Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jan 15

Job: Field Assistant for Radio tracking civet project (deadline: 31 Jan 2015)
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Meet the Multi-Headed Caterpillar
from Macro Photography in Singapore

otter poop & 7 otters @ SBWR - Jan2015
from sgbeachbum

Read more!

Singapore reaffirms maritime safety stance following recent incidents

Marcus Hand Sea Trade Global 19 Jan 15;

The Singapore authorities have reiterated need to focus on maritime safety following recent incidents.

“On the operational front, recent incidents reinforce the need for us to pay close attention to maritime safety,” Lui Tuck Yew, Singapore Minister of Transport said at the Singapore Maritime Foundation’s 2015 New Year reception on Friday.

Over the last few weeks a Singapore-registered barge grounded on Pedra Branca, a collision between a bulker and a tanker in Singapore waters caused the 4,500 tonne oil spill and four Singaporeans were among 22 who died when a tugboat provisionally registered with the Singapore-flag capsized on Thursday in China.

“MPA (Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore) is working closely with the industry to undertake a holistic review of the safety framework to prevent marine incidents.

“An industry-wide Safety @ Sea campaign was launched last year to highlight safe practices and inculcate a safety culture at sea.”

There was particular concern that the maritime industries could be seen as having an image of being dangerous and thereby discouraging young people from taking up a career in the sector.

Read more!

No confirmation from Malaysia on land reclamation: Grace Fu

Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: The Republic has yet to receive official confirmation from Malaysia on two land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, said Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu in Parliament on Monday (Jan 19).

A finalised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report has also not been received.

Ms Fu's response comes after media reports on both sides of the Causeway said that Malaysia had given developers of the two projects approval to restart work.

Reports said the Forest City Project had been given the green light to restart work, although the project's total size would be reduced. Another project called the Princess Cove near the Causeway has also reportedly received the nod to restart work. Both projects were suspended last year, after Singapore voiced concerns on the potential transboundary impact.

Ms Fu said both countries are obliged under international law to share EIA reports on all works prior to their commencement. "We have not received the report and we are working with our Malaysian counterparts to obtain the report as soon as we can and we will study the report seriously," she added.

When MP for Nee Soon GRC Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked if Singapore would be able to do its own independent environmental impact study, Ms Fu said that the government will need to work with Malaysia to "get the necessary information" before a thorough study can be done.

- CNA/ac

Parliament: Singapore has not received Malaysia's official reply on reclamation, says Grace Fu
CHARISSA YONG Straits Times 19 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE - Singapore has not yet received Malaysia's official response and environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports on the two land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor, said Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu on Monday.

"Singapore has yet to receive the Malaysian government's official response on this issue, including the finalised EIA reports. We are seeking clarifications from Malaysia and have reiterated our request for Malaysia to provide the finalised EIA reports, and all relevant information, expeditiously, prior to the commencement of such works," she said in Parliament.

This, despite media reports last week from both sides of the Causeway - which Ms Fu acknowledged - that Malaysia had recently given the two projects the green light to restart work.

Work on the two projects - Forest City near Tuas and Princess Cove near the Causeway - had been suspended in 2014 following Singaporean concerns.

Singapore had requested that the works be suspended until it received and studied all the relevant information from Malaysia, including Environmental Impact Assessments to assess if there would be any transboundary impact.

Said Ms Fu, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office: "We have not received the report, and we are working with our Malaysian counterparts to obtain the report as soon as we can, and we will study the report seriously."

She was responding to Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), who had asked for an update on the results of the EIA carried out by Malaysia.

Singapore waiting for Malaysia’s response on reclaimed land
BEN TAN New Straits Times 19 Jan 15;

JOHOR BARU: The Singapore government has responded in the republic's parliament today that it has not officially received any report and also Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from Malaysia concerning two land reclamation projects in the Johor Straits here.

Singapore Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu confirmed that Singapore has not received an official response and EIA reports from Malaysia.

This response follows last week's approval for the RM600 billion mixed-development Johor Forest City project to go ahead by the Department of Environment (DOE) to the developer after close to six months.

However, the suspended project, which is located close to the Second Link, will be scaled down to about 30 per cent from 1,978 ha to 1,368 ha based on recommendations made by the DOE.

Another reclaimed land project that the Singapore authorities are concerned about is the Tanjung Puteri or Princess Cove development which is located near the Sultan Iskandar Building's Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex and Causeway.

Last year, it was reported that Singapore had protested on Johor's reclaimed land projects, citing that it is near the border and may have an effect on the environment.

Singapore says no official word on Forest City project in Johor
The Star 19 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has yet to receive official confirmation from Malaysia on two land reclamation projects in the Straits of Johor.

Local television Channel News Asia (CNA) reported Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu as saying in Parliament on Monday that a finalised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report had also not been received.

Fu's response comes after media reports on both sides of the Causeway said Malaysia had given approval to developers of the two projects to re-start work.

Reports said the Forest City Project had been given the green light to re-start work, although the project's total size would be reduced.

Another project, called the Princess Cove near the Causeway has also reportedly received the nod to re-start work.

Both projects were suspended last year, after Singapore voiced concerns on the potential transboundary impact.

Fu said both countries were obliged under international law to share EIA reports on all works prior to their commencement.

"We have not received the report and we are working with our Malaysian counterparts to obtain the report as soon as we can and will study the report seriously," CNA quoted her as saying. - Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: Explain deforestation, Kelantan told

LOH FOON FONG The Star 20 Jan 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Crisis Relief Squad MCA (CRSM) has called on the Kelantan government to explain the deforestation in Gua Musang and Kuala Betis.

Its chairman Datuk Lua Choon Hann said the CRSM team that delivered food to orang asli living there was shocked to find vast swathes of land and hills destroyed.

“The state government must enlighten us on the deforestation there.

“We want a definite answer as to whether the deforestation was legally carried out,” he said at a press conference here.

Lua said the deforestation could have been among the causes of the recent severe floods.

Two days before going to the orang asli villages on Jan 13, CRSM informed Barisan Nasional secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor that the people there were stranded without food.

Following this, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said he had sent the army to clear the roads and a helicopter to bring food to the villagers.

Lua said the forest destruction had damaged the environment and badly affected the livelihood of the orang asli.

“We want a committee to be set up to investigate the deforestation,” he said, adding that CRSM also wanted development to prioritise orang asli livelihood.

Recalling the relief mission, Lau said that upon receiving news that more than 2,000 orang asli villagers were stranded in Gua Musang and Kuala Betis, CRSM dispatched 12 members in five four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying six tonnes of food.

He said the journey was challenging due to landslides and fallen trees that made the roads inaccessible.

“What was supposed to be a two to three-hour journey took us seven hours.

“We had no choice but to set up a second station and the orang asli had to walk 10 hours out of their villages,” he said.

Lau said other voluntary groups had also delivered food to the orang asli.

Read more!

Malaysia: 100,000 tonnes of garbage and debris cleared from flood-hit areas

ROBIN AUGUSTIN New Straits Times 19 Jan 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The authorities have cleared over 100,000 tonnes of garbage and debris from flood-hit areas to date.

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan said that the government was working fast to clear the remaining garbage and debris.

"This amount is growing by leaps and bounds everyday," he said adding that the amount would easily surpass 200,000 tonnes.

Abdul Rahman said that the primary concern was the elimination of animal carcasses and this had been done with the Health Ministry.

Other areas of focus would be public places such as schools, he added.

Abdul Rahman also said that the ministry would purchase two or three helicopters this year to be used for emergencies.

Flood: Water-borne diseases under control, says Subra
New Straits Times 19 Jan 15;

PEKAN: The Health Ministry has confirmed the spread of water-borne diseases among flood victims in the country is under control.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said although 30 cases of leptospirosis were reported in Kelantan previously, it was not high risk.

“Up to now, we have also yet to receive any reports on the spread of other water-borne diseases such as cholera or typhoid,” he told reporters after visiting the Padang Rumbia health clinic, which was affected by flood here today.

Also present was State Health director Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar.

However he advised residents in flood affected areas to be constantly vigilant and take care of their health by consuming only cooked food and boiled water as a prevention against bacteria contamination.

In a related development, he said the ministry was also studying the best way to rebuild the Mambang health clinic near here which was badly damaged by the recent flood.--BERNAMA

Spectre of disease looms although worst of floods over
TASHNY SUKUMARAN The Star 20 Jan 15;

PETALING JAYA: Although the worst of the east coast floods are over, residents in devastated areas now face the risk of contracting dangerous or deadly diseases.

The Health Ministry, anticipating an increase in diseases such as leptospirosis and melioidosis, is performing regular screenings at health and relief centres.

“Medical teams are visiting flood relief centres daily,” ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in an e-mail interview.

The ministry, he added, would also conduct inspections to ensure clean water supply and food for evacuees, and that no flies, cockroaches, mosquitoes or rodents were present.

Dr Noor Hisham noted that the diseases the ministry was on the lookout for were acute gastroenteritis, cholera, typhoid, leptospirosis and melioidosis (an infectious disease caused by a bacterium that can be found in soil and water).

Between Jan 1 and Jan 18, there have been 647 suspected cases of leptospirosis, with 110 cases confirmed, according to the ministry.

Kelantan is the worst-hit, with 458 suspected cases and 49 confirmed cases, while the rest are spread out over Perak, Terengganu and Pahang.

There have also been 20 cases of melioidosis, with 13 in Pahang alone.

“Our main task now will be to detect and treat patients with these diseases early, and at the same time put in place preventive steps,” said Dr Noor Hisham.

The ministry will also be deploying health teams to clean up possible breeding sites for mosquitoes to minimise the risk of dengue or malaria.

“Surveillance will be maintained for at least two months as some of the diseases have a long incubation period,” he added.

Residents and volunteers involved in clean-up activities have been urged to seek treatment if they show signs or symptoms of the diseases.

The ministry has also issued Health Alert Cards to those working in the affected areas.

Dr Noor Hisham reiterated the importance of practising safety measures for disease prevention.

“As the existing water supply might not be as clean as before the floods, students, in particular, are to bring boiled drinking water and food from home,” he said.

“They should also wash their hands before eating or touching their faces.”

Apart from that, residents have been advised to keep their homes, as well as recreational areas and food premises, free from rodents.

“As the spores from certain persistent organisms like melioidosis can survive in dust, residents should refrain from playing in dusty areas,” Dr Noor Hisham said. “They are also advised to put on suitable protective gear, at least a face mask, in affected areas.”

Read more!

India: Big cat population healthy and rising in Sunderbans

Krishnendu Mukherjee Times of India 20 Jan 15;

KOLKATA: A day before the release of the all-India tiger census report, wildlife buffs in the state have a reason to rejoice. While the big cat population inside the Sunderbans' tiger reserve area is believed to be stable, photographs of at least three cubs from outside the reserve area indicate that the population is not only healthy, it's also rising.

"The camera traps have clicked images of three cubs in the forests under the Raidighi and Ramganga ranges in the South-24 Parganas forest division recently. It shows the population of
tigers in the Sunderbans is viable and healthy," said Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas.

Meanwhile, a source from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), that's analyzing data as part of the all-India tiger census exercise, revealed that the population trend in the tiger reserve area is stable. "There's not much change in the big cat population inside the reserve area since the last assignment four years back," he said.

During the last census, tiger population in the park was pegged at 70 with lower and upper limits of 64 and 90, respectively. "This time, the figures of the South 24-Parganas forest division, too, will be added. Images of cubs show that new recruits are being added to the population. So, we hope the population will be over 100 this time," said chief wildlife warden of Bengal Ujjwal Bhattacharya. Of the latest images, clicked by camera traps placed inside the forest this month, one is from the Kalas island. A WII scientist revealed that a camera-trap exercise undertaken by them inside the tiger reserve area last year also captured some photographs of tiger cubs there. "Taking all this into account, we can say that Sunderbans is doing very well as far as population trend of big cats is concerned," he added.

While the WII has already sounded alert that the big cat population in the mangroves may have reached the carrying capacity, foresters have started beefing up protection measures in the forests outside the tiger reserve area in case the big cats start dispersing out. The carrying capacity of a population is the maximum number of individuals that can live in a population stably.

"We have a very good 'sink zone' or adjoining forests close to the tiger reserve area. This place can absorb the dispersing population from the reserve area. We had anticipated this long ago and started beefing up protection measures there. We have notified a 556 square km area here as the West Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary recently. We also developed two protection camps in Chulkathi and Kalas," said Vyas, adding that the population trend is being constantly monitored by the state through a camera-trap exercise in collaboration with the WWF-India.

WWF-India's landscape coordinator Ratul Saha, though, said whether tigers are dispersing out of the reserve area to reach forests outside it can only be found if the camera-trap exercise can be carried out simultaneously in both the areas.

Bhattacharya said that the department should also keep tabs on the sex ratio to know whether it's stable. Vyas also said that time has come to deal with the climate change impact in the mangroves.

State wildlife advisory board member Joydip Kundu said: "It's a very good news but comes with some challenges. This gives a call for more responsibility in the days ahead to protect the tiger population here." Biswajit Roychowdhury, another member of the board, said protection across the park has been beefed up.

"This is yielding results. Besides, poaching of the animals is also very difficult on a terrain like the Sunderbans," he added.

Eight new tigers have already been found during the camera-trap exercise by the WWF-India and state forest department in the mangroves.

India’s tiger population increases by almost a third
Jason Burke in Delhi The Guardian 20 Jan 15;

The number of tigers in India has increased by almost a third in the last three years, official figures released on Tuesday reveal.

The rise, from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014, will encourage campaigners fighting to protect the endangered species. Activists called the new statistics “robust” and “very good news”.

Around 70% of the world’s wild tigers live in India, where their habitat has been threatened by uncontrolled development and poaching.

Repeated efforts to stem trade and protect tigers from environmental pressures failed to stop their numbers in India dwindling to 1,411 in 2006.

Prakash Javadekar, the environment minister in the emerging south Asian power, said the latest figures showed a huge success story and demonstrated that the current strategy of creating reserves staffed by specialist government staff was working.

“That is why we want to create more tiger reserves. This is a proof of India’s biodiversity and how we care for mitigating climate change. This is India’s steps in the right direction, which the world will applaud,” he said.

India, one of the world’s biggest producers of carbon dioxide but still one of the poorest countries despite recent growth, is under pressure to announce measures on cutting greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change following a recent agreement between the US and China.

The new Indian government has also repeatedly said that it will prioritise economic growth, and has been criticised by some for rolling back moves to protect the environment.

Belinda Wright, of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), said the increase in tiger numbers could be attributed to a new focus over the last three or four years which has led to better field patrolling and monitoring, among other factors.

“There still remains the habitat destruction and encroachment. Hopefully the new figures will increase the pressure on the government to tread carefully when it is a matter of development in tiger habitats,” Wright said.

The new census was conducted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and involved nearly 10,000 camera traps. Almost 80% of the tigers counted in the survey had been photographed and identified individually, Javadekar said.

Most of India’s tigers live in nearly 50 wildlife reserves set up since the 1970s.

The natural habitat of tigers in India – tropical evergreen forests, deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, thorn forests and grass jungles – has almost disappeared outside reserves. Even inside designated zones, unchecked development of tourism and other industries has restricted space and food. Many end up foraging in areas with large human populations, leading to fatalities.

A 24-year-old man was killed by a tiger on the outskirts of one national park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh earlier this month.

Last year specialist hunters on elephants tracked a tiger in northern India that may have killed as many as 10 people on a 150-mile journey through villages, fields and forests, during which it crossed rivers and six-lane motorways.

“We must ensure animal-human conflict does not happen,” said Javadekar. “We have proactively decided that we will create more grasslands and water storage in forest areas so that animals can live well.”

In 2013 India’s supreme court imposed a temporary ban on tourism in the areas of national parks where tigers live. It was lifted after four months, thanks to vociferous protests from tour operators and guides.

However governance appears to be the main factor. In Uttar Pradesh, the lawless and poor northern state, tiger numbers have fallen, officials have said, with some reserves losing almost half of their population.

Around 40 tigers were killed by poachers in India in 2013 – the highest number since 2005. A total of 923 tigers were killed by poachers between 1994 and 2010, according to WPSI.

Demand for their body parts for use in traditional medicine in China and elsewhere in east Asia remains robust. Leopards and rhinos are also targeted. Prosecution of poachers is rare, convictions rarer and intelligence-led preventive policing non-existent.

Wright, the conservationist, said a major problem was the lack of corridors linking reserves which would permit tigers to travel in search of mates outside their immediate community.

“We need to focus on tiger landscapes and gene-flow. Tigers need to disperse from the source population,” she said.

The current tiger population is a fraction of the 45,000 that roamed India a century ago.

Read more!

Food diversity under siege from global warming, U.N. says

Chris Arsenault Reuters 19 Jan 15;

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate change threatens the genetic diversity of the world's food supply, and saving crops and animals at risk will be crucial for preserving yields and adapting to wild weather patterns, a U.N. policy paper said on Monday.

Certain wild crops - varieties not often cultivated by today's farmers - could prove more resilient to a warming planet than some popular crop breeds, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

But these wild strains are among those most threatened by climate change.

Ensuring food security and protecting at-risk species in the face of climate change is one of "the most daunting challenges facing humankind", the paper said.

Between 16 and 22 percent of wild crop species may be in danger of extinction within the next 50 years, said the FAO paper. They include 61 percent of peanut species, 12 percent of potato species and 8 percent of cowpea species.

"In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before," FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said in a statement.

"Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind's ability to adapt to climate change."

To improve the resilience of food systems, the paper recommends strengthening gene banks to include crops now considered "minor", a review of breeding practices, the creation of community seed banks, and improving seed exchanges between farmers in different regions.

Seeds and genetic material from crops under threat should be preserved in labs when they are not safe in the wild, said the paper.

World food production will need to rise by an estimated 60 percent by 2050 to feed a growing population, the FAO said, and climate change will make boosting yields tougher in many regions.

Cropping areas are set to shrink in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, India and northern Australia, while warming temperatures will open new regions to agriculture in the northern United States, Canada and much of Europe.

Farming systems - and crops themselves - will need adapt to cope in these new environments, the paper said.

Scientists worry that certain crop varieties and animal breeds could be abandoned by farmers and livestock keepers in the face of climate change without steps to conserve them.

Breeders will need to identify genetic resources with suitable traits for developing varieties that can thrive in extreme climatic conditions, the paper said.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; editing by Megan Rowling)

Genetic diversity a hidden tool in coping with climate change
Raw material of food systems are key to helping agriculture adapt to volatile weather and rising temperatures
FAO News Release 19 Jan 15;

19 January 2015, Rome - Genetic resources have a critical role to play in feeding the world — especially as climate change advances faster than expected — and much more needs to be done to study, preserve and utilize the biological diversity that underpins world food production, according to a new book released by FAO today.

"Time is not on our side" warns the book, Coping with climate change: the roles of genetic resources for food and agriculture. "In the coming decades, millions of people whose livelihoods and food security depend on farming, aquaculture, fishing, forestry and livestock keeping are likely to face unprecedented climatic conditions."

Crops, livestock, forest trees and aquatic organisms capable of surviving and producing in a changing climate will be needed.
The ability of plants and animals raised by farmers to withstand volatile conditions and adapt when the environment changes is a direct result of their genetic diversity, but stronger efforts to study and use that diversity as a coping mechanism — and policies to support that — are required, the book argues.
"In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before," said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.

"Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind's ability to adapt to climate change," she added.

Such an adaptive approach will require updating the goals of agricultural breeding programmes — and in some cases introducing varieties, breeds, species, that have not been previously raised.

And improvements to field-based and off-site conservation programmes for domesticated species, their wild relatives and other wild genetic resources important for food and agriculture — along with policies that promote their sustainable use — are "urgently" needed.

Building our knowledge of genetic resources for food and agriculture - where they are found, what characteristics they have (e.g. resistance to drought or disease) and how they can best be managed is also critical, the book says.

In particular, improving knowledge, conservation and use of crop wild relatives is important — they are likely to have genetic traits that can be used to develop well-adapted crops for use in climate change-affected food systems.

"We need to strengthen the role of genetic resources and help farmers, fishers and foresters cope with climate change," says Linda Collette, lead editor of the volume and Secretary of FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which starts its biennial meeting today.

Many locally adapted varieties and breeds of crops and livestock — as well as trees, fish, insects and micro-organisms — are poorly documented and may be lost before their potential roles in climate change adaptation are recognized.

Efforts should be made to avoid practices that destroy biodiversity or undermine the health of agricultural ecosystems — for instance the use of broad-spectrum insecticides that impact pollinators.

Guidelines point the way

The commission will also consider the adoption of guidelines for the integration of genetic resources into climate change adaptation plans, developed by FAO taking into account UNFCCC's current guidance. The draft guidelines argue for an increased and explicit use of genetic resources as a part of overall adaptation measures needed to assure food security — in recognition to the critical role that genetic diversity must play there.

The guidelines contain a range of recommendations aimed at helping countries implement policies and strategies for studying, preserving, and utilizing genetic resources to adapt to climate change.

They aim to support governments' use of genetic resources — ranging from seed varieties of major staple crops to the millions of microbes living in the soil, an area where expertise is relatively thin — in their national plans for coping with climate change.

Helping evolution survive

FAO stresses that boosting conservation of genetic diversity on farms and in fields is as critical as maintaining gene banks.

Many life-forms used in agriculture don't have the equivalent of seeds and can only be maintained through human intervention — one example is the banana, a vital staple for millions.

Additionally, on-site (in situ) conservation — including that of crop wild relatives — is a way of "allowing evolution to continue" and thus permit the continued generation of adaptive traits.

In situ conservation can take many forms but closely involving farmers is particularly effective, especially as it is increasingly clear that the consequences of climate change need to be considered at local levels as well as at global or regional ones.
Ethiopia, home to many microclimates, has an advanced and decentralized scheme based on community seed and gene banks through which farmers and researchers cooperate to test, adopt and conserve landraces of the most important crops — teff, barley, chickpea, sorghum and faba beans — that were nearly lost during the 1980s drought.

Research work never ends

Knowledge of agricultural genetic resources needs to grow more quickly, according to FAO — especially in under-studied sectors such as forests, where fewer than 500 tree species out of a total of over 80,000 have been studied in-depth. The gap in knowledge of invertebrates and micro-organisms is even larger.

While often decried as agents of diseases in crops and livestock, micro-organisms provide a myriad of functions — protecting plants from pests, drought, cold and salinity among them.

Meanwhile, proper genetic inventories geared to providing "passport data" on the genetic assets currently stored in seed banks and other ex situ conservation centres are needed in order to access positive adaptive traits that may be needed.

The effects of climate change also mean that it is more important than ever to intensify the exchange and sharing of agricultural genetic resources. Local and national seed fairs do exist, but will need to expand and go international as climate change accelerates.

Genetic resources and the time factor

One aspect of climate change with a direct impact on genetic diversity has to do with changing pressures on biological time. Pollination patterns are a major point of concern, as insects are highly sensitive to temperature and may not always synchronize with newly adopted flowering timing.

Rising temperatures are also likely to favour species that can cope with shorter generational cycles.

For fish, for example, that means fish that feed at lower trophic levels and have relatively short production cycles are likely to be preferred in aquaculture projects.

At the same time, a two degree Celsius rise in temperature is estimated to allow insects to complete up to five extra lifecycles per season, according to FAO’s book — which also notes that pathogens able to shorten their breeding cycles will likely be able to evolve more rapidly and pose greater potential challenges to various organisms and ecosystems.

In forested areas, invasive species may also react more rapidly to changing conditions, crowding out extant tree types. On current climate projections, it appears that natural forests will have to migrate 10 times faster than they did at the end of the Ice Ages to keep pace with climate change.

A recent study using of the Arabidopsis thaliana, a weedy relative of mustard and the first plant to have its genome sequenced, showed how seeds stored in banks can also help understand that climate change is moving faster than expected: Variants of the plant taken from Spain did better in Finland than seeds originally taken there.

Read more!

More rains, more deaths as floods across southern Africa set to worsen

Katy Migiro PlanetArk 20 Jan 15;

Aid agencies raced on Monday to reach tens of thousands of people displaced by catastrophic floods across southern Africa, as more heavy rain was forecast in the coming days.

More than 200 people have died in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar in one of the worst disasters to hit the region in years. Rivers have burst their banks, flooding vast areas and destroying homes, bridges and crops.

"After surveying the flooded districts from the air, we know that the scale of flooding is immense, and with the rains still falling, the water is unlikely to recede quickly," UNICEF's representative in Malawi, Mahimbo Mdoe, said in a statement.

"Stagnant water and poor sanitation can be deadly for young children, so we are in a race against time to reach displaced communities with clean water, sanitation and medical supplies."

More downpours were forecast in Malawi and Mozambique, said the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"Torrential rains are also forecast for the southern regions of Tanzania as well as northern Zambia. These rains could worsen the flood situation in the region," OCHA said.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world with a population of 16 million, has been hardest hit, with at least 176 confirmed dead and 121,000 displaced. Its president has declared half of the landlocked country a disaster zone.

In neighboring Mozambique, the government has reported 49 confirmed deaths and 33 unconfirmed deaths in "red alert" central and northern areas, Pasquale Capizzi, spokesman for the U.N.'s humanitarian team in Mozambique, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"People have drowned trying to ... reach safe areas," he said.

The Mozambican and South African armies and navies were conducting search and rescue operations, although heavy rains, strong waves, overflowing rivers and blocked roads were hindering efforts, OCHA said.

Aid was being delivered by air, Capizzi said, with 28,000 displaced in Mozambique's central coastal province of Zambezia, which borders Malawi.

"The country is cut in half because ... the main road south to north is cut in Zambezia where a bridge has been destroyed by the waters," he said.

More than 740,000 people in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zimbabwe are likely to suffer crop losses in wake of the disaster, OCHA said.

(Editing by Ros Russell)

Read more!