Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jan 13

Job Opportunities in Freshwater Ecology with Tropical Marine Science Institute from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Read more!

Flying frog: new species discovered near Ho Chi Minh City

Samantha-Jo Harris Sydney Morning Herald 10 Jan 13;

Usually when the Australian Museum's Dr Jodi Rowley searches for new species of frogs she has to trek to remote locations and through the difficult terrain of Vietnam's mountains.

But Dr Rowley and her Vietnam colleagues were stunned to find their latest discovery of a new species of "flying frog" not too far from one of the largest cities in south-east Asia.

"It was really surprising to come across this huge frog so close to a heavily populated area," Dr Rowley said.

Helen's tree frog (Rhacophorus helenae), named after Dr Rowley's mother, was discovered in a lowland forest in Vietnam, an area completely surrounded by agricultural land, less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City.

Despite being commonly referred to as a "flying" frog, Dr Rowley says: "The name 'flying' frog is a little misleading as it doesn't really fly. Rather it uses its feet as parachutes to help it glide through the canopy."

But the canopy this 10-centimetre long frog calls home is under threat due to habitat loss and land degradation.

"Usually species are protected because they are in remote locations, but as this frog is so close to human activity it is at a great risk." Dr Rowley said.

She says discoveries of new species are important to conservation as it ensures species are protected.

"These forests are some of the most threatened habitat in the world so discoveries like this are very important. The first thing we need to know is what we have and the second step is to conserve what we discover."

Dr Rowley has been working in the area since 2006 and has made previous discoveries of new species, including the vampire flying frog and working in collaboration to discover and describe 12 new species in south-east Asia.

She says it is not uncommon for certain species to remain undiscovered when they live in the forest canopy.

"Species still do escape scientific attention, which makes every discovery exciting. We often don't know about them and they are protected because they live in areas that are so hard to get to."

Dr Rowley said naming the frog in honour of her mother, Helen, was the perfect way to thank her for years of support.

"At the time my mum had just been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I thought it was about time I show her how much I appreciate all she has done for me over the years," she said. "It was a very difficult time, but she finished chemotherapy about a year ago and she is doing OK."

Read more!

Rogue geoengineering could 'hijack' world's climate

Techniques aimed at averting global warming could lead to an unpredictable international crisis, a report has warned
John Vidal 8 Jan 13;

The world's climate could be hijacked by a rogue country or wealthy individual firing small particles into the stratosphere, claims a warning that comes not from a new Hollywood movie trailer but a sober report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The deployment of independent, large-scale "geoengineering" techniques aimed at averting dangerous warming warrants more research because it could lead to an international crisis with unpredictable costs to agriculture, infrastructure and global stability, said the Geneva-based WEF in its annual Global Risks report before the Davos economic summit later this month. It also warned that ongoing economic weakness is sapping the ability of governments to tackle the growing threat of climate change.

"The global climate could, in effect, be hijacked. For example, an island state threatened with rising sea levels may decide they have nothing to lose, or a well-funded individual with good intentions may take matters into their own hands," the report notes. It said there are "signs that this is already starting to occur", highlighting the case of a story broken by the Guardian involving the dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate off the Canadian coast in 2012, in a bid to spawn plankton and capture carbon.

The top two global risks identified for the WEF by more than 1,000 business leaders and experts were the growing wealth gap between rich and poor and a major financial economic crisis. But the next three on the list of 50 were environmental, including climate change, and water and food supply crises.

Lee Howell, the editor of the WEF report, said: "Following a year scarred by extreme weather, from hurricane Sandy to flooding in China, respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk overall, while the failure of climate change adaptation is seen as the environmental risk with the most knock-on effects for the next decade. These global risks are essentially a health warning regarding our most critical systems. With the growing cost of events like superstorm Sandy, huge threats to island nations and coastal communities, and no resolution to greenhouse gas emissions, the writing is on the wall. It is time to act."

The economic costs associated with extreme weather and climate change should make governments act, suggests the WEF. "Recent climate and weather events have reminded us of the economic and human cost of the kind of natural disasters that we know are likely to become more frequent and severe as climate continues to change. The estimated economic cost of the 2011 Thailand floods, for example, was $15-20bn and hurricane Katrina $125bn; meanwhile, the 2003 European heatwave resulted in more than 35,000 fatalities and the Horn of Africa droughts in 2011 claimed tens of thousands of lives and threatened the livelihoods of 9.5 million people."

According to the report, the cumulative economic cost of changes to the physical environment as well as health and food security from climate change, range from US$2 trillion to $4tn by 2030.

The authors fear that climate change could become a centre of litigation. "Although the Alaskan village of Kivalina – which faces being "wiped out" by the changing climate – was unsuccessful in its attempts to file a $400m lawsuit against oil and coal companies, future plaintiffs may be more successful. Five decades ago, the US tobacco industry would not have suspected that in 1997 it would agree to pay $368bn in health-related damages. For some businesses, investing in climate change mitigation now could be as much about enterprise risk management as about mitigating a global risk."

Read more!