Best of our wild blogs: 30 Apr 15

Pelagic Survey on the Singapore Strait – 26 April 2015
Singapore Bird Group

Eclosion of the Painted Jezebel
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Fewer shops sell tiger parts, but online trade troubles ACRES

MATTHIAS TAY Today Online 30 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE — Over-the-counter sales of tiger parts might have gone down, but online trade involving such items has become a concern, said the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), as it revealed findings from a recent undercover investigation of tiger parts trade here.

During the society’s undercover investigation, which took place between March and April this year, only four of the 153 jewellery and antique shops visited were found to be selling alleged tiger parts.

A similar ACRES investigation in 2010 found 59 out of 134 shops here offering alleged tiger parts for sale.

Tiger parts, such as teeth and claws, are sought after as they are thought to bring good luck to the bearer and serve as protection against evil.

At a media conference yesterday, ACRES chief executive Louis Ng said the findings indicated that there was greater awareness of the issue among shop owners now. “The people that were selling tiger parts five years ago were fined, they were prosecuted and the awareness that was generated through the enforcement, and the investigation (in 2010) have resulted in this significant decline now,” he said.

However, ACRES expressed concerns over the “brazen attitude” of the four shops alleged to have sold tiger parts, despite being aware of the situation. Three of the shops openly displayed tiger parts, while one produced the items upon request.

The findings were submitted to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), resulting in three of the errant shops being investigated and eight pieces of animal parts seized for forensic analysis to determine their authenticity, it said.

The AVA was unable to track down the fourth shop, a makeshift stall, despite visiting the site located in front of People’s Park Complex in Chinatown twice.

Meanwhile, ACRES hopes to eventually bring the number of shops selling tiger parts to zero through community engagement, such as school talks and road shows. It will also continue its undercover operations to identify and nab errant traders, especially online dealers.

Mr Ng said: “I think one of our biggest worries now is that, while we wipe out the trades in shops to a very small percentage, this trade has moved to the online sphere, which makes it slightly difficult to enforce.” A brief online survey conducted by ACRES on Tuesday found over 14 online advertisements promoting tiger parts on that day itself, which the society described as troubling.

In response to TODAY’s queries, an AVA spokesperson said the authority has been regularly monitoring traders’ premises, retail outlets islandwide and online sources for sale of illegal wildlife, as well as their parts and products.

Anyone found possessing, selling, offering, advertising or displaying for sale any endangered species without a permit could be fined up to S$50,000 per species and/or receive a two-year jail term.

The penalties also apply to netizens caught engaging in any of these acts, the spokesperson said.

Trade of tiger parts in Singapore on the decline
Channel NewsAsia 29 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: There has been a "significant decline" in the trade of tiger parts in Singapore, the ACRES Animal Crime Investigation Unit announced in a press release on Wednesday (Apr 29).

The findings were made after a two-month undercover investigation conducted by ACRES between March and April. It revealed that only four out of 153 jewellery and antique shops investigated in Singapore (2.6 per cent) were offering alleged tiger teeth and claws for sale.

From the four stalls, a total of 13 pieces of alleged tiger parts were offered for sale, with prices ranging from S$70 to S$538.

According to ACRES, this is an improvement from a similar investigation in 2010 where 59 out of 134 (44 per cent) jewellery and antique shops in Singapore offered alleged tiger parts for sale.

ACRES' head of campaign Noelle Seet shed some light on the investigation process: "In order to elicit information without blowing our cover, we do engage them to a certain extent. We interact with them and we come in and say 'I am buying this for someone' or you know, 'I have lost this particular pendant and I am looking for something like that, do you happen to have it?' And when they are more comfortable with you, they will actually reveal a lot more."

Details of the investigation and all the evidence collected have been forwarded to the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), said ACRES.

During this year's investigation, more than half of the shopkeepers approached told investigators that the sale of tiger parts was prohibited by authorities, or required permits, said ACRES. Several shopkeepers said they stopped selling tiger parts after the authorities fined them and confiscated their products several years ago.

Chief executive of ACRES Louis Ng shared his worry that the trade has moved to online, making it "slightly difficult to enforce", but he promised the society would continue their sting operations to nab the lawbreakers.

"If you continue to sell them, we will catch you eventually," he warned.

However, Mr Ng added: "It is positive that there is a significant decline in the trade in tiger parts in shops in Singapore. We look forward to partnering AVA and are confident of completely wipe out this illicit trade here,” said Mr Louis Ng, Chief Executive of ACRES.

Mr Ng said the public can call ACRES at their hotline 9783 7782 to report the selling of tiger parts.

- CNA/eg/hs

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Join the great Singapore cleanup on Sunday

Feng Zengkun My Paper AsiaOne 29 Apr 15;

This Sunday, step outside and join thousands of people in sprucing up Singapore.

More than 8,000 people are expected to volunteer for the Public Hygiene Council's (PHC's) first national litter-picking event, called Operation We Clean Up!

The council organised a similar one-day event last year, but it was confined to the Bedok neighbourhood.

This year, it is setting its sights on rubbish across the island and inviting everyone to show his love for the country by cleaning up schools, parks, offices, void decks and other places.

Many organisations, town councils, schools, firms and individuals have responded to the call and organised cleanup groups at more than 130 locations.

Town councils will cease general area cleaning in nearly 70 precincts on Saturday to give the cleaners a rest, and show the volunteers on Sunday how much trash there is in a single day in common areas such as void decks.

PHC will give the cleanup groups items such as gloves, wet wipes, tongs and trash bags. It is also urging those who cannot join the groups to do their part by picking up at least three pieces of rubbish on Sunday.

PHC chairman Liak Teng Lit said a clean Singapore would improve life in other aspects.

"If you look at what has been happening in Singapore - the rat infestations; reports of choked, smelly drains; cockroaches and mosquito breeding - littering plays a key part in all this," he said.

The country's cleanliness has been on the decline despite an army of cleaners picking up after people.

Earlier this year, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote that Singapore is likely to become a "garbage city" if not for the cleaners, after pictures surfaced online of the mess left behind by people who went to a concert at Gardens by the Bay.

Last year, the National Environment Agency issued about 19,000 summonses for littering, almost double the number in 2013.

There were also 688 instances of Corrective Work Orders being imposed by the courts last year, more than double the 261 cases in 2013.

Mr Liak and leaders of environment groups said they hoped the mass cleanup session would spur people to pick up after themselves and others as a matter of course, and deter them from littering.

Tan Ken Jin, who started the Singapore Glove Project in 2012 where people walk or jog and pick up litter along the path at the same time, said: "You don't have to go way out of your comfort zone to do something. When you're going to work or going home, if you see litter, just pick it up and throw it away."

Said Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society, which conducts cleanup sessions: "Hopefully, down the road, there will be no need for us to go and pick up litter, because there will be no litter to be picked up."

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Exploring Pulau Ubin in Singapore

Raditya Margi The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network AsiaOne 29 Apr 15;

Ever wonder what Singapore looked like in the 1960s? You can find out by exploring Pulau Ubin, an island northeast of the mainland.

It is one of the country's last kampungs and arguably has the most authentic old-Singapore vibe compared to other kampungs.

Local visitors have been coming to the island for many years, but it is only recently that the government has started to seriously develop it as a tourist destination.

Ride a boat from Changi

Reaching the island requires you to take a 5-minute boat ride from the Changi ferry terminal, which costs S$2.50 per one-way trip. The boat will wait until it reaches full capacity (12 passengers) before departing.

Lodging is very limited once you've crossed over and day trip should be sufficient. We would recommend you to stay at the Village Hotel Changi, as its offers an interesting Ubin Adventure package.

Where to start

From the harbour of Pulau Ubin, visit the information centre close to the jetty before exploring the island to learn about the island's history and all the exotic animals that can be found there.

Turn left toward the west from the jetty to get to the tourist hub - also known as the town - where you can find bike rentals, provision shops and restaurants. The hub is mostly residential homes that have been turned into shops.

How to get around

There are three ways to explore Pulau Ubin: walking around, renting a bike, or taxi. Exploring the island on foot is best when you allocate the whole day - or three hours at least - to walk around.

When you bring along a tour guide, walking would be the most appropriate way to explore. We recommend first time visitors bring a tour guide with you as there is plenty to be learned from this island.

Renting a bike costs S$2.00 per hour. You can also opt to rent a bike for an entire day. Riding a bike can get you around faster and is perfect for returning visitors.

Experience authentic Singapore

Despite being located relatively close to the mainland of Singapore, visiting Pulau Ubin is like on a trip back in time. Most of the land is still a lush green forest and many of the houses are remnants of old architecture.

Until a couple of years ago, residents of the island still relied on diesel generators for electricity as setting up a power cable from the mainland was deemed too costly.

However, residents of Pulau Ubin are now enjoying cutting-edge technology as their energy is now supplied by solar-powered micro-grid and biodiesel, courtesy of Energy
Market Authority and a consortium of companies.

What the island used to be

Pulau Ubin literally translates as an island of granite because, decades ago, the island was the country's source for granite. The quarries have stopped operating now, leaving large lakes where they used to operate.

You can also examine the mangrove forest close to the centre of the island. There is an old stone-based waterway used by the fishermen back then to farm fish. They used to drain the mangrove lake and collect the fish.

What to see

From the jetty, head east to the sensory trail and mangrove forest. Go further out to the east to find the Chek Jawa wetlands, which is an interesting shallow sea shore filled with lively ecosystem.

The northern area is where the campsite is located for those looking to camp on the island. You can also walk through a kilometer-long boardwalk that ends at Chek Jawa.

To the west, you can bring your bike to test out the 8-km long course at Ketam mountain bike park. On your way there, don't miss out on Puaka Hill, which provides a nice overview of Ubin quarry's lake.

The wildlife ecosystem is also an interesting feature of the island. During certain times, rare migrating bird species can be found stopping by the island.

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Prestigious award to Malaysia for plans to protect one million hectares of ocean

WWF 29 Apr 15;

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Global conservation organisation WWF presented its prestigious Leaders for a Living Planet Award to the state government of Sabah in recognition of its effort to create the largest marine park in Malaysia. The award was presented today to Sabah’s Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman.

The proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) represents almost one million hectares of marine protected area off the north coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The park will encompass 50 islands and will protect one of the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems.

WWF has launched a major global effort to emphasize the value of coastal marine resources to hundreds of millions of people around the world and to strengthen marine conservation. As part of this initiative, WWF pledged full support to the state government of Sabah for the designation of the park and to help secure the funding required to ensure its effective management once created.

“The gazettement of Tun Mustapha Park is a globally significant action that will boost the conservation and biodiversity of this uniquely rich natural environment. It will also do much to ensure the sustainable management of the significant marine resources in the area, for the long-term benefit of the more than 80,000 people living on the coast and islands in the proposed park,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

Fishing is a key economic driver of this northern coastal area of Sabah, with approximately 100 tonnes of fish – valued at US$200,000 – caught each day.

The planned park holds four species of sea turtles, 550 fish species, 252 hard coral species, and 243 invertebrate species with new species being discovered continuously. Migratory marine mammals such as dolphins and whales also feed in the area.

“Effective management of the Tun Mustapha Park will help ensure the viability of the area’s fisheries resources – and high quality ecotourism can provide hugely increased value, based on this natural treasure. The gazettement of this park should act as a model and an inspiration for marine conservation worldwide,” said Marco Lambertini.

Marco Lambertini also paid tribute to Dato’ Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin, Chairman of Sabah Parks, for the outstanding contribution his organisation has made in the long journey toward TMP’s gazettement.

WWF’s Leaders for a Living Planet Award acknowledges the long-standing commitment of the Sabah state government to create the proposed Tun Mustapha Park. The award recognises the role the government’s lead agency, Sabah Parks, has played in advancing this issue and encourages the state government to designate the park as planned by the end of 2015.

“The announcement of the Sabah Government’s intention to gazette the TMP to create Malaysia’s largest marine park has not only national significance, but regional and global importance too as a significant marine area in the Coral Triangle – an area gravely threatened by overfishing and pollution,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

Dionysius Sharma paid tribute to the foresight of the Sabah Government led by the Chief Minister in declaring its intention to gazette the TMP.

WWF-Malaysia has been supporting the gazettement process and working with state government agencies and partners since 2003 through implementation of a number of strategies to support the establishment of the TMP, including community consultations, demonstrating benefits of marine protected areas, alternative livelihood programmes, and education and public awareness.

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Malaysia: Fishes died due to lack of oxygen

KELLY KOH New Straits Times 29 Apr 15;

The death of 8000 fishes discovered in Sungai Kampung Enam in Bachang here last Monday was believed to have been caused by oxygen depletion in the river.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said oxygen depletion occurred due to slow water exchange rate between the river water and the seawater.

“The gates at the barrage door control center is only half open during low tides.

A long term solution to increase oxygen level in the river would be to flush out river water completely into the sea during low tide, so that new seawater can be flushed in during high tide to ensure higher oxygen content,” he said.

Idris said another cause of low oxygen content in the river was the high amount of sludge in the river.

"Thorough maintenance must be carried out to reduce the amount of sludge in the river, and this requires a massive clean-up at the river-bed," he said during a press conference at Seri Negeri here, yesterday. For this reason, Idris said the Malacca River Cruises would be stopped for a day or two.

"As long as we provide notice to customers, explaining to them that the river is undergoing scheduled maintenance, it should not be a problem," he said.

Fishes that died were mostly tilapia hitam, jelanak and keli.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 15

LKCNHM Now Open to the Public!
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

A Peek Into the Past – Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
My Itchy Fingers

Lorong Halus Wetlands (NParks CIN Garden Bird Count Survey)
Psychedelic Nature

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New York state to turn lights out for migrating birds

Hilary Russ PlanetArk 28 Apr 15;

On their arduous flights North to their breeding grounds, birds migrating up the U.S. East Coast will have one less peril to worry about - bright lights from state-owned and -managed buildings in New York.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday said that state buildings will turn off non-essential outdoor lighting from 11 p.m. until dawn during peak migration in the spring and fall.

The state is along the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major routes for birds coming North in the spring from their warmer winter hideouts.

To get here, many migrating species - including colorful warblers and other song birds - fly at night and navigate by the stars, using constellations to guide them.

But outdoor nighttime lights, especially in bad weather, can disorient the birds and cause them to crash into windows, walls, floodlights or the ground.

The phenomenon, called "fatal light attraction," has killed an estimated 500 million to one billion birds annually in the United States, the governor's office said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Migrating birds even fly right through the towers and canyons of New York City. Earlier this month, a Chuck-will's-widow - a brown, nocturnal insect-eater with a lizard-like head so flat and large it can swallow small birds whole - spent several days just a few blocks from Times Square, perched atop a branch in New York City's Bryant Park on 42nd Street.

Now bright lights will be turned off by New York state during the spring rush north from April 15 until May 31 and again during the fall migration south to warmer climes from Aug. 15 until Nov. 15.

By joining with the National Audubon Society's Lights Out program, the state buildings follow other well known structures that have also agreed to limit lighting, including Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and the Time Warner Center.

"This is a simple step to help protect these migrating birds that make their home in New York's forests, lakes and rivers," Cuomo said in a statement.

Lights Out efforts are already protecting birds in the east coast cities including Baltimore and Washington, and in other U.S. metropolitan areas including Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco, according to Audubon.

Bird lovers can learn more about the Lights Out program by visiting the state's new website

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

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Climate indicators suggest El Nino is forming - Australian weather bureau

Colin Packham PlanetArk 29 Apr 15;

Climate indicators are nearing levels associated with an El Nino weather event, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday.

Pacific Ocean sea temperatures now exceed El Nino thresholds, the bureau said, while trade winds have weakened over the last few weeks - suggesting coupling between the ocean and atmosphere may be occurring.

Should this pattern continue, the bureau said, an El Nino will develop.

The weather bureau earlier this month put the chance of the weather event arriving at least 70 percent, potentially as early as June.

An El Nino can cause lower rainfall in Australia and Asia, and more rains in South America.

Such conditions would be unfavorable for production of wheat in Australia and sugar production globally providing some support to prices, which have slumped in recent weeks.

Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures hit a six-month low on Monday, while ICE May raw sugar were trading near a six-year low in March.

The group head of sugar at Wilmar International Ltd last week told Reuters that there was a risk sugar prices could rise if an El Nino emerged.

(Editing by Richard Pullin and Ed Davies)

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UN, Vatican team up for climate change agenda

NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Apr 15;

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The United Nations and Vatican joined forces Tuesday to warn about the dire effects of climate change, gathering religious leaders, Nobel laureates and heads of state to present a united front ahead of make-or-break environment talks later this year in Paris.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Pope Francis for framing the need to combat global warming as an urgent moral imperative, saying his upcoming encyclical provided an "unprecedented opportunity" to create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Ban opened a Vatican conference on the environment that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical, which is expected in June. While popes past have all taken strong stands in favor of environmental protection, Francis will be the first to address climate change in a pontiff's most authoritative teaching document.

The conference gathered Francis' key environmental advisers, the presidents of Italy and Ecuador, religious leaders from different faiths, Nobel laureates and respected climate change scientists. They were unanimous in agreeing that climate change is real, it's mostly human-induced, the poorest suffer the most from it and collective action is needed to stop it.

In a joint declaration, the participants said they "appreciate that (nature) is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home." It said the Paris climate talks "may be the last effective opportunity" to negotiate agreements to keep global warming under the 2 C (3.6 F) limit set by world governments in 2009.

Francis' encyclical has generated more excitement and anxiety than any papal document in recent times: Environmentalists are thrilled that Francis will be lending his voice to the conservation cause, while climate skeptics have argued that a pope has no business getting involved in the debate.

View galleryPope Francis shakes hands with U.N. Secretary-General …
Pope Francis shakes hands with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting at the Vatica …
But Ban said that while neither he nor the pope is a scientist, "what is important is ... to mobilize the will of the people and to lead the people."

Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, one of Francis' key advisers, stressed that the document won't delve into the science of global warming, but rather focus on pastoral issues created by it.

"The Bible tells us that Adam was commanded to serve and preserve the Earth, but we're clearly not doing that," said Dr. Peter Raven, a leading authority on evolution and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which hosted the event.

Chemist Paul Crutzen of the Netherlands, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for work on the ozone layer, showed a series of slides detailing concentrations of pollution in the atmosphere from man-made activities.

"This is something I would like to present to the skeptics who say that human impact" has had no role in the warming of the earth, he said.

The skeptical Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, sent a team to Rome urging the pope not to lend his moral authority to the U.N.'s climate agenda and warning that he would just be confusing Catholics by writing an encyclical about it.

AP writer Karl Ritter contributed from Rome.

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 15

Checking out the plankton bloom at Pasir Ris
wild shores of singapore

Learning Journey to Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015)
Psychedelic Nature

Snakes in the grass
Bird Ecology Study Group

A Murmuration of Starlings in Singapore?
Singapore Bird Group

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Piecing together a prehistoric puzzle

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Apr 15;

Perched on its hind legs at the centre of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Twinky the dinosaur has been immortalised with its front limbs in the air and its head lifted high, as though midway through a hearty meal of leaves and buds.

At 12m in length, it is the smallest of the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs at the new museum in Kent Ridge, which the public can visit from tomorrow.
Next to Twinky is graceful Apollonia, its 24m-long frame reaching up to overlook the museum's mezzanine.

Then there is Prince, all 27m of "alpha" male, stretched in a seemingly lazy manner across the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space.

Their easy poses belie the efforts of a team of almost 30 museum staff, professional art movers and dinosaur experts to set up the exhibit - the star attraction of Singapore's first and only natural history museum.

Research associate Martyn Low, 33, said it took the team two weeks of 12-hour days last August to assemble the fossils of the three giants, which arrived in Singapore in 53 crates between 2012 and 2013.

There were more than 1,000 elements to the three 150-million- year-old skeletons, with some bones weighing more than 200kg. The heaviest was the sacrum (the pelvis and the bones fused to it).

It was the first piece to be mounted on each of the three frames, with the help of a chain block and two "spidermen" - professional art movers trained to walk on the frame, said project manager Tan Swee Hee, 43.

Due to its weight, getting the sacrum positioned was a challenging task. "But once the sacrum was in place, the vertebrae and tail grew from both ends very quickly," Mr Low said.

The work was as challenging administratively, as it was physically. "Every single bone needed to be kept track of, as each one is an asset," said Mr Low.

The dinosaurs were acquired for about $8 million in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The bones were wrapped in paper towels, then encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast called a jacket so they could be transported without being damaged. Each jacket was marked for identification and moved to the lab where it was removed using a cast cutter.

Workers then painstakingly chipped rock away from the bones using an air scribe. A consolidant, or a strengthening liquid, was then used to preserve and harden the fossils.

When the bones arrived in Singapore, they were kept in a temperature-controlled warehouse in Tagore Lane until their new home was ready for them last year.

Before the bones could be mounted, experts like "dinosaur builder" Brock Sisson had to design the "poses" that would bring them back to life.

"We worked with the museum on making (the dinosaurs) interact, and came up with a design for the family group," said the American.

The dinosaur trio were found together, and could well have been a family.

At the museum, Prince looks as if it is welcoming visitors, while Apollonia watches over Twinky at play.

Said Mr Sisson: "The main hall where the dinosaurs are is a great space - it's going to showcase the exhibit very nicely.

"I've been to other museums where the dinosaurs are just in a big room, but they fit very nicely here and fill the space - it's going to be a neat exhibit."

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum: 7 things to watch out for beyond the dinos
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Walk through the doors of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge from April 28, and you will see through a frosted panel the museum’s three main stars: Prince, Apollonia and Twinky.

They were among the largest creatures to roam the earth some 150 million years ago, and up until today, the trio of diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs are still the tallest inhabitants of their new world: Singapore’s latest museum, and the only one dedicated to showcasing Southeast Asian biodiversity.

Apollonia, the second largest at 24m long, stands proud and tall in the centre of the 2,000 sq m exhibition space of the museum.

She is flanked by Prince, the ‘alpha’ at 27m long and Twinky, the smallest at 12m long.

But even though the dino trio has grabbed the attention of many people, from imaginative children to reptile enthusiasts to fans of the prehistoric era, there are other treasures within the hallowed halls of the Republic’s first and only natural history museum worth visiting. Spread across two floors are 20 zones of biodiversity and heritage, in which 2,000 artefacts are displayed.

Here are some of the must-sees in the museum.


The Biodiversity Gallery dominates the first floor, and comprises 15 zones, two of which are exhibits on the marine and rainforest habitats.

Plants Zone

One of the first few exhibits to greet visitors strolling through the turnstiles is an exhibit called the 10 common trees in Singapore.
Some trees may be familiar, like the Saga, with its small, bright red seeds. These scarlet seeds are also known locally as the Red Love seeds, as they represent earnest love and affection. But guests may learn lesser known facts about the tree at this exhibit, such as how the seeds are toxic if eaten raw. Other Singapore trees include some with colourful names, like the Trumpet Tree - which bursts into pink or white blooms after a dry spell - or the coastal Sea Apple Tree.

Dinosaurs Zone

This zone may be named after the dinosaurs, but visitors will also get a glimpse of another extinct creature: the dodo bird. Aside from genuine Dodo bones, which are on loan from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, visitors browsing the Demise of the Dodo may also be interested in checking out a model of the flightless pigeon, which went extinct due to hunting by humans, interference from domesticated animals, and competition from invasive species.

Anthropods Zone

Singaporeans may best know crabs for being delicious when cooked in gravies of chilli, black pepper or salted egg yolk, but few may know that the animal actually belongs to a larger class of animals known as the anthropods.

Referring to organisms with an exoskeleton, a segmented body and many pairs of legs, anthropods also include insects and extinct marine creatures called trilobites.
This zone is nestled near the back of the museum, and in it you will find an eye-catching exhibit known as the Tank of Superlatives. Curious to find out which are the world’s largest (Japanese Spider Crab) and smallest crabs (Coral Spider Crab)? Or did you know that the beautiful red-white Mosaic Reef Crab is the most poisonous crab known? Visit this exhibit and find out.

Marine Cycles Zone

One of two habitat zones in the museum - the other being tropical rainforests - this section will immerse guests in waves of marine facts. Guests can view interesting specimens like sea stars and a specimen of the Neptune’s Cup Sponge, which was previously thought to have been extinct in Singapore since 1908 until they were spotted recently in 2014 and 2011. Visitors to this section will also get to see a map depicting the location of the Coral Triangle, an area widely considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness, which sits just south of Singapore.


This is the largest zone in the Biodiversity Gallery. One exhibit that should not be missed is a cordoned section depicting marine mammals - including a 2.7m long tusk from the narwhal, also known as the “unicorn of the ocean”. Skeletons of a short-finned pilot whale and a dugong are also on display.
Venture further into the L-shaped zone to view a side-by-side comparison of a human and an ape skeleton. These animals are known to be a close relative of the human, but how similar are we really?


The mezzanine floor, just a short flight of steps away, is dedicated to the Heritage Gallery. This showcases Singapore's history of biodiversity exploration, pioneers of the nature scene here, and a section called Singapore Today presents a summary of the geology of the island, and the conservation work being undertaken in the Republic.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Mounted on a wall in the Heritage Gallery, this 1.75m long specimen was caught at Siglap Beach on Singapore’s eastern coast in 1883. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle species in the world, and this specimen is the only recorded sighting of the animal in the Republic.

The Singapore Tiger

An exhibit of a tiger skin on display at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum on April 18, 2015. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

This skilled hunter thrived in Singapore during the 19th century, preying even on humans and reportedly killing more than 300 people every year. But the tables were turned decades later, when the last local tiger was shot in Choa Chu Kang during the early 1930s.

Singapore Today

The Republic may currently be known more as a concrete jungle than a country with sprawling nature areas, but biodiversity is still thriving in our green and blue spaces. Find out more about how marine and terrestrial conservation is being managed in Singapore in this section.

Hunt for dino bones in museum with an app
It gives facts on parts of dinosaurs, allows visitors to take selfie with one
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 28 Apr 15;

THE lair of three rare dinosaurs opens to the public today, after more than five years in the making.

Guests to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Kent Ridge will not only get to see the genuine fossils of the three diplodocid sauropod dinosaur stars - Prince, Apollonia and Twinky - but also get the chance to "hunt" for bones.

But instead of a hammer and chisel, aspiring palaeontologists (fossil scientists) need only a mobile application called App-ollonia, a play on Apollonia's name.

Developed by Singapore software firm mgg software, App-ollonia is free for download on iOS and Android devices.

Using the app, museum visitors must first "collect" four of Apollonia's bones - its skull, fibula (lower leg bone), cervical vertebra (neck bone) and coracoid (a bone near the shoulder blade).

This is achieved by using the app's camera function to scan the QR codes placed around the biodiversity gallery on the first floor of the museum. The QR codes show where the bones are hidden.

The app also provides interesting facts about a particular bone when a QR code is detected. For instance, those who "collect" the fibula will learn that it is the part of the skeleton from which palaeontologists take samples to determine a dinosaur's age.

"This app helps make the experience fun and interactive, and gives visitors more information about the different parts of the dinosaur," said mgg software managing director Steven Tan, 49.

After all the bones are collected, visitors can scan a QR code in the museum's brochure to watch Apollonia come to life. They can also take a selfie with a preloaded image of Apollonia.

"The dino app is a good souvenir that visitors can take home, and it's free," said museum research associate Martyn Low, 33. "I remember just flipping through dinosaur books when I was young. This is fantastic - the dinosaur actually moves in front of you."

The three dinosaurs, which were discovered in Wyoming in the United States, are a few of the largest creatures to roam the earth 150 million years ago. Apollonia, the second largest of the trio at 24m long, was chosen as the app's model because its skeleton has more bones than 12m- long Twinky, which was the first to arrive in Singapore. Apollonia arrived before 27m-long Prince.

The $200,000 app was created for the museum pro-bono. Said Mr Tan: "I was very touched and impressed by the museum's work to preserve natural history. So I decided that... we will also do our part to donate to our country."

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is also launching its own website to give more details about the exhibits.

The website is still in the beta version, but is accessible at

NUS Environmental Studies undergraduate Song Lin, 22, said: "The dino app seems like a good way to interact with lifeless artefacts."

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Blue-chip companies and SMEs to compete for new CSR award

Elizabeth Mak The Business Times AsiaOne 28 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Some of the biggest names on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), as well as a number of notable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are vying for an inaugural national award which aims to showcase the highest level of corporate social responsibility (CSR) excellence in Singapore.

The accolade, called the Singapore Apex CSR Awards, is organised by Singapore Compact for Corporate Social Responsibility, with the Singapore Business Federation and The Business Times as co-presenting partners.

So far, it has attracted entries from both blue chips and mid-sized companies across several business sectors including property and construction, marine and telecommunications. Both listed and unlisted companies may participate.

Kwek Leng Joo, president of Singapore Compact for CSR, said: "Global research findings have strengthened the evidence that companies' financial performance goes hand in hand with good governance, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

"As the highest honour for CSR leadership at the national level, the Singapore Apex CSR Awards are designed to recognise companies with successful and sustainable business models."

Singapore Compact for CSR's executive director Christopher Ang added: "Over time, the awards will serve to raise the standard of business responsibility in Singapore and set a benchmark for the national CSR standard in Singapore."

CSR is a management concept in which companies integrate social and environmental causes into their business culture, ensuring compliance and taking responsibility for those issues.

KPMG in Singapore, part of a multinational professional services company, is the knowledge adviser for the awards.

For the purposes of the awards, they define CSR as "the accountability of a firm to create long-term value and build resilience to environmental and social changes".

They will be judging applicants on five criteria: risks and materiality; impact on value chain; stakeholder engagement; corporate governance; and transparency and disclosure.

The awards are a platform to show how an organisation has created shared values from its perspective in a holistic manner.

They will be competitive as the organisation is required to demonstrate best CSR practices in all five areas, but they will also show that the company stands apart from its peers in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, said Mr Ang.

"Recognising their achievements provides a benchmark for other companies aspiring to better sustainability practices," he added.

The awards, which will be given out annually, are supported by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Entries will be divided into two categories: small and mid-sized companies with revenues under S$300 million, and large companies earning S$300 million and above.

Interested parties can download the submission template at

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Malaysia: Deforestation - A morass of a problem


ACCORDING to recent reports, Malaysia suffered the highest rate of forest loss in the world at 14.4% or about 47,278 sq km between 2000 and 2012, followed by Paraguay at 9.6%.

This figure is shocking and mangrove forests are also facing a similar situation.

According to a forest-tracking tool developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), there was a 115% jump in deforestation over the three-month period of January till March 2013.

The report also claimed that the trees in Malaysia are being felled at four times the sustainable rate, as per World Bank standards.

Meanwhile, World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that more than 25,800ha of mangrove tracts worldwide were destroyed from 2001 to 2012. Malaysia lost 4.6% of its mangroves during that time, with approximately 1,000ha of mangroves felled each year, peaking at 4,052ha in 2009.

Unrestrained felling can have unforeseen environmental consequences.

Last year, Selangor was also hit by a severe water crisis resulting from various factors, including poor rainfall at the water catchment areas.

The livelihood of indigenous people are also threatened when the forests is logged as many of these communities rely on the forest as their main source of survival.

The dense wild forests of Malaysia are rich with various species of flora and fauna and attempts made to replace felled trees are often futile as the newly planted trees cannot replace old-growth forests.

Tree plantations like rubber and oil palm cannot “net-out” the loss of natural forests in terms of biodiversity, carbon storage or maintenance of ecosystem services.

The vast destruction of the mangroves, especially in the west coast from Kedah southwards, is another cause for concern.

Aquaculture is another sector that affects these mangroves.

Malaysia has 551,333ha of mangrove forest, which serves as breeding grounds and homes for many species.

Mangroves also protect coastal areas from storm surges and tsunamis.

In addition, vast amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere during large-scale logging, as carbon is stored in the trees.

This is a significant contributor to climate change the world over as it releases more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Our forests have a huge potential to mitigate climate change but, with incessant logging, will not have the time or opportunity to regenerate.

The recent east coast floods were aggravated as logging in Kelantan has been so intense that there was not much forest left to act as a sponge to soak up the rain and release it into the ground at regular intervals.

Without the forests, water will rapidly flow into streams, heightening the risk of floods in cities, villages and agricultural sites.

The government is now looking at reforming forestry laws with the help of Transparency International Malaysia to curb illegal logging and it is hoped that this can be done as fast as possible to save more of our forests.

The Sarawak government’s recent moratorium on issuing timber licences until illegal logging and other illicit activities in the trade are weeded out is most welcome.

There must be more state-of-the-art monitoring mechanisms in place such as covert GPS surveillance of timber trucks as carried out in the Amazon, revealing how loggers defeat attempts to halt deforestation in the world’s greatest rainforest.

The operation began with two months of on-ground surveillance to identify the routines of the truckers.

At the same time, satellite images were cross-referenced with databases of logging permits to identify areas likely to harbour illegal tree felling.

Once the most promising targets had been identified, enforcement officers went undercover to install magnetically-attached GPS trackers on the trucks, allowing them to track and ultimately nab the illegal loggers.

This is an example of what should be done here to protect our forests.

There must be greater muscle from Putrajaya to proactively handle deforestation.

As at September 2014, the value of seized illegal timber was an alarming RM2.95mil, showing the scale of the problem.

This should be enough of a wake-up call for the authorities to take drastic action to curb illegal logging as well as help preserve what is left of our forests and wildlife.

We cannot be talking about environmental education without arresting the environmental degradation that goes on daily.

We must be tough and show the offenders that we mean business.

An ardent nature lover and a dedicated social worker, Ravindran Raman Kutty is Corporate Communications practitioner by profession.

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Indonesia: Forest moratorium to be improved

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 27 Apr 15;

With deforestation and forest fires still prevalent in the country, calls are mounting for the government to not only extend but also strengthen a current moratorium on new concession permits for primary forests and peatlands, due to expire on May 13.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has said that the moratorium would not only be extended but also improved by reviewing the permits that were issued before the moratorium was first enacted in 2011 by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“There would be additional content,” the ministry’s secretary-general, Hadi Daryanto, told The Jakarta Post recently.

One of the improvements is that the new moratorium will be more inclusive by targeting specific institutions, according to him.

“It will be specific on the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Public Works [and Public Housing] Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry and the National Land Agency [BPN],” said Hadi.

However, the new moratorium is likely to be in the form of a presidential instruction (Inpres), just like before, Hadi added.

Greenpeace SEA Indonesia’s forest political campaigner, M. Teguh Surya, said that an Inpres was not good enough.

“If that’s the case, then the moratorium will not be binding for all stakeholders because an Inpres is merely an internal instruction [involving only the government],” he told the Post.

The implementation of the new moratorium will also be coupled with the review of existing permits that were previously issued before the moratorium in 2011, which was extended once by Yudhoyono in 2013.

“There will be a ministerial decree to establish a task force on permit review. The task force will involve experts,” Hadi said.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said that the review was aimed at improving the management of forests in the country, both in terms of permit issuance and monitoring.

“So a permit is not only an instrument to use land but also an instrument to manage and monitor [forests],” he said recently.

Arief said the review was crucial given that there were firms which obtained permits even without adequate facilities.

An audit on companies’ and local administrations’ compliance in Riau last year found that poor compliance was the major cause of rampant forest fires in the province, with some companies lacking even the most basic equipment to manage forest fires.

Moreover, as slash and burn practices to clear areas for plantations in Riau have continued, the current moratorium has been deemed as ineffective in saving peat forests in the province.

Teguh said that a permit review was an inseparable part of the moratorium extension considering there are 5.7 hectares of forests on which permits are overlapping at the moment.

“This is a potential problem and could only be solved with a permit review,” he said.

According to Teguh, the new moratorium was of paramount importance with regional elections scheduled to be held concurrently in December this year.

“So if the new moratorium is weak under the Inpres, unprotected forests or those that are protected halfheartedly are under the threat of extinction because they could be used as political capital [by election candidates],” he said.

Teguh said there were 4.3 million ha of forests that would be at risk of deforestation because their statuses were convertible production forest (HPK) and non-forest areas, also known as areas for other use (APL).

Non-forest areas are currently under the authority of local governments and the land agency.

The status of APL has been abused by local administrations as a loophole to obtain forest permits.

In 2013, for example, the former forestry ministry approved the Aceh administration’s request to convert protected forests into non-forest zones through spatial planning bylaws in spite of the moratorium.

Therefore, if the current government failed to address the weaknesses of the soon-to-expire moratorium, such as a flimsy legal basis and legal loopholes, it would be business-as-usual for the country.

“If President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo only copies and pastes Yudhoyono’s moratorium, then he doesn’t have the commitment to protect the forests as promised in his vision and mission, Nawacita,” Teguh said.

- See more at:

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Vietnam's elephants on brink of extinction

Vietnam News/Asia News Network AsiaOne 27 Apr 15;

HANOI - Experts and conservationists are calling for increased funding and efforts to save the dwindling number of elephants in Viet Nam.

At a conference held on Friday by the Viet Nam Forest Administration (VFA) and WWF Viet Nam, Tran The Lien, head of the VFA Department of Natural Conservation, said elephants are currently under threat of becoming extinct in Viet Nam due to failed efforts to protect them from being hunted by poachers seeking elephant tusks.

Statistics presented at the conference showed that the elephant population decreased from some 1000 in the mid-1980s to about 120 in 2014.

The elephants are often scattered in eight provinces: Son La, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Dong Nai and Binh Phuoc.

According to Associate Professor Nguyen Xuan Dang, an expert in biodiversity studies and conservation with WWF Viet Nam, each of the surviving elephant herds is now made up of only one to five elephants.

These herds often live separately from one another, which further increases the risk of extinction, Dang noted.

The largest herds live in three national parks: Yok Don National Park in Ea Sup District of Dak Lak Province, Pu Mat National Park in Nghe An Province and Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai Province.

However, Dang said these herds comprise an imbalanced number of male-female elephants and many of the female elephants have already passed their reproductive age, noting that all are at high risk of being killed by illegal hunters.

Experts estimate that since 2009, at least 29 elephants were killed. Since the beginning of the year, four domesticated elephants and another wild elephant died after being injured or from starvation just in Dak Lak Province. Within the province, the number of wild elephants dropped from 550 in the 1980s to 60 to 65 today.

Besides illegal hunting, a WWF report presented at the conference also contributed other factors to the dwindling elephant population, which includes the loss of their habitat and increased degradation of the area landscape, illegal logging, urbanisation and conversion of forest land for coffee or rubber plantations, as well as strained relations between local residents and elephants.

In 2012, Dak Lak Province established the Elephant Conservation Center of Dak Lak Province. In 2013, the province approved a plan to work to protect elephants through 2020 with the use of VND85 billion (US$3.95 million) in funding.

Huynh Trung Luan, director of the centre, said protecting domesticated and wild elephants were difficult tasks.

The centre was currently only able to assist owners of domesticated elephants by providing training and dispensing medicines for the elephants, Luan said, noting that the domesticated elephants are mostly old and cannot reproduce.

At the same time, wild elephants in the province had been facing reduced areas for living due to illegal logging and burn-and-slash farming methods, he added.

At the beginning of this year, the centre was allocated 200 hectares of forest for conservation efforts, but Luan said it could take three years for the centre to complete an area designated for treating and protecting elephants.

Since 2004, the Government has approved a number of resolutions and projects aimed at protecting elephants, including a national project to protect elephants from 2013-20, in addition to separate emergency plans at the provincial level to protect elephants in the provinces of Dak Lak, Dong Nai.

According to Ngo Le Truc, an officer from the Department of Natural Conservation within VFA, the Viet Nam Forest Administration has also been carrying out an emergency plan to protect elephants and improve the capacity to prevent elephant tusk trading through 2020.

The plan aims to create a comprehensive database on domesticated and wild elephants throughout the country, implementing plans to designate specialised areas of forests for elephants, restoring the landscape in some areas for elephants to live in and expand their herds, applying technology in conservation efforts and enforcing laws and regulations on illegal poachers and the hunting of tusks.

Lien, head of the Department of Natural Conservation, believes the conservation of elephants must involve the public by increasing their awareness and also enforcing laws and regulations to increase co-operation at the border and international levels to apprehend poachers and prevent elephant tusk traders from operating.

The Vietnam Forestry Administration is also working to build an agreement on cross-border elephant conservation between Yok Don National Park of Viet Nam and Mundulkiri National Park of Cambodia.

Van Ngoc Thinh, director of WWF Viet Nam, noted that rhinos were declared extinct in Viet Nam in 2010 and tigers were also under a major threat.

"We have to do everything to save elephants from the same fate," he said.

"This requires greater efforts from the Government and the people to preserve our biodiversity values for the country and its future generations."

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Over 80% of future deforestation confined to just 11 places

WWF 28 Apr 15;

Up to 170 million hectares of forest could be lost between 2010 and 2030 in these “deforestation fronts” if current trends continue, according to findings in the latest chapter of WWF’s Living Forests Report series. The fronts are located in the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest and Gran Chaco, Borneo, the Cerrado, Choco-Darien, the Congo Basin, East Africa, Eastern Australia, Greater Mekong, New Guinea and Sumatra.

These places contain some of the richest wildlife in the world, including endangered species such as orangutans and tigers. All are home to indigenous communities.

“Imagine a forest stretching across Germany, France, Spain and Portugal wiped out in just 20 years,” says Rod Taylor, Director of WWF’s global forest programme. “We’re looking at how we can tackle that risk to save the communities and cultures that depend on forests, and ensure forests continue to store carbon, filter our water, supply wood and provide habitat for millions of species.”

The report builds on earlier analysis by WWF showing that more than 230 million hectares of forest will disappear by 2050 if no action is taken, and that forest loss must be reduced to near zero by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change and economic losses.

Landscape solutions vital to halting deforestation

Living Forests Report: Saving Forests at Risk examines where most deforestation is likely in the near term, the main causes and solutions for reversing the projected trends. Globally, the biggest cause of deforestation is expanding agriculture – including commercial livestock, palm oil and soy production, but also encroachment by small-scale farmers. Unsustainable logging and fuelwood collection can contribute to forest degradation, or “death by a thousand cuts,” while mining, hydroelectricity and other infrastructure projects bring new roads that open forests to settlers and agriculture.

“The threats to forests are bigger than one company or industry, and they often cross national borders. They require solutions that look at the whole landscape,” says Taylor. “This means collaborative land-use decision-making that accounts for the needs of business, communities and nature.”

The report is being released at the Tropical Landscapes Summit: A Global Investment Opportunity, an international gathering of political, business and civil society leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“The summit is an opportunity to advance green investment and build transformational public-private partnerships,” says WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, who will address the summit. “Indonesia has a major opportunity to transition into an innovative green economy that prioritizes human prosperity and well-being as much as a healthy environment. Choosing to retain healthy and natural forests for multiple purposes and to optimize the productivity of the surrounding land will be a compelling example of this approach. We need smart land-use planning that recognizes the long-term value of healthy forest landscapes.”

Indonesia in focus

Despite a recent slowdown, deforestation remains a major issue in Indonesia. Sumatra has lost more than half of its natural forests due to paper and palm oil plantations, and the remaining forest is severely fragmented. WWF projections show that another 5 million hectares of forest could be lost by 2030. Forest cover in the Borneo deforestation front, including Malaysia and Brunei, could be reduced to less than a quarter of its original area by 2020 if current trends continue. New Guinea, which includes Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, could lose up to 7 million hectares of forest between 2010 and 2030 if large-scale agriculture development plans materialize.

“The Indonesian government and local policymakers can shift from development plans that yield short-term gains to land-use approaches that will safeguard forests and provide economic opportunities,” Taylor says. “The moratorium on new forest conversion permits provides an opportunity to assess what can be done to halt these deforestation fronts and develop a greener, more inclusive economy.”

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Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy

Henning Gloystein and Aaron Sheldrick Reuters 27 Apr 15;

(Reuters) - One by one, Japan is turning off the lights at the giant oil-fired power plants that propelled it to the ranks of the world's top industrialized nations. With nuclear power in the doldrums after the Fukushima disaster, it's solar energy that is becoming the alternative.

Solar power is set to become profitable in Japan as early as this quarter, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF), freeing it from the need for government subsidies and making it the last of the G7 economies where the technology has become economically viable.

Japan is now one of the world's four largest markets for solar panels and a large number of power plants are coming onstream, including two giant arrays over water in Kato City and a $1.1 billion solar farm being built on a salt field in Okayama, both west of Osaka.

"Solar has come of age in Japan and from now on will be replacing imported imported uranium and fossil fuels," said Tomas Kåberger, executive board chairman of JREF.

"In trying to protect their fossil fuel and nuclear (plants), Japan's electric power companies can only delay developments here," he said, referring to the 10 regional monopolies that have dominated electricity production since the 1950s.

Japan is retiring nearly 2.4 gigawatts of expensive and polluting oil-fired energy plants by March next year and switching to alternative fuels. Japan's 43 nuclear reactors have been closed in the wake of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima power plant after an earthquake and a tsunami - since then, renewable energy capacity has tripled to 25 gigawatts, with solar accounting for more than 80 percent of that.

Once Japan reaches cost-revenue parity in solar energy, it will mean the technology is commercially viable in all G7 countries and 14 of the G20 economies, according to data from governments, industry and consumer groups.

A crash in the prices of photovoltaic panels and improved technology that harnesses more power from the sun has placed solar on the cusp of a global boom, analysts say, who compare its rise to shale oil.

"Just as shale extraction reconfigured oil and gas, no other technology is closer to transforming power markets than distributed and utility scale solar," said consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which has a focus on the oil and gas industry.

Oil major Exxon Mobil says that "solar capacity is expected to grow by more than 20 times from 2010 to 2040."

Investors are also re-discovering solar, with the global solar index up 40 percent this year, lifting it out of a slump following the 2008/2009 financial crisis, far outperforming struggling commodities such as iron ore, natural gas, copper or coal.


By starting mass-production of solar panels, China is the driving force in bringing down solar manufacturing costs by 80 percent in the last decade, according to Germany's Fraunhofer Institute.

In Japan, residential solar power production costs have more than halved since 2010 to under 30 yen ($0.25) per kilowatt-hour (kWh), making it comparable to average household electricity prices.

Wood Mackenzie expects solar costs to fall more as "efficiencies are nowhere near their theoretical maximums."

Solar is already well-entrenched in Europe and North America, but it is the expected boom in Asia that is lifting it out from its niche.

China's new anti-pollution policies are making the big difference. Because of these policies, Beijing is seeking alternatives for coal, which makes up almost two-thirds of its energy consumption.

China's 2014 solar capacity was 26.52 gigawatt (GW), less than 2 percent of its total capacity of 1,360 GW.

But the government wants to add 17.8 GW of solar power this year and added 5 GW in the first quarter alone, with plans to boost capacity to 100 GW by 2020.

Coal-dominated India, with its plentiful sunlight, could also take to solar in a big way.

Despite this boom, fossil-fueled power is far from dead.

"Additional generating capacity, such as natural gas-fired plants, must be made available to back up wind and solar during the times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing," Exxon says.

(Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu in Hong Kong, Nina Chestney in London, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Osamu Tsukimori in Tokyo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds

Researchers say heatwaves that previously occurred once every three years are now happening every 200 days thanks to global warming
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 27 Apr 15;

Extreme heatwaves and heavy rain storms are already happening with increasing regularity worldwide because of manmade climate change, according to new research.

Global warming over the last century means heat extremes that previously only occurred once every 1,000 days are happening four to five times more often, the study published in Nature Climate Change said.

It found that one in five extreme rain events experienced globally are a result of the 0.85C global rise in temperatre since the Industrial Revolution, as power plants, factories and cars continue to pump out greenhouse gas emissions.

“A lot of us and our colleagues were surprised by how high these numbers are already now in the present day climate,” said Dr Erich Markus Fischer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

What represents an extreme day varies depending on the background climate. In the south-east of England, for example, temperatures used to reach 33.2C once every 1,000 days, but are now happening as much as once every 200 days.

Future warming will bring a more volatile, dangerous world, even if the world manages to keep temperature rises within a 2C limit to which governments have committed, Fischer’s research found. On average, any given place on Earth will experience 60% more extreme rain events and 27 extremely hot days.

Numbers of extreme weather events spiral even higher at a rise of 3C, a level of warming that the world is on track to exceed with current levels of manmade global greenhouse gas emissions.

Drawing links between specific weather events and climate change can erode the sense that climate change is something that will happen in the future, rather than causing havoc in the present. But the science, called attribution, has proved complicated.

Peter Stott, a scientist at the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, said the new study was an important step in attribution science.

“What has been lacking up to now is a robust calculation of how much more likely extreme temperatures and rainfall have become worldwide.”

The study shows warming of the atmosphere increases the number of times temperatures reach extreme levels and evaporates more water from the oceans. It is from this hotter, wetter background that extreme weather events emerge.

Longer events, such as heat waves and prolonged rainy periods, will also occur more often.

“When we talk about 15-day precipitation or 15-day heat waves rather than one-day cases, one very robust finding is the longer the period the higher the fraction that is attributable to warming,” said Fischer.

The study also found that the effects of warming will vary around the world. Weather events at the equator will become more extreme with 2C of warming, meaning tropical countries already dealing with frail infrastructure and poverty will experience more than 50 times as many extremely hot days and 2.5 times as many rainy ones.

But some already dry regions including the parts of the Mediterranean, North Africa, Chile, the Middle East and Australia will experience less heavy rain days.

“In the UK, for a one-in-a-thousand day, which is one in three years, we would probably be well adapted to that,” said Stott. “But I think we’ve shown that we are vulnerable to more extreme situations – those that happen once in a century. For example the wet winter we had in 2013-14. Or indeed the heatwave we had back in 2003 when many vulnerable, eldery people died. But in the tropics, in parts of the developing world, they are extremely vulnerable to one-in-three year events.”

Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi scientist who has been involved in the UN climate negotiations, said the developing world was already struggling to cope with extreme events.

“The increased probability of high rainfall events will enhance the adverse impacts of these events in many parts of the world, particularly for vulnerable communities. For example short bursts of intense rainfall in Dhaka already cause huge traffic jams and misery for its citizens,” he said.

Study blames global warming for 75 percent of very hot days
SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Apr 15;

WASHINGTON (AP) — If you find yourself sweating out a day that is monstrously hot, chances are you can blame humanity. A new report links three out of four such days to man's effects on climate.

And as climate change worsens around mid-century, that percentage of extremely hot days being caused by man-made greenhouse gases will push past 95 percent, according to the new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Humans have not had as great an effect on heavy downpours, though. The Swiss scientists who did the study calculated that 18 percent of extreme rain events are caused by global warming. But if the world warms another two degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) — expected to happen around mid-century — about 39 percent of the downpours would be attributed to humanity's influence, according to the study. That influence comes from greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

"This new study helps get the actual probability or odds of human influence," said University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, who wasn't part of the research. "This is key: If you don't like hot temperature extremes that we're getting, you now know how you can reduce the odds of such events by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Lead author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, and colleague Reto Knutti examined just the hottest of hot days, the hottest one-tenth of one percent. Using 25 different computer models. Fischer and Knutti simulated a world without human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and found those hot days happened once every three years.

Then they calculated how many times they happen with the current level of heat-trapping gases and the number increases to four days. So three of the four are human caused, the team said.

And when the scientists dialed up the greenhouse gases — using current pollution trends — to simulate a world about mid-century, they got 26 of those super-hot days, "almost a whole month," Fischer said.

The figures that Fischer and Knutti calculated are global estimates. The margins of error, plus or minus about 13 percent with current hot days, grow larger when smaller regions are considered. However, they found Africa and South America now have the highest percentages of unusual hot days that could be blamed on human influence, 89 percent and 88 percent respectively. Europe, at 63 percent, and North America, with 67 percent, come in at the lowest. By mid-century, if emissions continue at current pace, all continents will be able blame at least 93 percent of super hot days on humans.

Half a dozen outside scientists praised the study as valid, elegant and important.

When people ask if a single weird weather event is due to human activity or just natural variation, that's the wrong question because both factors are always involved, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn't part of the study but praised it heavily. This study, he said, asks the right question: "How much of the change is due to human activity and how much is natural variation?"

And once that percentage of damages, costs and deaths can be attributed to human influence, it's easier for governments to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to control global warming, said Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell.

Nature Climate Change:

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 15

Mangrove cleanups with RUM
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Pellets from Tuas: 9. Black-shouldered Kite removing entrails from mice
Bird Ecology Study Group

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part II
Rojak Librarian

Wing of Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris macrina) @ Sungei Buloh
Monday Morgue

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Nature under stress from photography boom

AMANDA LEE Today Online 27 Apr 15;

Photographers come to Punggol Barat with their telephoto lens to capture photographs of birds. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Some shift birds’ nests for better composition. Others have been spotted trimming tree branches for a clearer view. And rubbish, such as half-drunk packet drinks, litters the ground after the task is done.

With the surge in interest in Singapore’s wildlife — and more importantly, being the first to photograph them — nature lovers are increasingly concerned about the ugly behaviour that sometimes accompanies it, and are taking steps to address it.

The Nature Photographic Society Singapore (NPSS) and National Parks Board (NParks) will be holding workshops later this year to share acceptable practices. A study involving scientific evidence and a small-scale survey are also in the works to highlight the impact of errant conduct on biodiversity.

Mr David Tan, a National University of Singapore (NUS) biological sciences research assistant who will be conducting the study, said: “We hope to be discussing the ethics of nature photography, using literature review to understand whether certain actions mean doing something right or wrong.”

Nature education group NUS Toddycats! also intends to sign up more volunteers with NParks to guide visitors on the dos and don’ts at popular nature sites.

Wildlife lovers said the boom in digital photography and the ease of sharing sightings on social media have led to a spike in hordes of photography enthusiasts descending on sites where a rare species — such as a type of bird — has been spotted.

Butterfly Circle founder Khew Sin Khoon said: “The easy access to digital photography has literally caused an explosion of photos of flora and flauna … Social media made available a platform for people to share their photos (and) learn about nature much faster than in the past.”

Added nature hobbyist Shirley Ng: “Once someone posts (a photo) online of a rare (nature species) … everyone wants to have a shot of the ‘flavour of the month’.”

Last Sunday, the promise of a glimpse of the uncommon pin-tailed whydah drew more than 30 birdwatchers, many of them photographers, to Pulau Punggol Barat.

Those interviewed said it is a common sight to see more than 50 photographers huddling under a tree for hours only to get the perfect shot. This has led to overcrowding — which can cause damage to the surroundings — as well as questionable behaviour. Last year, a photographer was fined S$500 for tying a chick to a shrub.

NPSS president Fong Chee Wai said: “The question we should always be asking ourselves is ‘What’s your motive for capturing the photo? Is it for your own glory and fame or do you really want to share and protect the species?’”

His society bans members from posting pictures of birds during active nesting seasons, while Butterfly Circle has a code of conduct that includes guidelines against destroying flora and fauna to get closer to the butterflies. The Nature Society (Singapore) also restricts participation size for activities and limits nocturnal events at sensitive areas.

Groups TODAY spoke to said those who behave inconsiderately are still in the minority. They added that many photography enthusiasts could be new and may not be aware of the impact of their actions. Nature photographer Lily Low said some are also reluctant to criticise others as they risk alienation.

NParks’ director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, in response to queries, noted the increasing appreciation for nature among Singaporeans. While there are photographers who will encourage others not to disturb wildlife and damage plants, “we are also aware of undesirable behaviours from some photographers who are hoping to get the best possible shots”.

To encourage responsible actions, there are regular patrols and signs installed at nature areas.

Dr Fong suggested that video cameras be installed at popular spots and that these visuals be shared to satisfy the general public’s curiosity. Other nature lovers also proposed the ideas of issuing permits to restrict the number of visitors to certain areas, and park users being asked to sign an undertaking before entry.

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Malaysia: Tar balls found at turtle breeding area

The Star 27 Apr 15;

PETALING JAYA: An unusual amount of sticky tar balls have been found washed up along the shores of the Lang Tengah beach, one of the country’s sea turtle breeding grounds.

It is situated between the iconic Perhentian and Redang islands.

Lang Tengah Turtle Watch co-founder Raphe van Zevenbergen said he noticed clumps of tar balls washing up ashore along the 15m-stretch beach and immediately lodged a report with the marine park authorities.

“So far, we have collected some 13 bags of tar balls. We are concerned that the tar might seep into the sand. We have also asked for help from the nearby resorts.

“They have been very obliging in cleaning their own sections of the beach as we all await assistance from the authorities,” he said.

Lang Tengah Island, which is just under three kilometres in length, is popularly known as Turtle Bay due to its known turtle nesting population, predominantly the green turtles.

Van Zevenbergen, who has worked on the island for three years and is a trained conservationist, said the tar balls might have come from the purging of oil from engines of big vessels near the island.

“The first couple of hours were spent racing against the encroaching sunlight as the tar simply melts into the sand once it heats up, making it impossible to retrieve without removing all the sand along with it.

“We are waiting for authorities to collect the tar balls and investigate the matter. We are worried that the tide might bring the tar balls towards Pulau Redang next,” he said.

More tar balls found on Perhentian Island beaches
FIRDAOUS FADZIL The Star 1 May 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: More tar balls were found washed up along the shores of Perhentian Island’s beaches.

This follows Monday’s incident where similar tar balls were found on the shores of Lang Tengah Island, which is located near Perhentian Island.

Perhentian Island Ecoteer volunteer Loh Seh Ling, 31 said she noticed the clumps of tar balls on Wednesday night during a patrol around the island as part of their turtle conservation project with the Fisheries Department there.

“We saw the tar on the beach two nights ago while we were patrolling the turtle beach but we could not collect them because we did not bring any plastic bags with us," said Long on Friday.

She said that when her team returned the next morning, the tar had melted into the sand as the sun was already out.

Loh together with some 15 volunteers are planning to do the clean up at night as it would be easier for them to collect the tar balls.

This is because they expect the tar balls to clump up at night.

“There's so many of them and the balls seem to be everywhere on the beaches at Perhentian Island now,” said Loh.

She added that the plan was to pick up the tar balls and place them in plastic bags to ship back to the mainland by boat.

Loh added that she had sent an email to the marine park management asking the management to investigate where the tar came from.

There is a possibility the tar balls came from a big vessel.

“Marine park management replied that they would look into the matter but said their jurisdiction was only within 2 nautical miles from the island and they will hand it over to the Marine Department of Malaysia,” she said.

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Malaysia: Sharks on the edge of extinction

The Star 27 Apr 15;

KOTA KINABALU: An action plan is being proposed to protect the fast-diminishing sharks.

Special attention is paid to the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray that are only found in Borneo waters, said Sabah Shark Alliance (SSA).

The organisation is drawing up strategies that include establishing new marine protected areas, banning the trade in sharks as well as pushing awareness on the need to protect sharks and rays in the waters off Sabah.

In a statement yesterday, the group said surveys conducted in the diving haven of Semporna waters over the past four years also indicated that the Borneo river shark and Roughnose stingray were becoming very rare and could be on the verge of extinction.

The SSA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

The group said that with the strategy related to Marine Protection Areas, they hoped to push for official recognition of the Semporna Priority Conservation Area including focusing on the Si Amil and Ligitan islands in the area.

They also hoped for greater protection for other important areas for sharks and rays such as Layang-Layang and Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA).

The second strategy the group was pursuing was to get relevant laws to ban the capture and finning of sharks for consumption with lessons learned from other countries that have dealt with similar activities.

SSA wants to raise awareness and provide technical support to the government with a focus on the National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and to work with the tourism sector including restaurants and dive operators, consumers and local communities and fishermen.

Sharks play a critical role in the health and balance of ocean ecosystems with over-fishing disrupting marine ecosystems worldwide.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 15

Raffles Lighthouse (Singapore Maritime Week 2015) Part I
Rojak Librarian

Butterfly of the Month - April 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Short Night Walk At Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (24 Apr 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Brown-throated Sunbird enjoys a leaf bath
Bird Ecology Study Group

Blue-winged Pitta flew into our living room!
My Nature Experiences

LKCNHM featured on The 5 Show
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Singapore can take lead as low-carbon investor

Jessica Robinson, Nathan Fabian The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Apr 15;

Paris is preparing to host the most important summit on climate change in a generation, where all countries in the world have agreed to pledge action.

The aim is to launch a new global effort to reduce the human imprint on the climate.

Global momentum is gathering. We want a more livable and sustainable world for everyone - with an economy that is cleaner, healthier, quieter, safer and more energy-secure, and that supports a better way of producing, consuming and living.

One key area where we need examples of green, sustainable living is in cities.

We are living in an age when the world is adding 1.4 million people a week to urban areas, where half its population already lives.

This rapid global urbanisation, especially in developing nations, threatens to poison the air people breathe and the water they drink.

Singapore has something to teach us. Environmentally, it has performed well.

In 2011, Singapore was rated as Asia's top-performing city in the Green City Index, created by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Siemens. This year, for the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, it was rated the top Asian city under the "planet" category.

Singapore has had many successes, achieving some of the highest rates of waste collection and recycling and lowest rates of water leakages. It performs strongly in terms of the allocation of green space and sanitation.

And it has an exemplary mass transit system - the need for private vehicles has clogged too many of the world's cities with pollution and congestion.

Of course, Singapore can do more.

For example, it has very low levels of renewable energy generation.

Recent policies - including an energy reduction strategy and a climate change plan, and in particular the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - can change this.

However, one of the biggest hurdles to building more livable cities is the lack of strong investors to finance the increasingly profitable opportunities to build more productive, efficient, low-carbon infrastructure for transport, energy and buildings.

As Singapore pulls together the plan that it will submit to the United Nations climate talks taking place later this year, it might want to consider how it uses its national assets to achieve climate goals, in particular through the investment activities of its sovereign wealth funds.

As a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate showed, there are multiple benefits to be gained from investing in low-carbon infrastructure.

That is, before accounting for the vital importance of reducing climate risks, such as more intense storm surges and sea level rises, which pose such serious threats across the world, not least to coastal cities and island states such as Singapore and its neighbours.

Furthermore, the growing costs of carbon emissions mean that renewable energy and efficient buildings are now a better bet than many high-carbon assets.

The latest crash in oil prices only serves to remind us of the dangerous volatility of fossil-fuel commodity markets.

Singapore's two sovereign wealth funds, like the city-state itself, are already high-performing and well-run.

By size, they are in the world's top 12 sovereign wealth funds, with a combined half a trillion dollars in assets under management, based on estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The latest annual report on the management of the Singapore Government's portfolio showed exemplary returns.

In GIC's case, an annualised return of 12.4 per cent has been achieved in the past five years, much higher than figures posted by many of its peers.

Moreover, Singapore's funds are already invested in infrastructure in developing countries.

Their higher annual returns are a lesson for investors who focus only on liquid assets, such as company shares, in developed countries.

Now, Singapore's Government can look to its sovereign wealth funds to show greater leadership and go further, by taking four important steps.

First, they should become world leaders in financing infrastructure that raises the efficiency of energy and water use, to build cleaner, low-carbon cities where people need not fear to breathe.

They can thus capture the incentives that governments are increasingly directing into the green economy.

Second, the funds should incorporate into their long-term risk assessments factors such as cumulative threats from climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation, including water and air pollution.

In this way, they can perform a better risk-management function for the city-state, and avoid being caught out by potential losses as accelerating climate action threatens to undermine high-carbon assets.

Third, these funds should use their incredibly powerful voice to convince senior executives on the boards of companies to identify, manage and report on how these businesses are preparing for life in a low-carbon economy.

Fourth, the funds can use their experience as investors to work with Singapore's policymakers to formulate policies that assign the real costs of high-carbon activities, and so drive the private sector to back low-carbon infrastructure and technologies.

And of course this role should be extended beyond Singapore, to include working with policymakers from other countries in Asia, to effect wide-scale change in the region.

As a final note, the role of financial market regulators needs to be given more attention.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore can do more to create the right regulatory framework for the country's investors and the broader financial sector, encouraging better management of the risks associated with climate change and encouraging capital to flow towards green investment needs - domestically, regionally and internationally.

The world manages around US$300 trillion (S$404 trillion) worth of financial assets.

There is great potential for funding a wholesale shift to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, thereby investing in the growth story of the future while generating strong returns.

With its astonishing success and prosperity, Singapore can and must take the lead. Other countries will look to the powerful example it sets in creating better growth and a better climate for its residents.

The city-state has a critical role to play in Asia's development, building on its strong legacy and emphasising relentlessly the importance of sustainability in the region.

The first writer is chief executive, Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA), The second is chief executive, Investor Group on Climate Change, Australia and New Zealand.

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Biodiversity promotes multitasking in ecosystems

Virginia Institute of Marine Science Science Daily 24 Apr 15;

A new study of the complex interplay between organisms and their environment shows that biodiversity--the variety of organisms living on Earth--is even more important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems than previously thought.

The findings bolster the view that conservation of biodiversity benefits the plants and animals directly involved, and by extension the human populations that rely on these organisms and ecosystems for food, water, and other basic services.

Lead author on the study, to be published in the online journal Nature Communications on April 24, is Jonathan Lefcheck, a post-doctoral research associate and recent Ph.D. graduate at the College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Co-authors of the international research effort hail from the University of Massachusetts Boston; the University of Minnesota; the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Swansea University in Wales; the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Jena-Halle-Leipzig; the University of Leipzig; the University of Oxford; the University of Michigan; and the Smithsonian Institution.

"Many recent studies support the idea that greater biodiversity helps maintain more stable and productive ecosystems," says Lefcheck, "but this conclusion rests mostly on experiments that tested how losing species affects only a single ecosystem process, such as plant growth. "Our study," he says, "is the first systematic look at how biodiversity affects the suite of interconnected processes that keep ecosystems healthy and functioning."

The team examined the relationship between biodiversity and these various processes, termed "multifunctionality," by compiling and analyzing the results from 94 experiments conducted around the world. Each experiment involved manipulation of at least 3 different species and the monitoring of at least 2 and up to 12 distinct ecosystem functions--from the accumulation of soil nitrogen to the control of aquatic algae. The experiments were evenly divided between terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

The results of the team's synthesis were clear. "We found that biodiversity generally enhances multiple functions in experimental ecosystems," says Lefcheck. "In other words, as you consider more aspects of an ecosystem, biodiversity becomes more important: one species cannot do it all."

Co-author Dr. Emmett Duffy, director of the Smithsonian's Tennenbaum Marine Observatory Network and co-leader on the project, says, "Our review of these experiments suggests that, contrary to some prior interpretations, we may have actually underestimated the importance of biodiversity to the functioning of ecosystems in nature."

To illustrate the team's findings, Lefcheck turns to the focus of his own field research--the seagrass meadows of Chesapeake Bay and the coastal ocean.

"Seagrasses," says Lefcheck, "are home to a variety of small animals that perform different jobs. Some control algae that would smother seagrasses. Others keep out invasive species. Still others provide food for striped bass and blue crabs that are served on our dinner tables. By conserving this variety of animals we can we maximize the health of the grass bed, and the benefits to people."

Professor Nico Eisenhauer, a co-author from the German Centre of Integrative Biodiversity Research, adds "Only with this level of international, cross-system collaboration can we explore global patterns and understand the importance of biodiversity loss for all of humanity."

University of Michigan professor Bradley Cardinale, co-author and project co-leader, says, "People benefit from nature in many ways. Some extract goods like timber. Others recreate, hunt, or fish. Still others use the clean water. Our study suggests that species conservation helps sustain the variety of ecological processes that control the benefits people get from nature."

The scientists conducted the study as part of a working group established in 2010 at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. The group's overall goal is to translate the results of ecological experiments into applied knowledge that can used to aid decisions in conservation and management.

Journal Reference:

Jonathan S. Lefcheck, Jarrett E. K. Byrnes, Forest Isbell, Lars Gamfeldt, John N. Griffin, Nico Eisenhauer, Marc J. S. Hensel, Andy Hector, Bradley J. Cardinale, J. Emmett Duffy. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem multifunctionality across trophic levels and habitats. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 6936 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7936

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