Best of our wild blogs: 9 Nov 11

Documentary screening on Nov 10: End of the Line
from Green Drinks Singapore

AVA’s Responsible Pet Ownership Roadshow, 12-13 Nov 2011
from Otterman speaks

Pelagic Outing October 2011
from Con Foley Photography

Mega-fauna at Hantu
from Compressed air junkie and Pulau Hantu

Macaques, Conflict and Keyboard Warriors
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

The Teeny Weeny Pseudoscorpion
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Gardening for birds: 7. Tropical mistletoes
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore Graveyard Stirs Lively Debate

Chun Han Wong The Wall Street Journal 9 Nov 11;

Life is abundant after death in a remote Singapore graveyard, where a struggle over a forgotten stretch of the island nation’s history has stirred strident debate over the spirit of its future.

Authorities and activists are jousting over the fate of the remains of up to 100,000 dead people – including luminaries of the island’s colonial yesteryears – interred at the Bukit Brown cemetery, located in a densely-vegetated part of Singapore just south of the city-state’s central water catchment area and nature reserve. Should government plans proceed, the 86-hectare burial ground will gradually be transformed into a residential district, starting with road construction slated to begin in early 2013.

In the eyes of advocates, though, the development plans would mean irreversible loss of cultural heritage and wildlife in a city-state where economic imperatives have often superseded preservationist impulses.

“Singaporeans and the government are constantly warning against cultural rootlessness and an eroding identity. The complaint that Singapore is more hotel than home is well aired,” Singapore Heritage Society spokesman Terence Chong said. “It is thus crucial to protect, preserve and document our heritage in order that we may become a people who care about where we have come from, as much as we are concerned about what the future holds.”

Bukit Brown (“bukit” means hill in Malay) – now a magnet for nature enthusiasts – was named after former proprietor George Henry Brown, a ship-owner who came to Singapore in the 1840s. Already a burial ground for migrants from China’s Fujian province when bought by Brown in the 1880s, the area was eventually acquired by the government and designated a Chinese municipal cemetery from 1922 to 1973.

The site, one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of mainland China, provides a final resting place for community leaders, business pioneers and many common folk. Among them is Lee Hoon Leong, the grandfather of Singapore’s first prime minister and guiding architect, Lee Kuan Yew.

Authorities announced in September plans to build by 2016 a four-lane carriageway across the northern part of the cemetery in a bid to alleviate traffic congestion on nearby roads and cater for future traffic growth.

About 5,000 to 6,000 graves will be disinterred to make way for the new road, in a process that activists fear will also do irreparable damage to a biologically diverse habitat for some 85 bird species. Plans for the remaining graves are not yet known, though eventually the whole area is slated to become a housing district, albeit without a specified timeframe.

“Bukit Brown serves as a potent reminder that our nation arose not only on the backs of the rich, but on the faceless ghosts of our collective familial past, thus enriching the tapestry of the Singapore story,” Mr. Chong, a sociologist, said.

Letters to local newspapers – penned by the public and descendants of those buried in the cemetery – have echoed these sentiments, calling for the site to be preserved. Some have also linked its fate to wider questions over development choices in the city-state, including past decisions to build golf courses, which take up a lot of space and, many argue, cater to the wealthy.

“Singaporeans should ask themselves to choose between saving an exclusive golf course or a culturally, ecologically and historically rich site like Bukit Brown Cemetery, if they are keen on nurturing” the city-state’s soul, wrote Liew Kai Khiun, an academic at the city-state’s Nanyang Technological University.

Singapore’s breathtaking makeover from trading post to glitzy metropolis stands as proof of the government’s drive to economize space on the tiny island. This time, too, officials are pressing on with their plans for Bukit Brown, though they are pledging to document graves likely affected by the road development.

“We are aware of the rich heritage of Bukit Brown and its links to the history of our country,” Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a statement last month. “We have sought to explore various possibilities for the road but there were no easy choices.”

The government also reiterated in the statement its intention to stick with long-term plans to remake Bukit Brown into a residential zone.

Activists aren’t giving up. A petition to “save” the cemetery has attracted over 800 signatures thus far, while others have suggested some compromise plans for the site’s development.

“As descendants of Singapore’s early pioneers, we appeal to the authorities to explore alternatives like widening existing roads or using flyovers to preserve this national heritage,” Chew I-Jin, an architect, wrote in a letter to the Straits Times newspaper. Her ancestor Chew Boon Lay, a prominent businessman who died in 1933, is buried at Bukit Brown.

“It is not too late to recognize that Bukit Brown is rich with ‘living’ possibility and multi-uses – not just for those who pay respects to ancestors but also as a place for learning and recreation,” she wrote.

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Malaysia: Illegal fishing near diving site

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 9 Nov 11;

KOTA KINABALU: A group of six men created a stir when they were spotted fishing at a diving site off Sapi Island on Monday.

Several concerned local and foreign divers, who were here for leisure dives at the Coral Garden Reef about 2.30pm, spotted the group with six men, including the skipper, about 10m away and warned them to stay out of the water.

Despite being warned, the boatman moved to another spot not far from the diving site and they continued fishing. It is believed that the men, who were tourists, had hired a local boat operator.

"This is dangerous. They are not only doing illegal fishing, but they are fishing within the diving sites.

"There are divers in the water and they can get hooked," said a local diver Kelvin Tong.

Sapi Island is listed under the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP) that was gazetted in 1974. Other islands under TARP are Gaya, Manukan, Sulug and Mamutik.

The park covers an area of 50sq km, comprising islands reefs and sea.

Its main objective is to protect their fauna, flora, and marine eco-system.

The divers reported the incident and had also furnished the TARP management with the boat registration number.

TARP manager Ramlah Awang Jalil said officers would be sent to the spot to conduct a Global Positioning System (GPS) reading.

"From the reading, we will find out whether the fishing took place in the park boundary or outside the area.

"We have a patrol unit and we do 24-hour surveillance around the islands," said Ramlah.

Read more: Illegal fishing near diving site

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Conservation scientists 'unanimous' in expectations of serious loss of biological diversity

Growing acceptance for controversial strategies including 'conservation triage'
Wiley-Blackwell EurekAlert 8 Nov 11;

The number of species being recognised as endangered is ever increasing and a new study, published in Conservation Biology, reveals the unanimity among conservation scientists of expectations of a major loss of biological diversity. The survey also shows a growing acceptance of controversial strategies such as triage, a decision to prioritise resources and not to intervene to save some highly threatened species.

"As with climate change the large level of investment needed if loss of biodiversity is to be stopped will result in an increase of public and political scrutiny of conservation science," said study author Dr. Murray Rudd from the Environment Department at the University of York. "That makes it important to show how much scientific consensus there is for both the problems and possible solutions."

583 individuals who had published papers in 19 international journals took part in Dr Rudd's survey via email. The survey sought to gather opinions on the expected geographic scope of declining biological diversity before posing 16 questions to rank levels of agreement with statements that explored authors' values, priorities, and geographic affiliation and their support of potential management actions.

"The survey posed the key questions facing conservation science: why people care, how priorities should be set, where our efforts should be concentrated and what action we can take," said Rudd. "Scientists were also asked about a range of potentially controversial statements about conservation strategies to gauge shifting opinions."

The results revealed that 99.5% of responders felt that a serious loss of biological diversity is either 'likely', 'very likely', or 'virtually certain'. Agreement that loss is 'very likely' or 'virtually certain' ranged from 72.8% of authors based in Western Europe to 90.9% for those in Southeast Asia.

Tropical coral ecosystems were perceived as the most seriously affected by loss of biological diversity with 88.0% of respondents who were familiar with that ecosystem type gauging that a serious loss is 'very likely' or 'virtually certain'.

"When considering conservation values and priorities the scientists said understanding interactions between people and nature was a priority for maintaining ecosystems," said Rudd. "However, they largely rejected cultural or spiritual reasons as motivations for protecting biodiversity. They also rejected 'human usefulness', suggesting many do not hold utilitarian views of ecosystem services."

Respondents to this survey had more unanimity on the human role in loss of biological diversity than respondents to a recent survey on climate change. In this survey, 79.1% of respondents stated that acceleration of the loss of biological diversity by human activities is virtually certain. In the other survey, by comparison, 61.9% thought climate change was underway, whereas 55.1% believed it to be accelerated by humans.

The respondents to Rudd's survey were also asked to consider conservation triage, when, given limited resources, a decision may be made not to intervene to save a highly threatened species. Triage has long been considered controversial among conservation scientists. Yet 50.3% and 9.3% of scientists agree or strongly agree that criteria for triage decisions should be established.

"Understanding the degree of consensus within the scientific community will help policy makers to interpret scientific advice, improving the likelihood of successful of conservation initiatives," concluded Rudd. "The extremely high level of consensus demonstrated by these results underlines the urgency of preventing further damage to the natural world."

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Entire Mammal Genus on Brink of Extinction

Critically endangered African antelope is last species of its kind.
Christine Dell'Amore National Geographic News 8 Nov 11;

For the first time in 75 years, an entire genus of mammal may go the way of the dodo—unless a new conservation effort shepherded by Somalian herders succeeds.

The hirola, a large African antelope known for its striking, goggle-like eye markings, is the only remaining species in the genus Beatragus—and its numbers are dwindling fast, conservationists say.

The last mammal genus to blink out was Thylacinus, in 1936, with the death of the last Tasmanian tiger. A genus is a taxonomic ranking between species and family.

Considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the hirola has seen its numbers fall by as much as 90 percent since 1980. The latest survey, in February, found about 245 animals in fragmented pockets of northeastern Kenya and southwestern Somalia, according to the Nature Conservancy.

In all, conserva
tionists estimate there are fewer than 400 hirolas scattered throughout the species' historic range of East Africa.

A range of factors, including climate change-related drought; unregulated hunting; habitat destruction; and more recently, predation have slashed populations.

Now the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, a network of predominantly Somalian clans, is building a a new predator-free sanctuary for the species, according to Omar Tawane Dagane, the conservancy's Kenya-based manager.

Most of the herders living along the Kenya-Somalia border "are friendly to wildlife," Dagane said.

The locals also like hirolas because they don't harm livestock, he said.

"That is why [it] was easy for us to advocate for construction of a predator-proof ... hirola sanctuary in such a pastoralist setup."

Conservation Gone "Viral"

Somalian clans formed the Ishaqbini conservancy in 1996 after seeing the benefits of self-organized conservancies in northeastern Kenya, an often lawless region prone to cattle raiding and general unrest, said Tim Tear, science director for the Nature Conservancy's Africa Program, an Ishaqbini partner.

These conservancies, while setting aside land for protection of species such as elephants and buffalo, also provided exclusive rights to tourism companies. The majority of the tourism proceeds fund community needs, for example special operations for local children. The remaining percentage—about 40 percent—goes to fund conservation practices and employ game scouts to patrol and prevent poaching.

"This is one of the big reasons people are supportive—direct benefits to the communities and conservation and security value as well," Tear said.

There are now 17 conservancies within the Northern Rangelands Trust, a Kenya-based membership organization that helps coordinate and support the local initiatives, including Ishaqbini.

"This is the idea of conservation going viral," he said.

Hirola to Thrive in Predator-Free Sanctuary?

A few years ago the Ishaqbini clans created an 8,000-acre (3,200-hectare) conservation area to protect hirolas, mainly by monitoring poaching and restricting livestock grazing.

With grazing curtailed, the grasslands bounced back—and so did predators such as African lion and African wild dogs, which have been increasingly preying on hirolas.

Now, with predation cutting hirola numbers by as much as 15 percent in the past year, the Ishaqbini conservancy is constructing what they say is a predator-proof fence around the new 6,000-acre (2,400-hectare) sub-sanctuary within the original conservation area.

Ideally, the new sanctuary will give the antelope a safe haven in which to breed and rebound, Ishaqbini's Dagane said.

"People have a perception there's no peace around here because of neighboring Somalia," he said, "but Ishaqbini is very peaceful compared with other communities in the interior of Kenya."

The Nature Conservancy's Tear added that the Ishaqbini clans have "really identified with this animal."

"They've made some really heroic decisions about saving land for the purposes of saving this species."

Conserving Hirola Not Easy

Conservationists and government agencies have been working to save the hirola since the 1960s.

Because all attempts to breed hirolas in captivity have failed, conservation plans have mostly involved relocating the animals.

In 1963, for instance, the Kenya Wildlife Service captured 10 to 20 hirolas from northeastern Kenya and released them into Tsavo East National Park (map).

After that population had nearly died out, in 1996, about 30 more hirolas from the Arawale National Reserve in northeastern Kenya were added to this "founding population," according to the wildlife service's website. There is now a stable, though isolated, population of about a hundred hirolas living in Tsavo.

Community Involvement Important

The Nature Conservancy's Tear noted that for conservation for work long-term, "local people have to be engaged, involved, and supportive of conservation."

Philipp Goeltenboth discovered just that in 1996. Now the director of WWF-Germany's Forest Program, Goeltenboth at the time was working with the Kenya Wildlife Service to relocate the hirola as part of his master's degree research.

In a controversial move, the government took the animals from an impoverished area where residents believed the animal was "one of last hopes in this area for tourism," he said.

A court injunction initiated by the communities temporarily halted the translocation. According to a Kenyan court document dated August 29, 1996, locals brought the injunction on "the grounds that [the hirola] was a gift to the people of the area and should be left there."

Overall, local communities had not been involved in the government's initial relocation plan—"a big mistake," Goeltenboth said.

"The Kenya Wildlife Service was a study in how not to do conservation," he said. "They basically moved into the area with full force."

The Kenya Wildlife Service did not respond to requests for comment.

Hirola Sanctuary Can't Save the Species?

Yakub Dahiye, a scientist at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, has studied hirolas for several years and published research on the species.

He called the Ishaqbini conservancy "a noble community initiative" that can "partly contribute to wildlife conservation and tourism development."

However, "I don't think this conservancy alone can save the hirola," Dahiye emphasized by email.

"Just like the local nomadic pastoralist, the hirola has a highly mobile habit.

"Given the small size of this conservancy and its limited/seasonal pastures, free-ranging hirola may not be permanently resident in the conservancy."

What's more, hirolas face threats other than predation. For one, growing human settlements have displaced the antelope from its dry-season habitat along Kenya's Tana River, Dahiye said.

Hirolas are also forced to compete with cattle and sheep for food and water. Futhermore, traveling herders and their livestock can trample hirola grazing lands.

And despite the conservancy's creation, modernization and changing lifestyles mean that some of the pastoralists' conservation traditions are disappearing, Dahiye noted.

High Hopes for Hirola

Ultimately the Ishaqbini Conservancy's Dagane envisions this slice of Africa as a regional hub for tourism and research.

"I'd like to see community conservation spread to neighboring communities, increase the number of wildlife, and get conservation into the minds of the younger generations for wise use of their natural resources in the future," he said.

The Nature Conservancy's Tear also has high expectations for Ishaqbini and its hirolas.

"People hear a lot about things in crisis, especially in Africa," Tear said.

But "there are many reasons for there to be hope."

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Survey identifies sea turtle 'hitchhikers'

Smithsonian EurekAlert 8 Nov 11;

"It is strange to think of a sea turtle as an ecosystem," says Amanda Feuerstein, program coordinator and research assistant at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, "but they are…they have all of these other animals living on their skin and shells."

Feuerstein is co-author of a recent survey documenting the crustaceans, mollusks, algae and other marine organisms that make a home on the bodies Olive Ridley and green sea turtles living in the Pacific.

For three years -- 2001, 2002 and 2008 -- on Teopa Beach in Jalisco, Mexico, Feuerstein and colleagues examined the shell, neck and flippers of female turtles that had come out onto the beach to nest, collecting and carefully documenting all the organisms -- known as epibionts -- they found. It is the first comprehensive survey on Pacific turtle epibionts, and was recently published in the Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The survey was organized by the Turtle Epibiont Project of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Sixteen different epibiont species were found on the turtles, Feuerstein says, including crabs, a variety of barnacles, the remora or "shark sucker," and leeches. Most of the Pacific sea turtle epibionts are obligate -- meaning they are found only on sea turtles, nowhere else.

Compared to turtles living in the Atlantic, "the Pacific turtles are coming up pretty darn clean," says Eric Lazo-Wasme of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, lead author of the study. Similar surveys of Atlantic Ocean turtles have recorded as many as 90 epibiont species living on them. The scientists are uncertain why Pacific turtles have fewer epibionts.

"For years we considered epibionts as harmless hitchhikers on the turtles, but that opinion is starting to change," Lazo-Wasem explains. "Barnacles in large numbers can cause significant drag on a turtle as it swims and some barnacles embed into the skin and have very long projections that pierce laterally into the skin." Leeches have also been shown to transmit disease.

The impetus for the survey was born out of conservation concern for sea turtles as an endangered species. Coevolutionary relationships between turtles and their epibionts, and how these relationships affect turtle health and ecology have only recently come under scrutiny, the researchers say.

The study includes photographs of and taxonomic commentary on each of the epibiont species documented and survey instructions for future studies on how to collect epibionts from sea turtles.

"We wanted to make the paper one that people could really use," Lazo-Wasem says. "We weren't really pleased with past surveys because there was not a lot of detail in them."

"When we endanger animals like sea turtles many other groups of animals are affected," Feuerstein says. "Loosing one species is more complicated and tragic" than people may realize.

"Epibionts Associated with the Nesting Marine Turtles Lepidochelys olivacea and Chelonia mydas in Jalisco, Mexico: A Review and Field Guide," appeared in the Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History and was co-authored by Eric Lazo-Wasem, Amanda Feuerstein, Theodora Pinou of Western Connecticut State University and Alejandro Pena de Niz, of the Centro Para La Proteccion y Conservacion de Tortugas Marinas.

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Killer frog fungus 'spread by trade'

Richard Black BBC News 8 Nov 11;

The fungus killing frogs around the world comes in several forms, and has almost certainly been distributed by trade in amphibians, research shows.

Scientists led from Imperial College London found three distinct lineages of the chytrid fungus in various nations.

The most widespread and lethal form was probably created by a crossing of two prior forms, they report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chytrid is now found on every continent and has wiped out a number of species.

Identified just over a decade ago, it kills amphibians by blocking the transfer of vital substances through their skins, eventually causing cardiac arrest.

Its origins are believed to lie in southern Africa.

"Before this study, no-one knew there were any different lineages," said Rhys Farrer, the project leader from Imperial.

"This work comes from using the new whole-genome sequencing technique, combining data from all over the world.

"And it's obviously important, as chytrid is one one of the most devastating wildlife diseases with the largest host range of any, and responsible for dozens of species extinctions and many more extirpations of local populations."
Cape of good hope

The team took samples from amphibians in 20 sites spanning Europe, North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South Africa.

The majority carried Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus of the type that has a truly global spread, which they dubbed BdGPL.

But their Swiss sample showed a different form, or clade, named BdCH, while a third clade (named BdCAPE) turned up in the Cape Province of South Africa and the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.

The Mallorcan chytrid was almost certainly carried from South Africa, probably via the trade in amphibians for zoos or private collections.

The Swiss form probably came via a similar route, researchers believe.

Laboratory tests showed that BdCAPE was substantially less damaging to amphibians than BdGPL. (The Swiss form was identified too late in the project to be tested in this way.)

The genetic differences that make BdGPL more lethal have not been identified. But the team believes it became so deadly through a chance encounter between two or more prior strains.

"We think we are seeing unique evidence of recombination within BdGPL - we can't say for sure if it's a hybridisation event but it's the most likely explanation," said Mr Farrer.

"From the dating work we've done it's safe to say that it arose in the 20th Century, and that's in the realm of time for the trade in amphibians."

Although the transport of exotic amphibians for pets is a prime suspect, another theory holds that the lethal BdGPL chytrid spread through the importation of frogs from Africa to North America and Europe for use in pregnancy testing.

However, yet another form of the fungus was recently discovered in Japan, its relationship to African-derived lineages uncertain.

The latest research marks a new staging post on a fast and fascinating voyage of scientific discovery.

Whether it can help combat the disease is another matter.

Analysing the genomes of the various strains may show scientists what makes some virulent and others relatively benign.

The Imperial team believes it is also worth investigating whether the less virulent forms can be used to give amphibians a degree of resistance, in the same way that some vaccines do through using attenuated forms of disease-causing microbes.

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Heavy Metals Pollute A Tenth Of China's Farmland

Chris Buckley PlanetArk 8 Nov 11;

About one tenth of China's farmland is polluted by lead, zinc and other heavy metals to "striking" levels exceeding official limits, a government expert said according to reports on Monday.

Wan Bentai, the chief engineer for China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, said a survey of soil pollutants this year found heavy metal from smelter chimneys, water run-off and tailings meant "in total about 10 percent of farmland has striking problems of heavy metal levels exceeding (government) limits," the Southern Metropolitan Daily reported.

"In recent years, there have constantly been outbreaks of heavy metal pollution, and from January to February alone there were 11 incidents, nine involving lead," Wan told a meeting in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in south China, according to the report.

China's voracious appetite for the metals has turned heavy metal pollution into a source of widespread public worry and occasional protest. Exposure to lead and other heavy metals can damage nerves, reproductive systems and kidneys, among other health complications, especially among children.

The Chinese government estimates the country has 1.22 million square kilometers of farmland, and says protecting that land is a priority. But many rural areas support smelters and foundries that spill pollution into soil and water supplies.

China is the world's biggest consumer of refined lead, and battery making accounts for 70 percent of that consumption, which is likely to grow to 4.1 million tons in 2011.

China's environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning. But Beijing has often failed to match vows to tackle polluters with the resources and will to enforce such demands, and local officials often put growth, revenue and jobs ahead of environmental standards.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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Coastal East Africa threatened spaces and disappearing species cause for worry

John Kabubu WWF Coastal East Africa 7 Nov 11;

WWF’s Coastal East Africa Initiative has launched a report that seeks to draw attention to the global importance of East African coastal forests as centres of biodiversity and home to species specifically found only in this region.

Coastal East Africa which runs from the border between Kenya and Somalia, through to Tanzania and onwards to Mozambique contains various threatened spaces and disappearing species that have continually been a cause of great concern for scientists and biologists the world over.

The report which was launched today by Tanzania’s Minister for Environment, Dr. Terezya Huvisa, details shocking statistics indicating that a mere 10% of the original coastal forests of Eastern Africa remain, fragmented into 400 patches that cover over 6000 square kilometres in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

One of the world's most biologically diverse regions

Coastal forests and landscapes in Eastern Africa are home to thousands of species of plants and animals. In the last 10 years alone, more than 400 new species, including 261 invertebrates, 28 fish, 25 amphibians, 19 reptiles, 10 birds, 7 mammals and 93 plants have been discovered in the region making it one of the most biologically diverse and endemic regions of the world.

Currently, over 20 million people live in and along coastal forests and landscapes in Eastern Africa. The survival of these people is highly dependent on the availability of basic natural resources such as timber, woodfuel and charcoal, which are extracted from forests, causing a serious dilemma; their dependency and consequent exploitation of these resources destroying the very basis of their existence. The pressures are rapidly rising as the population is expected to double by 2030 putting a serious and already present strain on the meagre natural resources present in Coastal East Africa.

According to WWF Coastal East Africa Initiative Leader Peter Scheren, the situation in the region is worrying: “Up to 90% of all timber extracted from forests in the region is illegally logged. A large part of this timber is exported, primarily to China, for prices well below the actual value of the wood. This adds to the local demands for firewood and timber from the growing local population, and large-scale clearing of forests for agriculture and other purposes. The poor communities from the region, those that are depending on these resources for their livelihoods, are the ones suffering most”.

Safeguarding the beauty and splendour of Coastal East Africa

Dr. Terezya Huvisa states that “Tanzania is dedicated to preserve its remaining rich forests, which are not only crucial for the day-to-day survival of our growing population, but also as our contribution to the global climate change mitigation strategy. We are actively exploring REDD and other carbon credit mechanisms to support our communities in conserving these forests”, said the Minister.

Peter further noted that WWF was serious in its initiative to help safeguard the beauty and splendour of Coastal East Africa and has invested heavily in both people and nature to help secure the future livelihood of a growing population within the region.

“WWF’s mission is to ensure that East Africa’s valuable natural resources are being effectively conserved and these continue to provide goods and services to more than 20 million people dependent upon them,” he said.

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Forests of the Future Reshaped by Climate, Diseases

Environment News Service 7 Nov 11;

CORVALLIS, Oregon, November 7, 2011 (ENS) - What scientists are calling a huge "migration" of trees has begun across much of the West due to global warming, insect attack, diseases and fire. Many tree species are projected to decline or die out in regions where they have been present for centuries, while others move in and replace them.

In a new report, scientists outline the impact that a changing climate will have on which tree species can survive, and where. The study suggests that many species that were once able to survive and thrive are losing their competitive footholds, and opportunistic newcomers will eventually push them out.

"Some of these changes are already happening, pretty fast and in some huge areas," said Richard Waring, professor emeritus at Oregon State University and lead author of the study. "In some cases the mechanism of change is fire or insect attack, in others it's simply drought."

Once-common species such as lodgepole pine will be replaced by other trees, perhaps a range expansion of ponderosa pine or Douglas fir, the scientists said. Other areas may shift completely out of forest into grass savannah or sagebrush desert.

In central California, researchers concluded that more than half of the species now present would not be expected to persist in the climate conditions of the future.

"Ecosystems are always changing at the landscape level, but normally the rate of change is too slow for humans to notice," said Steven Running, the University of Montana Regents Professor and a co-author of the study. "Now the rate of change is fast enough we can see it."

The research explored impacts on 34 different eco-regions ranging from the Columbia Plateau to the Sierra Nevada, Snake River Plain and Yukon Highlands.

It projected which tree species would be at highest risk of disturbance in a future that is expected to be five to nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2080, with more precipitation in the winter and spring, and less during the summer.

"We can't predict exactly which tree will die or which one will take its place, but we can see the long-term trends and probabilities," Waring said. "The forests of our future are going to look quite different."

Waring said tree species that are native to a local area are there because they can most effectively compete with other species given the specific conditions of temperature, precipitation, drought, cold-tolerance and other factors that favor one species over another in that location.

As those climatic conditions change, species that have been established for centuries or millennia will lose their competitive edge, Waring said, and slowly but surely decline or disappear.

This survey, done with remote sensing of large areas over a four-year period, compared 15 coniferous tree species that are found widely across much of the West in Canada and the United States.

Researchers concluded that some of the greatest shifts in tree species are expected to occur in both the northern and southern extremes of this area, such as British Columbia, Alberta, and California.

Large declines are expected in lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce, and more temperate species such as Douglas-fir and western hemlock may expand their ranges.

Many wilderness areas are among those at risk of the greatest changes, and will probably be the first to experience major shifts in tree species.

Some of the mild, wetter areas of western Oregon and Washington will face less overall species change than areas of the West with a harsher climate.

More than half of the evergreen species are experiencing a significant decrease in their competitiveness in six eco-regions.

Conditions have become more favorable for outbreaks of diseases and insects, the scientists conclude.

Warming will encourage growth at higher elevations and latitudes, and increased drought at the other extremes. Fire frequency will continue to increase across the West, and any tree species lacking drought resistance will face special challenges.

"There's not a lot we can do to really control these changes," Waring said. "For instance, to keep old trees alive during drought or insect attacks that they are no longer able to deal with, you might have to thin the forest and remove up to half the trees. These are very powerful forces at work."

One of the best approaches to plan for an uncertain future, the researchers said, is to maintain "connective corridors" as much as possible so that trees can naturally migrate to new areas in a changing future and not be stopped by artificial boundaries.

The research was supported by NASA, and the study is being published in two professional journals, "Ecological Modeling" and "Remote Sensing of Environment."

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