Arxiu de la categoria: ENVIRONMENT

This is the state of the planet: Living Planet Index 2018 (WWF)

Even though nature provides us with everything our modern society needs, our relationship with her is rather destructive. All the impact that our society has inflicted on Earth has led to a new geological era, which experts have baptised as Anthropocene. The Living Planet Report shows us what is the state of the planet. Do not miss it!

THIS IS THE STATE OF THE PLANET: LIVING PLANET INDEX 2018 (WWF)

This is not the first time that we make a summary of the Living Planet Report, carried out by the WWF and, with this latest edition, turns 20 years and has the participation of more than 50 experts. Previous reports stressed the remarkable deterioration of Earth’s natural systems: both nature and biodiversity are disappearing at an alarming rate. In addition, it is estimated that on a global scale nature provides services valued at around 110 billion euros per year.

WHAT IS THREATENING BIODIVERSITY?

According to a recent study, the main threats to biodiversity are two: overexploitation and agriculture. In fact, 3 out of 4 species of plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals extinct since 1500 disappeared due to these two reasons. This is due to the huge growth of consumption worldwide, which explains that the ecological footprint has increased by 190% in the last 50 years.

sobreexplotacion, agricultura, amenazas biodiversidad, informe planeta vivo 2018, wwf
Overexploitation and agriculture are the main threats for biodiversity (Picture: Ininsa, Creative Commons).

The demand for products derived from ecosystems, linked to their lower capacity to replace them, explains that only 25% of the earth’s surface is completely free of the impacts of human activities. This fraction is expected to be only 10% by 2050.

Soil degradation includes the loss of forest, with the highest rate of deforestation in tropical forests, which harbour the highest levels of biodiversity. Soil degradation has diverse impacts on the species, the quality of the habitats and the functioning of the ecosystems:

  • Biodiversity loss.
  • Alteration of the biological functions of biodiversity.
  • Alteration of habitats and their functions.
  • Alteration of the wealth and abundance of the species.

Invasive species are also a common threat, the dispersion of which is associated with trade. Pollution, dams, fires and mining are additional pressures, in addition to the increasing role of global change.

LIVING PLANET INDEX 2018

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is an indicator of the state of global biodiversity and the health of the planet. It is established by calculating the average abundance of about 22,000 populations of more than 4,000 different species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from around the world.

The global LPI shows that the size of vertebrate populations has decreased by 60% in just over 40 years (between 1970 and 2014).

indice planta vivo, tortuga marina, wwf, marc arenas camps, flores island, komodo national park, indonesia
Vertebrate populations has been reduced a 60% in just over 40 years (Picture: Marc Arenas Camps ©).

If we distribute the analysed species into biogeographic realms, as the lower image shows, we can observe differences in the LPI. The most pronounced population declines occur in the tropics. The Neotropical realm has suffered the most drastic decline: 89% loss respect the year 1970. On the other hand, in the Nearctic and Palearctic the reductions have been much lower: 23 and 31% respectively. The other two realms have intermediate declines, although important: in tropical Africa it is 56% and in the Indo-Pacific 64%. In all the realms, the main threat is the degradation and loss of habitats, but variations are observed.

reinos biogeograficos, indice planeta vivo 2018, wwf
Biogeographic realms of the LPI (Image: Modified de WWF).

Unlike recent reports, in which the index was separated according to whether the populations were terrestrial, marine or freshwater, in this edition only the freshwater LPI has been calculated. These are the most threatened ecosystems since they are affected by the modification, fragmentation and destruction of habitats; the invasive species; excessive fishing; pollution; forestry practices; diseases and climate change. Analysing 3,358 populations of 880 different species it has been calculated that the freshwater LPI has decreased by 83% since 1970, specially the Neotropical (94% decrease), the Indo-Pacific (82%) and tropical Africa (75%) realms.

AIMING HIGHER: REVERSING THE BIODIVERSITY LOSS CURVE

Despite political agreements for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (Convention on Biological Diversity, COP6, Aichi Targets…), global biodiversity trends continue to decline.

As indicated in the Living Planet Report, “between today and the end of 2020 there is a window of opportunity without equal to shape a positive vision for nature and people.” This is because the Convention on Biological Diversity is in the process of establishing new goals and objectives for the future, adding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the case of the SDGs, these refer to:

  • SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  • SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

The authors consider that what is needed are well-defined goals and a set of credible actions to restore the abundance of nature until 2050. To achieve this, the authors recommend following three steps:

  1. Specify clearly the objective of biodiversity recovery.
  2. Develop a set of measurable and relevant indicators of progress.
  3. Agree on a package of actions that together achieve the objective within the required time frame.

CONCLUSION

Looking at the data from the Living Planet Report 2018, it is evident that nature is in retreat: we have lost 60% of the vertebrate populations of the planet, despite the differences between the different areas. In addition, environmental policies are not enough to stop this trend. Therefore, more ambitious policies are needed to stop and recover the nature of the planet in which we live. We have an obligation to live with nature, not against nature. If we do not have more sustainable and respectful habits with the environment, the benefits that nature brings us will be lost and will affect our own survival.

You can read the full report at WWF.

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Jane Goodall’s journeys: conferences and discoveries

Jane Goodall, one of today’s most important scientists, visited the cities of Madrid and Barcelona last December to tell her story and convey her message of hope and care for the environment. All You Need Is Biology  was at her conference in Barcelona to bring her words to you and contribute to the spreading of her message.

JANE GOODALL’S JOURNEYS: CONFERENCES AND DISCOVERIES

In her eighties, Jane Goodall travels 300 days a year to publicize her work and raise awareness about the environment. In his lectures she reviews her biography, her discoveries and spreads her message about sustainability and environmental conservation.

VERY SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF JANE GOODALL

Jane Goodall needs no instroduction. She has a PhD in Ethology from the University of Cambridge and honorary degrees from more than 45 universities around the world. She has also received more than 100 international awards and degrees, including Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Jane Goodall nowadays. Photo: Michelle Valberg

Scientific studies on the chimpanzees of Gombe (Tanzania) that began in 1960, continue at the hands of her disciples more than 58 years later. Her investigations revolutionized the way in which animals in general and human beings in particular were seen at that moment. In fact, the opportunity to fulfill his dream of traveling to Africa, in addition to his mother and Jane’s own effort, was possible thanks to Louis Leakey, renowned paleoanthropologist. Louis wanted to study chimpanzees searching common behavior between them and current humans, which would mean that our common ancestor also had this behavior. Use of tools, cannibalism, altruism, wars between groups, personality, emotions, are just some of the examples of what Jane discovered by observing chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

Chimpanzee eating meat. Photo: Cristina M.Gomes, Max Planck Institute.

Jane has written 26 books, several scientific papers and has participated in 20 film and television productions. Among them we highlight Jane’s Journey  (2012) and Jane  (2018), available on platforms such as Filmin or Netflix .

JANE GOODALL’S CONFERENCES

Although her lectures are similar year after year, it is always a pleasure to hear Jane’s calm but strong voice spreading her message of hope in the future. In her story, she says phrases of great value to promote scientific vocations and remark the importance of education. We have divided her conference into three parts.

FIRST PART: FROM BABY JANE TO JANE IN AFRICA

Jane begins her speech explaining her scientific curiosity and how she learned a multitude of things by observing the animals at home (especially her dog). A mother who does not scold a girl for hiding worms under her pillow or being disappeared for hours hiding in the chicken coop to discover where the eggs come from, is undoubtedly worth mentioning: Jane always emphasizes that without her mother’s understanding, the little scientist who lived in Jane would have been crushed. Children are scientists in an innate way: they are curious, they ask questions, they make mistakes, they observe, they want to learn.

Jane Goodall in her conference in Barcelona, 2018. Photo: Mireia Querol

Feeding Jane’s passion, her mother gave her books about animals and nature. “Tarzan of the apes” was her favourite and when she was 10 years old she decided that she would go to Africa (although in the end Tarzan married the wrong Jane, -she jokes-). A difficult dream, considering her condition as a young woman without scientific studies and a family with little income. Jane gives us the advice her mother gave her: take advantage of any small thing, it can always be useful for you in the future. After jumping from one job to another, her secretarial studies allowed her to work with Leakey and fulfill his dream of going to Africa to work with animals.

JANE IN AFRICA

Because the British government did not take responsibility for a single woman in the jungle, Jane’s mother backs her up and establishes herself in the campsite with her. After weeks of observations and many frustrations, Jane makes important discoveries and to be able to publish them, she obtains the PhD without having studied a previous universitary degree. In the university, they tell her that everything she has done is wrong: she had given names to the individuals instead of assigning them a number, she spoke of emotions of the chimpanzees when the entire scientific community said that emotions were unique to humans… until that moment. Jane revolutionized the vision we had of animals and humans and established a method of observation of her own.

Jane Goodall pant-hooting whith a chimp, 1996. Photo: unknown

SECOND PART: JANE AROUND THE WORLD

In 1986, Jane talked in a conference about the destruction of the jungle, the diseases suffered by chimpanzees, how they are affected by human wars… Jane had known for some time long that each species has a role to play in the biodiversity network and that had to be conserved, but also realized that while people were suffering war and poverty, little could be done to conserve nature. The Jane activist was born, who would create the Jane Goodall Institute, which has a lot of research programs and projects. The most important project on education is Roots and Shoots. It is a program for schools around the world in which young people carry out projects for the respect of all living beings, cultures and the environment. If you are a teacher, you may want to implement it in your school.

Jane Goodall with boys and girls of a Roots and Shoots project. Photo: Jane Goodall Institute

THIRD PART: THE MESSAGE OF HOPE

Jane believes that there is a disconnection between the heart and the human brain, which leads us to destroy the only planet we have to live. We have lost the connection with nature and we have thought that we have inherited the world of our parents, when in fact we are stealing it from our children and the rest of the species.

We tend to focus on what we can not do, so we do not usually take action because we believe there is nothing to do to change the delicate situation the Earth is passin through. We must set our attention at what we can do: we have the power to decide the impact we have and the change we make.

DO WE HAVE TIME TO RESTORE THE ENVIRONMENT?

A recurring question that Jane and some of us face is how to preserve hope and optimism, although being aware of the serious situation our planet is going through.

Jane keeps hope based on 4 points:

  1. Young people: children have great enthusiasm and determination as soon as they know the problem and take action to carry out their projects to help others. They participate in the change and check the positive results of their actions.
  2. The human brain: it is undeniable that the technology developed by our brain is becoming more respectful with the environment. Only requires more government involvement and funding for research.
  3. Resilience of nature: many places that have been destroyed recover over time, if we give them a chance.
  4. The indomitable human spirit: despite the difficulties we face (for example, people with disabilities) there is always a way to reach the goal, either by following one path or another.

In this video you can see a whole talk of what Jane does:

Jane ends by saying that we live in dark times, but that she believes there is an open window if we all work together.

She finishes the conference with the emotional release of Wounda, a video that you should not miss:

(Cover photo: Morten Bjarnhof GANT)

War against plastic

The fact plastics cause problems in ecosystems, biodiversity and human health is well known. In fact, being aware of this, the European Union win ban in 2021, some single-use plastic objects and has established some measures for others. Let’s see what we can do to fight this war against plastic!

WAR AGAINST PLASTIC

REASONS TO FIGHT PLASTIC USE

According to a study published in 2015, it is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the world’s oceans, equivalent to a weight of 268,940 tons. If we focus only at the Mediterranean Sea, there are about 2,000 tons of plastic particles. It is also known that 80% of marine plastic comes from land. Another study points, in addition, that by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the seas and oceans of the planet not to stop the current trend.

pantai pede, labuan bajo, indonesia, plasticos, basura marina, plastico marino, guerra plastico, residuo zero
In a beach of Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, it was strange not to find waste or plastic in every single step (Picture: Marc Arenas).

As we already talked in this other article, marine litter, of which 75-85% are plastics, causes serious problems in biodiversity, its habitats and the economy. In fact, it is known that every year one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die from plastic.

The problem of plastic also affects our health. According to a study published in the recent weeks, microplastics have been detected in the excrements of all people who participated in the study. The presence of plastics in the body can be dangerous for the immune system and cause diseases due to their toxins.

HOW CAN WE LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC?

We must recognise that, nowadays, living without plastic is quite complicated. The reason is that it is infinitely easier to find a product in a plastic container than in a glass one, or even without it, that is, in bulk. Does this mean that we cannot beat the plastic battle? Obviously, not, but we’ll have to make a little effort.

FORBIDDEN PLASTICS FOR THE EUROPEAN UNION

We have already said that the European Union will ban some plastic items in 2021. These objects are plates, glasses and cutlery, drinking straws and cotton buds. Considering that in two years we will not find them in the stores, go ahead to the prohibition and implement these alternatives.

Using plastic cutlery, plates and cups at a party with many people is comfortable, and if they are colourful it is even fun, but it is totally unsustainable. Alternatives:

  • In the market you can find these objects made with alternative materials. In particular, they are usually made of corn, so that when you finish your party or picnic you can throw them into the organic fraction, since they are compostable. You can also find them in paper, although they are less resistant and less sustainable.
  • Another alternative is to use your metal cutlery, your ceramic dishes and your crystal glasses. Simpler, smarter and more sustainable!

Plastic straws are a problem for the environment, since many of them end up in the sea.

In the United States alone, 500 million straws are consumed every day. Maybe you are going to think that this is why it is a very populated country. Well, in Spain every day 13 million are consumed and it is the European country in which they consume the most. If you are one of those who need (need!) to drink a soft drink or cocktail with a straw, we have an alternative for you.

  • At home, we can use reusable bamboo or metal straws. They are equally effective and you will be collaborating to avoid images like the ones in the video being repeated.
  • Do you really need to drink with a straw? If you only find plastic straws in a bar, pub, club or restaurant, reject it (but before they bring you the drink!). Surely you will survive!

The ear buds are another of the prohibited objects from 2021 since it is one of the most found among marine debris.

bastoncillos oidos, basura marina, caballito de mar, plastico, plastico marino, residuo zero, justin hofman
Cotton buds will be forbidden from 2021 (Picture: Justin Hofman)

Apart from the fact that the health authorities only advise its use for the external ear, if you cannot avoid its use, you should opt for alternatives to the plastic ones:

  • Use cotton buds made with bamboo or other woods which, in addition, are sold in recycled cardboard boxes.
  • If you want to be even more sustainable and reduce your garbage production, there is another better alternative: buy a metal stick as we recommend in this article and put a piece of clean cloth on a tip to absorb the water from the shower.

SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES TO OTHER PLASTIC ITEMS

Plastic bottles also harm the environment. Did you know that it takes up to 1,000 years to degrade one bottle? In addition, to make each plastic bottle it is needed 100 mL of oil. For sure, many of you will be thinking about water, but the truth is that this also applies to soaps, detergents, softeners… Seeing how these bottles are accumulating, we give you some tips:

  • Buy larger bottles. It is needed less plastic for a bottle of 1L than for 4 of 250 mL.
  • For the specific case of water, use canteens to avoid the use of plastic. You can drink tap water if in your town has the right quality, but if it is not the case you can install an osmosis or buy water jugs (remember what we said in the previous point).
  • Observe what products you consume at home in plastic bottles and look for a store in your area that sells them in bulk.

Plastic bags, although their use is being reduced, are another problem. In Spain, according to Cicloplast, each year 97,000 tons of plastic bags are consumed, of which only 10% are recycled.

  • How easy and comfortable it is to go shopping with cloth bags, a trolley or a shopping basket!

Finally, we will now focus on polystyrene trays and plastic film. These two elements are increasingly common in supermarkets and homes, since supermarkets sell their fresh product packed in them. Some advises:

  • If your supermarket only sells meat, fish… in these containers, opt for a local store, which will sell it in bulk and you can also buy just the amount you need.
  • Go shopping in bulk stores and take your tupperware (best glass) from home to avoid plasticized paper (which goes to landfills) or the aforementioned objects.

We are aware that we have forgot many things to comment due to plastic is very present in our lives, but the best thing is to become aware of the plastics we generate every day to find an alternative to each of them.

What do you do to avoid the use of plastic? Leave us your advice in the comments for others to join this war against plastic.

(Cover picture: El Observador Crítico)

The problem of wild animals as pets

Although the first animals we think of as life partners are dogs or cats, the truth is that unfortunately many people decide to have a wild or exotic animal at home. Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, sugar gliders, fennec foxes, meerkats, raccoons, monkeys… Is it possible to have a wild animal in good condition at home? What are the issues we can find? What wild mammals do people have as pets? We invite you to continue reading to find out.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DOMESTIC ANIMAL AND A WILD ONE?

A domestic animal is an animal that has lived with humans for thousands of years. During the history of our species we have artificially selected these animals to obtain benefits, such as food, companionship or protection, like dogs, which have even co-evolved with us. Most domestic animals could not survive in the wild, as they would not know how to find food or would be easy prey for predators. Those who survive when abandoned, like some dogs or cats, cause serious problems to wildlife or even people.

 lobo perro dog wolf perro lobo
Some domestic animals, such as certain dog breeds (right), resemble their wild counterparts (wolf, left), which gives rise to the false idea that wild animals can be domesticated. Photo: unknown

And a wild animal? Many people confuse wild animal with ferocious or dangerous animal. A wild animal is an animal that has not been domesticated, that is, its species has not been in contact with people (at least not for thousands of years as the domestic ones). The fact that some wild animals are not dangerous (or not at all) for us, that they appear in series and movies, some celebrities own them and the desire to have a “special” animal at home, continues favoring the purchase-sale of these animals as pets.

monkey mono capuchino marcel ross friends
The character of Ross in the world-famous series ‘Friends’ had a capuchin monkey, which has to be donated when it reaches sexual maturity for aggressive behavior. Source

WHAT PROBLEMS DOES IMPLY TO HAVE A WILD ANIMAL AT HOME?

PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE

The main reason why wild or exotic animals cause problems for humans is the lack of knowledge of the species: some have very specific diets that are practically impossible to reproduce in captivity. Others may live longer than the owner, be very noisy, occupy a lot of space, have nocturnal habits, transmit diseases or be poisonous. This results in maintenance difficulties and changes in  the behavior of the animal, until it becomes dangerous for its owner. The consequence is usually the abandonment of the animal, which will cause death, cause problems in nature or very high maintenance costs if they end up in a wildlife rescue center (according to Fundació Mona, keeping a chimpanzee costs 7,000 euros a year. Their life expectancy is 60 years: 420,000 euros in total for a single animal).

Raccoons undergo behavioral changes and may attack their owners. Source

Many species released in the wild end up being invasive, endangering the native ecosystems. If you want to know the difference between introduced and invasive species, read this post. To know the threats they pose to ecosystems, visit this post.

Do not forget that the purchase, sale and possession of many wild animals is totally illegal.

PROBLEMS FOR ANIMALS

Animals must live in an environment where their needs, both physical and mental, can be met. Although we put all our good intentions, give love and spend money keeping a wild animal, we  will never be able to reproduce their natural conditions. Lack of space, contact with other animals of their species, time searching for food, temperature conditions, humidity, light… the animal can not develop its normal behavior even if it is in the most optimal conditions of captivity.

The consequences that will suffer an animal that has not met their needs implies health problems (diseases, growth deficit…) and behavior (stereotypic-compulsive movements, self-injury, anxiety, aggression…).

A fennec fox, a carnivorous animal of the desert, in an evident state of illness. According to social networks, because he was being fed a vegan diet. According to its owner, Sonia Sae, because it is allergic to pollen despite following a vegan diet. Be that as it may, it is clear that the pollen amounts in Sahara have nothing to do with those of Europe. Source

Finally, the most serious consequence when we acquire a wild animal is that we are favoring the trafficking of animals, the death of thousands of them during transport to our house and even their extinction. Animal trafficking is the second cause of biodiversity loss on our planet, behind the destruction of habitats.

Slow loris are nocturnal and poisonous animals that are marketed as pets and, like mostof them, are transported under terrible conditions. Learn more about the calvary of slow lories visiting blognasua. Photo: Naturama

EXAMPLES OF WILD MAMMALS AS PETS

PRIMATES

Marmosets, slow loris, lar gibbons, chimpanzees, Barbary macaques… The list of primates that people have in captivity is almost infinite. One of the main mistakes people make when they want a primate as a pet is to believe that they have our same needs, especially in superior primates such as chimpanzees. Its expressions are also confused with ours: what the photo shows is not a smile of happiness and what the video shows is not tickling, but an attitude of defense (slow loris have poison in their elbows).

This chimpanzee is not smiling, he is scared. Photo: Photos.com

Many primates live in family groups and the offspring need to be with the mother the first years of life, so that just the simple fact of acquiring a little primate entails the death of all the adults of their family group and psychological problems for the animal. To know the extensive and serious problem of keeping primates in captivity, we strongly recommend reading this post.

SUGAR GLIDERS

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) resemble a squirrel, but in fact they are marsupials. They have a very specific diet (insects and their depositions, eucalyptus sap, nectar …), they live in the canopy of trees in groups from 6 to 10 individuals and move between the trees jumping up to 50 meters with a membrane that let them hover. They are nocturnal so they yell and call at night. It is evident that it is impossible to reproduce these conditions in captivity, so the majority of sugar gliders die due to nutritional deficiencies.

Sugar glider caged. Photo: FAADA

VIETNAMESE POT-BELLIED PIGS

Although they are a variety of a domestic animal, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) are small when tey are young, but adults can weigh more than 100 kilos, so it is impossible to keep them in a flat. There have been so many abandonments and they have reproduced so much, that there are populations established in nature. They can reproduce with wild boars and it is unknown if the hybrids are fertile. There are no wildlife recovery centers or shelters for these pigs, so they continue to affect the native ecosystems.

Since actor George Clooney introduced a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as a pet, the trend to own one quickly spread. Source

RACCOONS AND COATIS

Other mammals that, because of their pleasant appearance, some people try to have as pets. Raccoons (Procyon sp) develop aggressive behaviors when they do not having their needs covered, they are destructive to household objects and have a tendency to bite everything, including people. Currently in Spain and other countries it is illegal to acquire them and it is classified as an invasive species.

In addition to aggressiveness, one of the most common behaviors of raccoons is “theft”. Source

Coatis (Nasua sp) are related to raccoons and, like them, when they grow up they become aggressive if kept in captivity in a home. In Spain, their possession is also illegal.

coatí nasua
The coati, another friendly-looking mammal that can be dangerous. Source

MERKAATS

Merkaats (Suricata suricatta) are very social animals that live in colonies of up to 30 individuals underground in the South African savanna. They usually make holes in the ground to protect themselves and are very territorial. Therefore, having a meerkat at home or in a garden is totally unfeasible. In addition, the climatic conditions (high temperatures and low humidity) in which they are adapted are not the same as those of a private home.

As sugar gliders, their food is impossible to reproduce at home: snake meat, spiders, scorpions, insects, birds and small mammals… Like raccoons, they do not hesitate to bite and are very active animals.

Meerkat with a leash where you can see his fangs. Photo: FAADA

FENNEC FOX

This species of desert fox (Vulpes zerda) has also become trendy as a pet. Although its tenure is still legal, it has been proposed several times as an invasive species.

The main reason why you can not have a fennec at home are the desert climatic conditions to which it is adapted. Living in an apartment causes kidney problems and thermoregulation problems. Also, it is a nocturnal animal. Changes in their circadian rhythm cause them hormonal problems.

Fennec  fox in the desert. Photo: Cat Downie / Shutterstock

Like the previous two species, behavioral problems can turn up and become violent against the furniture or its owners.

ELEPHANTS, TIGERS …

Although it may seem incredible, there are people who have an elephant in the home garden and other people have felines, like tigers. At this point we do not think it is necessary to explain the reasons why these animals have not their needs met and the potential danger they pose to their owners and neighbors in case of escape.

Dumba, the elephant that lives in a home garden in Spain. Photo: FAADA

IN CONCLUSION

As we have seen, a wild animal in captivity will never have its needs covered to guarantee its welfare. Here we have presented the best known wild mammals that are kept as pets, but unfortunately the list does not stop expanding.

In order not to favor animal trafficking and cause unnecessary suffering during the life of the animal, avoid buying wild animals, inform yourself and inform the people around you, denounce irresponsible tenures and in case you already have one wild animal as a pet and you can no longer keep it, contact a recovery wildlife center and never abandon it into nature.

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

 

How can you help biodiversity of the cities?

Towns and cities have increasingly become hostile to biodiversity. Fortunately, a few years ago there is a growing interest to make cities more friendly to the native fauna and flora. Discover what you can do for urban biodiversity!

HOW CAN YOU HELP BIODIVERSITY OF THE CITIES?

According to SEO BirdLife, 10% of the bird species that live in Spain are housed in urban environments. In fact, some of them, like the sparrow, depend on human presence. In spite of that, these species are in decline.

They also assure that urban birds in Spain have suffered a decrease of over 18% in the last 20 years. For the case of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), the loss amounts to 44% of its individuals.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, golondrina común, hirundo rustica, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades
The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) has lost 44% of its urban population (Picture: Ferran Pestaña, Creative Commons).

BENEFITS OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY FOR PEOPLE

Biodiversity in cities is positive for human beings, beyond the ornamental function, since it offers a set of very important services that improve our quality of life. In fact, the WHO recommends that in cities there are between 10 and 15 m2 of green areas per inhabitant and that the inhabitants have a green area less than 300 m from their house.

In addition to the benefits that nature has for human health and well-being, green areas cushion the temperature (important to reduce the effect of heat islands), purify the air and fix CO2. It is also responsible for the pollination of crops and, in general, to increase the resilience of the environment.

health benefits of nature, promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, golondrina común, hirundo rustica, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades
Nature has a positive effect in the human health and wellness.

WHAT CAN WE DO FOR URBAN BIODIVERSITY?

Broadly speaking, to help the biodiversity of cities, we must:

  • Provide enough urban green areas in the cities and that they are distributed throughout the area.
  • Have urban green spaces connected between them and with the natural environment.
  • Generate diversity of habitats.
  • Do not plant invasive species.
  • Do not use chemical treatments.
  • If the green areas are illuminated, make sure it is not annoying for the fauna.

We must bear in mind that, if we have cats at home, we must consider if it is worth doing some of the actions we propose, since our feline friends are great predators and, rather than helping the fauna, we could be harming it.

PLANT TREES, BUSHES AND FLOWERS THAT PROMOTE BIODIVERSITY

Obviously, if we plant native trees or shrubs we will be favouring the biodiversity of our city. If we do not meet this first point and plant exotic invasives, we will be questioning the future of our area. In addition to this fact, we must add other considerations.

The trees or bushes that produce fleshy fruits, such as the olive tree (Olea europea), the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) or the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), will be able to sustain a part of the diet of some animals. The olive tree also generates holes, which may serve as a nest for some birds. If we look for species that bear fruit in winter, when conditions are more difficult due to the reduction of food, it will also be of great help.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, madroño, arbutus unedo
Trees with fleshy fruits promote the presence of food for many animals (Picture: Creative Commons).

Softwood trees, such as poplar (Populus), will allow some birds, such as the Iberian green woodpecker (Picus sharpei), to make holes in its trunk, which will cause that when leaving the nest other species can be installed. We can also leave dead trees standing for the Iberian green woodpecker to make its nest.

Combining deciduous and perennial trees will allow a refuge for wildlife throughout the year.

As for the plants, it is highly recommended to plant indigenous aromatic plants, which will attract a large number of pollinating insects. In the Mediterranean area, you can choose rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula stoechas), savory (Satureja montana), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), sage (Salvia officinalis), basil (Ocimum basilicum)…

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, lavanda, lavandula stoechas, plantas aromáticas
Indigenous aromatic plants will favour the presence of pollinators (Picture: Kurt Stüber, Creative Commons).

INSTALL NEST BOXES

If there were old trees in the cities (and in the natural areas), it would not be necessary to install nest boxes. The reason is that the old trees have holes, in which the chickadees, the tits, the owls, etc. make a nest. But not only can you install nest boxes for birds, you can also do them for bats, which are effective mosquito eaters.

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, caja nido, herrerillo comun, Cyanistes caeruleus
Installing nest boxes will promote the presence of some birds, such as the Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) (Picture: Creative Commons)

On the other hand, there are animals that use buildings to breed, such as the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the kestrels, the crow (Corvus corax), the common swift (Apus apus), the common gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), etc. .

In general, in the Iberian Peninsula there are about 40 species of birds and a dozen mammals that can use nest boxes to breed and rest.

In this Grup Ecologista Xoriguer and VOLCAM Voluntariado Ambiental‘s guide you will find information about how to build yourself a nest box and other tips.

BUILD A INSECT HOTEL OR OTHER STRUCTURES FOR FAUNA

An insect hotel is a construction with a wooden structure that is full of different materials, such as natural cane, stones, tiles, bricks, pineapples, perforated wood or straw, which serve as a hiding, resting and breeding place for various species of insects.

Although you can buy them, we recommend you do it yourself with a little imagination. Collect these materials and about 6-7 wooden pallets and start to build a new home for solitary bees (solitary bees are not aggressive, unlike colonial ones), ladybugs (they will eat the aphid you have in your garden), lacewing, syrphids…

promocionar biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad urbana, biodiversidad ciudades, fauna ciudades, hotel insectos, hotel insectos palets
Insect hotel with pallets (Picture: unknown author).

The construction of dry stone spirals with aromatic plants will also favour the presence of fauna, especially reptiles.

In a corner of your garden, you can leave a pile of trunks in the shape of a pyramid. You will see that in a while it will be colonised by mosses, fungi, xylophagous insects, lizards…

VEGETATION MAINTENANCE TASKS

All this is meaningless without sustainable maintenance of green infrastructure. What good is it to plant trees with fleshy fruits if we prune them in full fruition?

Here are some tips:

  • Do not prune in the time when the trees are in fruit, concentrate them during the winter.
  • Avoid pruning all trees and shrubs the same year.
  • Decrease the number of prunings and ask that they be less drastic. So there will be structures that can support large nests.
  • Do not remove all the leaves from the ground, since leaf litter allows the development of the invertebrate fauna and incorporates organic matter into the soil.
  • Do not use chemical pesticides or phytosanitary products. If you have a pest, use biological control systems against them.

ASK YOUR LOCAL ADMINISTRATION TO JOIN IN THE PROMOTION OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY

Some of these tips will be easy to implement, others will be less. In addition to applying it in your own home, ask your local administration to apply these principles. Together we will make towns and cities more sustainable in which biodiversity can also live!

In addition to the points already mentioned, local administrations can do some other tasks that are within their competence:

  • Naturalise artificial lakes. What if, instead of having ponds with crystal clear water, we took advantage of these points to favour the presence of amphibians, reptiles and aquatic vegetation?
  • Change lawns for natural meadows. What if instead of having large expanses of green grass, typical of northern Europe (where water is plentiful), we had spaces with different species of native flowers that attracted large numbers of pollinators and birds? Some birds, such as the zitting cisticola or streaked fantail warbler (Cisticola juncidis) or the European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), make nests in the middle of meadows.
  • Reduce the mowing of the lawns (better done at the end of winter) and make differential mowing. What if instead of completely mowing the lawn we did it irregularly to allow the growth of spontaneous vegetation that attracted the invertebrates?
  • Plant in the tree clogs. What if instead of having tree clogs full of dog droppings we had them full of flowers that attract the insects that control the plagues of the tree that is planted in it?

Have we encouraged you to apply any of the measures we present? Tell us what you are doing to help urban biodiversity in the comments of this article.

(Cover picture: Kevin Cole, Creative Commons)

How many species live on Earth?

On May 22nd, the International Day of Biological Diversity is celebrated worldwide, or in other words, the day of biodiversity, to commemorate the approval of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Did you know that we only know 15% of all the biodiversity on the planet? Discover more! 

HOW MANY SPECIES LIVE ON EARTH?

Before answering this question, it is important to understand the concept of biodiversity or biological diversity.

WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY?

Biodiversity is the  living beings on Earth and the natural patterns that make up, that is, the set of existing plants, animals and microorganisms. This biodiversity must be understood within each species, between species and ecosystems.

biodiversidad, especies, animales, plantas, seres vivos

THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was adopted in 1992 and has the ratification of 193 countries to date, has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable participation of the benefits that derive from the use of genetic resources, in order to promote measures for a sustainable future.

The governments of the acceding countries meet every two years to examine progress, set priorities and adopt work plans.

According to the Convention, species, genetic resources and ecosystems should be used for the benefit of the human being, but without this implying a reduction in biodiversity. It also applies the precautionary principle, that is, when there is not enough scientific evidence to demonstrate the reduction or loss of biodiversity, it should not be used as a reason to postpone taking measures to deal with it. Thus, it is an instrument that promotes sustainable development.

SPECIES OF THE EARTH

To date, a total of 1.3 million species have been identified and described, but the truth is that many more live on Earth. The most accurate census, conducted by the Hawaii’s University, estimates that a total of 8.7 million species live on the planet.

If we take this figure as good, it means that we have described only 15% of all the organisms that live on Earth. To be more precise, we still have 86% of the terrestrial species to be described and 91% of the marine species.

To give an example of how far we are from knowing all the species, last year we identified a new species of primate: the orangutan of Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis), which lives on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia).

biodiversidad, diversidad biológica, tapanuli organgutan, orangutan sumatra, especies
We only know 15% of all species on Earth (Picture: National Geographic)

In spite of these figures, the dance of numbers is important and the different investigations carried out give different values, reaching the point that some point out that there would be 100 million species.

What is clear is that we have a long way to go until we have a complete catalog of species. Worst of all, many of these unidentified species are becoming extinct before we discover them.

CLASIFICATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE SPECIES

Here we do not want to talk about the way species are classified, as we already did in this article on classification and phylogeny. Here we want to see how species are distributed in the different groups of living beings.

If we take the classification system of Margulis and Schwartz of organization of living beings in five kingdoms, according to Llorente-Bousquets, J and S. Ocegueda (2008), this is the distribution of the known species of the planet:

especies conocidas planeta tierra, biodiversidad, especies, planeta tierra
Distribution of known species on Earth

The predominant group is that of animals, representing 76% of all known species. Within animals, arthropods are the group with the most species, with about 1.2 million species (1 million of which are insect species), representing 86% of all known animals. Our group, the chordates, is light years away from this figure, since it is made up of some 61,000 species (4% of the species), being surpassed by that of the molluscs, with some 85,000 species.

artropodos, insectos, animales, biodiversidad, especies, planeta tierra
Arthropods are the biggest group of animals, with more than one million species (Picture: Pixabay, Creative Commons).

Plants represent 17% of the species studied, with approximately 292,000 species. These include different large groups: angiosperms (87% of species), gymnosperms (0.3%), ferns (4.3%) and bryophytes (9%).

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF SPECIES EXTINCTION?

Human activities cause a decline in species because the principles of sustainable development are not always applied. Among these activities, the following should be highlighted:

  • Alteration and destruction of ecosystems. The destruction of the rainforest is an example. In many tropical areas, such as Southeast Asia, it is devastated with large areas of forest to plant the palm, from which the famous palm oil is extracted. This endangers a high number of species, among which there are orangutans. Avoid products with palm oil to avoid this situation! Another example is the fragmentation of rivers due to the construction of large dams, which prevents fish such as salmon, eel or lamprey to move freely between rivers and the sea.
orangutan, aceite de palma, indonesia, sureste asiático, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad
Orangutan (Pongo sp.) victim of deforestation for the oil palm industry (Picture: unknown author).
  • Agricultural practices The abusive use of pesticides is causing the massive death of bees, insects essential for pollination and, therefore, for the provision of food. As we have seen before, agriculture needs land and, when it is not available, large areas are destroyed.
  • Hunting and exploitation of animals. Until not many years ago, there was a hunt for animals that were thought to be harmful to livestock, hunting or man, as in the case of the Iberian wolf. Trade in exotic species, collecting or capturing animals with supposedly curative properties are also threatening biodiversity.
lobo ibérico, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad
Wolf corpses appeared in Asturias, Spain (Several sources).
  • Introduction of exotic species. When a species is introduced, voluntarily or involuntarily, in an area where it is not native it is called an exotic species. These compete for space and resources with the natives, so that local species are harmed. If, in addition, these new species displace the locals then they have an invasive behavior. In Hawaii, human activity and the introduction of new species such as the rat has caused the disappearance of 90% of native bird species.
  • Climate change. Climate change is responsible for the alteration of habitats and the conditions in which the species live. It causes bleaching of corals, expansion of epidemics, causes changes in the migration of species such as whales, increases sea level... and a long etcetera.
blanqueamiento corales, biodiversidad, amenazas biodiversidad, cambio climático, cambio global
Bleaching in American Samoa. The first picture (before) was taken in December 2014 and the second (after) in February 2015 (Picture: XL Catlin Seaview Survey).
  • Tourism. When tourism is carried out in a non-respectful manner with biodiversity or exceeding the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, nature may be affected. The solution is sustainable tourism.
  • Ignorance. Ignorance is the worst enemy for conservation. For this reason this blog was born, to raise awareness among its readers of the importance of preserving nature.

Are you a lover of nature and biodiversity? Share with us what you do to prevent threatening nature!

How would it be a world without bees?

In recent years, the idea of a world without bees has transcended numerous social and political spheres. The scientific community has been warning about the disappearance of bees during years without any consequence. But now, it has become an issue of major concern, acquiring a media relevance like never before. At the end of 2017, the EU decided to take matters into its own hands to prevent this tragic ending for bees.

Why would it be a problem that bees disappear from Earth? And which measures has the UE take in order to address this problem?

The DDT and Rachel Carson

The use of pesticides has been a common agricultural practice from the very beginning of agriculture. At the beginning, the use of organic chemicals derived from naturals sources, as well as inorganic substances such as sulphur, mercury and arsenical compounds, was very common. However, they eventually stopped being used due to their toxicity (especially, phytotoxicity). The growth in synthetic pesticides accelerated in the mid-twentieth century, especially with the discovery of the effects of DDT, which became one of the most widely used pesticides of all time. DDT became famous due to its generalist insecticidal effects and low toxicity to mammals and plants, being used to eradicate household pests, fumigate gardens and control agricultural pests.

Picture above: cover of a March 1947 brochure on DDT from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (source). Picture below: kids being showered with DDT during a campaing against poliomyelitis, which was believed to be transmitted by a mosquito (source).

DDT resulted to be very effective against insect vectors of deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and typhus, thus becoming even more popular.

However, the overuse of this and other pesticides eventually began to cause severe human and environmental health problems, because some of these products started to contaminate soils, plants and their seeds, and to bioaccumulate within the trophic nets, finally affecting mammals, birds and fishes, among others. The indiscriminate use of pesticides and their effects were denounced by Rachel Carson through her most famous publication, “Silent Spring”, which was distributed in 1962.

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (source).

From Carson to the neonicotinoids

Since Carson denounced the abusive use of pesticides, the world has witnessed the birth of many new substances to fight crop pests. Since then, researches have focused on finding less toxic and more selective products in order to minimize their impact on both human and environmental health. Could we say it has been a success?

Yes… and no. Although their use stopped being so indiscriminate and famers started betting on the use of more selective products, there were still some open fronts. Fronts that would remain open until today.

Between 1980 and 1990, Shell and Bayer companies started working on the synthesis of a new assortment of pesticides to face the resistances that some insects have acquired to some of the most widely used substances those days: the neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine; they effect the insect nervous system with a high specificity, while having a very low toxicity to mammals and birds compared to their most famous predecessors (organochlorides, such as the DDT, and carbamates). The most widely used neonicotinoid nowadays (and also one of the most widely used pesticides worldwide) is the imidacloprid.

However, far from getting famous for their effectiveness, the use of neonicotinoids began to get controversial for their supposed relationship with the disappearance of bees.

How do these pesticides affect bees?

For some years now (2006 onwards) the neonicotinoids are in scientists’ spotlight as one of the main suspects of the disappearance of bees. However, it has not been until now that something that scientists had been denouncing for years has finally been assumed: that neonicotinoids cause a greater impact than it was thought.

Dead bees in front of a hive. Public domain.

Unlike other pesticides that remain on plant surfaces, some studies state that neonicotinoids are taken up throughout their tissues, thus being accumulated in their roots, leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar. Also, that nearby fields are polluted with the dust created when treated seeds are planted and that plants derived from these seeds will accumulate a major amount of pesticide than sprayed plants (as it is explained in this publication of Nature). This causes bees (as well as other pollinating insects) to be exposed to high levels of pesticides, both in the crops themselves and in the surrounding foraging areas. These same studies have revealed with less support that these products may persist and accumulate in soils, which may affect future generations of crops.

Some of the negative effects on bees that have been related to neonicotinoids are:

In addition to the effects of neonicotinoids, other important causes must be taken into account: climate change, less food sources and changes in soil uses.

What would happen if bees disappear?

Colonial bees (like honeybees) are the most famous among bees. However, they only represent a mere portion within the great diversity of known bees, most of which have solitary life habits and build their nests inside small cavities. The ecological importance of solitary bees is equal to or greater than that of honey bees, but effects that neonicotinoids have on them are still poorly studied. Together, bees are among the most efficient pollinating organisms.

Solitary bee entering in its nest. Public domain.

According to this study carried out in German territory and published in POLS One at the end of 2017, a large part of flying insect diversity (including numerous pollinators) and up to 75% of their biomass have decreased in the last three decades due to the interaction of several factors. And if that was not enough, the authors say that these numbers can probably be extrapolated to other parts of the world.

What would happen if both colonial and solitary bees disappear?

  • Disappearance of crops. The production of many crops, such as fruit trees, nuts, spices and some oils, depends entirely on pollinators, especially on bees.
  • Decrease in the diversity and biomass of wild plants. Up to 80% of wild plants depend on insect pollination to reproduce, as it happens with many aromatic plants. A decrease in the vegetal surface would lead to serious problems of erosion and desertification.
  • Less recycling of soil nutrients. With the disappearance of the plants, the washing and deposition of soil nutrients would go down.
  • Less biological pest control. Some solitary bees are parasitoids of other solitary bees and other groups of insects (natural enemies); their absence could trigger the recurrence of certain pests.
  • Negative effects on higher trophic levels. The disappearance of bees could cause a decrease in the diversity and biomass of some birds that feed on pollinators.
  • Disappearance of bee-derived products, such as honey or wax.

The UE bans the use of neonicotinoids

Facing this reality, several governments have tried to limit the use of pesticides as a part of the measures to stop the decline of bee populations and the resulting economic losses. To give some examples, since 2006 the biomass of honey bees has decreased by 40% in the US, 25% in Europe since 1985 and 45% in the United Kingdom since 2010, according to data published by Greenpeace.

To date, the more restrictive measures limited the use of neonicotinoids in certain situations or seasons. But at the beginning of 2018, the EU, after preparing a detailed report based on more than 1,500 scientific studies carried out by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), decided to definitively ban the use of the three most used neonicotinoids in a maximum period of 6 months in all its member states after demonstrating that they are harmful for bees: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

Will the objectives of this report be accomplished? We will have to wait …

.           .           .

Although slowly, the fight against the abusive use of pesticides is paying off. However, we will have to see if the gap left by some products is filled with other substances or if governments commit to adopt more environment friendly agricultural models.

Main picture obtained from [link].