Best of our wild blogs: 26 Aug 11

Frequently Asked Questions about Marine Life Park
from Resorts World Sentosa Marine Life Park Blog (and comments to the posts)

Coastal Cleanup @ Pandan Mangrove – registration open!
from Toddycats!

The Weevil's Wedding Vows
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Butter … Fly … Fish
from Compressed air junkie

juvenile sunbird @ seletar link mangrove 21Aug2011
from sgbeachbum

How many species - why do we care?
from The Biology Refugia

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Candidates' views on RWS dolphins issue

Tessa Wong Straits Times 26 Aug 11;

ANIMAL rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) has sought the views of the presidential candidates on animal rights and the issue of keeping dolphins in captivity.

It is campaigning to free 25 dolphins kept in the Philippines and destined for the Marine Life Park attraction at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

It sent e-mail messages to the candidates on Aug 15 seeking their views and received answers from Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian. Its representatives caught up with Dr Tony Tan and Mr Tan Jee Say to seek their responses.

The candidates' replies were reproduced in a statement it issued yesterday.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock said: 'As an animal lover, I hope that animals born in the wild should not be confined for entertainment. They are born free, let them stay free.'

Mr Tan Kin Lian thought it was a difficult decision, because if the dolphins were released, they might be 'accidentally captured' and killed by fishing fleets. On the other hand, if they were moved to the park, they 'might not be happy in their environment'.

Dr Tony Tan said: 'We should be concerned about animal welfare and biodiversity. I know that Acres is very passionate about the dolphin issue and this is something we should look into.'

And Mr Tan Jee Say said: 'Moral issues don't just extend to humans but also to animals... I think it's part of my values for conscience, empathy. I think (dolphins) are lovely creatures, they give us a lot of joy. We should help, promote and protect them.'

Presidential Candidates Speak Up for Animals and Dolphins
by Save the World’s Saddest Dolphins
ACRES Press Release 25 August 2011


SINGAPORE, 25 August 2011 – ACRES is delighted that all four presidential candidates have spoken up about the need to address and the importance of animal welfare issues.

ACRES wrote to the presidential candidates on 15 August urging them to share their views with regard to Resorts World Sentosa’s (RWS) plan to house wild-caught dolphins at their upcoming attraction.

Between 2008 and 2009, RWS damaged Singapore’s good international reputation by buying 27 wild-caught Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) from the Solomon Islands. In 2010, two of the dolphins died whilst undergoing training, despite the top-class care that RWS had promised.

Replying to ACRES, Dr. Tan Cheng Bock said “As an animal lover, I hope that animals born in the wild should not be confined for entertainment. They are born free, let them stay free.”

Mr. Tan Kin Lian said “The decision on what is the correct thing to do is a difficult one. If the dolphins are released back into the wild, they run the danger of being accidentally captured and killed by the fishing fleets of the world. On the other hand if they are moved into Marine Life Park, they would lose their freedom and be caged in an artificial environment. While the dolphins might be safe from physical harm, they might not be happy in their environment.

To resolve this impasse, I would like to urge both ACRES and RWS to approach the matter with a positive attitude. Both ACRES and RWS have similar goals of marine conservation, research and education. They should work together to come up with a solution where the dolphins are safe from physical harm and at the same time have happy, meaningful lives.”

ACRES has been engaged in a dialogue with RWS for the past five years. However, to date, RWS has yet to respond specifically to our concerns, despite our repeated requests.

“If RWS agrees to release the dolphins back into the wild, these dolphins will regain their freedom and live a life free from exploitation. Marine mammal specialist and star of The Cove, Ric O’Barry, is offering the possibility of setting up a rehabilitation and release project for these dolphins in conjunction with RWS. The dolphins will be released into a protected area.

It is true that wild dolphins may not enjoy a carefree life, but they do enjoy freedom and the choice of where to go, what to eat (live fish) and who to socialise with, and they will not be forced to perform behaviours that they don’t want to do. ACRES is confident that any animal will choose freedom over captivity if given a choice” said Mr. Louis Ng, Biologist and Executive Director of ACRES.

In a meeting with Dr. Tony Tan on 20 August, he said “we should be concerned about animal welfare and biodiversity. I know that ACRES is very passionate about the dolphin issue and this is something we should look into."

“I take good interest in the care of dolphins and call for more volunteers for this good cause of ACRES and would offer my support as part of my message platform of compassion, empathy and conscience” said Mr. Tan Jee Say.

It is very important that we have a President who is mindful of cruelty to and exploitation of animals, and we thank the president candidates for sharing their views.

ACRES will be holding a first-of-its-kind concert to save the world’s saddest dolphins. To be held on 28 August at the Speakers’ Corner, the concert will see the largest-ever gathering of animal lovers at the Speakers’ Corner, to urge Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to release their remaining 25 wild-caught dolphins.

Contact: Louis Ng (Executive Director, ACRES)


Tel (O): +65 6892 9821

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Exporting Singapore's river-cleaning expertise

Water governance and planning are areas where Singapore can make tremendous contributions to the world
Asit K Biswas and Leong Ching Business Times 26 Aug 11;

AS SEPTEMBER creeps up quietly on us, a little-known anniversary will come to pass with no particular fireworks - next month is the 25th anniversary of the cleaned-up Singapore River.

In an age where more people are living in cities, and more rivers flowing through these cities are used as open sewers and convenient rubbish dumps, the story of the Singapore River deserves to be told, and told loudly, especially as only two other rivers in the world had a similar clean-up: the Thames in the UK, and the Cuyahoga in the US.

In Singapore, the idea of a clean-up came in the mid-1970s, when the island had already left its fishing village image far behind. It was shaping up to be a bustling metropolis, with several tall buildings in the financial district and the buds of an industrialisation programme in Jurong.

But the Singapore River, running through the heart of financial and commercial area, was a noxious, polluted and highly visible reminder of how backward the country really was in terms of key infrastructure and environmental management.

Today, 25 years after a decade- long clean-up, the Singapore River is flanked on both sides by retail shops, eating outlets and posh residences. Riverside property prices have skyrocketed.

Economic sense

The gains are not merely social and recreational. As countries with polluted rivers will attest, it is good, hard-headed economic sense to clean up rivers because waste water imposes a tremendous cost in terms of human and environmental health.

For example, the World Bank has estimated that in 2007, the cost of pollution for China was a staggering US$100 billion a year. This figure, from the combined health and non-health costs of outdoor air and water pollution, represents 5.8 per cent of the country's GDP.

Water pollution, meanwhile, is taking the overall cost of water scarcity to about one per cent of GDP.

Cleaning up a river therefore has direct economic benefits in terms of public health and quality of life. At the same time, there are positive externalities such as an increase in property values, improved ecological infrastructure and a greater public awareness and appreciation of a community resource.

The Singapore River serves a powerful demonstration effect, especially for the world where the main water problem at present relates to quality and not quantity.

Accordingly, if a fledgling, developing country such as Singapore, circa 1977, with a per capita GDP of $7,022, was able to clean up Singapore River, so too can other countries. At the time, it spent $300 million and 10 years in the clean-up.

In June, India signed an agreement with the World Bank for a US$1 billion loan to clean up the river Ganges. One third of the country's people live along its banks.

This is not the first time India has attempted to do so. Water specialists have already said that cleaning up the Ganges is an effort that will take decades.

It will need far more than US$1 billion. It will also need strong and sustained political will and improved water governance all over the Ganges Basin.

But India is making a start, which is important since all water bodies in and around urban centres of the developing world are now already seriously contaminated. The water quality situation is steadily deteriorating.

Singapore itself should remember the river clean-up, if only to refocus the water industry here on its expertise and competitive edge in the niche areas of river quality improvement, better water governance and functioning and efficient institutions.

During the Singapore International Water Week last month, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that the National Research Foundation (NRF) has a total of $470 million committed to research and development in the water sector.

This money is meant to help achieve Singapore's goal of growing the value-added contribution from the water-related sector from $0.5 billion in 2003 to $1.7 billion by 2015, and doubling jobs in the sector to 11,000 by then.

Contrary to the widespread belief that urban water management in Singapore has become one of the best in the world primarily because of the use of advanced technology, in our view, this development has been possible because of good governance, functioning institutions and long-term planning.

Within this framework, technology has played a useful role.

Regrettably, in most countries of the world, both developed and developing, water governance and planning continue to be poor.

These are areas where Singapore can make tremendous contributions to the world and simultaneously help the economy of Singapore and significantly increase further its employment potential.

This will truly be a win-win situation for Singapore as well as the rest of the world.

Missing out

By mostly focusing on the 'hard' side (technology) of urban water management and not giving enough attention to the soft side (governance, planning and institutions), we believe that Singapore is missing out in maximising its potential in important areas.

Emphasis on the 'soft' side will also ensure that Singapore has a chance in becoming the knowledge hub of the urban water world.

Singapore's expertise in governance, planning, policy implementation, and functioning institutions are not the stuff of high technology.

Many cities of developed and developing world badly need such expertise.

These are the factors that enabled the country to clean up the Singapore and Kallang rivers successfully and cost-effectively.

The writers are distinguished visiting professor and doctoral candidate respectively at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Prof Biswas is also the founder and chief executive of Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico

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Malaysia: Turtle Conservation Efforts In Terengganu Showing Results

Bernama 24 Aug 11;

DUNGUN, Aug 24 (Bernama) -- The turtle conservation efforts taken by Terengganu has started to show positive results with an increase in the population of the species.

Terengganu Fisheries Department director Zakaria Ismail said every year about 80 per cent of the turtle eggs had been hatched at the Turtle Information and Sanctuary Centre in Rantau Abang, here.

Terengganu is the second state attracting the largest number of turtle landings after Sabah, especially four species, namely the Green turtle (Chelonia Mydas), Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata), Olive-ridley turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea) and a small quantity of Dermochelys Coriacea turtles.

He said last year, 401,761 turtle eggs were collected, comprising 397,789 eggs from the Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle (3,480) and the Leatherbacks (492).

"Of the total, about 70 per cent of the young turtles were hatched and released into the sea. Turtle conservation efforts were also carried out by the private sector which has also indicated encouraging results," he told Bernama here.

According to Zakaria, there are 12 areas that were converted into reserved landing areas in Terengganu, among them are Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Redang, Setiu, Rantau Abang, Dungun, Paka and Kertih in Kemaman.

In a related development, he said efforts were being taken to reduce the traditional habit of eating turtle eggs in Terengganu.

"This is because it has been a tradition here to eat turtle eggs while demand for turtle in increasing in the state compared with other states," he said.

He said the department was carrying out a campaign themed 'Not to Eat Turtle Eggs' among the younger generation.

"We always conduct information sessions and hold exhibitions in schools, encourage the public to visit the Turtle Information and Sanctuary centre and have dialogues with fishermen since many of the turtles die after being caught in fishing nets.

"The level of public awareness on the importance of protecting and conserving turtles has now increased," he said.

Zakaria said most of the turtle eggs being sold in the state were not from the local turtles but believed to have been brought in from several neighbouring countries.


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Malaysia exposed as major transit point after seizure of 1,000 elephant tusks

The Star 26 Aug 11;

PETALING JAYA: A container of anchovies headed for Malaysia from Africa turned out to be no small fry. Hidden within the strong smelling anchovies were more than 1,000 elephant tusks.

The killing of more than 500 elephants for the tusks has now turned the spotlight on Malaysia as a significant transit point for the illegal elephant ivory trade.

Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic) South-East Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy said Malaysia had been named in the latest Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) report as “a country of concern”.

“Malaysia has progressively gained prominence in successive ETIS analyses as a transit point for African ivory because of a growing number of illegal shipments passing through its ports,” she said in a statement.

Foreign wires reported yesterday that more than 1,000 elephant tusks destined for Malaysia were seized by Tanzanian authorities on Tuesday.

AFP reported that 1,041 elephant tusks were hidden in a container of anchovies, in the hope that the smell would discourage closer inspection by the authorities.

Krishnasamy said the latest seizure “represented the death of at least 500 elephants”.

She said it was doubtful Malaysia was the end destination of these illegal shipments based on previous seizures in Thailand and Vietnam.

She urged the Wildlife and National Parks Department, Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Customs Department to document all ivory stockpiles seized and report the matter to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Krishnasamy urged the Govern­ment to work with African nations to put a stop to the trade.

“If we do not act now, we will be contributing to the demise of the wild elephant population,” she added.

Tanzania Police Seize Poached Elephant Tusks
Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala PlanetArk 25 Aug 11;

Tanzanian authorities have seized more than 1,000 elephant tusks hidden in sacks of dried fish at Zanzibar port which were destined for Malaysia, officials said on Wednesday.

Like other countries across sub-Saharan Africa rich with wildlife, Tanzania has suffered from increased poaching in recent years as criminals kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks which are used for ornaments and in some medicines.

A total of 1,041 elephant tusks were stashed in a container with 114 sacks of dried sardines earmarked for export. The tusks nabbed in Zanzibar likely originated from mainland Tanzania.

Two suspects have been arrested and are being questioned, Zanzibar police spokesman Mohammed Mhina said.

"We don't know yet how much the elephant tusks weigh but Interpol officials from Dar es Salaam have arrived to investigate the incident."

Mhina said shipping documents for the container laden with elephant tusks show the consignment was destined for Malaysia.

Rampant poaching in the Serengeti -- a park in north Tanzania famed for its sweeping plains and vistas of Africa's most spectacular wildebeest migration -- in the 1960s and 70s saw the population of black rhinos in the country plummet from over 1,000 to just 70.

Most of the elephant tusks smuggled from the east African nation end up in Asian countries, according to police.

(Editing by Yara Bayoumy)

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Sea turtle who had global following found dead

Matt Sedensky Associated Press Google News 25 Aug 11;

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Andre, a sea turtle who survived catastrophic injuries and underwent a year of rehabilitation and innovative surgeries, has been found dead, three weeks after he was released off the Florida coast.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which had cared for the turtle, said he was found Wednesday on Hutchinson Island. David McClymont, the center's president, said staffers were able to identify the turtle from a tag that had been placed on him, but he was in such bad condition they couldn't determine what killed him.

"The staff and the entire volunteer base are deeply saddened," he said Thursday.

Just three weeks ago, a raucous crowd of hundreds gathered to watch Andre crawl into the sea and swim away. Onlookers hugged, wiped away tears and talked of the inspiration the reptile gave them.

Amid the disappointment over the sea turtle's death, his caretakers said the herculean efforts they took to save Andre — including several procedures considered animal firsts — were already helping others.

"The scientific advancements we made while rehabilitating Andre are already being applied in the treatment of other threatened and endangered sea turtles," the center said in a statement.

When Andre was found stranded on a sandbar on June 15, 2010, he had gaping holes in his shell, the result of two apparent boat strikes. More than three pounds of sand were inside him, along with at least a couple of crabs, a raging infection and a collapsed lung. His spinal cord was exposed, pneumonia was plaguing him and death seemed certain.

Any one of those injuries could have killed him, but his flippers were working and his neurological function appeared normal. So after beachgoers pulled him ashore on a boogie board, veterinarians began what became a yearlong effort to save him.

To help remove fluid and other materials and close his wounds, doctors used a vacuum therapy system. To help close gashes in the shell, a local orthodontist installed braces similar to those used on humans. And to fill in the gaping holes, doctors employed a procedure typically used to help regrow breast tissue in mastectomy patients and abdominal tissue in hernia patients.

The turtle's story was followed by many of the 225,000 annual visitors to the center and through a round-the-clock webcam. Children flooded him with mail and checks flowed in from around the world to support his care.

Green sea turtles have persisted since prehistoric times, but are endangered today. Only a small fraction of hatchlings survive and even fewer go on to reach adulthood and reproduce.

At 177 pounds when he was released, Andre was believed to be about 25 years old.

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New monkey species discovered in the Amazon

The discovery of a new type of titi monkey was made in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil
Damian Carrington 25 Aug 11;

A monkey sporting a ginger beard and matching fiery red tail, discovered in a threatened region of the Brazilian Amazon, is believed to be a species new to science.
Photograph: Julio Dalponte/WWFThe primate was found in relatively untouched pockets of forest in Mato Grosso, the region that has been worst-affected by illegal deforestation and land conflicts. Julio Dalponte, the scientist who made the discovery, said it showed the extraordinary biodiversity of the area and the vital importance of conservation.

The expedition, backed by conservation group WWF, also found probable new fish and plant species, all of which are now being studied. "We have taken an important step towards gaining better knowledge of the fauna in the western Mato Grosso region, which is still a puzzle with many pieces missing," said Dalponte.

The new animal is a type of titi monkey, many of which have startling facial hair. As a group, they have only recently become known to scientists, with 25 of the 28 species discovered since 1963. Finding new species of monkey is still relatively rare, with only about one a year found internationally.

The expedition scientists observed 47 already known mammal species, including jaguar, anteaters and armadilloes, as well as hundreds of different birds and fish.

This week, a separate study found that the total number of species inhabiting the planet is about 8.7 million, of which 90% are as yet undiscovered. Most of the land animals yet to be identified are insects but scientists say that finds of large new animal species, such as the new titi monkey, illustrate our limited our knowledge of the planet's biodiversity.

The activities of humans, such as the destruction of habitat, are driving tens of thousands of species to extinction each year, a rate comparable with the great mass extinctions that have occured in the Earth's distant past. .

Expedition to unexplored areas of Amazon uncovers new species
WWF 24 Aug 11;

Mato Grosso, Brazil: The discovery of a new primate species and suspected new fish and plant species and the presence of other animals in endangered categories highlight an urgent need for management plans for some of the last unexplored areas in the Amazon.

The discoveries were made on an expedition backed by WWF-Brazil in December 2010 to a part of Mato Grosso state that is considered to be an unexplored area in the Meridional Brazilian Amazon. The team discovered a new primate species and possible new fish and plant species and also sighted five animals on the endangered species list of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).

Researchers took specimens of the discoveries which are now being examined and detailed studies will verify if these do in fact come from a new species.

The team of 26 people made up of researchers and support staff, covered around 950km of forest inside the four protected areas of the Guariba-Roosevelt Extractive Reserve, the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River​ and Madeirinha River Ecological Stations.

The areas were created back in the 1990s but now are under threat from social and environmental problems including serious land tenure conflicts, illegal deforestation, illegal fishing activities, and exploitation of local labour in irregular activities such as large scale ranching and commercial plantations.

The aim of the expedition was to gather information to support the improvement of the management plans for the Mato Grosso state protected areas.

Exciting discoveries

Forty-eight different species of mammals were confirmed to be living in the region, including armadillos, anteaters, deer and monkeys and a primate species that is being considered as new to science. This species is being described at Emilo Goeldi Museum in Pará.

The team members investigating the region’s fish registered 208 species, of which 192 have had their identities confirmed and 16 are still being processed. Among these last 16 there may also be two previously undescribed species. The team’s bird specialists identified 313 bird species, including two migratory species and some that had previously only been registered in other South American countries.

The team studying fish also brought two possible new species back to the laboratories; one is a catfish and the other a tetra, a small brightly coloured freshwater fish. Other very small fish were found, known locally as ‘piaus’ and they too may have new species among them.

The expedition also discovered several threatened species, according to the expedition’s preliminary report signed by the biologist in charge of the mammal species studies Júlio Dalponte. These animals were: the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the jaguar (Panthera onca) and the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).

Geographer Gustavo Irgang, who with WWF-Brazil was jointly responsible for the overall coordination of the expedition, said “We fulfilled our schedule, there were no serious setbacks and we got back to our laboratories and study centres with the possible discovery of new species. We only have reasons to celebrate”.

Over the coming months all the information will be set out in reports that will provide support for the formulation of management plans for the protected areas.

Under threat

The region drained by the Guariba and Roosevelt rivers lies within the Juruena-Apuí block. The block consists of around nine million hectares and is covered by forests, some of them flooded, and patches of Cerrado formation. Together they are home to 500 species of birds and a variety of primate species.

Since the year 2003, WWF-Brazil has been working in this area to combat deforestation and contribute to the conservation of the Amazon.

The area explored by the expedition team is overrun with illegal loggers and occupied by huge cattle farms.

Violence associated with land tenure conflicts and social problems such as lack of health or education services and electricity supplies are very common throughout the area. Additionally, there are environmental problems like predatory forms of fishing, contamination of river water, deforestation, unchecked expansion of agricultural activities and lack of surveillance and inspection on the part of the state and federal environment authorities.

One person trying to deal with some of these problems is Edelso Ferreira Rodrigues who is manager of the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River and Madeirinha River Ecological Stations. In his struggle to protect these areas he faces a number of challenges, “Logistics here are naturally complicated and up until a few months ago we did not even have a boat for the work in the protected areas. I carried out inspections using borrowed or hired boats and often had to pay for the fuel out of my own pocket” says Edelso.

But according to Edelso the government is starting to allocate a larger budget for these PAs equipment is starting to arrive and members of the government’s technical staff make their visits more frequently.
“The process has already progressed a lot even though the steps have been very gradual” says Edelso “However slow the process may be, we are intensifying our activities here including the inspections that need to be carried out in this area.”


The state of Mato Grosso was the state with the most destroyed vegetation in its territories in January 2011, according to the most recent issue of the bulletin Forest Transparency – the Legal Amazon published by the Deforestation Warning Service of the Man and the Amazon Environment Institute (SAD/Imazon).

The bulletin reports that in the first month of 2011, 47 square kilometres of vegetation in Mato Grosso was destroyed, the equivalent of over half of all the devastation registered for the Amazon in the same period.

Mato Grosso also heads the list for degraded forest areas, which are areas that have been intensely exploited by logging activities or affected by the setting of fires.

In January 2011 the State had 353 square kilometres of degraded forests corresponding for 93% of the areas for the entire Amazon region at the time.

Biologist Fátima Sonoda is environment analyst in the Environment Department of the State Government and said “I feel that the question of Protected Areas needs to be taken much more seriously, especially by decision makers and the public sector”.

“What we need to do is to make constant efforts to increase the quantity and quality of our partnerships and call on companies, non- governmental organisations, and research institutes to intensify their conservation work”.

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Study on global plant die-off faces questions

Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 26 Aug 11;

A study on plant productivity that said drought and global warming were killing off plants worldwide is now being questioned by scientists, according to research published Thursday.

In the study published in the journal Science last year, researchers Maosheng Zhao and Steven Running of the University of Montana used NASA satellite data to show that productivity declined slightly from 2000-2009.

Those findings contradicted previous studies from the 1980s and 1990s that showed warmer temperatures in some parts of the world were driving longer growing seasons and greater plant growth around the globe.

Having more plants on Earth would be good news because it would help offset greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing more carbon dioxide.

While Running noted at the time that the findings came as "a bit of a surprise," the study raised concerns about global food security, biofuels and our understanding of the carbon cycle.

The new questions about the study, published in Science on Thursday, are posed by scientists at Boston University in the United States and the Universities of Vicosa and Campinas in Brazil.

A press release distributed to reporters by Boston University said their study is "refuting earlier alarmist claims that drought has induced a decline in global plant productivity."

Statements included by the researchers describe Zhao and Running's model as "erratic," "poorly formulated," and showing no "trends that are statistically significant."

However, scientists who were not involved in either paper said this was an excellent example of the scientific process at work, and should not be cast otherwise.

"The Boston University press release -- using the term 'alarmist' -- speaks of a university trolling for media as distinct from a university seeking to communicate excellence," Andy Pitman, co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said in an email to AFP.

"Those involved in this exchange of views are all well respected and excellent scientists. What is going on here is the scientific method. Zhao and Running publish a paper. Others attack it. Others defend it. Over time we determine who is right. Perfectly legitimate science."

Pitman, who has seen the study but was not involved in it, said the new analysis points to a smaller trend of plant loss but still shows declines over large swaths of territory in southeast Asia and China.

"This does not mean that there has been no decline, or that Zhao and Running's results were wrong, rather it highlights how strong research groups can reach different conclusions when using different assumptions," Pitman said.

"That opens up a rich vein of future research."

One of the key issues raised by critics was how the Zhao and Running study found a 0.34 percent reduction in the southern hemisphere's plant productivity, offset slightly by a 0.24 percent increase in the northern hemisphere, for a net decline of 0.1 percent over a 10-year period.

"This is the proverbial needle in a haystack," Simone Vieira, co-author and researcher at the State University of Campinas, Brazil, said in a statement.

"There is no model accurate enough to predict such minute changes over such short time intervals, even at hemispheric scales."

Lead author Arindam Samanta, a graduate of Boston University who is now at Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts, said the initial study's model was based on data from a decade when temperatures were on the rise.

"Their model has been tuned to predict lower productivity even for very small increases in temperature. Not surprisingly, their results were preordained," said Samanta.

According to NASA scientist Compton Tucker, who also reviewed the data, key questions to be resolved are whether the first study was accurate and whether its findings could be replicated over a longer period.

"It's just like studying the stock market for a few years versus 30 years," Tucker told AFP.

"Most people think you need a record of about 30 years of whatever data you are using in order to indicate a trend."

He said the publication of questions on the initial research should help advance knowledge in the area.

"This is science, where you take one step forward and two steps back," he said. "It's important for this to-and-fro to be able to play itself out."

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