Best of our wild blogs: 15 Jul 11

abandoned seacil @ Labrador Nature Reserve 13July2011
from sgbeachbum

Colourful Changi
from wild shores of singapore and Singapore Nature

Trekking along the Choo-Choo Corridor
from Butterflies of Singapore

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'Lost' Rainbow Toad Rediscovered After 87 Years

Jeanna Bryner Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

After months of scouring remote forests in Borneo, researchers spotted three rainbow toads up a tree, snapping the first-ever photographs of this elusive amphibian species that hadn't been seen for 87 years, scientists announced today (July 13).

Last seen in 1924, the Bornean rainbow toad (Ansonia latidisca) had been listed as one of the world's top 10 most wanted lost frogs, or those that hadn't been seen in at least a decade. Conservation scientists thought the chances of spotting the spindly-legged toad were slim.

In fact, until this rediscovery, scientists had only seen illustrations of the mysterious and long-legged toad existed, after collection by European explorers in the 1920s. [See images of lost rainbow toad]

"When I saw an email with the subject 'Ansonia latidisca found' pop into my inbox I could barely believe my eyes," said Robin Moore of Conservation International, adding that an attached image proved the unbelievable finding. "The species was transformed in my mind from a black and white illustration to a living, colorful creature." (Moore launched the campaign the Global Search for Lost Amphibians.)

Three individuals of the missing toad, including an adult female, adult male and a juvenile, were documented up three different trees in Penrissen, a region outside the protected area system of Sarawak, which is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The toads ranged in size from 1.2 inches (30 millimeters) for the juvenile to 2.0 inches (51 mm) for the adult female. All three sported long, skinny limbs and bright skin pigments. [Mug Shots: Top 10 Lost Amphibians]

Initial searches by Indraneil Das of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and colleagues took place during evenings after dark along the high rugged ridges of the Gunung Penrissen range of Western Sarawak. The first few months proved fruitless; so the team decided to include higher elevations in their search. And one night last August on of Das' graduate students, Pui Yong Min, found one of the three gangly toads up a tree.

If you want to see newly rediscovered frog, however, it's probably best to look at the photos, as Das has said he won't divulge the exact site of the rediscovery right now, owing to the intense demand for brightly-colored amphibians by those involved in the pet trade.

The effort was part of the global search for lost amphibians by Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Amphibian Specialist Group, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation. The large search involved 126 researchers who scoured areas in 21 countries, on five continents, between August and December 2010.

The hope was to determine whether the lost amphibians had survived increasing pressures, such as habitat loss, climate change and disease — a fungus that causes the infectious disease chytridomycosis is devastating amphibian populations worldwide.

The only other member of the Top 10 list that has been rediscovered is the spotted stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), which is restricted to a very small area in southwestern Ecuador.

The rediscovered Borneo species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN's Red List.

Borneo toad spotted for 1st time in 87 years
AP Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Scientists scouring the mountains of Borneo spotted a species of toads last seen by European explorers in 1924, providing the world with the first photographs of the colorful, spindly legged creature, a researcher said Thursday.

In recent years, the Washington-based Conservation International placed the Sambas Stream Toad, also known as the Bornean Rainbow Toad, on a list of the world's "Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs" and voiced fears that it might be extinct.

Researchers found three of the slender-limbed toads living on trees during a night search last month in a remote mountainous region of Malaysia's eastern Sarawak state in Borneo, said Indraneil Das, a conservation professor at the Sarawak Malaysia University who led the expedition.

Only illustrations of the toads previously existed. Das said his team first decided to seek the toad last August, but months of searching proved fruitless until they went higher up the Penrissen mountain range, which has rarely been explored in the past century.

"It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet's escalating extinction crisis," Robin Moore, a specialist on amphibians at Conservation International, said in a statement announcing the discovery.

The toads found on three separate trees measured up to 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) in size and comprised an adult male, an adult female and a juvenile, the statement said.

Das declined to reveal the exact site of his team's discovery because of fears of illegal poaching due to strong demand for bright-hued amphibians. Researchers will continue work to find out more about the Borneo Rainbow Toad and other amphibians in Penrissen.

Conservationists say many endangered animals in Borneo are threatened by hunting and habitat loss sparked by logging, plantations and other human development.

Lost rainbow toad is rediscovered
BBC News 14 Jul 11;

A colourful, spindly-legged toad that was believed to be extinct has been rediscovered in the forests of Borneo.

Scientists from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) found three of the missing long-legged Borneo rainbow toads up a tree during a night time search.

The team had spent months scouring remote mountain forests for the species.

Prior to these images, only illustrations of the toad had existed.

These were drawn from specimens that were collected by European explorers in the 1920s.

Conservation International, which launched its Global Search for Lost Amphibians in 2010, had listed the toad as one of the "world's top 10 most wanted frogs".

Dr Indraneil Das led a team that searched the ridges of the Gunung Penrissen range of Western Sarawak, a boundary between Malaysia's Sarawak State and Indonesia's Kalimantan Barat Province.

After several months of night-long expeditions, one of Dr Das's graduate students eventually spotted a small toad in the high branches of a tree.

Lost hope

"Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species," said Dr Das.

"They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering."

Dr Robin Moore of Conservation International, who launched the Global Search for Lost Amphibians, was delighted by the discovery.

He said: "To see the first pictures of a species that has been lost for almost 90 years defies belief.

"It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet's escalating extinction crisis.

"Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere."

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Indonesia smoke may hit Malaysia, Singapore as haze deal left in limbo

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post 15 Jul 11;

Hotspots detected in the country’s land and forest area have grown in number over the last two weeks as people and forest companies began land clearing, amid the absence of law enforcement, activists warn.

WWF Indonesia recorded hotspots hit the highest number ever to occur with more than 1,519 in only two weeks, mostly in the provinces of Riau, North Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

“It is likely that smoke from land and forest fires in Indonesia will hit Malaysia and Singapore. It is only a matter of time unless the government takes serious action now,” Hariri Dedi, head of forest fire management at WWF, told The Jakarta Post.

WWF detected some 1,960 in the whole month of June, from 1,113 hotspots the previous month.

Hariri said that land clearing practices both by local people and forest companies, common during dry season, rose because the government failed to enforce the law on violators.

President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono has ordered ministers to manage the expected land and forest fires, putting it first on the agenda under the Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono, over the next three months.

“Yudhoyono asks [ministers] to ensure the safety of fire-prone provinces to avert them from sending smoke to Singapore and Malaysia, which could disturb those countries” Agung told a press conference after a Cabinet meeting last week.

Indonesia is the only country yet to ratify the ASEAN haze deal, which binds statutory countries to take steps to stop haze pollution from land and forest fires within their territories through strict regulations, heat-seeking satellites and firefighting training.

As the 2011 chair of ASEAN,
Indonesia has an ambitious plan to implement a haze agreement this year, but the government is facing difficulties getting approval from the House of Representatives.

Indonesia is the largest forest nation in ASEAN with some 120 million hectares of rainforest. Land and forest fires are normally massive in dry season with its haze reaching neighboring nations such as Singapore and Malaysia, making it the only member in the region that has not ratified the haze treaty since it was sanctioned in 2003.

Deputy Minister for Environmental Protection and Climate Change Arief Yuwono doubted WWF’s predictions Indonesia would send smoke to neighboring countries, saying the condition remained under control.

“Four ministers will visit West Kalimantan on Friday to coordinate with the local administration in preventing the land and forest fires,” he told the Post on Thursday.

The four ministers — Minister Agung, Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan and Agriculture Minister Siswono — would also visit the pilot project on preventing land and forest fires at Kubu Raya in West Kalimantan.

Data from the Environment Ministry showed the province of Riau, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan suffered from the highest number of hotspots with 1,289, 628 and 413, respectively, since January to July 4.

The ministry did not reveal the latest data from July 4.

Smoke from land and forest fires blanketed Singapore and Malaysia last year forcing the two countries to submit protests to the Indonesian government.

Suriyanto, head of the Riau Plantation, Agriculture and Forestry Agency, said the office had detected some 69 cases of land and forest fires in the last six months. “We can’t settle some 58 cases of land and forest fires due to topography problems and lack of water resources in the area,” he said as quoted by Antara on Wednesday.

Suroyanto said most of the burned area was located in industrial forest plantation (HTI) and production forest concession (HPH), belonging to giant forest companies operating in Riau province.

Rains bring some relief from haze
Florence A. Samy The Star 14 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: The rain brought much-needed respite from the thick haze that has blanketed the skies over the last few days.

Although the haze was still present, many areas recorded improved air quality, thanks to rains and thunderstorms experienced in many states Thursday.

As of 5pm, only 28 areas (54%) recorded moderate Air Pollutant Index (API) readings while the remaining 23 had healthy readings. This was an improvement from Wednesday which saw 31 areas with moderate air quality readings and Ipoh with an unhealthy API of 139.

(A good API reading is from 0-50, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101-200), very unhealthy (201-299) and hazardous (from 300 and above).

According to the Department of Environment, readings for their Jalan Tasek station in Ipoh dropped to an API of 60 by 5pm compared with 139 the day before.

The Meteorological Department has forecast more rain or thunderstorm in most states for Friday.

However, the haze is far from over as forest fires are still raging in Central Sumatra, More hazy days are expected as this is generally a dry season despite the occasional rain. The southwest monsoon ends in September.

According to the latest regional hazemap, scattered hotspots with smoke plumes continued to be detected over central Sumatra.

Haze getting worse despite showers
The Star 15 Jul 11;

GEORGE TOWN: The haze in Penang has worsened despite rainfall on parts of the island.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) sensors recorded a rise from 52 on Wednesday to 61 yesterday morning at the Universiti Sains Malaysia station here.

The API reading in Prai also increased from 56 on Wednesday evening to 62 yesterday morning.

In Seberang Jaya, the API reading was recorded at 71 yesterday morning compared to 63 on Wednesday.

The visibility level in Bayan Lepas has decreased since yesterday morning from 8km at 8am to 7km by 2pm.

Butterworth faces a similar condition with visibility around 7km to 8km.

A spokesman from the state Meteorological Department said the south-west monsoon winds were bringing the effects of the haze here from the burning hot spots in Sumatra.

“Rain will help to wash down some pollutants but it can’t do much else since the source of the haze is still around. Moreover, the wind is blowing in our direction.

“The state will be facing the south-west monsoon pattern until September,” he said.

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Malaysia: Water Level In Peat Soil Areas To Be Raised To Fight Possible Peat Fires

Bernama 14 Jul 11;

SIBU, July 14 (Bernama) -- The Department of Environment (DoE) has been instructed to raise the water level in peat soil areas in states with large tracts of such soil in order to fight possible outbreaks of fire.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah told the media here today that this was one of the plans to stop the current haze problem from deteriorating.

"We have peat soil areas in Sarawak (Miri), Johor, Selangor and Pahang.

"DoE has been told to pump out water from tube wells in such areas in these states to flood their peat areas," he said.

Uggah said this was critical because once the peat dried up, it would become very combustible and fighting its fires would be very time consuming and challenging, based on past experience.

"The moment the water level in these places drops by three to four metres, DoE will have to act.

"As such, the officers will have to go to the ground to monitor the level closely and daily," he said.

Meanwhile, as at 7am today, the Air Pollution Index readings taken at 52 DoE stations nationwide, indicated that the air quality had improved with no station reporting unhealthy air.

"We will closely monitor the situation round the clock," Uggah said.

He said DoE had also activated its action plan to prevent any open burning and its standard operating procedure to fight peat soil fires which were a local contributing source for the haze.

"For Sarawak, which is the only state to permit open burning by plantation owners, its Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) has been directed to put a freeze on the permit after any seven days of continuous dry weather," he said.

"In view of the dry season, I would like to appeal to all to minimise any open burning, including by smallholders who should take steps to ensure their fire will not spread to other areas," he added.

On another matter, Uggah said he would attend the Asean Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on transbounday haze scheduled to be held in Thailand next month.

"We will review the various action plans by member countries against transboundary haze.

"We will also look at the collaborations between Malaysia and Indonesia and between Singapore and Indonesia to reduce the problem and to look at efforts taken," he said.

He added that Malaysia currently had very few hot spots while there were still some in Sumatra which contributed to the haze in Peninsular Malaysia, while the hot spots in Kalimantan were affecting Sarawak.


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Indonesia: NGOs call for review of existing forest clearance permits

Antara 14 Jul 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A coalition of Indonesian civil society organizations for forest protection here Thursday challenged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to order an immediate review of existing forest clearance permits.

The NGOs also urged the government to improve forest governance in order to strengthen the two-year Moratorium on Deforestation that came into force in May, Greenpeace said in a press statement here Thursday.

Moratorium maps recently released by the government claim 72 million hectares of forest will be protected.

"However, Greenpeace analysis of these maps clearly shows that 1,7 million hectares are still inside concession areas, which overlap the moratorium maps, but could be destroyed," Greenpeace said.

Indonesia`s already huge greenhouse gas emissions would spike and large tracts of natural forest, critical for the survival of forest dependent communities and endangered species like the orangutan and Sumatran tiger, would be lost forever, the international environmental NGO said.

"The Government must urgently conduct the permit review as the first step to strengthening law enforcement in the forestry sector, which has up until now been a den of corruption," Yuyun Indradi, Political Forest Campaigner Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said.

Ongoing investigations conducted by Greenpeace show that some companies continue to destroy forests in areas that are protected under the Moratorium.

The Moratorium in its current weak form will stop President Yudhoyono delivering on his commitment to reduce carbon emissions by between 26% - 41% by 2020.

The next two years should instead be used to improve forest management and law enforcement through reviewing existing permits and strictly enforcing the law and respecting local community rights to resolve land tenure conflicts.

There is also a clear contradiction between the moratorium policy and pulp and paper industry production. Only 43% of the 10 million hectares of Industrial Forest Plantations (HTI) has been planted, which means most of the wood supply still comes from natural forest.

"The inefficient and unproductive forest industry is also a factor inhibiting the implementation of the moratorium. Instead of encouraging an increase in production from existing concessions, the government conversely provide flexibility for the industry to continue to destroy natural forest, livelihoods and biodiversity," said Muhammad Teguh Surya, the head of Climate Justice Department of WALHI (Indonesian Environmental Forum).

WALHI also urged President Yudhoyono to immediately address the government`s failing efforts to reduce emissions from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF).

The government fear of the impending economic collapse due to the implementation of moratorium is also unfounded, as the plantation and forestry sector contributes only 1% of GDP, according to Greenpeace.

"The government should also extend the mandate of the REDD+ Task Force (UKP4) to intensify the implementation of the presidential decree, conduct the permit review and enforce the law to stamp out corruption in the forestry sector," said Giorgio Budiarto, Forest and Climate Change Program Manager (ICEL)

The Indonesian civil society coalition urges the government to act quickly to put clear policy instruments in place to strengthen, implement and enforce the moratorium in its remaining 21 months in order to protect and restore Indonesia`s remaining forests.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Forests soak up third of fossil fuel emissions: study

Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 15 Jul 11;

Forests play a larger role in Earth's climate system than previously suspected for both the risks from deforestation and the potential gains from regrowth, a benchmark study released Thursday has shown.

The study, published in Science, provides the most accurate measure so far of the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed from the atmosphere by tropical, temperate and boreal forests, researchers said.

"This is the first complete and global evidence of the overwhelming role of forests in removing anthropogenic carbon dioxide," said co-author Josep Canadell, a scientist at CSIRO, Australia's national climate research centre in Canberra.

"If you were to stop deforestation tomorrow, the world's established and regrowing forests would remove half of fossil fuel emissions," he told AFP, describing the findings as both "incredible" and "unexpected".

Wooded areas across the planet soak up fully a third of the fossil fuels released into the atmosphere each year, some 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon, the study found.

At the same time, the ongoing and barely constrained destruction of forests -- mainly in the tropics -- for food, fuel and development was shown to emit 2.9 billion tonnes of carbon annually, more than a quarter of all emissions stemming from human activity.

Up to now, scientists have estimated that deforestation accounted for 12 to 20 percent of total greenhouse gas output.

The big surprise, said Canadell, was the huge capacity of tropical forests that have regenerated after logging or slash-and-burn land clearance to purge carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"We estimate that tropical forest regrowth is removing an average of 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon each year," he said in an e-mail exchange.

Adding up the new figures reveals that all the world's forests combined are a net "sink", or sponge, for 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of 13 percent of all the coal, oil land gas burned across the planet annually.

"That's huge. These are 'savings' worth billions of euros a year if that quantity had to be paid out by current mitigation (CO2 reduction) strategies or the price of carbon in the European market," Canadell said.

The international team of climate scientists combined data -- covering the period 1990 through 2007 -- from forests inventories, climate models and satellites to construct a profile of the role global forests have played as regulators of the atmosphere.

In terms of climate change policy, the study has two critically important implications, said Canadell.

The fact that previous science underestimated both the capacity of woodlands to remove CO2, and the emissions caused by deforestation, means that "forests are even more at the forefront as a strategy to protect our climate", he said.

It also follows that forests should play a larger role in emerging carbon markets, he added.

"The amount of saving which are up for grabs is very large, certainly larger than what we thought," Canadell said.

The UN-backed scheme known as REDD -- Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation -- allots credit to tropical countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa that slow rates of forest destruction.

It also provides a mechanism for rich countries to offset their own carbon-reduction commitments by investing in that process.

Two decades was not enough to discern possible long-term trends due to year-on-year variability due to fluctuations in weather, insect attacks and other factors.

But the tropics did show a clear decline in the capacity to soak up CO2 due to a so-called "once-in-a-century" drought in Amazonia in 2005.

The region suffered an even worse drought in 2010, beyond the time frame of the study.

The breakdown over the last decade for CO2 removal was 1.8 billion tonnes each year for boreal forests at high latitudes, 2.9 billion for temperate forests, and 3.7 billion for tropical forests.

Once deforestation and regrowth are taken into account, however, tropical forests have been essentially carbon neutral.

Study Shows Forests Have Bigger Role In Slowing Climate Change
David Fogarty PlanetArk 15 Jul 11;

The world's forests can play an even greater role in fighting climate change than previously thought, scientists say in the most comprehensive study yet on how much carbon dioxide forests absorb from the air.

The study may also boost a U.N.-backed program that aims to create a global market in carbon credits from projects that protect tropical forests. If these forests are locking away more carbon than thought, such projects could become more valuable.

Trees need large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow, locking away the carbon in the trunks and roots.

But scientists have struggled to figure out exactly how much CO2 forests soak up in different parts of the world and a global total for how much is released when forests are cut down and burned.

The study released on Friday in the latest issue of the U.S. journal Science details for the first time the volumes of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere by tropical, temperate and boreal forests. The researchers found that forests soak up more than 10 percent of carbon dioxide from human activities such as burning coal, even after taking into account all of the global emissions from deforestation.

"This analysis puts forests at even a higher level of importance in regulating atmospheric CO2," said Pep Canadell, one of the authors and head of the Global Carbon Project based at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia.

"If you shut them down, you're not only losing the carbon stock into the atmosphere, you're losing a very active sink which removes the carbon dioxide," he told Reuters from Canberra.

Canadell and an international research team combined data from forest inventories, models and satellites to construct a profile of forests as major regulators of atmospheric CO2.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation are rising rapidly, with growth being largely driven by surging coal, oil and gas consumption in big developing nations.

Emissions grew 5.8 percent last year to 33.16 billion tonnes, as countries rebounded from economic recession, a BP report said in June. China's emissions totaled 8.33 billion tonnes, up 10 percent from the year before.


The researchers found that in total, established forests and young regrowth forests in the tropics soaked up nearly 15 billion tonnes of CO2, or roughly half the emissions from industry, transport and other sources.

But the scientists calculated that deforestation emissions totaled 10.7 billion tonnes, underscoring that the more forests are preserved the more they can slow the pace of climate change.

A major surprise was the finding that young regrowth forests in the tropics were far better at soaking up carbon than thought, absorbing nearly 6 billion tonnes of CO2 -- about the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the United States.

"This is huge and the relevance for REDD is here you have a huge sink that is bigger than the established tropical forests," said Canadell, referring to the U.N.-backed scheme reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.

REDD aims to reward poorer nations that preserve their carbon-rich rainforests with a market-based scheme in which carbon credits are given for every tonne of carbon locked away. Many REDD projects currently being developed focus on peat-swamp forests because these contain the most carbon.

Tropical regrowth forests could represent a new investment opportunity, Canadell said.

"Unfortunately, some countries have not looked on forest regrowth as a component of REDD, and so are missing a very important opportunity to gain even further climate benefits from the conservation of forests," he said.

(Editing by Ed Lane)

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Loss of World's Top Predators Is Pervasively Changing Ecosystems

Wynne Parry, LiveScience Yahoo News 15 Jul 11;

The loss of top predators, such as lions, wolves and sharks, is causing unpredictable changes to food chains around the world, according to a review written by 24 scientists.

These animals, called apex predators, play a crucial role in ecosystems, and their disappearance — often due to hunting by humans and loss of habitat — can lead to changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality and nutrient cycles, according to the authors led by James Estes, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"The loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind's most pervasive influence on the natural world," the researchers conclude in a review published in the July 15 issue of the journal Science which examined findings from studies of ecosystems on land, in freshwater and in the ocean. [Images of These Predators]

The loss of these predators at the top of the food chain causes a cascade of effects down the line. The authors cite many examples, such as the decimation of wolves, which have since been reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, led to over-browsing of vegetation by elk. The loss of lions and leopards in parts of Africa has led to changes in olive baboon populations and increased their contact with humans, which, in turn, has caused higher rates of intestinal parasites in both people and baboons. [Gallery: The World's Biggest Beasts]

“Predators have a huge structuring influence," said author Stuart Sandin of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied sharks' role in coral reef ecosystems. "When you remove them you change the biology, which is typically profound and complex. And in many cases it's not necessarily predictable."

Loss of Large Predators Disrupting Multiple Plant, Animal and Human Ecosystems
ScienceDaily 14 Jul 11;

The enormous decline of large, apex predators and "consumers" ranging from wolves to lions, sharks and sea otters may represent the most powerful impacts humans have ever had on Earth's ecosystems, a group of 24 researchers concluded in a new report in the journal Science.

The decline of such species around the world is much greater than previously understood and now affects many other ecological processes through what scientists call "trophic cascades," in which the loss of "top down" predation severely disrupts many other plant and animal species.

Such disruption is sufficiently severe that it now affects everything from habitat loss to pollution, carbon sequestration, wildfire, climate, invasive species and spread of disease, the scientists said. It is also a driving force in the sixth mass extinction in Earth history, which the researchers said is now under way.

"We now have overwhelming evidence that large predators are hugely important in the function of nature, from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, the tropics to the Arctic," said William Ripple, a professor of forestry at Oregon State University, co-author of the report and an international leader in this field of study as director of OSU's Trophic Cascades Program.

"In a broad view, the collapse of these ecosystems has reached a point where this doesn't just affect wolves or aspen trees, deforestation or soil or water," Ripple said. "These predators and processes ultimately protect humans. This isn't just about them, it's about us."

Historically there has been little appreciation of how large predators affected so many other species, the researchers said, and too often such processes were studied one plant or animal at a time in a small area, failing to appreciate the larger disruption under way.

Based on the new understanding that is emerging, the scientists argued that the burden of proof should now be shifted, to assume that top predators have major effects on ecosystems until proven otherwise.

"We propose that many of the ecological surprises that have confronted society over past centuries -- pandemics, population collapses of species we value and eruptions of those we do not, major shifts in ecosystem states, and losses of diverse ecosystem services were caused or facilitated by altered top-down forcing regimes," the scientists wrote.

Pioneering research done in recent years at OSU and cited in this study, for instance, has outlined the effect that the loss of wolves had in Yellowstone National Park. When wolves were removed, elk populations increased and elk behavior also changed, because they were no longer afraid of browsing young aspen trees in places where historically they might have been vulnerable to wolf attack.

Without wolves, the growth of young aspen trees and willow almost ground to a halt, and there were fewer beaver. Plant communities, tree growth and stream ecology all were affected. With the return of wolves, those areas are now returning to health, and in places, aspen and willow are recovering where they had been declining.

The scientists cited many examples in their study, both terrestrial and marine:

Reduction of cougar in Utah led to an eruption of deer, loss of vegetation, altered stream channels, and a decline in biodiversity.
Industrial whaling in the 20th century likely caused a killer whale diet shift and a dramatic decline of sea lions, seals and sea otters.
Decimation of sharks resulted in an outbreak of cow-nosed rays and the collapse of bay scallop fisheries.
Sea otters enhance kelp abundance by limiting herbivorous sea urchins.
The reduction of lions and leopards in Africa led to a population explosion in olive baboons, which bring intestinal parasites to humans who live in close proximity to them.

For too long, the researchers said, large animals have been seen as "riding atop the trophic pyramid" but not really affecting the species and structure below them. That's a fundamental misunderstanding of ecology, they said.

This report was done by scientists from 22 different institutions in six countries. Studies were supported by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, National Science Foundation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and other organizations.

"Top-down forcing must be included in conceptual overviews if there is to be any real hope for understanding and managing the workings of nature," they wrote in their conclusion.

Journal Reference:

James A. Estes, John Terborgh, Justin S. Brashares, Mary E. Power, Joel Berger, William J. Bond, Stephen R. Carpenter, Timothy E. Essington, Robert D. Holt, Jeremy B. C. Jackson, Robert J. Marquis, Lauri Oksanen, Tarja Oksanen, Robert T. Paine, Ellen K. Pikitch, William J. Ripple, Stuart A. Sandin, Marten Scheffer, Thomas W. Schoener, Jonathan B. Shurin, Anthony R. E. Sinclair, Michael E. Soulé, Risto Virtanen, David A. Wardle. Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. Science, 2011; 333 (6040): 301-306 DOI: 10.1126/science.1205106

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Whaling meeting 'ignores needs of whales'

Richard Black BBC News 14 Jul 11;

The International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting has closed after a tense final day when relations between opposing blocs came close to collapse.

Latin American nations attempted to force a vote on a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic.

Pro-whaling countries walked out, but eventually it was decided to shelve any vote until next year's meeting.

Environment groups said the delays and wrangling meant important issues for whale conservation were neglected.

But a number of nations pledged new funding for research on small cetaceans, some of which are severely threatened.

Earlier in the meeting, governments agreed new regulations designed to prevent "cash for votes" scandals that have plagued the IWC in the past, and passed a resolution censuring the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for putting safety at risk during its annual missions to counter Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

But the sanctuary issue threatened to derail the entire session.

"Whale species and populations from the Southern Atlantic oceanic basin were amongst the ones that suffered the most due to commercial whaling on a large scale," Roxana Schteinbarg, from the Argentina-based Institute for the Conservation of Whales, told delegates.

"Fifty-four species live in the waters where the sanctuary is proposed - it is therefore appropriate that the protection of these species in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary be extended and complemented in the reproduction areas in the Atlantic Southern basin."

The 14-strong Buenos Aires bloc of nations knew it did not command the three-quarters majority needed to win, but remained determined to put it to the test.

"We didn't come here to win the sanctuary on the vote, but we wanted to put it to a vote - we believe our conservation agenda cannot be put forward, be stressed, be highlighted, be defended in some issues without a vote," said Brazil's commissioner Marcus Henrique Paranagua.

"Why not vote on things that are controversial?"

Voting with feet

The pro-whaling bloc said this could herald a return to the fractious days of the past, and walked out in an attempt to bring the meeting below the quorum needed for votes to count.

"We fear that the fact of voting will probably damage the very good atmosphere we have established, and might trigger a landslide of many votes for next year which might disrupt the progress we have made," said Japan's alternate (or deputy) commissioner Joji Morishita.

"This was not a hostile move to the Latin American countries - our effort is to try to save this organisation, and it turned out ok."

The good atmosphere, he added, had survived a "very difficult day".

Critics, however, said the pro-whaling countries had tried to hold the commission to ransom by their walkout.
Explosive meeting

The compromise eventually hammered out, after private discussions lasting nearly nine hours, asks countries to strive to reach consensus during the coming year.

If that proves impossible, next year's meeting will start with a vote on the South Atlantic Sanctuary.

That could prove a particular concern for the US, which will be aiming at that meeting, in Panama, to secure renewed quotas for its indigenous hunters.

US commissioner Monica Medina agreed the potential vote "put a hand-grenade" under next year's meeting.

"I'm more than a little concerned - we've made good progress on improving the IWC's governance and that's a good thing," she said.

"But as long as we choose to continue fighting, all of the IWC's members will lose; and the world's whales deserve better."

The US played a leading role in the two-year "peace process" that attempted to build a major compromise deal between the various parties, and which collapsed at last year's meeting.
Missing in action

Huge delays during the four days of talks meant that many items on the agenda pertinent to the health of whales and other cetaceans did not get discussed.

How to prevent whales from being killed by collisions with ships, how to reduce floating debris and how to tackle the growth of noise in the oceans were among the issues that received no discussion.

"Acrimony is often the enemy of conservation - in this case, it meant that a critical meeting on whales failed to address the greatest threats they face," said Wendy Elliott, head of environment group WWF's delegation.

"Several whale and dolphin species are in crisis - teetering on the brink of extinction - and conservation must be front and foremost at next year's IWC meeting, for the sake of the whales and the commission."

The research programmes of the cash-strapped commission received something of a boost with France, Italy and several non-governmental groups pledging a total of about £80,000 ($130,000) for small cetaceans, which include the critically endangered Mexican vaquita.

True to form, global whaling forum ends on sour note
Anthony Lucas AFP Yahoo News 15 Jul 11;

The global forum charged with both protecting and overseeing the hunting of whales ended a four-day session Thursday with a walkout by pro-whaling nations in order to block a vote on the creation of a new sanctuary.

The 63rd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), in other words, ended true to form.

"You can only conclude that this Commission -- which, despite a moratorium, does not have a mandate to stop the large-scale hunting still going on -- is genuinely dysfunctional," said Frederic Briand, head of Monaco's delegation.

"Since the moratorium was put in place in 1986, more than 33,000 whales have been killed," he told AFP as the 89-nation body adjourned for another year.

A significant number of the giant sea mammals are also killed through so-called "by-catch" and ship collisions.

The one modicum of progress achieved here was the adoption by consensus on Wednesday of a British plan to discourage influence peddling by changing the way member nations pay their dues.

Under the old rules, members could pay subscription fees -- ranging from a few thousand to more than 100,000 dollars (euros) -- by cash or cheque, a practice that fuelled allegations of corruption.

The IWC was rocked last year by accusations in the British press that Japan used cash and development aid to "buy" votes from Caribbean and African nations.

Japan, which denied the charges, is one of three countries along with Norway and Iceland that practice large-scale whaling despite the moratorium, collectively taking more than 1,000 whales annually in recent years.

Such payments must now be made by bank transfer, as is done in other international organisations.

Some anti-whaling delegates and environmental groups took a "glass-half-full" approach to the outcome.

"The Commission, despite the recurrent standoff between pro-hunting and pro-conservation nations, is taking small steps in the right direction," said Sigrid Luber, president of Ocean Care, an advocacy group.

Luber said the new measure should make it easier "for delegates to express their own opinions."

Progress was also made towards recognizing the conservation status of dozens of smaller cetaceans -- an order grouping 80-odd whales, dolphins and porpoises -- and not just the 15 giant sea mammals currently covered by the IWC.

Others also point out that the moratorium, while flouted by the trio of hunting nations, has helped many species inch back from the brink of extinction.

"The majority of whale stocks are moving in the right direction, often at a pace of five to 10 percent per year," noted French scientist Vincent Ridoux, a member of the Commission's scientific committee.

"That is a direct result of the ban on commercial hunting," he said.

But on Thursday, the deep-seated divide that pulls this body apart surfaced again when Japan led a walk-out of pro-whaling nations to insure that a vote to create a sanctuary in the South Atlantic -- spearheaded by Brazil and Argentina -- would fail to muster the necessary quorum.

Currently there are two such whale havens, one in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, and the other in the Indian Ocean.

Japan carries out an annual hunt during the southern hemisphere summer in Antarctic waters, and said this week it planned to return next season despite vows from anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd to disrupt the hunt.

In February, Japan recalled its Antarctic fleet a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.

A bid to boost the voice and access of non-governmental organisations in the IWC's proceedings also failed.

"I know some of us would have liked to go further, particularly on the issue of observer and civil society participation," said Richard Pullen, the head of Britain's delegation.

"But negotiations mean compromise."

Anti-whaling group to launch action in Faroes
Anthony Lucas AFP Yahoo News 14 Jul 11;

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd said Thursday it will erect a "wall of sound" in the sea to deter the killing of hundreds of pilot whales in shallow coves along the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory.

Using two ships and a helicopter, the US-based activists will start their operation on Friday, Sea Shepherd's founder Paul Watson said at the close of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

"We intend to deploy acoustic devices to lay down a wall of sound in the path of the migrating whales to prevent them from approaching the islands," he said.

"Some of the devices are floating, some are dragged behind a ship and some are sunk in the ocean," he told AFP.

Earlier this year, Watson launched an aggressive -- and, from his viewpoint, successful -- campaign against Japanese whalers operating in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Japan recalled its fleet in February, a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.

The IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Japan conducts its hunt there under the guise of "scientific research", setting self-determined quotas averaging about 1,000 whales each year over the last five years.

In the Faroes, Sea Shepherd will mobilise its flag ship Steve Irwin and a fast-interceptor vessel donated by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, an animal rights group founded by the former French actress.

Baptised Operation Ferocious Isles, the campaign will last two months.

"We don't wish to dialogue about the obscenity, we wish to stop it," said Locky Maclean, captain of the interceptor, the Brigitte Bardot.

"The rights of these whales to live takes precedence over the 'rights' of the Faroese to murder them," he said in a statement.

Whaling in the Faroes stetches back to the earliest Norse settlements more than 1,000 years ago, and community-organised hunts date to at least the 16th century.

Most Faroese consider the annual hunt -- in which the three-to-six metre sea mammals are driven by a flotilla of small boats into a bay or the mouth of a fjord -- as an integral part of their culture and history.

Sea Shepherd has intervened several times before in the Faroes with patrols, in 1985, 1986 and again in 2000.

But this is the first time they will attempt to prevent the whales from entering the bays where the killing historically takes place.

Watson compared the Faroes whale hunt to the slaughter of dolphins that occurs each year near the Japanese village of Taiji, highlighted in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove.

The Faroe Islands, home to around 48,000 people, have been an autonomous Danish province since 1948. The archipelago is situated between Norway, Iceland and Scotland in the North Atlantic ocean.

Pilot whales, which feed primarily on squid, have a distinct, rounded head with a very slight beak. Males weigh up to three tonnes, twice as much as females.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species does not list the status of the pilot whale due to lack of data.

But long-finned pilot whales -- the kind hunted in the Faroes -- are generally thought to number in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million.

Watch whales, then eat them
AFP Yahoo News 15 Jul 11;

Watching and hunting whales "work perfectly together" in a look-and-cook combo of tourism and gastronomy, Iceland's Whale Commissioner said Thursday at the global whaling forum.

"Many of the tourists that go on whale watching tours go to restaurants afterwards to taste whale meat," said Tomas Heider, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in the British Channel Islands.

"I think it is a very good proof of the compatibility of the two," he said, countering arguments that the contested practice of hunting the giant sea mammals drives away whale watching revenue.

Many countries in the 89-nation IWC, especially in South America, argue that potential income from tourism far outstrips the value of commercial whaling, and that the two do not mix well.

But in Iceland, Heider insists, the industries feed off each other.

"Even though we have been increasing our whaling in recent years, the tourists are streaming in numbers to Iceland and going to whale watching tours like never before," he said. "It works perfectly together."

Like Norway, Iceland practices commercial whaling, invoking a much criticised option within IWC rules to exempt itself from a 1986 moratorium on industrial-scale hunting.

Iceland takes both fin and minke whales, and has significantly increased the number of each species captured.

After not hunting fin for nearly two decades, Icelandic fishermen killed about 125 in 2009 and 150 last year. For minke whales, the number has jumped from an average of about 40 per year during the early 2000s, to between 60 and 80.

Iceland says whale populations in the North Atlantic are abundant enough to withstand these numbers.

A study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Policy said that whale tourism generated more than two billion dollars (1.4 billion euros) in 2009 and is on track to increase by about 10 percent a year.

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