Friday, May 29, 2009
Be a part of the solution. Take action. Visit 350.org. Watch this video which transcends language boundaries. Tell your friends. Be a part of the movement. Cause change.
-Julie Hart, attending the Northeast Alpine Stewardship Gathering in Lake Placid, NY
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Hawaiian honeycreepers have already moved up mountains once. When mosquitos carrying unfamiliar diseases such as avian pox and malaria were introduced in the 1800s, the birds that weren’t wiped out escaped to high-altitude refuges, where it was too cold for the insects to survive.
Now as the climate warms, mosquitos are again on their tail, and this time, there is nowhere left for them to move, reports a U.S. Geological Survey study in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery.
Rising temperatures will allow both mosquitos and the avian pathogens to survive at higher elevations. But because the birds are living at the tree line, above which forests don’t grow, they are up against the limits of their habitat. The results could be disastrous for the group of birds, which already include 14 endangered species. If temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius, 60 to 96 percent of their disease-free refuge habitat could disappear.
The authors say that better forest management, especially at mid-elevations where most disease transmission occurs, will become increasingly urgent because it is only a matter of time before the birds can’t fly any higher. – Jessica Leber http://journalwatch.conservationmagazine.org
Source: Atkinson, C.T. et al. 2009. Introduced Avian Diseases, Climate Change, and the Future of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery DOI: 10.1647/2008-059.1
Monday, May 25, 2009
A large-scale study of mockingbirds in diverse habitats reveals that species in more variable climes also sing more complex tunes. "As environments become more variable or unpredictable, song displays become more elaborate," said Carlos Botero, a postdoctoral researcher at NESCent in Durham, NC. NESCent is an NSF-funded collaborative research center operated by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University.
Local climate patterns are good indicators of how challenging life is in a given location, Botero said. "Survival and reproduction become more complicated when weather patterns are unpredictable because you don't know when food will be available or how long it will be around," he explains. What's more, the consequences of picking a mediocre mate are magnified in harsher climes.
"In really difficult or demanding environments you would expect females to be choosier," he said.
Male mockingbirds sing primarily to impress mates, said Botero. Superior singing skills are a cue that a male is a good catch. "Complexity of song display – how many song types a bird sings, how hard the songs are − is a good predictor of the quality of the individual," said Botero. "Males that sing more complex songs tend to carry fewer parasites, and have offspring that are more likely to survive."
Songbirds aren't born knowing their songs, however: they have to learn them over time. Since birdsong is a learned behavior, Botero and colleagues suspect that song-learning ability may also be a display of learning ability in general. The bird equivalent of sparkling conversation, complex songs may indicate which males have not only brawn, but also brainpower. "Birds that sing better are telling others, at least indirectly: Hey, I'm a good learner," said Botero.
More importantly, singing skills may be a sign that males are clever enough to cope with iffy environments. "Individuals that are more intelligent tend to be better able to compensate for the difficulties of unpredictable climates. For example, if some individuals are able to invent new foraging techniques, then they are going to be better at surviving harsh winters than the poor guys who only know one way to forage," Botero said. "The more intelligent you are, the more resourceful you are, and the more curve balls you're able to handle."
To see if there was a correlation between climate and song, Botero searched sound archives around the world and embarked on a solo tour of the southern hemisphere to record bird songs in the wild. Armed with supersensitive recording equipment, Botero trekked his way through desert, jungle, scree and scrub in search of mockingbirds in song. Botero's recordings − nearly 100 tracks from 29 mockingbird species − will enhance pre-existing sound archives by filling in gaps for species for which high-quality recordings weren't previously available.
Back in the States, Botero used computer programs to convert each sound recording − a medley of whistles, warbles, trills and twitters − into a sonogram, or sound graph. Like a musical score, the complex pattern of lines and streaks in a sonogram enables scientists to see and visually analyze sound.
Botero and colleagues then painstakingly analyzed each snippet of song and compared their patterns to a database of temperature and precipitation records. The researchers found that species subject to more variable and unpredictable climates had more elaborate song displays.
The connection between birdsong and climate is new and somewhat surprising, Botero explains. "We're connecting two dots that were far away before."
For Botero and his colleagues, the next step is to see whether this pattern holds true for other animals. By studying animal communication, Botero ultimately hopes to shed light on how language evolved in humans. "You can't help but wonder what is it about humans that made our vocal communication so incredibly complicated compared to other animals," Botero said.
"It has long been hypothesized that one reason why humans have such exaggerated displays – not just language, but music, art, and even math – is because females have selected for signals of intelligence," explains Botero.
"What we have now is a nice arena – outside of humans − where we can test these ideas and start understanding processes that are fundamentally important for our own species."
The team's findings were published online in the May 21 issue of the journal Current Biology.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
1. Mountain Birdwatch Season is Fast Approaching!
The Bicknell's Thrushes, Swainson's Thrushes, Blackpoll Warblers, Winter Wrens, and White-throated Sparrows have returned to the Northeast. Next week I will be providing training for AMC Hut Naturalists in the White Mountains, attending the Northeast Alpine Stewardship Gathering in Lake Placid, and then kicking off the Mountain Birdwatch season on June 1st with a trip up Mt Algonquin in the Adirondacks with the ADK stewards. There are still a few routes available if you find yourself wanting another excuse to get out this summer (available routes). We have uploaded the latest Mountain Birdwatch Annual Report, which covers 2000-2008 (view report). As always, please share your photos, trip stories, and any questions you have about the Mountain Birdwatch surveys on this listserve. I look forward to hearing your stories from the field!
2. Honing in on Bicknell's Thrush Migration
VCE kicked off the Bicknell's Thrush study season Monday morning with at least six Bicknell's detected on Pico Mountain in central Vermont. The earliest date on record for BITH on the breeding grounds is May 15th. Colleagues in the Dominican Republic heard BITH calling at our winter study site in the Sierra de Bahorucos, Pueblo Viejo, as late as April 24th this year. VCE and collaborators with the International Bicknell's Thrush Conservation Group (www.bicknellsthrush.org) are launching a more detailed study of BITH migration this summer. We are placing geolocators on 120 birds from the Catskills to the Gaspe.
Geolocators are mini dataloggers with light sensors that detect sun up and sun down which are then used to estimate latitude and longitude. The geolocators are attached to the backs of the birds much like the radiotransmitters we use to track local movements on the breeding and wintering grounds. The batteries in radio transmitters only last 6-7 weeks, but the geolocators last well over a year. The only downfall with the geolocators is that they must be retrieved in order to download the data, which means that if we put a geolocator on a bird this summer, we must wait until next summer to recapture the bird, download the data, and interpret the results. We know from our long-term studies in Vermont that BITH are faithful to the same breeding site year after year, and they have a high survival rate (60-65%), so we estimate we will recover at least 50% of the geolocators next year. We hope to see how long it takes birds to migrate, the migration routes they take, and where distinct breeding populations are wintering. For more information, visit your local library to check out this article in the 13 February 2009 issue of Science: Stutchbury, B. J. M., S. A. Tarof, T. Done, E. Gow, P. M. Kramer, J. Tautin, J. W. Fox, and V. Afanasyev. 2009. Tracking long-distance songbird migration using geolocators. Science 323: 896.
3. Big Jay: Restoring Backcountry Skiing Trails
In the summer of 2007, we were dismayed to hear that backcountry skiing trails were illegally cut on Big Jay in northern Vermont. Several organizations rallied and began restoration efforts that fall in the hopes of reducing soil erosion and managing recreational use of the area. Big Jay is adjacent to Jay Peak Resort. The entire ridgeline from Jay Peak to the northern VT border supports a healthy population of Bicknell's Thrush. The two men who confessed to the cutting are still waiting a court decision. In the meantime, a new organization called the Northeastern Backcountry Coalition formed to support the interests of backcountry skiers and snowboarders and promote leave no trace practices.
4. Bicknell's Thrush Tours on Mt Washington
Do you know someone who wants to see a Bicknell's Thrush? Maybe you have a birder friend visiting this summer? The Mount Washington Observatory is offering Bicknell's Thrush tours up the auto road this June. Trips will depart from the base at 5:30am and will last approximately 2 hrs. The tours cost $45 and are offered on June 6, 10, 13, 14 and 17. To make a reservation, or for more details, contact Mary Power at 603.466.3988 or email.
Other hot spots for detecting Bicknell's Thrush are: Whiteface Mtn (Adirondacks), Plateau (Catskills), Mansfield and Equinox (VT), Jefferson's Notch (NH), and Saddleback (ME).
802-649-1431 ext 6
Friday, May 15, 2009
Started by the United States Senate, Endangered Species Day is the third Friday in May. Every year, thousands of people throughout the country celebrate Endangered Species Day at parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, libraries, schools and community centers. You can participate in festivals, field trips, park tours, community clean-ups, film showings, classroom presentations, and many other fun and educational activities.
To learn more about Endangered Species Day, visit the Endangered Species Coalition and the Alliance for Zero Extinction, of which VCE is a member.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the country's main legislative act to protect endangered species. The ESA was weakened during the last few months of the Bush administration, removing scientific review requirements for government projects and limiting restrictions for polar bears. On April 28th, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the restoration of these rules, ensuring that science, not politics, will guide the preservation of endangered species. Read more....
Here are 10 actions you can take to protect endangered species (from the Endangered Species Coalition):
1) Learn about endangered species in your area
2) Visit a national wildlife refuge, park or other open space
3) Make your home wildlife friendly
4) Provide habitat for wildlife by planting native vegetation in your yard
5) Minimize use of herbicides and pesticides
6) Slow down when driving
7) Recycle and buy sustainable products
8) Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species
9) Report any harassment or shooting of threatened and endangered species
10) Protect wildlife habitat
Thursday, May 14, 2009
By comparing tropical salamander populations in Central America today with results of surveys conducted between 1969 and 1978, UC Berkeley researchers have found that populations of many of the commonest salamanders have steeply declined.
On the flanks of the Tajumulco volcano on the west coast of Guatemala, for example, two of the three commonest species 40 years ago have disappeared, while the third was nearly impossible to find.
"There have been hints before - people went places and couldn't find salamanders. But this is the first time we've really had, with a very solid, large database, this kind of evidence," said study leader David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and curator of herpetology in the campus's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
Frog declines have been attributed to a variety of causes, ranging from habitat destruction, pesticide use and introduced fish predators to the Chytrid fungus, which causes an often fatal disease, chytridiomycosis.
These do not appear to be responsible for the decline of Central American salamanders, Wake said. Instead, because the missing salamanders tend to be those living in narrow altitude bands, Wake believes that global warming is pushing these salamanders to higher and less hospitable elevations.
"We are losing some of these treasures of high-elevation and mid-elevation cloud forests in Central America," he said. "It is very worrying because it implies there are severe environmental problems."
Because several of the sampled salamander populations were in protected reserves, one message is that threatened species cannot be protected merely by putting a fence around their habitat. Global warming is affecting species even in protected areas - a phenomenon also documented among small mammals in Yosemite National Park by Museum of Vertebrate Zoology scientists.
Wake and long-time colleague Theodore J. Papenfuss, a herpetologist in the museum, along with UC Berkeley graduate student Sean M. Rovito, Gabriela Parra-Olea of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Carlos R. Vásquez-Almazán of the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala City, report their findings this week in the Online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Missing frogs are easy to spot, Wake said, because they gather in ponds to breed, or they can be caught in the glare of a flashlight at night. Many salamanders, however, in particular the Plethodontid salamanders, which comprise two-thirds of all species worldwide, are secretive, living under logs and rocks, and easily missed. Nevertheless, anecdotal accounts have pointed to a salamander decline and a general amphibian decline.
Wake and Papenfuss used good records they had acquired in the 1970s, which document salamander abundance along a transect up the southern slope of Volcán Tajumulco, to make a comparison with current populations, which they resurveyed in 2005 and 2006. In addition, they compared salamander populations today at six sites in Mexico to data that Wake and Papenfuss have collected since the mid-1970s.
In Guatemala, those salamanders with narrow elevational niches and living exclusively under logs were most affected, while salamander "generalists" able to live in a variety of habitats, from leaf axils and bromeliads to moss mats, bark and burrows in the soil, were in about the same abundance as before. There was little evidence of Chytrid fungus, and habitat quality is generally similar to what it was in the 1970s. A nearby volcano with several of the same affected species is a nature reserve, and surprisingly, only a single salamander was discovered on two trips.
"We think global warming is a factor, pushing organisms up to higher elevations where the habitat is wrong for them," Wake said. "The ones that were already high up have taken the hit."
In Mexico, the decline was most evident in Cerro San Felipe, a reserve in Oaxaca, among species living around 2,800-3,000 meters, which is the maximum height of mountains in the range. There, Papenfuss said, the commonest species, Pseudoeurycea smithi, has virtually disappeared. Where he had formerly uncovered hundreds in a single morning, he has found only one or two in the last 10 years.
"It may be that those species are being pushed right off the tops of the mountains," Wake said.
The problem extends all the way to Mexico City. North of the capital, in the Parque Nacional El Chico in Hidalgo, formerly "a paradise for salamanders," populations are radically reduced.
Wake noted that species that depend on salamanders, such as a salamander-eating snake, have also declined significantly.
"The problem is, salamanders used to be a very important element of mid- and high-elevation communities," he said. "They probably were the commonest vertebrates. In North American forests, it has been documented that salamanders are not only the commonest vertebrate, but by biomass have the greatest weight in the ecosystem. You can't remove something like that without a profound effect on the ecosystem."
The work was supported by the University of California Institute for Mexico; the AmphibiaTree Project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation; and UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
The latest evaluation of the world’s birds reveals that more species than ever are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
BirdLife International, which conducted the research for the IUCN Red List, found 1,227 species (12 percent) are classified as globally threatened with extinction. The good news is that when conservation action is put in place, species can be saved.
The IUCN Red List now lists 192 species of bird as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category, a total of two more than in the 2008 update.
“It extremely worrying that the number of Critically Endangered birds on the IUCN Red List continues to increase, despite successful conservation initiatives around the world,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.
A recently discovered species from Colombia, the Gorgeted Puffleg (Eriocnemis isabellae), appears for the first time on the IUCN Red List, classified as Critically Endangered. The puffleg, a flamboyantly coloured hummingbird, only has 1,200 hectares of habitat remaining in the cloud forests of the Pinche mountain range in south-west Colombia and eight percent of this is being damaged every year to grow coca.
The Sidamo Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis), from the Liben Plain of Ethiopia, has been moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered and is in danger of becoming mainland Africa’s first bird extinction due to changes in land use. And coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, one of the Galapagos finches, the Medium Tree-finch (Camarhynchus pauper) also becomes Critically Endangered, partly as a result of an introduced parasitic fly.
“In global terms, things continue to get worse – but there are some real conservation success stories this year to give us hope and point the way forward,” says Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science and Policy.
It’s not only rare birds that are becoming rarer; common birds are becoming less common. In eastern North America, the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) is fast disappearing from the skies. Following continent-wide declines of nearly 30 percent in the last decade alone, this common species has been moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened.
“Across Africa, widespread birds of prey are also disappearing at an alarming rate, and emblematic species such as Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) and Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) have been placed in a higher category of threat as a result,” says Jez Bird, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer. “These declines are mirrored in many species, in every continent.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In Brazil, Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) has been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Named after the English poet, this spectacular blue parrot has increased four-fold in numbers as a result of a joint effort of many national and international non-governmental organizations, the Brazilian government and local landowners.
In New Zealand, the Chatham Petrel (Pterodroma axillaris) has benefited from work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation and has consequently been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. In Mauritius, the stunning Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra) has been rescued from the brink of extinction after the translocation and establishment of a new population on a predator-free offshore island. It is now classified as Endangered, rather than Critically Endangered.
Similar work is now also underway for 32 Critically Endangered species as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.“Both the petrel and fody have suffered from introduced invasive species, and tackling these is one of the 10 key actions needed to prevent further bird extinctions that BirdLife has identified,” says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “But to achieve this goal, more resources are needed. What the changes in this year’s IUCN Red List tell us is that we can still turn things around for these species. There just has to be the will to act.”
From IUCN press release- http://www.iucn.org/.
Monday, May 11, 2009
We look forward to welcoming Terry Precision to Vermont!
Terry Precision products that support VCE programs
Burlington Free Press article about Terry Precision's move to Vermont
- Rosalind Renfrew
Saturday, May 02, 2009
"This unprecedented USGS study is critically important to the health and safety of the American people and our wildlife because it helps us understand the relationship between atmospheric emissions of mercury and concentrations of mercury in marine fish," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "We have always known that mercury can pose a risk, now we need to reduce the mercury emissions so that we can reduce the ocean mercury levels."
"This study gives us a better understanding of how dangerous levels of mercury move into our air, our water, and the food we eat, and shines new light on a major health threat to Americans and people all across the world," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "With this information in hand, plus our own mercury efforts, we have an even greater opportunity to continue working with our international partners to significantly cut mercury pollution in the years ahead and protect the health of millions of people."
Water sampling cited in the study shows that mercury levels in 2006 were approximately 30 percent higher than those measured in the mid-1990s. This study documents for the first time the formation of methylmercury in the North Pacific Ocean. It shows that methylmercury is produced in mid-depth ocean waters by processes linked to the "ocean rain." Algae, which are produced in sunlit waters near the surface, die quickly and "rain" downward to greater water depths. At depth, the settling algae are decomposed by bacteria and the interaction of this decomposition process in the presence of mercury results in the formation of methylmercury. Many steps up the food chain later, predators like tuna receive methylmercury from the fish they consume.
One unexpected finding from this study is the significance of long-range transport of mercury within the ocean that originates in the western Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Asia.
"Mercury researchers typically look skyward to find a mercury source from the atmosphere due to emissions from land-based combustion facilities. In this study, however, the pathway of the mercury was a little different. Instead, it appears the recent mercury enrichment of the sampled Pacific Ocean waters is caused by emissions originating from fallout near the Asian coasts. The mercury-enriched waters then enter a long-range eastward transport by large ocean circulation currents," said USGS scientist and coauthor David Krabbenhoft.
Scientists sampled Pacific Ocean water from 16 different sites between Honolulu, Hawaii and Kodiak, Alaska. In addition, the scientists constructed a computer simulation that links atmospheric emissions, transport and deposition of mercury, and an ocean circulation model.
In the United States, about 40 percent of all human exposure to mercury is from tuna harvested in the Pacific Ocean, according to Elsie Sunderland, a coauthor of the study. Methylmercury is a highly toxic form of mercury that rapidly accumulates in the food chain to levels that can cause serious health concerns for those who consume the seafood. Pregnant women who consume mercury can pass on life-long developmental effects to their children. That is why in 2004 EPA and FDA issued the landmark Joint Guidance on the Consumption of Fish specifically targeted towards pregnant women and nursing mothers. Previous studies show that 75 percent of human exposure worldwide to mercury is from the consumption of marine fish and shell fish.
Scientists have known for some time that mercury deposited from the atmosphere to freshwater ecosystems can be transformed (methylated) into methylmercury, but identifying the analogous cycles in marine systems has remained elusive. As a result of this study we now know more about how the process which leads to the transformation of mercury into methylmercury.
The paper, "Mercury sources, distribution and bioavailability in the North Pacific Ocean--Insights from data and models and information on other USGS mercury research, is available online at http://toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/mercury.html.
The study appeared today in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, which is published by the American Geophysical Union. In addition to USGS mercury expert David Krabbenhoft, the authors include Elsie Sunderland, Harvard University; John Moreau, University of Melbourne, Australia (until recently a USGS, NRC Post Doctoral Candidate); William Landing, Florida State University; and Sarah Strode, Harvard University.
Friday, May 01, 2009
ENOSBURG — Ice still skimmed the little pool in Nancy Patch’s woods one mid-April evening as a group of citizen-scientists ringed its edges. By June, the water will have dried up.
In the weeks between March frost and summer heat, forest puddles full of snowmelt such as this one will incubate an explosion of life.
Fairy shrimp found only in these ephemeral pools will hatch, breed, lay
Before the short-lived pools disappear this spring, groups of volunteerscitizen-scientists will tramp the northern Vermont
Vernal pools, as they are known, provide crucial habitat for wood frogs,
That’s because the pools are so small and isolated that they don’t appear on the official maps that identify wetlands worthy of protection.
“You can’t conserve something if you don’t know where it is,” Michael Lew-Smith, a Hardwick ecologist, told the group of 18 Franklin County volunteers who gathered for a training session on vernal pools in Enosburg.
“How many vernal pools have been lost?” asked Steve Faccio, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. “We just don’t know, but we’ve certainly lost a proportion of them. People see these wet depressions in the woods as waste places. They don’t see them as critical wildlife habitat.”
Read more at http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20090430/NEWS02/90429051/1009/NEWS01