Best of our wild blogs: 22 Aug 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [15 - 21 Aug 2011]
from Green Business Times

Save the Dolphins concert on 28 Aug
from The Biology Refugia

Semakau Otter Overload!
from wild shores of singapore

Finally! Galloping sea star at Semakau!
from wonderful creation

110821 Lornie trail (Sime course)
from Singapore Nature

Seletar Wasteland On Our 46th National Day
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

What it takes to coordinate the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

八月华语导游Madarin guide walk@SBWR,August(XXII)
from PurpleMangrove

APP affiliate 'regrets' astroturfing on Indonesia deforestation claims
from news

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Smog crates new hotspots in Sumatra

Antara 22 Aug 11;

Dumai, Riau(ANTARA News) - Thick smog has been covering Dumai in Riau province, caused by newly appearing hotspots. The weather agency had also detected at least 36 new hot spots in Sumatra Island causing heavy smog. According to the Meteorology, Geophysic and Climatology Agency (BMKG) Riau is prone to forest fires and smoke along with low rain intensity.

A local BMKG analyst Yudhistira Mawaddah said that the number of hot spots in South Sumatra had reached 11 points, eight in Jambi, two in North Sumatra, one each in Lampung and Aceh.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said 18 monitoring sattelites operated by the United States indicated there are 13 new hotspots in Riau.

The new Riau hotspots covered seven districts in Indragiri Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Kampar, Siak and Rokan Hulu.

"Meanwhile three hotspots had been recorded in Palawan district and three more in Rokan Hilir district with a fairly rapid growth," said Yudhishthira.

The smog was an indication of the remaining of forests and land fires in some areas of the city or districts of Riau province.

The heavy smog starts at around 4.30 am local time a local resident who said is disturbed by the heavy smog.

"The heavy smog was visible once I got out of my home and when going to a nearby mosque for Morning Prayer at 4.30 am," he said.

Streets and roads in Dumai are also reported to be covered by the smog. (SYS/A050/B003)

Editor: Suryanto

Haze disrupts flights in Pekanbaru
Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 22 Aug 11;

Thick haze at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport delayed two flights on Sunday and led officials to re-direct an incoming flight to Batam.

Ground controllers delayed Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia flights heading for Jakarta that were supposed to depart at 7 a.m.

“Lion flight number 393 finally took off at 7:45 a.m., while Garuda flight 171 only took off at 8:30 a.m.,” airport manager Gurit Setiawan said on Sunday.

Visibility was only 300 meters at 7 a.m., making it too risky to take off or land, he said.

The haze also led air traffic controllers to reroute an incoming Garuda flight to Batam.

Based on monitoring by the Pekanbaru office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), the number of hot spots in Sumatra reached 93 on Sunday, with South Sumatra having the highest with 69, followed by Jambi with 14.

“Riau used to have the highest record in hot spots, but apparently it has now moved to South Sumatra,” Ardhitama of BMKG Pekanbaru said.

The agency warned that all regencies and cities in Riau would receive less fewer rainfall during the current dry season, and the dry conditions would easily spark fires on peat lands, according to the Antara news agency.

Yudhistira Mawaddah, an analyst at the BMKG Riau office said in Dumai on Friday that weather forecasts in Riau tended to show cloudy weather, especially in the central and western parts of Riau.

In Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, the local BMKG office detected seven hot spots in the province on Sunday, falling substantially from 20 a week earlier. The seven hot spots were detected in the Pasaman, Dhamasraya and Solok areas.

“The number of hot spots in West Sumatra monitored via the satellite is falling from last week primarily due to heavy rainfall over the last several days,” Budi Iman, coordinator of the local BMKG office, said as quoted by Antara.

The city of Jambi in the neighboring Jambi province, where 14 hot spots were detected on Sunday, was also shrouded by the haze.

Doni Osmond, an official of the local forestry office, said that the haze came from Muarojambi regency, where forest fires were reported.

“The forest fires have been taking place for the past few days. Firefighters are still struggling to extinguish them,” said Hasvia, Doni’s colleague, who blamed the fires on people clearing land for cultivation.

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Australia's Coral Sea 'hotspot' for ocean life

International Fund for Animal Welfare
Science Alert 22 Aug 11;

Australia’s southern Coral Sea is a global “biodiversity hotspot” for large predatory sharks, tuna and marlin and together with the Great Barrier Reef host the only known spawning aggregation of black marlin in the world. These are key findings from the first comprehensive biological and physical profile of the Coral Sea released today.

The report, Australia’s Coral Sea: A Biophysical Profile, was commissioned by the Pew Environment Group-Australia on behalf of the Protect our Coral Sea coalition and was written by Dr Daniela Ceccarelli, an independent marine ecologist.

Professor Hugh Possingham, director of The Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland, said the report is an important contribution to understanding the Coral Sea ecosystem.

“The Coral Sea may be the only part of the world’s tropical ocean where a permanent marine park of the scale of the interim Conservation Zone could be established and effectively managed with a relatively small impact on users. The Coral Sea Conservation Zone was declared by the federal government in September 2009.”

Other key report findings:

The Coral Sea has 18 reef systems (includes 49 little islands and cays and multiple small reefs) that are more vulnerable than the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef because of their isolation from one another;
At least 28 species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in the Coral Sea, including pods of up to 400 false killer whales and 400 melon-headed whales;
Oceanic and reef sharks have been documented in large numbers in some parts of the Coral Sea. Fifty-two species of deep-water sharks and rays have been recorded, 18 of which are known to exist only there;
The Coral Sea is an important migratory route for many species of threatened turtles; its cays and islands provide critical habitat for endangered green turtles.

Dr Ceccarelli said that knowledge of the deeper Coral Sea ecosystems is still in its infancy. “However, early studies have revealed a great diversity of habitats, including massive canyons at least 3 kilometers deep, which produce unique ecological communities. Recent discoveries include diverse cold water coral communities and high abundances of predatory fish and sharks in the deeper reaches of coral reefs.”

“The Coral Sea offers a valuable scientific reference site, as it is close to the global centre of coral reef biodiversity – the Coral Triangle – but is not subject to the human pressures that affect much of South East Asia’s marine ecosystems”, said Dr Ceccarelli. Dr Ceccarelli discovered that average distances travelled by tuna, marlin, swordfish and sailfish that are commonly found in the Coral Sea range from 370 to 1,482 kilometers. The scale of the Coral Sea Conservation Zone is therefore large enough to conserve wide-ranging ocean species.

“This is the chance to have a vast area with large numbers of herbivores and predators functioning over a huge scale in a way that the world once was like without humans”, said Professor Possingham.

“The report confirms that the Coral Sea is healthy and relatively intact. In light of this report, conservation groups call on the federal government to establish a very large, world-class, highly protected marine park in the Coral Sea to provide a safe haven for its spectacular marine life”, said Imogen Zethoven of the Pew Environment Group and member of the Protect our Coral Sea coalition.

The Coral Sea Conservation Zone, situated between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and maritime boundary with New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, is under interim protection while the federal government assesses the area for potential inclusion in a marine reserve. It is anticipated that the federal Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Tony Burke, will make an announcement about the future of the Coral Sea later in 2011.

Protect our Coral Sea is a coalition of 11 Australian and international conservation groups, which comprises the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Marine Conservation Society, Pew Environment Group, Project AWARE Foundation, Humane Society International, National Parks Association of Queensland, Queensland Conservation Council, North Queensland Conservation Council, the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, Wildlife Queensland, and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare -

To view the full report and to download resources including fact sheets, please go to:

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A Battle Is Under Way For The Forests Of Borneo

Anthony Kuhn NPR 21 Aug 11;

A spry 80-year-old cruises through the thick vegetation of western Borneo, or western Kalimantan, as it's known to Indonesians. Dressed in faded pinstripe slacks and a polo shirt, Layan Lujum carries a large knife in his hand. The chief of the island's Sekendal village is making his morning rounds.

Layan is a member of an indigenous ethnic group called the Dayaks, who once had a reputation as fierce headhunters. As on most mornings, his first job on a recent day is to tend to his rubber trees.

He uses a blade to cut a few grooves in each tree, allowing its white latex sap to trickle into a cup. Then he plucks a handful of fern leaves and snaps off the tops of a dozen or so bamboo shoots and puts them in a bucket. In a few minutes, he has enough for lunch. He goes to the river to wash and chop the shoots.

Environmentalists say Layan's lifestyle is a form of "indigenous knowledge" that has allowed the Dayaks to both use and protect Borneo's forests. But those same forests are now a staging ground for a complicated clash. It involves economic growth, land rights and environmental concerns, development and traditional cultures, as well as a broader fight in Indonesia against entrenched corruption.

'This Is Our Sacred Grove'

Back near Sekendal, Layan explains how the Dayaks in his community view ownership of the surrounding land.

"These stands of bamboo don't belong to anyone in particular. Anyone can take some," he says. "The rubber trees belong to me. The bamboo here is very abundant. If you go upstream, there's even more."

This is not virgin forest, Layan says. It's owned by the community, and it's been cleared and replanted with useful flora such as cocoa and rambutan trees. There is one stand of virgin forest left in the area, but it's used for something very different.

"This is our padagi, or sacred grove," Layan says in a hushed voice. "It's been here since the time of our ancestors, and we come here to pray."

Birdsongs resonate through the forest canopy towering overhead. Down below, moss grows on an altar for making sacrifices. The spirits of the Dayak ancestors inhabit this hallowed glade, Layan says, and it is forbidden to take any plants or animals out of it.

"We come here to ask for help in times of trouble, for example in times of war, and then we are victorious," he says. "We ask for bountiful rice harvests. We ask for the sick to heal. We make offerings to the spirits, even though we can't see them."

Conservation Efforts Under Way

Indonesia remains Asia's most-forested nation, but it has suffered serious deforestation in recent decades, contributing to Indonesia's status as the third-largest emitter of carbon after the U.S. and China.

And perhaps there is no starker example than Borneo — roughly three-quarters of which belongs to Indonesia, the rest to Malaysia and Brunei.

Conservationists are urging Indonesia's government to respect the Dayak's rights to their traditional lands and to affirm their stewardship of the forests based on their animist religion. But in much of Borneo, it appears too late.

Where forests once stood, towns now hum with traffic and commerce. According to Indonesian government statistics, 60 percent of Borneo's rainforests have been cut down. Only 8 percent of its virgin forests remain, mostly in national parks. Western Borneo is the most denuded.

Efforts to combat deforestation are under way. In May, the Indonesian government announced a two-year moratorium on cutting down virgin forests. As well, a U.N.-backed scheme will see developed countries paying Indonesia to protect its rainforests.

But it's too soon to say how effective these measures will be, calling into question the sustainability of Indonesia's current economic boom, which is largely dependent on the extraction of natural resources.

Lands Stripped Away

Many Dayaks see it as just a matter of time before paved roads reach their villages and palm oil companies buy their land to convert into plantations.

Farmer Lambai Sudian sold his 25 acres of land for the equivalent of about $1,000. He says the company offered locals jobs on the plantation, water, roads and 20 percent of the palm oil profits. Four years later, none of it has materialized.

"Of course I regret selling," he says. "I regret it because the company didn't do what it said it would. If it did, we would be getting a share of the profits, and we'd be fine."

Sujarni Alloy is an activist with a civic group called the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago. He says his village's land was sold to a palm oil company without residents' knowledge or consent.

"In the future, the children and grandchildren of the indigenous people will not own these lands," he says. "They will become beggars or criminals, because the bounty before their eyes is no longer theirs."

Overcoming Political Hurdles

Some of Indonesia's laws and policies recognize indigenous people's rights to their traditional lands. But the constitution says all land and resources belong to the state.

Andy White, a coordinator at the Washington, D.C.-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of groups focusing on land rights, says this confusion over rights is a recipe for conflict.

"Seventy percent of the territory of the country, tens of millions of people are essentially squatters on their own historic lands," he says. "And over 20,000 villages are in this contested status, basically sitting on land that they think is their own and the ministry of forestry claims as their own."

Corruption is endemic at all levels of government in Indonesia, but some observers point to the forestry ministry as an egregious example. A recent expose in Indonesia's Tempo magazine accuses officials from the forestry ministry of filling their political party's war chests with bribes, which businessmen pay in exchange for tracts of forested land.

The ministry denies the allegations. But Kuntoro Mangkusobroto, a troubleshooter for Indonesia's president and the chairman of a government task force on deforestation and climate change, says the reports are "not surprising."

Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission will investigate suspected illegal grants of forested land, but Kuntoro says that the problem has become deeply entrenched and hard to root out.

"Forests are a means for the power holder to maintain his power, by giving concessions to the military commander in the regions, governors or those who can support the regime," he explains. "You cut trees, you got money, OK? And it's been practiced like that for 40 years."

Future Of Indigenous Cultures

Conservationists' hopes of saving Borneo's rainforests and its inhabitants' traditions may be unrealistic, romantic, or simply too late. They may also obscure indigenous peoples' fight to control the terms on which they develop and modernize. Some Indonesians see the Dayaks as culturally backwards, and many Dayaks themselves seem unsentimental about shedding the ways of their forefathers.

White, of the Rights and Resources Initiative, notes that forests can be re-grown to support communities and store carbon. Indigenous people have the right to choose their own path of development, he adds, and the issue of rights will not go away with the destruction Indonesia's forests.

"Of course it's sad, of course it should be stopped, but that does not diminish the importance of this issue," he says, "or the potential of these lands to be restored and for these communities to live much better lives in the future and for these areas to contribute much, much more to their country's development."

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Malaysian wildlife law giving poachers a hard time

M. Hamzah Jamaludin New Straits Times 22 Aug 11;

KUANTAN: The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716), which came into effect in December last year is having a detrimental effect on wildlife poachers.

A Tok Batin (village head) from Muadzam Shah was recently charged under the stiffer act with possessing body parts of protected animal species, a few days after two Orang Asli from the same area were caught selling elephant tusks.

Pahang Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) said there had been five wildlife-related cases involving Orang Asli this year including the two cases reported in the media this month.

Pahang Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Shariff said the Orang Asli involved would face stiffer penalties under the new act.

The new law provides for stringent penalties including mandatory jail of up to five years and a fine of between RM100,000 and RM500,000 for offences involving protected wildlife such as tiger, rhinoceros, serow (a goat), gaur (seladang), leopard, clouded leopard and false gharial (a type of freshwater crocodile).

Khairiah said the first case was reported in Maran on Jan 17 when an Orang Asli and two others were picked up for possessing a home-made gun and the meat of protected animal species.

Another Orang Asli man was arrested on Feb 21 after Perhilitan officers found 21 clouded monitor lizards on him while the Tok Batin from Muadzam Shah was caught on May 14 when officers discovered body parts of protected species including the totally protected Malayan sun bear and leopard at his home in Kampung Air Molek.

The fourth Orang Asli was caught in Rompin on May 15 for possessing and committing cruelty against 41 clouded monitor lizards.

The latest case, the elephant tusks, was reported on Aug 12.

Khairiah said under the new law, Orang Asli are allowed to consume certain protected animals namely wild boar, sambar deer, mouse deer, pig-tailed macaque, silvered leaf monkey, dusky leaf monkey, Malayan porcupine, brushtailed porcupine and white-breasted waterhen and emerald dove.

However, under Section 51 of the act, those who sell the animals are liable to a maximum fine of RM10,000 or six months' jail or both.

Khairiah said under the same act however, the Orang Asli were not allowed to hunt other protected species and the department had been advising them from day one: "Do not hunt other protected animals as you will be arrested and prosecuted like others".

"Unfortunately, some have not heeded our advice and thus we have no other options but to arrest and charge them," said Khairiah who did not rule out the possibility of the Orang Asli being exploited by others.

"But we cannot nab the real culprits if the Orang Asli themselves refuse to divulge information. In many instances, the Orang Asli caught claimed that they were not hired by anyone," she said.

Investigation a wildlife case was also more challenging as the Orang Asli suspects and witnesses can go missing in the jungle for months.

At the same time, evidence -- such as animal carcasses and other traces -- can be easily disposed of in the deep jungle.

To overcome the problem, Khairiah said Perhilitan had always cooperated with other enforcement agencies including the police; where it had been sending its officers for training to keep abreast with the latest investigation and forensic techniques.

At the same time, she said Perhilitan had also strengthened its cooperation with the Orang Asli community and various non-governmental organisations.

"To protect our wildlife, we have to play our roles more effectively," she said while urging those who are not familiar with the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) to view it at

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Vietnam's rice bowl threatened by rising seas

Climate change is turning rivers of Mekong Delta salty, spelling disaster for millions of poor farmers
Kit Gillet 21 Aug 11;

Sitting amid buckets of rice in the market, Nguyen Thi Lim Lien issues a warning she desperately hopes the world will hear: climate change is turning the rivers of the Mekong Delta salty.

"The government tells us that there are three grams of salt per litre of fresh water in the rivers now," she says. "Gradually more and more people are affected. Those nearest the sea are the most affected now, but soon the whole province will be hit."

The vast, humid expanse of the delta is home to more than 17 million people, who have relied for generations on its thousands of river arteries. But rising sea water caused by global warming is now increasing the salt content of the river water and threatening the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers and fishermen.

Vietnam is listed by the World Bank among the countries most threatened by rising waters brought about by higher global temperatures, with only the Bahamas more vulnerable to a one-metre rise in sea levels. Such a rise could leave a third of the Mekong Delta underwater and lead to mass internal migration and devastation in a region that produces nearly half of Vietnam's rice.

"If there was a one-metre rise, we estimate 40% of the delta will be submerged," says Tran Thuc, director general of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment. "There is also the threat of cyclones and storms linked to climate change. The people in this area are not prepared for any of this."

Already affected by regular flooding, those who live in the low-lying delta are focusing on the rising salt content of water in land that has for thousands of years been used for rice paddies, coconut groves and other crops which locals rely on for their livelihood.

According to the Ben Tre department of agriculture and rural development, salt water at four parts per thousand has, as of April, reached as far as 35 miles inland, causing significant damage to crops and livestock, with rice production particularly affected.

"Salination will become higher and higher and the salt season will last longer and be worse," predicts Thuc.

The city of Ben Tre, one of the gateways to the Mekong, is inland, on one of the many tributaries of the Mekong river where the waters are still only partially affected by the increased salination. But further downriver, the effects are more pronounced.

"I have to travel five hours upstream by boat to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking," says Vo Thi Than, 60, who cannot afford the prices charged by those who travel down the river selling fresh water from upstream.

Than lives beside a dock and runs a little restaurant on the small delta island of Cu Lao Oc, home to approximately 6,000 farmers and coconut growers.

"A long time ago, there was no salty season at all. Now, five months a year the water is salty," she says.

"We grow oranges, mandarins, lemons and coconuts, but these trees cannot survive if it is salt water only. During salty seasons, the trees bear less fruit and smaller fruits, and if there was only the salt season, nothing would grow."

Government officials and international observers are predicting significant lifestyle changes for the delta's population, which will be forced to adapt to survive.

Dao Xuan Lai, head of sustainable development at the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, said: "Rising sea waters will cause inundations to the Mekong and will require drastic changes in lifestyles for the people. They will be forced to switch crops and innovate. People close to river banks and river mouths have already had to find different ways to make a living in fresh water."

In the area around the town of Ba Tri, near one mouth of the delta, the salination of the water has reached a point where many locals have been forced to abandon centuries of rice cultivation and risk their livelihoods on other ventures, mostly farming shrimp, which thrives in saltier water. Pham Van Bo is still able to plant rice on half his land thanks to an embankment built by the government four years ago, but he is risking his family's savings on the new venture.

"We had to sell our fishing boat to pay to dig the cultivation pool and also had to pay someone to teach me how to do it. It was expensive, and I had to get the shrimp food and medicine on credit," he said. "It takes about four months from when they are small to selling them. It should be more profitable than rice planting, but I am worried since this is our first try."

Bo needs only to walk two hundred metres along the riverbank to see a cautionary tale. Nguyen Van Lung and her family started raising shrimp six years ago, but now all but one of their pools are empty.

"Last October, the sea washed out all of our shrimp, we lost them all," she said. "We saw the water rising up and getting closer and closer, but we couldn't do anything about it. This season, we have been forced to just dump the shrimp in and let them grow with no fans, medicine or special food."

The family received a loan from the local government to survive, but it takes a lot of money to farm shrimp, on which they now rely almost exclusively for their livelihood.

Olivia Dun is a PhD student at the University of Sydney's Mekong Resource Centre. She is studying environmental changes, flooding, saline intrusion and migration in the Mekong Delta. "Some households have benefited from the switch to shrimp and have been able to raise their level of income," she said. "Other households have continuously struggled to raise shrimp, which are sensitive to the conditions in their pond environment and easily susceptible to disease. These households face mounting debt, and of these households, some choose to migrate elsewhere temporarily in search of an income."

Tough decisions like this are going to become more common for Mekong residents in the years ahead as the environment changes around them.

"Even if we stop all emissions worldwide now, the water will still rise 20 to 30 centimetres in the next few decades," said the UN's Lai.

"At the moment the prediction is a rise of 75 centimetres by 2050. People in this region are still very poor and will need help from the international community to survive this."

Mekong's rice production at risk
UPI 23 Aug 11;

HANOI, Vietnam, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Vietnam's Mekong Delta is at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change, experts warn.

Known as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, the 15,000-square-mile region produces half the country's rice output of 49 million tons a year, with 80 percent of its population engaged in rice cultivation.

"Rising sea waters will cause inundations to the Mekong and will require drastic changes in lifestyles," said Dao Xuan Lai, head of sustainable development at the U.N. Development Program in Vietnam, The Guardian newspaper reports.

People will be forced to switch crops and innovate, he said. Those close to river banks and river mouths have already had to find different ways to make a living in fresh water.

Even if all emissions worldwide were stopped now, the water would still rise about 8-12 inches in the next few decades, Lai said.

"People in this region are still very poor and will need help from the international community to survive this," he said.

The World Bank considers Vietnam among the countries most threatened by rising waters brought about by higher global temperatures.

Basing its research on warnings from international organizations that sea levels will increase by 11.8 inches in 2050 and 3.28 feet by 2100, a study by the Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment says that with a 3.28-foot rise, up to one-third of the Mekong Delta and a quarter of Ho Chi Minh City would be permanently submerged.

Rising seawater is also turning the rivers of the Delta salty, with saltwater at four parts per thousand already reaching 35 miles inland, causing significant damage to crops and livestock, particularly affecting rice production.

Rice cannot be grown in saline conditions. Other typically strong crops, including oranges, lemons and coconuts, cannot be grown in higher concentrations of salt.

"I have to travel five hours upstream by boat to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking," Vo Thi Than, a 60-year-old woman who lives beside a dock and operates a small restaurant on the small delta island of Cu Lao Oc, told The Guardian.

"A long time ago, there was no salty season at all. Now, five months a year the water is salty," she says.

To address the problem, Vietnam's Southern Irrigation Planning Institute has devised a six-point irrigation plan that includes upgrading of canal networks that lead water from rivers to cultivation areas in the delta but work isn't expected to be completed until at least 2030.

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Climate change will hit genetic diversity

Probable loss of 'cryptic' variation a challenge for conservationists.
Nature 21 Aug 11;

Climate change represents a threat not only to the existence of individual species, but also to the genetic diversity hidden within them, researchers say. The finding promises to complicate assessments of how climate change will affect biodiversity, as well as conservationists' task in preserving it.

DNA studies have revealed that traditional species, as defined by taxonomists, contain a vast amount of 'cryptic' diversity — such as different lineages, or even species within species. Carsten Nowak, a conservation biologist at the Senckenberg Research Institutes and Natural History Museum in Gelnhausen, Germany, and his colleagues have made a first attempt to understand how global warming might affect this form of diversity. Their findings are published in Nature Climate Change1.

The team looked at aquatic insects living in the mountain streams of central Europe — seven species of caddisfly, a mayfly and a stonefly. The insects were chosen because they are likely to be especially vulnerable to rising temperatures — they need cold water, and have limited ability to travel large distances.

To measure genetic diversity, Nowak's team sequenced genes in the animals' mitochondria — energy-generating cellular organelles that have their own small genome. This allowed the authors to divide each species into a number of evolutionary significant units (ESUs) — the technical term for a population within a species that is genetically distinct from the rest of its kind.

On the basis of where in Europe each ESU is found, the researchers then analysed whether the associated insect would be able to tolerate higher temperatures or move to somewhere cooler, using two models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Lost potential

Under the IPCC's business-as-usual climate scenario, 79% of ESUs included in the study are projected to become extinct by 2080; for a reduced-emissions scenario this fell to 59%. ESUs suffered a much greater rate of extinctions than species.

This lost evolutionary potential could hinder species' ability to adapt to change. "This genetic diversity is the most fundamental form of biodiversity — essentially, it's the substrate for evolution," says Nowak.

The study "shows how global climate change may lead to the loss of significant amounts of hidden diversity, even if some of the traditionally defined species will persist," says Michael Balke, an entomologist at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, Germany.

What is not clear is how to extend this approach to other species with different powers of migration or dispersal. "If researchers can figure out how to factor in dispersal capacity — an attribute often not well-defined for individual species — the potential impact on genetic diversity becomes a lot more applicable," says Jim Provan, a molecular geneticist at Queen's University in Belfast, UK.

Study co-author Steffen Pauls of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt, Germany, agrees that such factors are also important. "We hope that this approach will be developed further to incorporate different migratory abilities, types of dispersal and thermal adaptability," he says.
Diversity danger zone

"For Europe, it turns out that the most genetically diverse regions are also the most endangered," says Nowak. The study predicts that loss of genetic diversity in the study insects will be greatest in the Mediterranean region, where all but two populations are projected to become extinct. This is also the region with the greatest genetic diversity.

This combination of genetic diversity and vulnerability has been found for other Mediterranean species, such as the seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which has already shifted northward during the past 40 years2. Many European species retreated to the Mediterranean during past ice ages, meaning that their southerly populations are especially ancient and diverse. The loss of these populations might compromise species' ability to adapt to future warming.

Combining genetics and ecology should aid conservation efforts. "This study highlights the huge potential of DNA-sequencing initiatives to reveal high levels of cryptic diversity, of utmost importance to informed conservation decision making," says Balke.

Genetic diversity is gaining increased attention in conservation circles. "Through our work to determine climate-adaptation strategies, we realize that genetics is one way to get an overall better view of how species are affected by climate change," says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations treaty that commits signatories to develop national strategies to sustainably use and conserve biodiversity.

Last year's adoption of a treaty to manage and share the economic benefits of the world's genetic resources with developing nations, the Nagoya Protocol, has also boosted interest in cataloging genetic diversity. "Countries are starting to invest more to document genetic aspects of species in their national jurisdictions, to better understand how to get reimbursed for their use," says Djoghlaf.

Bálint, M. et al. Nature Clim. Change (2011).
Provan, J. & Maggs, C. A. Proc R. Soc. B (2011).

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