World's largest herbivores in danger of extinction due to hunting and habitat loss

Many of the world’s largest herbivores — including several species of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and gorillas — are in danger of becoming extinct. And if current trends continue, the loss of these animals would have drastic implications not only for the species themselves, but also for other animals and the environments and ecosystems in which they live, according to a new report by an international team of scientists.The study, which was co-authored by Blaire Van Valkenburgh, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was recently published in the open-access online journal Science Advances.

New Research Identifies First Warm-Blooded Fish

New research by NOAA Fisheries has revealed the opah, or moonfish, as the first fully warm-blooded fish that circulates heated blood throughout its body much like mammals and birds, giving it a competitive advantage in the cold ocean depths. The silvery fish, roughly the size of a large automobile tire, is known from oceans around the world and dwells hundreds of feet beneath the surface in chilly, dimly lit waters. It swims by rapidly flapping its large, red pectoral fins like wings through the water.

How Rivers Regulate Global Carbon Cycle

Humans concerned about climate change are working to find ways of capturing excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the Earth. But Nature has its own methods for the removal and long-term storage of carbon, including the world’s river systems, which transport decaying organic material and eroded rock from land to the ocean.

Urban development causes damage and loss of valuable ecosystems

All land is not created equal. Some ecosystems do triple duty in the benefits they provide to society. Massachusetts forests, for example, filter public drinking water while also providing habitat for threatened species and storing carbon to combat climate change. Ecologists and conservation groups single out the hardest-working ecosystems – called “hotspots” – for their exceptional conservation value. A new study published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology reports that the number of ecosystem hotspots has increased in Massachusetts over the past decade, with more and more hotspots popping up in metro Boston. But, the study authors say, more hotspots may not be a good thing.

New study examines the air quality impacts of fracking wells

People living or working near active natural gas wells may be exposed to certain pollutants at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.The researchers found that hydraulic fracturing – a technique for releasing natural gas from below-ground rock formations – emits pollutants known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), including some that are linked with increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.“Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them,” said the study’s coauthor Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Would you give up chocolate to save a friend?

We’ve all heard how rats will abandon a sinking ship. But will the rodents attempt to save their companions in the process? A new study shows that rats will, indeed, rescue their distressed pals from the drink—even when they’re offered chocolate instead. They’re also more likely to help when they’ve had an unpleasant swimming experience of their own, adding to growing evidence that the rodents feel empathy.

40% of Honey Bee Colonies Lost Last Year

Beekeepers across the United States lost more than 40 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of an annual nationwide survey led by a University of Maryland professor. While winter loss rates improved slightly compared to last year, summer losses—and consequently, total annual losses—were more severe. Commercial beekeepers were hit particularly hard by the high rate of summer losses, which outstripped winter losses for the first time in five years, stoking concerns over the long-term trend of poor health in honey bee colonies. 

Antarctic Ice Shelves found to be thinning from the top AND the bottom

A decade-long scientific debate about what’s causing the thinning of one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is settled this week (Wednesday 13 May) with the publication of an international study in the journal The Cryosphere.The Larsen C Ice Shelf — whose neighbours Larsen A and B, collapsed in 1995 and 2002 — is thinning from both its surface and beneath. For years scientists have been unable to determine whether it is warming air temperatures or warmer ocean currents that were causing the Antarctic Peninsula’s floating ice shelves to lose volume and become more vulnerable to collapse. This new study takes an important step forward in assessing Antarctica’s likely contribution to future sea-level rise.

The environmental impacts of common consumer products

A new study estimates for the first time how much land and water well-known brands such as Apple, Kraft and Gap use in a year, and what’s needed to manufacture some of the products they sell.Based on modelling by environmental data experts Trucost, the ‘Mind your step’ report published by Friends of the Earth examines the land and water ‘footprints’ of a range of diverse products including smartphones, leather boots, coffee, chicken curry ready-meals, t-shirts, and milk chocolate.

Vineyard Habitats Attract Butterflies

Washington wine grape vineyards experimenting with sustainable pest management systems are seeing an unexpected benefit: an increase in butterflies. Over the years, loss in natural habitat has seen the decline in numbers of around 50 species of butterflies in eastern Washington. But in a recent Washington State University study published in the June issue of the Journal of Insect Conservation, researchers found that vineyards that create nearby natural habitats have three times the number of butterfly species and four times more butterflies than conventional vineyards.