Best of our wild blogs: 25 Aug 11

Pelagic Outing August 2011
from Con Foley Photography

Will there be any dugongs 100 years from now?
from wild shores of singapore

Oriental Magpie Robin in comfort behaviour
from Bird Ecology Study Group

It's August!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

trashy seletar link mangrove ~ 21Aug2011
from sgbeachbum

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Malaysia: Orang utans of Malua branch out

New Straits Times 24 Aug 11;

KOTA KINABALU: A plot of forest where logging had ceased appears to have helped the survival chances of its resident orang utan.

Experts believe some 500 orang utans can be found in the 34,000ha Malua area, located between the Kinabatangan and Lahad Datu districts.

An international expert, Dr Marc Acrenaz said the area, also known as Malua Biobank, supports one of the highest densities of the species.

"The Malua Biobank is critically important for the survival of the orangutan," he said, adding that the species were slowly becoming endangered due to habitat loss.

"For an orang utan to survive, it is important to preserve large contiguous blocks of lowland rainforests," Dr Acrenaz added. Sabah Forestry Department Malua Wildlife Unit Leader Hadrin Lias said the discovery was made following recent ground and aerial surveys.

"The area is one of the most important refuge for orang utans in Borneo," he said, adding this was the result of conservation efforts.

Hadrin said revealed that logging in the area ceased in 2007 and was has been regularly patrolled by the authorities. A second 'wildlife' bridge was recently constructed across the Malua river to allow orang utans from outside the plot to enter.

The bridges, made up of chains, provide the primate hand and footholds to cross the river, mimicking overhanging tree branches.

The Malua Biobank is a pioneering public-private partnership to restore and protect endangered lowland rainforests, established in 2008. It also manages environmental credit sales, which in turn, would be utilised to run its conservation activities.

It is a joint venture between the Sabah Forestry Department, the Sabah Foundation or Yayasan Sabah and the EcuProducts Fund.

Darius Sarshar, director of New Forests Asia, the company that manages the Malua Biobank, said the results reinforced the significance of the initiative.

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Indonesia: Thirteen new hotspots detected in Riau

Antara 24 Aug 11;

Dumai, Riau (ANTARA News) - At least 13 new hotspots have developed in Riau Province, according to the Riau Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Of the 13 new hotspots, nine were found in Indragiri Hilir District, three in Indragiri Hulu, and respectively one in Kuantansingingi, Siak and Bengkalis Districts, Warih Puji Lestari, an analyst of the Riau BMKG said here on Wednesday.

In addition to Riau Province, other provinces such as Riau Island, West Sumatra, Lampung, Bangka Belitung, Jambi, and South Sumatra have also recorded new hotspots.

Riau Island has one new hotspot, West Sumatra three, Lampung eight, Bangka Belitung 10, and Jambi 36 hotspots. And the largest number of new hotspots, namely 128, are found in South Sumatra.

Sumatra Island had 204 hotspots on Tuesday (Aug 23), and 230 on Monday (Aug 22).

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 18 Satellite detected one hotspot in Aceh, two in Bengkulu and one in North Sumatra on Monday (Aug 22), Warih said.

"But, on Tuesday (Aug 23), the hotspot in the three provinces were gone, probably because of rains," he said.

Almost every year during the dry season several provinces in Indonesia are hit by forest and plantation fires.

In general the fires are man-made. Fire is usually seen as a cheap, easy and fast way to clear land for agriculture and plantation activities, but it is usually uncontrollable.

The Indonesian government has been committed to cutting the number of hotspots by 20 percent annually through preventive efforts, in order to meet Indonesia`s pledge to reduce its emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Dengue fever under attack through smart mosquito control

AFP Yahoo News 25 Aug 11;

Scientists Wednesday reported promising results from tests on a new way of assailing dengue fever by stealthily weakening populations of mosquitoes carrying the virus which causes the deadly disease.

"The results show we can completely transform local (mosquito) populations in a few months," said Michael Turelli, a biologist at the University of California at Davis. "It's natural selection on steroids."

Dengue affects between 50 and 100 million people in the tropics and subtropics each year, causing fever, muscle and joint ache as well as potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.

The disease is caused by four strains of virus that are spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. There is no vaccine, which is why scientists are focussing so intensely on mosquito control.

In 2009, Turelli and others hit on the idea of inserting a naturally-occurring bacterial parasite called Wolbachia to shorten the mosquito's lifespan so that the virus would not have enough time to develop.

Initial excitement was followed by disappointment. The strain of Wolbachia they used was somewhat virulent and knocked out the mosquitoes before they had the chance of spreading into the wild mosquito population.

Going back to the drawing board, the scientists found a non-virulent strain of Wolbachia in the fruitfly Drosphila -- a standard choice for laboratory research -- and believed they had the answer.

Introduced into the mosquito, the germ prevented the insect from becoming infected by the dengue virus.

Yet it was also harmless. The mosquito's fitness, a measure of its ability to survive and reproduce, was reduced only by about 10 to 20 percent.

The Wolbachia is a symbiotic bacterium, meaning that it exists by living in harmony with its host.

It lives inside cells and is maternally inherited, thus raising the possibility that after a few generations, the introduced dengue-free mosquitoes eventually outnumber dengue-carrying counterparts.

After long consultations with the government and regulators, the investigators released hundreds of thousands of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in two locations in Queensland, Australia, this year.

Early results suggest that the introduced mosquitoes have thrived, reaching 100 percent of mosquitoes that were captured and analysed in one location and more than 80 percent in the other. Some were also spotted several kilometers (miles) beyond the release area.

The experiments "herald the beginning of a new era in the control of mosquito-borne diseases," said Jason Rasgon, a specialist at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, Maryland, in a commentary also carried by Nature.

"The advantage of population-replacement approaches is that, once established, they are self-propagating. And because the mosquito population is simply changed rather than eliminated, effects on the ecosystem should be minimal."

The paper appears in Nature, the weekly British science journal.

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Climate Fluctuations May Increase Civil Violence

Wynne Parry Yahoo News 25 Aug 11;

Global climate fluctuations bear some responsibility in violent conflicts, according to a new study that has linked the hot, drier weather brought by the El Niño climate pattern with civic conflicts within the affected countries.

Using data from 1950 to 2004, the researchers concluded that the likelihood of new conflicts arising in affected countries, mostly located in the tropics, doubles during El Niño years as compared with wetter, cooler years. The weather El Niño brings had a hand in roughly one out of five conflicts during this period, they calculate.

"We believe this finding represents the first major evidence that global climate is a major factor in organized violence around the world," said Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the study who conducted the research while at Columbia University. [10 Ways Weather Changed History]

This conclusion — that fluctuations in climate can contribute to violence in modern societies — is a controversial proposal. In this case, the researchers admit they have yet to untangle the mechanisms that link a change in sea surface temperature with, for example, a guerilla war.

A natural climate fluctuation

El Niño refers to the irregular warming of the surface of the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This alters the behavior of the ocean and the atmosphere, disrupting weather around the planet — normally wet regions dry out, and dry regions become wet. El Niño happens roughly every four years, though it is not completely predictable, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study focused on areas, primarily in the tropics, where El Niño brings hot, dry weather to land, as more rain falls over the ocean.

Hsiang and colleagues looked at civil conflicts — in which more than 25 battle-related deaths occurred in a new dispute between a government and another, politically incompatible organization — in El Niño and other years.

Among nations that are strongly affected by El Niño, they calculated that the annual risk of conflict rose between 3 percent and 6 percent during an El Niño event. By modeling a world in a perpetually moist, peaceful state (no El Niño), they found that 21 percent fewer conflicts occurred during the 54-year-period. This doesn't mean that the climate cycle caused one in five conflicts, rather that it contributed to one in five, according to the researchers.

But not all countries warmed by El Niño responded the same way.

"We find it is really the poorest countries that respond to El Niño with violence," said Hsiang, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. "There are a large number of relatively wealthy countries in the tropics, for example, Australia, that experience large climate fluctuations due to El Niño, but they do not lapse into violence."

Ice on the road

The researchers admit that they have yet to explain how unusually warm sea surface temperatures are connected with violence. El Niño can clearly lead to droughts and natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes, but connecting those effects through to human behavior becomes tricky.

There are theories: El Niño-influenced events can put a strain on societies, particularly on the poor, leading to income inequality and increased unemployment, which may make armed conflict more attractive, according to the researchers. Psychological factors may also contribute.

"When people get warm and uncomfortable, they get irritated. They are more prone to fight, more prone to behave in ways that are, let's say, less civil," said Mark Cane, a study researcher with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. "I think all of these things contribute, and they are all quite real."

Hsiang compared El Niño's role in violence to that of winter ice on a road in a car accident: The ice alone doesn’t cause the accident, but it contributes to it.

An earlier, controversial study lead by economist Marshall Burke linked civil war in sub-Saharan Africa with warmer-than-average temperatures.

Why do we fight?

Although we frequently engage in it, we still don't fully understand the causes of violent conflict, according to Halvard Buhaug, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, who was not involved in the current study. [The Evolution of Fighting]

No conflict has a single cause, and researchers have come quite far in identifying a few common factors — poverty, inequality, political exclusion of minority groups and political instability — that can lead to civil violence, Buhaug said.

"From the recent study, one would be tempted to add climate or climate cycles. I think that would be premature," he said.

While it's possible that changes in climate brought down ancient civilizations — the collapse of ancient Egypt, the Mayan Empire and others have been linked to extreme climate fluctuations — Buhaug is less open to the same causal link for the modern world.

While Hsiang and colleagues show that El Niño and violent conflict tend to coincide, they do not provide the evidence that one can cause the other, he said. In order to establish a causal relationship, the researchers need to look at individual cases, and trace out precisely how an unusual climactic event, like El Niño, led to a specific conflict.

"Until we are able to do that, I don't think we are in a position to claim there is a causal relationship between climate and conflict," Buhaug told LiveScience.

Though scientists have yet to study that causal relationship in modern times, researchers have shown how environmental stress plays a role in violence — for instance, the influence of a drought in the Rwandan genocide, said Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Waterloo and chair of global systems at the Basillie School of International Affairs. Climate change is expected to behave like some other environmental stresses, said Homer-Dixon, who wasn't involved in the current research.

"This story is becoming clearer, it is not really told yet," he said. "[The current study] is a very important contribution to that overall story."

The future

If a natural climate cycle is contributing to violent conflict, what can we expect from climate change caused by humans, who are pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

The study itself doesn't address human-caused climate change, but its findings do have implications, according to Cane.

"It does raise the reasonable question: If these smaller, shorter lasting and by-and-large less serious kinds of changes in association with El Niño have this effect, it seems hard to imagine the more pervasive changes that will come with anthropocentric climate change are not going to have negative effects on civil conflict," Cane said.

The research appears in the Aug. 25 issue of the journal Nature. Kyle Meng, of Columbia University, also contributed to the study.

El Nino doubles risk of civil wars: study
Deborah Zabarenko Reuters Yahoo News 25 Aug 11;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The El Nino climate cycle, which spreads warm, dry air around the globe every four years or so, doubles the risk of civil wars in 90 tropical countries, researchers reported Wednesday.

And because El Nino patterns can be predicted up to two years in advance, scientists suggest their findings could be used to help prepare for some conflicts and the humanitarian crises they cause.

Historians and climate specialists have noted signs that changes in climate sent past societies into conflict and decline, but this is the first study to quantify the link between El Nino's heat, the droughts that follow, and upheaval in countries that bear the brunt of it.

Between 1950 and 2004, one out of every five civil conflicts were influenced by El Nino, scientists reported in the journal Nature.

El Nino starts as a large patch of warm water in the tropical Pacific and influences global climate and weather across much of Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas.

This pattern can cause large crop losses and increased risk of natural disasters like hurricanes and the spread of infectious diseases, study co-author Kyle Meng of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

"These events can lead to increases in income inequality ... and a labor market effect," Meng said in a telephone briefing. "These lead to increased unemployment, which makes the opportunities to fight a little bit more attractive."


It is also often more difficult for governments to enforce laws during severe weather events, he said.

Peru in 1982 and Sudan in 1963, 1976 and 1983 showed remarkable links between El Nino patterns and civil unrest, the researchers found. Other countries with a strong link between violence and El Nino include El Salvador, the Philippines and Uganda in 1972; Angola, Haiti and Myanmar in 1991, and Congo, Eritrea, Indonesia and Rwanda in 1997.

The researchers focused on internal civil conflicts because since 1950, these account for 80 to 90 percent of all conflicts.

Some 40 percent of the conflicts that occurred would probably have happened anyway, but the stresses of El Nino made conflict more likely, and sometimes made it happen earlier. Poorer countries were at the greatest risk, the scientists said.

"It's the poorest countries that respond to El Nino with violence," said study co-author Mark Cane, a climate scientist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

To get their findings, the researchers correlated El Ninos from 1950 to 2004 with civil conflicts that killed more than 25 people in a given year, including 175 countries and 234 conflicts, over half of which caused more than 1,000 battle-related deaths.

Countries with weather controlled by the El Nino cycle had a 6 percent chance of civil war breaking out when the hot, dry El Nino pattern was in force, the scientists reported. That was double the 3 percent chance of internal conflict when the cooler, wetter La Nina pattern prevailed.

The study does not predict how the El Nino cycle might change in a warmer world, but Cane said climate change might make the Earth "more El Nino-like."

"What (the study) does show, beyond any doubt, is that even in this modern world, climate variations have an impact on the propensity of people to fight," Cane said. "And it is frankly difficult to see why that won't carry over to a world that is disrupted by global warming."

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Xavier Briand)

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