islands has been a controversial story that has led to some fierce local opposition to the Park Service's culling program. Animal rights advocates have often found themselves on the opposite side of this conflict to conservation biologists.

“The distinction between native and nonnative as defined by the Park Service seems to be arbitrary — animals before Columbus’s arrival are okay, but those after are not okay. All of these creatures have been here long enough to call Santa Rosa Island home, and have been as essential to the place as the Torrey pines and the island foxes.”

I think in this case the distinction is fairly clear and the elk and deer were brought to the island relatively recently by man. However the quote above raises an interesting question; especially on islands, where every species is an immigrant, how long does a species have to have lived there before it is considered native?

Biofuels and Tropical Deforestation

As our exceedingly large population continues on its exponential path and our finite resources are being consumed, the need for renewable resources bears greater weight. Unfortunately, with an increased pressure on agency officials and corporate heads comes a dangerous tendency to settle on a quick-fix. One such situation is the proposed ‘solution’ to be found in biofuels.

While biofuels have been shown to burn cleaner, emit less particulates, and cost significantly less than imported oil, the environmental costs are often overlooked. Palm oil, the “world’s leading vegetable oil,” has quickly gained popularity as a biofuel; in 2010, the “largest biofuel plant in the world,” an oil palm plantation/refinery, was established (Wikipedia, Palm Oil). The growth of oil palm plantations, however, has a direct correlation with the destruction of tropical rainforests. With “more than 50,000-sqare miles of moist, tropical lowland areas” already occupied by oil palms, deforestation via plantation development has been deemed one of the “biggest ecological impact[s]” on diminishing biodiversity. Where oil palms have replaced rich forests, less than a sixth of the species found in primary forests are present. One of the biggest victims of this habitat destruction is the Orangutan, who is now identified as "critically endangered" by the IUCN. What’s worse is that “degraded forests, and even alternative crops…supported higher numbers of species” than the oil palm.

Unfortunately, demand for biofuel is “increasing rapidly”—more rapidly
than we are addressing the issue. In the case of wildlife, it seems that there is little to be done for those already within the plantations, so the best strategy is to simply avoid the proliferation of plantations onto valuable, rich land. However, in finding new places for these plantations to reside, one must consider the “careful distinction between degraded land that is of low conservation value…and partially logged or degraded forest areas which can still harbor relatively high levels of biodiversity.” In any case, it seems as though we need to approach ‘solutions’ with greater caution and thoroughly asses the pros and cons of any alternative before jumping on the ephemeral bandwagon.

Fitzherbert, Emily et al. "How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity?" Trends in Ecology and Evolution
23.10 (2008): 538-545. ScienceDirect. <>

"Oil palm plantations are no substitute for tropical rainforests." PHYSORG. N.p., 15 Sept. 2008.


White-Nose Syndrome Threatens North America's Bats

Threats to biodiversity can come in unconventional packages. Currently, conservation biologists are trying to unravel the mysteries of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a pervasive fungal infection spreading its way through New England’s bat populations (Left, a Little Brown Bat, Myotis lucifugus, infected with WNS). WNS was first documented in Albany, New York in 2006. Since then it has been responsible for the deaths of over a million hibernating bats from 2006-2009 (Blehert et al., 2009, and Sebastien et al., 2011). It remains to be seen if WNS is only a symptom of another disease or is actually the causative agent of mortality. However, the lack of evidence for any other pathogen strongly hints to the deadly power of this fungus, newly christened Geomyces destructans (Sebastien et al., 2011).

G. destructans infects the face, nose, ears, and wings of bats as they hibernate, driving hyphae deep into the cutaneous layer, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands (Blehert et al., 2009). While the physiology of pathogen is not well studied, it is apparent that fungal infection rapidly depletes fat reserves (Blehert et al., 2009). Tactile irritation combined with altering water balance of the bats may cause them to rouse from hibernation too frequently, resulting in decrease in fat reserves and death by starvation (below, a map of WNS occurrence as of 2010) (Sebastien et al., 2011).

It is a mystery where G. destructans comes from, although the fungus has been found in association with European bats without mass mortality (Sebastien et al., 2011). This could make G. destructans a dangerous invasive species, or it is possible that a North American Strain recently evolved a higher virulence (Sebastien et al., 2011). Transmission occurs through bats coming into contact with spores that remain inactive in roost sites.

Despite incomplete knowledge, WNS has such a drastic effect on bat populations that measures to contain and minimize the spread of infection must be taken immediately. Globally, bats play important roles in local ecosystems such as insect consumption, flower pollination, and movement of seeds. Allowing such a disease to go unchecked would be a disaster to North America’s bat diversity; steps must be taken to understand this new phenomenon.

Reference Links:

Lineage Loss in Cheetahs

As with most species, there are many different reasons for the cheetah being endangered. Habitat loss, high cub mortality from predation, and abnormalities due to inbreeding are just some of them. This journal paper by Marcella Kelly from UC Davis (Go Ags!) looks at the lineage of Serengeti cheetahs. These cheetahs have a small population and with that comes a few consequences that Kelly mentions. The effective population turns out to be only 15% of the original when fluctuation population size, unequal sex ratio, skewed distribution of lifetime reproductive success, and heritability were included. As discussed in lecture, small populations like that of the cheetah's are susceptible to many negative effects. Such effects include the increased likely hood of diseases wiping them out, increased deleterious alleles, and, as mentioned before, essentially reduces the effective population size. Under IUCN the cheetahs were listed under vulnerable, although I noticed conflicting opinions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Cheetah: An Example of Genetic Bottleneck

Today, the small remaining cheetah population remaining in Africa faces many pressures which threaten the continuing existence of the species. Cheetahs first evolved in North America over 8 million years ago and dispersed around the globe over time, evolving into many different species and subspecies. 12,000 years ago during the last glacial maximum, large glaciers caused cheetahs to become locally extinct everywhere except for Africa. However, the few surviving cheetahs all shared similar genetics, creating a genetic bottleneck within the population. Genetic bottlenecks threaten a population due to the many complications of inbreeding, which include more common defects and less resistance to disease. The idea of cheetahs experiencing a genetic bottleneck has been tested scientifically. Results from testing cheetah DNA indicate that the cheetah did in fact experience a genetic bottleneck 12,000 years ago (Menotti –Raymond and O’Brien, 1993). In addition to the challenges posed by low genetic diversity, the cheetah also faces pressures from an increasingly fragmented habitat, and competition for food from both humans and other large cats.

Work cited:

Menotti-Raymond, M. "Dating the Genetic Bottleneck of the African Cheetah." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 90.8 (1993): 3172-176. Web. .

Work Referenced:

Gugliotta, Guy. "Rare Breed | Science & Nature | Smithsonian Magazine." History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian Magazine. Web. 19 Oct. 2011. .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The post below reminded me of this post I made last year, after a somewhat depressing visit to Las Vegas for a wedding, about Greenwashing.

Greenwashing, if you aren't aware of the term, is when a company uses deceptive marketing to promote the perception that a company's policies or products are environmentally friendly. It is, sadly, so common it is the rule rather than the exception these days. The Green washing index at the University of Oregon allows you to post and rate company ads according to their Greenwashing index. You can look at ads that other people have rated and you can see those rated authentic and the worst offenders in greenwashing. I don't think the site is especially user friendly but it allows you to sort and view ads in a number of ways. For example you can select ads by category (eg choosing the automotive category) and then sort the ads by those currently rated worst in this category.

As our world is increasing in population, our natural resources are becoming more and more scarce. Lately it is becoming a bit of a fad to be eco-friendly or eco-groovy, but sometimes in the wrong way. For example, in this cartoon, the power that is being used for the gasless car is coming from a not so eco-groovy power plant that is dumping toxic waste into a landfill. Maybe she should be riding a bike instead. Of course, not all eco-groovy earth saving activities are bad for the environment, but it is important to truly live the part and not just do it half heartedly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rapid Assessment Program: A Conservationist's Dream Job

For anyone looking into a career in the scientific aspect of conservation, Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program has got to be an appealing choice. Conservation International (CI) is a world renown conservation organization based in Arlington, Virginia. Founded in 1987, CI’s mission statement is something along the lines of “Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.” In 1990, CI founded the Rapid Assessment Program, more commonly known as the RAP. The description provided by CI’s website adequately describes just how badass the RAP is: “An ecological SWAT team that could accurately assess the health of an ecosystem in a fraction of the time it would normally take". Who wouldn’t want that job?

RAP operates in teams of 10-30 of top field biologists, bringing together many different strengths and specialties. These teams travel to the most remote, threatened, and biologically diverse areas of the world with one goal in mind: Find and describe as many species as possible. In a short but intense three to four weeks, these scientists find and catalog hundreds of species to get an idea of how biologically diverse an area is, and how this diversity is threatened. Then, back at the headquarters, they frantically prepare their reports and articles and use the data they gathered to help CI plan their conservation efforts more strategically. This program has been described as the most effective and powerful conservation tool of our time.

An ecological SWAT team. I still can’t get over it. That is perhaps the best description of any nonprofit organization ever. How awesome would it be to have that job? I can only hope my future will bring me closer to realizing this dream. Not only do these biodiversity defenders form a very effective and highly respected conservation effort but they also contribute largely to the academic field of biology. Since their founding, scientists working on rapid assessments have discovered over 1300 new species. For the size of this small program, this is a hugely impressive number.

As if this doesn’t sound good enough already, there is the icing on the cake: Travel. As a scientist in the RAP, you get to travel to the most beautiful and remote places in the world. This job often takes you to places that have never been walked by modern humans. Even better, these places are home to wildlife that have never been seen by modern humans. Although some scientists are required to live permanently in these remote locations for their work, an RAP scientist spends a perfect three weeks in the wildest places left, among the wildest of wildlife, and, most assuredly, with the wildest of coworkers.

The only thing is, you have to live in Virginia the rest of the time.

Posted by Kai Atkinson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cute but sad

Penguin Jumper in 8ply  - Must be 100% Wool Yarn
1 pair 3.25mm , 1 pair of 3.75mm needles , 1 set of 3.25mm dpn’s or circular
Cast on 36 stitches using 3.25 needles.K1, P1 to end of row. Repeat this row 7 times.  Change to 3.75mm needles and K2, P2 rib. Work 4 rows increasing at each end of every row. (44 sts)
Continue until work measures 15 cms.
Decrease 1 st at each end of every row until 28 sts remain.
Decrease 1 st. in middle of next row (27 sts.)
Leave on needle.
Make second side the same.
Transfer the 54 sts from both pieces to 3 of the set of 4 3.25mm needles.(18 sts on each.) and work a round neck in K1 P1 rib for 10 rows.
Cast off.
Stitch up sides to decreasing to 27sts (opening for flipper). Add elastic to the top and bottom to prevent the penguins getting out of them. Top: 15cm of elastic; bottom 17 cm (knots allowed). Flat elastic OK.

In case you didn't hear New Zealand is suffering one of its worst ecological disasters as a heavy container ship ran aground and spilled heavy fuel oil into some pristine habitats. A New Zealand yarn store is helping relief efforts by collecting penguin jumpers (sweaters if you are American).

Skeinz has been asked to help with the penguin relief by knitting small Penguin PJ’s to help protect the birds & prevent them from preening their feather & ingesting the toxic oil. 
It's probably not worth posting them from the US unless you knit a lot of them.

It sounds like penguins are one of the success stories of the rehabilitatuon effort:

Yet there have been success stories, particularly treating little blue penguins -- the smallest species of the flightless birds, which have responded well to treatment for oil contamination.
"Throughout the day they're fed, they're swum, and generally taken care of and loved to death," Conayne said, standing before a small swimming pool converted into a makeshift penguin watering area.
The birds usually have a feisty nature and are behaving as normal, she explained. "The penguins are trying to tear people to shreds, so that's really good."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Red King Crab

This is an interesting invasive species case. Red king crab, normally found in the Pacific Ocean, was brought into Norway’s seas by scientists in hopes of establishing a population for fishing in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2009, there were more than 2 million adult red king crabs found in this area.

The red king crab is destroying the ecosystem in the Varanger area, though. The scientists that introduced it did not realize how drastic this crab species could alter its environment. Not only do the crabs prey on larger individual organisms, but they also dig and scoop up the sediments looking for soft-bodied organisms to eat. Therefore, other species are being directly preyed upon, and the benthic zone is subject to destruction by these crabs.

location of the Voranger area

The article reports the decrease in numbers for other species. Specifically, more sedimentary species, such as echinoderms and large mollusks, decreased drastically in numbers. Because each species has a role in this ecosystem, their decrease is devastating. For example, some organisms’ function, like water pumping, helps maintain a healthy level of oxygen in the benthic zone. So because the crab is harming other species, the ecosystem as a whole is also being harmed.

The authors note that research on this species is vital as it can spread to other areas. Also, the affects of the red king crab are not fully studied. But, conservation ecology is a crisis science, as we learned in the first few lectures, so it is hard to decide how much time we should spend studying the crabs before we decide to take action, if at all.

But even if scientists decided on an exit plan for the red king crab from this area, would the local human population be okay with that? Now this is a commercial crab, with the government regulating its fishing. In 2009, quotas were set for 1,300 tons! How can scientists get people on their side if their economy is going to be hurt by saving the environment? Can another industry be developed by restoring the ecosystem?

The second article I listed studies the effects of loss of limbs on crabs. They found that if males lose their chelipeds (pincers), they cannot successfully mate with females. Males need to hold the females up, and without these appendages, they cannot reproduce. Also, if any crab loses its main appendages, it cannot feed as well, thus lowering its survival rate. As I read this article, I just imagined people picking off the claws of crabs as a way of decreasing the population size, which seemed silly to me.

From these two articles, the only way of removing these crabs semi-reasonably is by overfishing, in my opinion. But will the Norwegians be okay with that? And will the ecosystem return to what it was?

Oug, E., Cochrane, S. K. J., Sundet, J. H., Norling, K., & Nilsson, H. C. (2010). Effects of the invasive red king crab (paralithodes camtschaticus) on soft-bottom fauna in varangerfjorden, northern norway . Marine Biodiversity under Change, 41(3), 467-479.

Dvoretsky, A. G., & Dvoretsky, V. G. (2009). limb autotomy patterns in paralithodes camtschaticus (tilesius, 1815), an invasive crab, in the coastal barents sea. Journal of experimental marine biology and ecology, 377(1), 20-27.

Images found on Wikipedia.