Arxiu de la categoria: ENVIRONMENT: GENERAL

This is the current situation of the planet: Living Planet Report 2016 (WWF)

Every two years, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) publishes its Living Planet Report, which shows the state of the planet, biodiversity, ecosystems and resources. In September 2016, its 11th edition was presented. Here, there is a summary of the latest publication.   

INTRODUCTION

Our relationship with nature has been changing throughout the history of humanity. Now the impact that human beings has exerted on it is inevitably leading us to a new geological age: the Anthropocene. This video exemplifies it quite well.

It seems that we have forgotten that a healthy Earth is crucial to obtaining the resources indispensable for life: water, air, food, materials… In addition, nature sustains our economies and plays a key role in our health. Do you want to know the benefits of nature for our health?

LIVING PLANET INDEX

The Living Planet Index is an indicator of biodiversity. It is calculated by collecting data from several vertebrate populations and calculating the evolution of their abundance over time.

According to this index, between 1970 and 2012, that is in just 40 years, vertebrate populations have been reduced by 58%. Despite this, there are notable differences depending on the type of vertebrate: the reduction is 36% in marine populations, 38% in terrestrial and freshwater have been reduced by an alarming 81%. The report adds that, if this continues, by the end of this decade the overall reduction will be 67%.

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Fresh-water populations have been reduced by 81% in just 40 years (Picture: Carey James Balboa, Creative Commons).

The main threats to biodiversity are the following:

  • Habitat loss and degradation as a result of unsustainable agriculture, logging, transport, residential or commercial development, energy production, mining, watercourse fragmentation and water extraction.
  • Overexplotiation of species due to unsustainable or furtive hunting or fishing and species harvesting.
  • Pollution.
  • Invasive species and diseases, which compete for resources (space and food) with the native ones.
  • Climate change, which affects the migration and reproduction of species.

These threats affect differently the groups of vertebrates. For example, terrestrial and freshwater species are most affected by habitat loss and degradation, while marine populations are threatened mainly by overexploitation.

La sobreexplotación es la principal causa de la reducción de las poblaciones marinas (Foto: C. Ortiz Rojas, Creative Commons).
Overexplotiation is the main reason of the reduction of marine populations (Picture: C. Ortiz Rojas, Creative Commons).

AND THE LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY, WHICH EFFECTS WILL IT HAVE?

The loss of biodiversity is an indicator of the state of ecosystems. As we have already said, we depend on them for our existence. Thus, ecosystem services, that is, the benefits that nature brings to the human beings, will be reduced.

This will result in increased water and food insecurity, so that commodities are going to become more expensive and competition will increase, and war conflicts might arose for their domination. In fact, experts indicate that the World War III is going to happen to compete for water.

THAT IS OUR IMPACT ON THE EARTH

The capacity of nature to absorb the impact exerted by humans has limits. At present, our activities and the level of resource exploitation have increased dramatically and the environment is  getting deteriorated beyond its ability to regenerate.

Of the nine planetary limits, humans have already surpassed four of these systems beyond their safe operating space. These limits are climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, nutrient fluxes and land use change. It is everyone’s responsibility to respect these limits.

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We have surpassed the limits of Earth to regulate climate (Picture: Inchi9, Creative Commons).

Our manner of consuming is unsustainable and is affecting the planet. An example of this is that in 2012, it took 1.6 Earth planets to generate the resources that humans needed. This means that humanity needed 1.6 times the productive area of the Earth to supply the resources and absorb the waste that year.

The ecological footprint of consumption is composed of six components, but the one that dominates by far is the carbon. In fact, it currently accounts for 60% of the total.

OUR CHALLENGE: “ONE PLANET” PERSPECTIVE

Acting in a sustainable way will be an indispensable requirement in the Anthropocene if we want to maintain life on Earth, at least as we know it today.

The “One Planet” perspective is a model proposed by WWF that describes the best ways to govern, use and share natural resources without exceeding the ecological limits of the Earth.

Its objective is to provide food, energy and water to the world population without causing degradation of biodiversity and ecosystems.

One Planet perspective (Picture: WWF).
One Planet perspective (Picture: WWF).

To achieve a more sustainable society, it is necessary to change the current economic system: we must stop associating human development with environmental degradation and social exclusion. To achieve this, we must focus on the following aspects:

  • Conservation of natural capital through the sustainable use of resources and increase the network of protected areas.
  • Equitable governance of resources so that everyone has access to water, food and energy.
  • Reorientation of financial flows to support the conservation of ecosystems.
  • More responsible production and consumption.
  • Development of renewable energies.
  • Obtaining food without exceeding the limits of the planet.

CONCLUSION

The results of this report are really hopeless, but if we begin the transition towards a more sustainable life, we are still in time to avoid the worst scenarios.

Fortunately, more and more people are aware of the negative impact we are making on the planet and, furthermore, governments seem to be starting to take action. One example of this is the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and the Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21).

There is still hope, but we must all get to work! And you, what role will you play in this situation?

REFERENCES

  • WWF. 2016. Living Planet Report 2016. Resume. WWF, Gland, Suiza.
  • WWF. 2016. Living Planet Report 2016. Risk and resilience in the Anthropocene. WWW International, Gland, Suiza.
  • Cover picture: Pixabay

Islands as natural laboratories for evolution

Islands are natural laboratories where we can study evolution in vivo. Whether from volcanic or continental origin, the fact that islands being isolated from the mainland by the sea makes that island biota present spectacular adaptations, sometimes originating giant or dwarf species in comparison with their mainland relatives. In this article, we describe the evolutionary mechanisms behind this phenomenon and talk about some striking examples.

Islands can have a volcanic origin, involving the emergence of virgin lands that will be colonized involving new adaptations to the new conditions. Islands can also have a continental origin, involving the separation of the mainland by tectonic processes and isolation of fauna and flora before connected.

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Volcanic conus aspect in Hawaii. Source: Steve Juverston, via Flickr.

EVOLUTION MECHANISMS ACTING IN ISLANDS

Generation of new species caused by the emergence of a geographic barrier, such as the emergence of a range, changes in sea level or emergence of new islands by tectonic movements is a process known as allopatric speciation and is the main process acting on islands. We can described two kinds of allopatric speciation:

  1. Vicariant speciation: when two populations are separated by a geographic barrier, for example when a piece of land separated from the mainland. An example is the island of Madagascar, that when separated from Africa left the biota of the island isolated from the continent by the sea.
  2. Peripatric speciation: a new population establishes and gets isolated in a new environment by a very small number of individuals from a larger population. This is the case of the colonization of a sterile land, such as oceanic islands. In this case, the individuals that colonize the new environment may not represent the genetic pool of the original population and with time and reproductive isolation; may originate a new species (founder effect).

The great British naturalist and creator of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, insipirated on their findings into the volcanic archipelago of the Galapagos to develop his great theory, paradigm of modern science.

Oceanic islands are formed by exploding volcanoes or movements of the mid-ocean ridge. Due to this volcanic activity, groups of islands are formed, each island having its own history, climate, topography and geology. This creates a perfect scenário to observe how evolution works because each population reaching a new island is affected by different environmental pressures and may never come in contact again with other islands populations, forming unique species, endemic to each island. Many naturalists and scientists have studied the evolution in vivo in volcanic origin archipelagos such as the Hawaiian Islands, Seychelles, Mascarene Islands, Juan Fernandez archipelago or Canary Islands. One of the last islands appeared in the Atlantic Ocean is the Suerty Island, emerged at 1963 30 km southwards of Iceland. Since then, life advent has been studied to understand ecological and evolutionary mechanisms acting in island colonization.

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Suerty Island in eruption, in the south of Island. Source: Wikimedia.

ISLANDS ADAPTATIONS: GIGANTISM AND WOODINESS

Often oceanic islands, present no predators and this triggers the appearance of very curious adaptations. One of the most surprising processes is gigantism in animals or woodiness acquisition in plants.

Woodiness acquisition in islands by herbaceous plants on the continent has been documented in several families and islands around the world. The cause of this phenomenon would be the absence of herbivores and competitors in sterile islands, which would allow developing a greater height willing to reach sunlight.

For example, in Hawaii we found the alliance of the Hawaiian silverswords. It comprises 28 species in three genus (Argyroxiphium, Dubautia and Wilkesia), all woody members of the Asteraceae family or sunflowers. Their closest relatives are perennial herbs in North America.

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Hawaiian silversword aspect from Argyroxiphium genus (left) and their closest relatives in mainland (right), from Raillardella genus. Source: Wikimedia.

In the Canary Islands, there are many examples of this phenomenon. Echium genus of Boraginaceae or borage and forget-me-not family contains about 60 species, of which 27 are located in different islands of volcanic origin in the Macaronesia (Canary Islands, Madeira and Cape Verde). Almost all members of this genus found in Macaronesia are bushes, forming an inflorescence that can reach up to three meters high, being the symbol of the Teide National Park (called tajinastes) while his nearby relatives are Eurasians herbs such as blueweed (Echium vulgare).

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Echium wildpretii (left) in Tenerife and one of its closest relative from mainland (Echium vulgare) on the right. Source: Wikimedia.

Also in the Macaronesia, we find another example in the Euphorbiaceae family. Euphorbia mellifera, endemic to the Canary Islands and Madeira and E. stygiana endemic to Azores are endangered or critically endangered trees according to the IUCN, which can grow up to 15 meters high, being part of the laurisilva vegetation, a subtropical humid forest typical from Macaronesia. Their nearest relatives are Mediterranean herbaceous species.

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Euphorbia mellifera in Maderia (left) and one of his closest relatives from the Mediterraneum basin (right, E. palustris). Source: left Laia Barres González and right Wikimedia.

In the animal kingdom, we also find peculiar adaptations. Herbivorous inhabiting islands usually have no predators or competitors, triggering appearance of larger species than in the mainland, where large carnivores avoid this characteristics incompatibles with hiding or escaping.

One of the most famous examples of island gigantism are the Galapagos giant tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra complex), including about 10 different species, many endemic to a single island of the archipelago. This turtles are the most long-lived and largest in the world. They can reach two meters in length and 450 kg in weight and can live more than 100 years.

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Galapagos giant tourtle. Source: Wikipedia.

Also among the reptiles, there are the Gallotia giant lizards of the Canary Islands. There are several single island endemic species: G. auaritae in La Palma, believed extinct until the discovery of several individuals in 2007, G. bravoana in La Gomera, G. intermedia in Tenerife, G. simonyi in El Hierro and G. stehlini in Gran Canaria, among others. Among the giant lizards of the Canary Islands there is the extinct Gallotia goliath, reaching up to 1 m length and currently being included in the G. simony circumscription.

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Gallotia stehlini in Gran Canaria. Source: El coleccionista de instantes Fotografía & Vídeo via Flickr.

Another example is Flores island in Indonesia, where we found a giant rat (Papagomys armandvillei) doubling the common rat in size. Interestingly, hominid fossils having experiences the contrary process were also found in this island, since it was dwarf primate compared to the Homo sapiens current size. It is Homo floresiensis, who was only 1 meter tall and weighed 25 kg. It became extinct about 50,000 years and coexisted with Homo sapiens.

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Giant rat (Papagomys armandvillei) from Flores. Source: Wikimedia.

Dwarfism is another evolutionary process that may occur on islands caused by the lack of resources in some islands, compared to mainland.

Unfortunately, islands holds a peculiar and unique biota that is suffering from of exploitation and extinction. The islands conservation biology helps to understand and preserve this natural heritage so rich and unique.

Laia-anglès

REFERENCES

Barahona, F.; Evans, S. E.; Mateo, J.A.; García-Márquez, M. & López-Jurado, L.F. 2000. Endemism, gigantism and extinction in island lizards: the genus Gallotia on the Canary Islands. Journal of Zoology 250: 373-388.

Böhle, U.R., Hilger, H.H. & Martin, W.F. 2001. Island colonization and evolution of the insular woody habit in Echium L. (Boraginaceae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 93: 11740-11745.

Carlquist, S.J. 1974. Island biology. New York: Columbia University Press.

 Foster, J.B. 1964. The evolution of mammals on islands. Nature 202: 234–235.

Whittaker, R.J. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. 2007. Island biogeography: ecology, evolution, and conservation, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

The humans have done it again: the Anthropocene, another shameful achievement for mankind

Science books have to be modified again. Joining other famous geological epochs of the Cambrian, Jurassic or Pleistocene another one must be added from now: the Anthropocene. On August 2016 a group of experts confirmed what everyone suspected: mankind have been so interventionist in terrestrial processes that the natural cycle have changed irretrievably. We have already suffering the consequences, and the human footprint on our planet will be present until after our demise

INTRODUCTION

The history of the modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens, was not easy in the beginning. It is believed that we appeared on the Middle Paleolithic, about 200,000 years ago in Africa. In those days humans were already good hunters, but also good preys, and although the species was thriving and spreading across the planet, this was done slowly and always influenced by severe climate changes. It took 100,000 years to leave Africa and anothers 80,000 to reach America. During all that time and until almost the present day, humans being was at the mercy of the Earth and its whims, which decided at will the fate of our ancestors. However, the Ice Age ended, the Holocene began and thereby unprecedented technological advancement. The industrial revolution definitely transformed humans and the way they interact with the world, which suffered the devastating consequences of an ambitious and unaware species about their enormous global influence.

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Humans have been nomadic most of their existence, with a strong dependence on environmental conditions that conditioned their prey. With the agriculture and lifestock the first villages were created, leading to the modern style. Source: Return of Kings.

WHAT IS A GEOLOGICAL TIME AND HOW IT IS POSSIBLE TO ENTER AND LEAVE IT?

At first glance, it may seem a mere syntactical question or a whim of geologists. However, designate a geological time is important when defining long periods of time sharing similar environmental conditions. Normally, a geological period usually lasts no less than 2 million years, and the fossil record is used to find out a major discontinuity in the typical pattern of the biota of that actual period. Therefore, an epoch tend to finish when an abrupt climate change occur (the Pleistocene ends with the last of the great glaciations), leading to changes in the biota (the meteorite that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs caused the end of the Cretaceous period). However, these abrupt changes must be occur globally and in a short space of time to really be considered as a different geological epoch.

geological-time-scale
Earth is divided into periods whichare divided into geological epochs. These periods are marked by relatively stable and / or with a characteristic biota. These epochs are usually finished by events that involve drastic changes for living organisms on a global scale. Source: philipmarshall.net.

THE ANTHROPOCENE

The term is not new (it was used for the first time in the mid XIX century during the industrial revolution) but regained importance in early 2000, thanks to Paul Crutzen. This chemist, together with other colleagues, discovered the compounds that were destroying the ozone layer, which makes him to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In his speech, he had special interest in stressing that the Holocene “was over forever” to make way for the Anthropocene, the age of humans. His article in Nature about the Anthropocene was a reference for many scientists working on projects about environmental problems in the Anthropocene epoche. On August 29, 2016, the expert group of the Anthropocene voted at the International Geological Congress (IGC) to formally establish the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch.

Grinding Shop
The industrial revolution changed the course of Earth forever. Vast amounts of fossil fuels were burned and their products emitted into the atmosphere. The production system took a turn, giving priority to production and thereby to make unprecedented use of the planet’s resources. In the photo, British workers in a factory of agricultural products in 1928. Source: Daily mail.

BUT, WHY ARE WE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE?

As we mentioned before, to change the geological epoch it has to be evident that environmental conditions are changing on a global scale. And that is what is happening since the early 50s of the last century, date in which researchers have officially marked the beginning of the Anthropocene. In this Science article, researchers from around the world gathered geological evidence showing with certainty that mankind has changed the planet severely and it should already talk about another geological era. The researchers also pointed to the products of the many atomic tests of the 50s as the starting point of the Anthropocene.

mushroom-cloud-of-first-hydrogen-bomb-test
The nuclear tests of the 50s, like this one in which the first hydrogen bomb (Ivy Mike) was tested, caused the release of large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. These particles were settled and that has allowed researchers to have evidence in order to demonstrate the impact of human actions on a global scale. Source: CBC.

EVIDENCE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, more than two centuries ago, numerous anthropogenic deposits have been accumulated in the earth’s crust, from new minerals and rocks to aluminum, cement and petroleum products such as plastics. Just after these lines, we show the main evidence put forward by researchers to justify the change of epoch:

High levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), plastics, fertilizers and pesticides in sediments. The burning of oil, coal and other wood products are the source of large amounts of PAHs in the atmosphere, that they just finally end settling in the earth’s crust and living things.Referring to fertilizers, little abundant nutrients in the soil such as nitrogen and phosphorous have doubled in the last century due to the increasing number of crops, many of which following the intensive model to maximize production. Moreover, plastics are already present worldwide. Its high resistance to degradation prevents natural recycling, which causes large quantities to deposit and, especially, to end in the sea, where there are authentic plastic islands, as the Great Pacific garbage patch .

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Plastic is the most widely-product made from oil on Earth. Its impact on the environment is one of the most serious at present, and  global sedimentation leaves traces of our presence until thousands of years after our disappearance. Source: The Guardian.

Radioactive elements of nuclear tests. The detonation of the atomic bomb called Trinity in 1945 in New Mexico (USA), was followed by a long list of other nuclear tests during the Cold War. As a result, large amounts of carbon-14 and plutonium-239, among other molecules, were released into the atmosphere and sedimented years later in many parts of the globe, constituting a proof of the great human impact on Earth.

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This core, extracted by the geologists that have determined that we are in a new era, shows the accumulation of human origin material in the sediments of a lake in Greenland. In it was found pesticides, radioactive nitrogen, heavy metals, increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases and plastics. Source: Science.

High concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere. From 1850 and especially in the following decades, the levels of these gases in the atmosphere broke with the typical pattern of the Holocene, getting itself to achieve, in our century, 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2, an increase of more of 150 points from the pre-industrial situation. This increase in atmospheric CO2 has a direct impact on the temperature of the Earth. It is believed that the global temperature has increased by around 1 ° C since 1900, and will increase between 1.5 and 3.5 ° C by the year 2100.

aumento-co2
This chart shows the unprecedented increase in CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Although CO2 is the best known gas and which has the greatest impact on a large scale, the other two gases have greater power to limit heat dissipation into space. The increase of these gases is closely related to the increase of global temperature. Source: CSIRO.

The increase of the ratio of extinction of living organisms in all parts of the world as a result of human activities. Since 1500 the extinction of species by humans has increased, but is from the XIX century onwards when the extinctions are present in the entire planet. The distribution of species has been disrupted due to human activities such as agriculture and deforestation and the introduction of invasive species, causing changes in the habits of native species and often come to displace and even to extinguish. This unprecedented high extinction ratio is considered by many people as an unmistakable symbol that we are in front of the sixth mass extinction on Earth.

ratio-extincion
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the rate of extinction of vertebrates is 100 times greater than in the past. At this rate, it is estimated that in the following centuries the number of extinct species will reach 75% of the existing ones. The dotted black line in this graph shows the rate of pre-industrialization extinction, while others refer to the cumulative percentage of extinct species since 1500. Source: Science.

FUTURE

Whatever the fate of humanity and future actions undertaken to mitigate climate change, what is clear is that the human footprint will remain indelible in the earth’s surface for millions of years, similar to what occurred after the Permian or Cretaceous mass extincion. The strata will show the follies and excesses carried out by us, perhaps as a warning for the following species that dares to relieve humanity of its status as the dominant species.

REFERENCES

Ricard-anglès

 

Why did change the water colour?

In August of 2016, the news of a green pool at the Olympic Games in Riode Janeiro was published in all media. Everyone was shocked and spokeon the topic, but this phenomenon occurs in nature more often than wethink, for example in  lake Urmia (Iran), lake Clicos (Lanzarote), Lake Hilier (Australia), etc. Would you like to know the reason for these changes?

THE CONCEPT OF EUTROPHICATION

We have heard speak so much about the surprising pool’s colour change of them Games Olympic, but do you know the scientific explanation to this effect?

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The Rio 2016 Olympic Games pool. The color change was apparent and caused by the proliferation of microscopic algae. (Image: Verne. El País).

This phenomenon of change of color  is very common in the nature. It is the eutrophication of  water. This concept makes reference to the proliferation of organisms due to an increase in the concentration of nutrients in water. So understand it easily: an increase of food occurs in water and  resulting in a rise in organisms which modify the characteristics of the water such as color, turbulence, etc.

In water bodies like lakes or swimming pools, this phenomenon is more commonly, but in sea also appear this blooms of organisms (above all phytoplacton).

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Example of eutrophication by algae in a lake. (Image: Radio wtcv)

The main nutrients that influence the eutrophication of lakes are the limiting factors nitrogen and phosphorus. In bodies of sweet water this last is determinant, while in salted water the nitrogen tends to be the limiting factor. A increase of these nutrient’s concentrations  begins the process of eutrophication and proliferation of photosintetic organisms (mostly microalgae and  photosynthetic bacteria as cyanobacteria or archaebacteria as the Holobacterias).

When a lake receive excessive nutrients, all the trophic structure  can change very quickly. Water is too fertilized and photosynthetic organisms proliferate causing an algae or microorganisms bloom.

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Basic diagram of eutrophication (Image: Sachink Biology)

Normally, we speak of  microalgae (phytoplankton) and cyanobacteria blooms, but in certain cases, when the change of nutrients is more drastic (that affects to the composition or chemical characteristics of  water) we can speak of the proliferation of bacteria and Archaea. For example in lake Urmia (Iran), proliferate exponentially the Halobacteria that support large saline concentrations. Due to the low rainfall and continuous extraction ofwater for agriculture, water becomes more salty and impede the life of the majority of organisms and favouring the blooms of the more specialized, as Halobacteria. The red pigmentation arises by the presence of a pigment known as bacteriorhodopsin.

img_cvillalonga_20160730-175846_imagenes_lv_otras_fuentes_lago-kydd-u403578585540yod-992x558lavanguardia-web
Satellite image of lake Urmia (Iran). The change of color is produced by proliferation of bacteria of the family Halobacteriaceae. (Image: La Vanguardia)

The example of Rio’s pool shows the initial stages  of algae bloom. Some lakes, however, are in more advanced stages of eutrophication, as it would be the case of the Clicos Lake in Lanzarote. In this Lake proliferate exponentially the  Ruppia maritima algae.

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Photograph of the Clicos Lake in Lanzarote. (Image: National Geographic)

NATURALANDANTHROPOGENIC EUTROPHICATION

Natural eutrophication process is highly regulated, since it tends to a balance between the inputs (precipitation, runoff, erosion…) and outputs of nutrients. There are three trophic states trophic in lakes: the oligotrophic, the mesotrophic and the eutrophic, depending on certain characteristics of water such as the concentration of nutrients and oxygen, its turbulence, the primary production etc. These states marke ‘age’ of lakes, i.e., a young lake will be oligrotrophic while one older will tend to eutrophication.In the following table we find some differences between these threetrophic states:

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Table with some differences between the different trophic states.

The ecosystems natural present resilience, i.e., capacity to return to the normal state after a sudden disturbance. Even so, with time, the ancient lakes tend to accumulate sediments and organic remains,making finally the Lake in a swamp. This process can last thousands of years.

The anthropogenic eutrophication makes reference to one type of eutrophication caused by humans. Waste water, waters rich in fertilizers and other types of pollution are the main causes of this type of eutrophication. The ecosystem is not capable of eliminating as many nutrients in a balanced way and they tend to accumulate. In this case, the process lasts much less that the natural: as only some decades are sufficient.

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Comparison between the two types of eutrophication. (Image: New Brunswick, Canadá).

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

The eutrophication, however, mark the beginning of the death of ecosystem. But, how?

The increase in nutrient concentrations produces an increase in the proliferation of aquatic plants and algae carried out photosynthesis. Therefore an organism bloom occurs and causes the formation of a barrier in the water. In the surface, the concentration of oxygen is maintained while in deep areas, where the light not penetrates with ease, is produces an increase of aerobic breathing  and decreases the photosynthesis. This process of oxigen consumption  causes that every time has less concentration of this gas and the medium is again anoxic.With enough oxygen, species before peacefully living in the Lake, now will disappear.

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In the diagram you can see the barrier created by the proliferation of algae, leaving the deeper areas in a dark environment without oxygen. (Modified image from SPE International)

On the other hand, a high biological activity  implies a decrease of the dissolution of certain nutrients in the water, causing a change in the pH and salinity of this, conditioning seriously also the habitability of these waters and favoring the proliferation of extremophiles. In addition, the presence of certain algae suppose  the production of toxins that affect negatively to the lake’s native populations  The main toxic cyanobacteria that tend to proliferate easily are Anabaena sp, Cylindrospermopsis sp., Microcystis sp. and Oscillatoria sp. This implies a great loss in the diversity of the area.

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Comparison of diversity in a oligotrophic lake and eutrophic one. (Image: Madrid+d)

Finally, the organic remains of dead organisms accumulate at thebottom of thelake, thus increasing the sediment layer. By time, the volume of water has been reduced significantly,turning the place into a swamp.

·

As in the majority of cases, the actions of the man have serious consequences in the environment. We must avoid the pollution or will lose the great diversity that surrounds us.

REFERENCES

  • Eutrofización. Nestor Mazzeo. (PDF, spanish)
  • Personal notes, Biology degree at UIB.
  • Eutrophication: Causes, Consequences, and Controls in Aquatic Ecosystems. Michael Chislock. Available  here .

  • Cover photo: Axena.

 

Maribel-anglès

The 5 most threatened species by traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has boomed in recent years, thanks to increased purchasing power, especially Chinese Asian middle class. This ancient medicine is based on the concept of vital energy, that invades every corner of the body and organs, and can be acquired through ingested substances, as are parts of various animals. Despite numerous studies, there is no scientific evidence of its benefits to human health. In contrast, there is evidence of an alarming decline in populations of emblematic species such as tigers, rhinos or lions.

INTRODUCTION

3000 years ago emerged, within the Shang Dynasty, a type of medicine that would completely change the life and habits of the Asian people. The basis of traditional Chinese medicine have a strong philosophical component and focus on the concept of ‘Qi’ or vital energy. This energy flows inside the body through channels or meridians, which in turn are connected to organs and bodily functions. The ‘Qi’ regulates the spiritual, physical and emotional balance of the person, and can be altered when the Yin and Yang (negative and positive energy) get unbalanced. This imbalance and alteration of vital energy is what leads to all kinds of diseases.

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According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is not a specific disease, but sick people. Treatment focuses on the affected organ or organs and the whole body, in order to try to restore the balance between Yin,Yang and meridians. Source: Chinatoday.com.

Since ancient times, diseases have been fought with many remedies, many of them derived from animals. Almost any Asian species has been used for traditional medicine, such as cows, wasps, leeches, scorpions, antelopes, sea horses, dogs or snakes. Despite the zero scientific evidence of its benefits, its popularity has been increasing with the population explosion and the purchasing power of Asian countries, especially China and Vietnam. Many ‘new rich’ find in these products a way to distance themselves from other social classes and show off their new lifestyle. As a result, many species are in danger of extinction in the coming decades if nothing is done about it.

In this article we will have a look at the 5 most threatened species by Chinese medicine, and the actions that are being carried out to improve their situation.

THE 5 MOST THREATENED SPECIES BY CHINESE MEDICINE

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

The tiger is undoubtedly the most emblematic and admired animal by traditional Chinese medicine. Practically all its parts has been used, such as its nose, tail, eyes, whiskers, brain, blood and even penis. Each part has been associated with a particular cure. Eating your brain, for example, combat both laziness and pimples, while the eyes are used to treat malaria and epilepsy.

Unlike other animals used for traditional medicine, tiger parts are not only sold to Asian countries like China, Taiwan, Japan or South Korea, but also to occidental countries, even the United States and United Kingdom. In fact, in cities like London, Birmingham or Manchester you can find products that claim to contain tiger bone. The price of tiger bone is between 140 and 370 dollars per kg in the US, while a cup of tiger penis soup (that it is used to increase virility) reaches 320 dollars.

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Wine made of Siberian tiger bones. Wine tiger is one of the emerging threats for the species. This bottle costs about 200 dollars and is sold as a luxury product. Source: Takepart.com.

Although there are only  3,200 tigers in the wild (of the 100,000 existing a century ago), there are countries that contain tigers as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia who have not yet signed the CITES agreement, which means that hunting is still legal. In the airport of Hanoi, for example, it is still possible to buy bones, organs and tiger skins without any difficulty.Te

Despite the ban on trade in tiger bones in China in 1993, the business of the tiger is still a very important business in the country. In fact, as pointed out by the researcher and writer Judit Mills in an interview of Yale Environment 360, from that year the number of tiger farms increased rapidly, reaching, at present, the number of 6000 tigers in these places. Most of these farms are dedicated to the growing business of tiger wine, symbol of high status and wealth among the Chinese population. The tigers are fed like cattle until they are killed to extract their bones, which will be immersed in rice wine. The longer they remain in the broth, the higher the price of the bottles.

Just over a month ago, a scandal involving tigers and traditional medicine splattered the Kanchanaburi Tigers Temple in Thailand. In there, more than 40 dead tiger babies were found in freezers, allegedly in order to deal with them on the black market that involves this mythical species.

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Baby tigers in jars were found in the Temple of the Tigers, in Thailand. It is suspected that the Buddhist temple is behind a web of illegal trade in tiger parts. The temple has been closed and monks are being investigated. Source: El Mundo.

Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)

Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. Yore, bile was extracted once the bear was dead, using its meat as well. However, since 1980 the popularity of this product grew, and a flourishing industry was settled and growing year after year. It is estimated that there are currently more than 12,000 bears in farms bile extraction in China and Vietnam.

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Bear bile from China is sold in Malaysia. In a recent research conducted by TRAFFIC, of the 365 traditional medicine shops present in Malaysia, almost half of them (175) were selling products containing bear bile. Source: TRAFFIC.

Thanks to its high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, bear bile can help to treat liver ailments and bladder. However, the extraction of bile causes to bears an unimaginable damage, both physical and psychological. In most cases, bears are confined in cages whose size is like a phone booth, and are continuously sedated so they do not give problems. Poachers make them a hole in the gallbladder and let it drip in order to extract the bile. This heinous practice is still legal in China, although 87% of the population disagrees with this practice.

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In many cases the animals are born and grow in the same cage, to the extent that their bodies just outlined by the own cage bars. Many lose much of their teeth by gnawing the bars continuously to try to escape, or attempt suicide punching themselves in the stomach. In this sad picture we see a sun bear in an illegal farm in Malaysia. Source: Animalsasia.org.

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

If we look back, it might seem that the situation of the white rhino is excellent. This African species was on the brink of extinction in the early twentieth century, when there were only 100 individuals. Fortunately, thanks to numerous international efforts, the species recovered surprisingly and currently has a population of about 20,000. However, the situation of rhinos is critical again, because of the poachers kill more than a thousand of them every year, which has reignited the alarms for this species.

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A woman prepares tea rhino horn in a cafe in Vietnam. Rhino horn ingested in powder form and is very popular in Vietnam. Among other benefits, it is believed to cure cancer. Source: Marcianosmx.com.

The rhino (the Asian rhino in that time) has been hunted since the dawn of traditional medicine, as there are records of their hunting since 200 B.C. Horns, blood, skin and even urine have been used since ancient times as a remedy for various ailments such as nosebleeds, strokes, seizures and fever. Today, the main goal is his horn, which reaches exorbitant prices on the black market. A rhino horn can reach up to 46,000 euros per kilogram on the Asian black market, which has already been exceeded the price of gold. The business has prospered thanks to this great incentive, the ease of hunting these animals (they are slow, nearsighted and docile) and the lack of vigilance in the countries they live. The main destination for rhino horn is Vietnam, where the belief in their properties is stronger.

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South Africa is by far the country that has more white rhinos (around 90%) and the most affected by illegal hunting. In recent years, hunting has suffered an alarming increase. It surprises and scares simultaneously when comparing the only 13 deaths in 2007 with the nearly 1200 deaths occurred in 2015. Source: TRAFFIC.

Pangolin (family Manidae)

Probably, the hunt that has increased more in recent times is the pangolin hunting, especially in China and Vietnam, its main markes. They are hunted for their meat and scales, wich are used for traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for all kinds of diseases: malaria, anziety,depression, asthma and even cancer. Of course, scientific investigations have found no evidence of health benefits, and it is very unlikey to occur, because their scales are made of keratin, the same material that forms our fingernails and hair, or rhino horns.

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Pangolin scales for sale in Mong La, a tourist city in Myanmar and one of the msin focus on illegal sale of animal parts. One kg of pangolin can be paid at 175 dollars on the black market. Source: TRAFFIC.

Much of the hunted pangolins come from Myanmar, a country that has become, unfortunately, a gateway for most hunted pangolins in Asia or Africa. According to TRAFFIC, in the period from 2010-2014 were seized, only in Myanmar, 4339 kg of pangolin scales and 518 dead bodies. In the Philippines, in April 2013, a fishing boat containing 10,000 kg of pangolin scales was seized, which amount of 20,000 to 25,000 pangolins. With a population in continuous decline, the situation is far from improving. It is no wonder: a hunter, which in many cases has enough to survive, can gain up to 1,000 euros for just a single pangolin.

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Pangolin scales can be prepared and consumed in many different ways, either fried, dried or served with vinegar or sauces. In addition, it is believed that his blood and embryos (as the photo) cure sexual impotence. Source: National Geographic.

Lion (Panthera leo)

Lion has been the latest to join this unfortunate list. It was once one of the most abundant larger cats on the planet, with an estimated population of more than 400,000 individuals in 1950. Nowadays, it is calculated a population of no more than 20,000 individuals, a fact that has placed them in the Red List species in the Vulnerable category.

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Lion bones placed in the sun to dry them. Once they are dry, they will be sent to Laos and Vietnam, where they will be pulverized. A skeleton as above can be cost 75,000 dollars. Source: LionAid.org.

Although the greatest threat for the lion is still habitat loss, the increase of protect measures for tigers in Asia and their low number has placed the lion as a new target for the mafias, as indicated in this 2015 Nature article. In 1995 it was documented for the first time the use of parts of lion in traditional medicine, when it was discovered several typically tiger products containing lion parts. In December 2009 the CITES agreement allowed the export of skeletons lion to Asia. It is estimated that from that date until the end of 2011 more than 1160 bodies of lions were exported, mostly to Laos and Vietnam. The main use of lion bones is to serve as a substitute of tiger bones as a sexual enhancers.

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It is very easy to find products made with bone lion online. Get prices and easy ways to buy online did not cost me more than two minutes. These products, in particular, promise to lengthen the penis and improve sexual potency. Source: Male-sexenhancement.

CURRENT STATUS OF LAWS AND ACTIONS AIMED TO PROTECT ILLEGAL HUNTING OF THESE SPECIES

  • Tiger: Many Asian nations such as China, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have pledged to enact laws that prohibit trade of tiger products, preserving their habitat and form a regional network to stop the tigers trade. Hong Kong, which accounts for almost half of exports of tiger parts, has intensified controls, while Taiwan, thanks to a recent trade control law, conducted numerous seizures, arrests and extensive searches for illegal tiger parts.
  • Asian black bear and sun bear: By mid-2015 it was known that an important pharmaceutical Chinese was working on an alternative synthetic product for bear bile. This product could finally end up with the bear bile farms. However, it is still necessary the total abolition of this practice in China.
  • Rhinos: There is a strong debate about legalizing rhino horn trade in South Africa. Some NGOs believe that this would lead to a fall in prices on the black market, while others argue it would raise the demand and mafias would still control the market. TRAFFIC along with Save the Rhino International launched an awareness campaign in Vietnam to persuade consumers of rhinoceros horn to reject its use. In addition, TRAFFIC got the commitment from the Association of Traditional Medicine of Vietnam to promote the reduction of demand of rhino horns.
  • Pangolin: Trade with pangolins and parts is protected by law in Myanmar, the most affected country by illegal trade. In addition, Asian pangolins are included in Appendix II of CITES, which means that international trade is prohibited. China is increasing control of smuggling pangolin, and has already imposed tough penalties to pangolin traffickers.
  • Lions: They are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which means that trading of its parts is strictly controlled. Farms created for lion hunters are the main supply of bones for Chinese medicine, that means that, for now, this phenomenon is having little impact on wild populations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ricard-anglès

Natura 2000 networking programme, working together to conserve the biodiversity

Environmental conservation, protection and improvement, natural habitats and wildlife included, is one of the priorities of the European Union. Natura 2000 is developed for this purpose, to protect and manage the priority areas allowing their sustainable development.

Natura 2000 Networking Programme, which has areas from Spain to Poland, is now in its 24th successful years and there was a global celebration on 21th May, the European Natura 2000 Day and Natura 2000 Award Ceremony.

WHAT IS NATURA 2000?

Natura 2000 was established by Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE (its aim is to protect the habitats and wildlife) to ensure the biodiversity and reduce the impact of human activities. The program promotes the conservation of the most important species of fauna and flora. To this end, it is established a European ecological network of sites under the Habitats Directive.

This network is necessary because of the destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats for decades. The European Environment Agency confirmed the reduction of some European populations: over 64 endemic species (native to or limited to a certain region) have become extinct, 38% of birds and 45% of butterflies are endangered. In addition, ecosystems are under unprecedented pressure (changes in land uses, fires, infrastructures, urbanisation increasing, increased tourism, among other things): in the last decades, approximately 60 percent of the wetlands have been destroyed.

From this environmental protection standpoint, there are two categories of protected areas:

  • Sites of Community Importance (SCIs): sites which natural habitats or important species under the Habitats Directive. Once the lists of Sites of Community Importance have been adopted, Member States must designate them as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs).
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs): Areas which have birds species listed under the Birds Directive.

In addition, it should be taken in consideration that habitats can be terrestrial or marine in Natura 2000.

LOCATION OF PROTECTED AREAS

The European Union is a rather diverse and varied territory. From the Arctic Polar Circle to Mediterranean, from the Danube Delta to the Canary Islands, it is 4,000,000 km2 with a wide variety of ecosystems and natural landscapes.

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Natura 2000 areas in Spain (Photo: http://www.metrhispanico.com)

Natura 2000 is composed of over 27,000 natural areas of high ecological value in Europe. Sites Natura 2000 and projects in this areas may be consulted on a special website.

NATURA 2000 NETWORK AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN RURAL AREAS

At the beginning, a list of potential areas were presented by members to create the network, but raised several disputes with farmers and landowners to achieve the proposed goals. This slows down the process of developing in Natura 2000 but was demonstrated it is possible to do it without interfering with agricultural and livestock economy.

Natura 2000 Network promotes than nature conservation should be developed with the benefits for people and economy. For this reason, it is not a natural reserve where the human activities are excludes, otherwise new opportunities for compatibles activities with conservation.

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Extraction of salt in wetlands using the traditional methods, Cadiz (Spain) – (Photo: José Manuel Vidal. EFE)

Environmental and economic benefits of the protected areas consist, for example, water availability and the sustanaible agricultural production (supply services), as well as the process which regulate and improve the quality of our air and water, preventing floods and erosion of soils, and mitigate climate change and carbon capture (regulating services).

Natura 2000 offers raw material for many business in relation with the agriculture, farms and craftwork.

Also, the protected areas give cultural services when they do leisure and tourist activities.

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Ornithological tourism in a Natura 2000 Area (Photo: http://www.castillalamancha.es)

 WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?

Fortunately, Natura 2000 grew and the connection between Natura 2000 areas have benefits. According to agreements made in the Rio de Janeiro Summit (United Nations conference declaration on Environment and Development to strike a balance both, Río 1992), the European Union develops instruments to increase the environmental and social responsibility of all sectors of society: integrating the environment into the common agricultural policy, eco-labels and impact studies. Moreover, the Union is increasing the international cooperation for sustainable development.

Natura 2000 Day is celebrated on 21th of May… for many years of cooperation to preserve the biodiversity! A SIMPLE BUTTERFLY, CAN BE CHANGE THE WORLD.

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Natura 2000 Day logo (Photo: SEOBirdlife)

 REFERENCES

Sara de la Rosa Ruiz

Madagascar: a paradise in danger

The country is suffering a great social, political and ecological crisis which is threatening the survival of much of its biodiversity, unique in the world. Selective logging of Madagascar rosewood is causing a biological crisis unprecedented in the country. Lemurs, one of the most affected groups, are treading on thin ice.

INTRODUCTION

When the French botanist Jean-Henri Humbert set foot on the massif of Marojejy for the first time, in 1948, he was so astonished of what he saw that 7 years later he published Une merveille de la nature à Madagascar, a book which exalted the incredible biodiversity and pristine forests present in the region1. The fact is that Marojejy is possibly the best example of the rich and varied fauna and flora that Madagascar holds and, hence, the best indicator to take notice when the island begins to show signs of collapse. Unfortunately, both the region and the whole of Madagascar live days of uncertainty, and the fear of the disappearance of this treasure is becoming more real day after day.

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A silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus) in Marojejy (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).
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The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the largest carnivore in Madagascar, and endemic to the island (Photo: Becker1999).

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has an area of just over the Iberian Peninsula and contains a unique biological wealth. Despite its size and the relative proximity to the African continent, it has remained isolated from other continents since 80 million years ago, causing the local flora and wildlife have evolved independently from the rest. As a result, more than 90% of Madagascar’s species are considered unique in the world2. A 90% of reptiles3, 60% of birds4 and 80% of the island flora5 are endemic, as well as some unique lineages of mammals such as lemurs and fossas. However, all are at imminent risk of extinction due to the events experienced in the country in the recent years.

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Almost 80% of the original forest has already disappeared. A 90% of Madagascar’s endemic species live on the forest (Image: EOI).

CAUSES OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IN THE COUNTRY

Deforestation has been present on the island since its colonization by humans, approximately 2000 years ago. However, in recent years, the delicate political situation in the country has led to their forests to their limits. With an unprecedented population growth, an extreme poverty (one of the highest in the world 6, 7) and a pressing political crisis, the nature of the island is helpless and besieged by multiple fronts. In addition to the traditional system of slash and burn deforestation, which allows local people to open forests to cultivate, it has appeared an unexpected player led by international companies. Selective logging of species of the genus Dalbergia (rosewood), rare in the forests and precious in the developed world due to its characteristic color and the strength of its wood, has become the main threat for the biodiversity of the island. It must be added, to the direct impact that involves the extraction of specific species of forest, resulting threats that can be even more damaging for the biodiversity, such as poaching, opening roads, habitat alteration, introduction of invasive species or intimidation of local populations by criminal organizations that manage the illegal exploitation8.

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Rosewood illegal shipment in the Toamasina’s port, Madagascar (Photo: The Guardian).

Selective logging, present and endemic for decades, took a breather in 2000, thanks to its ban in National Parks. However, due to a deep political crisis occurred in 2009, which ended with a coup d’etat, the situation got out of hand, and criminal organizations took control, entering with impunity in the National Parks of the country9. Many of these National Parks are literally being swept away and looted, and they are nothing more than a mirage of what they were once. Despite the restoration of democracy in 201310 and the promises of the elected president to end the “plague” that selective logging of rosewood was causing to the country11, nothing is being done to fight against poaching.

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Masoala logging camp, storing timber from Masoala National Park (Photo by Toby Smith, National Geographic).

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE BEHIND POACHING?

China is by far, the major importer of illegal timber from Madagascar. The main reasons are the growth of its middle class, which demands new furniture in line with their new standard of living, and the facilities granted by China due to its lax legislation on illegal timber12. A considerable part of this wood is used to make furniture in the style of the Ming Dynasty, which can be sold for $ 20,000. As there is no control on the illegal timber entering to the country, it is impossible to trace their origin. That’s why, in many cases, furniture and musical instruments manufactured in Europe or North America have been made with some or all with illegal timber13.

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French transport company (CMA CMG Delmas) loading illegal timber in Madagascar (Photo: Mongabay).
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Factory processing rosewood timber (Photo by Erik Patel, National Geographic).

BIODIVERSITY IN DANGER

Due to the opening of roads to remove rosewood timber, lemurs and other native species have become the target of poachers. At the beginning of the political crisis of 2009, a huge amount of lemurs and other wildlife were hunted to feed the thousands of loggers who often live in the forest while carrying out the logging. However, later, a luxury market which involved lemurs emerged, supplying restaurants with its meal in the larger cities and selling them as a delicacy.

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Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Simponafotsy, Creative Commons).
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Silky sifakas and white head lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) hunted to be sold as food (Photo: Marojejy Website).
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A red-ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra), critically endangered, lies dead victim of poaching (Photo: Mongabay).

Although the amount of death lemurs at the hands of poachers is unknown, there are many species that are suffering the impact, many of them in serious danger of extinction like the indri lemur -the largest lemur alive-, the Tattersall’s sifaka or the silky sifaka. The latter, has just a population estimated of 300 individuals. The situation of lemurs is so dramatic that a study of 2012 warned that 90% of the 103 species of lemurs should be on the Red List14. In addition, 23 of them should be qualified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat level.

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An indri (Indri indri). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Erik Pattel).
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A Tattersall’s sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli). This specie is Critically Endangered (Photo: Jeff Gibbs).

During this time it has also been an increase of trade of wild animals to serve as exotic pets, mainly affecting chameleons and turtles15, but has also been intensified the smuggling of lemurs16. In fact, a study of 2015 estimated that the number of lemurs captured in freedom for the exotic pet market could reach the creepy number of 28,000 in the last 3 years17.

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A ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) in a pet cage. The smuggling to supply the exotic pet market is decimating its population (Photo: Importance of lemurs).

IS THERE ANY LONG TERM SOLUTION?

There is always a way to make things get better. Here there is some of them:

  • Avoid selective logging of rosewood should be the number one priority to reduce the collateral damage it generates. Since 2011 the Malagasy species of the genus Dalbergia belong to CITES Appendix 3, granting them a greater degree of protection and regulating their trade. However, the controls remain inefficient and wood is coming from Madagascar towards the ports of China. In 2013, CITES urged China to increase controls in ports, but nothing was done about it. As indicated in this 2015 article of The guardian18, illegal timber from Madagascar continues entering in large amounts, because Chinese law allows importing timber without requiring export permits.
  • Effective monitoring forest by independent observers could yield results. In fact, this system has already been implemented in countries such as Cambodia and Cameroon, achieving good results19.
  • DNA fingerprinting is another method that it has recently been used on confiscated ivory to determine which populations of African elephants are being hunted. DNA testing has already been applied recently to track limber in other countries20.
  • Finally, it is necessary that each and every one of us avoid purchasing exotic pets from Madagascar if there is no legal certification that tells us we are not damaging them.

With all these solutions, an increase of public awareness and a greater international responsability regarding environmental problems, it may still has a glimmer of hope for wildlife in Madagascar.

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.marojejy.com/Intro_e.htm
  2. Hobbes & Dolan (2008), p. 517
  3. Okajima, Yasuhisa; Kumazawa, Yoshinori (15 July 2009). “Mitogenomic perspectives into iguanid phylogeny and biogeography: Gondwanan vicariance for the origin of Madagascan oplurines”.Gene(Elsevier441 (1–2): 28–35. doi:1016/j.gene.2008.06.011.PMID 18598742.
  4. Conservation International (2007).“Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands”Biodiversity Hotspots. Conservation International. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  5. Callmander, Martin; et. al (2011). “The endemic and non-endemic vascular flora of Madagascar updated”. Plant Ecology and Evolution144 (2): 121–125. doi:5091/plecevo.2011.513. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  6. http://www.wildmadagascar.org/overview/FAQs/why_is_Madagascar_poor.html
  7. http://allafrica.com/stories/201510070931.html
  8. http://www.marojejy.com/Breves_e.htm
  9. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/08/lessons-from-the-crisis-in-madagascar-an-interview-with-erik-patel/
  10. http://newafricanmagazine.com/madagascar-a-new-political-crisis/
  11. http://news.mongabay.com/2015/09/activist-arrested-while-illegal-loggers-chop-away-at-madagascars-forests/
  12. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/12/major-international-banks-shipping-companies-and-consumers-play-key-role-in-madagascars-logging-crisis/
  13. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100527141957.htm
  14. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-18825901
  15. http://www.ecologiablog.com/post/4016/malasia-se-incauta-de-300-tortugas-en-peligro-de-extincion-procedentes-de-madagascar
  16. http://news.mongabay.com/2009/03/conservation-groups-condemn-open-and-organized-plundering-of-madagascars-natural-resources/
  17. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=AC9F12B7B37BD27ED8538264F7A0B46B.journals?aid=10245472&fileId=S003060531400074X
  18. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/16/rosewood-madagascar-china-illegal-rainforest
  19. http://www.trocaire.org/sites/trocaire/files/resources/policy/2006-forest-monitoring.pdf
  20. http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/20/madagascar_logging_crisis/
  21. Imagen de portada: Alexis Dittberner, n0mad.mu project.

Ricard-anglès

The Arctic: who cares?

The global change is the main threat to the Arctic, due to the increasing temperature is melting their ice coverage. What will be the consequences of this for its fragile ecosystem? Who cares about it?

THE ARCTIC AND ITS IMPORTANCE

The Arctic, one of the few unspoiled areas of the planet, is located in the north pole. Low temperatures in the region (an average of -35°C in winter and 0ºC in summer) are explained by the low insolation due to the inclination of the globe.

Before the industrial age, the permanent ice of the Arctic occupied about 7 million square kilometers (doubling its size in winter), but it is increasingly difficult to maintain that ice in summer. The ice may reach a thickness of 50 meters in winter, dropping to 2 meters in summer.

Before you start, you can enjoy this video with stunning images of the Arctic:

LIFE IN THE ARCTIC

The Arctic offers a wide variety of different environments: ocean, ice sheets, the coastal area, the tundra and some coniferous forests.

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The tundra is most notable terrestrial biome in the Arctic (Picture: Biomas).

This allows the livelihood of many plant and animal species. Only in the Arctic Ocean, it has been described more than 5,000 animal species, some of which are endemic to this area. An estimated 400 species live only in the Arctic region.

Among the best known animals, we find the bowhead whale (Balaenoa mysticetus), a large animal that can live more than 100 years, and the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), cetacean in which males have a very long tusk, used during courtship.

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Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is an endemic animal of the Arctic (Picture: Clarín).

On ice and snow, polar bear (Ursus maritimus), walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) and the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are present.

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Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) is endangered (Picture: Deanimalia).

The Arctic is also home to over 80 species of birds, including the Brünnich’s guillemoth or the king eider; and more than 400 fish.

But undoubtedly, the group that takes the cake are arthropods, with more than 1,500 documented species, although there are also representatives of almost all existing animal phyla.

Este copépodo, de la especie Euaugaptilus hyperboreus, forma parte el zoopláncton ártico (Foto: Poetic Monkey).
This copepod (Euaugaptilus hyperboreus) is part of Arctic zooplankton  (Picture: Poetic Monkey).

THE ARCTIC IS ESSENTIAL TO CLIMATE

The Arctic, along with Antarctica, is like a natural air conditioner on the planet. Therefore, malfunction further enhances the effects of climate change.

The ice cover is responsible for a high percentage of albedo. Albedo is the effect by which a surface reflects part of the solar radiation back into the atmosphere, thus maintaining a lower temperature. Without this effect, the temperatures will be increasingly high.

El hielo es el principal elemento del albedo en la superficie de la Tierra (Foto: US Satellite).
Ice is the key element of albedo in Earth surface (Picture: US Satellite).

The physical processes taking place in the Arctic affect ocean circulation worldwide: during the formation of sea ice, water crystals exclude salt, so that water is increasingly salty. The increase of salinity, along with the low water temperatures, cause the formation of a very dense water mass that sinks to the ocean floor and is transported southward through the thermohaline circulation, responsible for regulating the global climate. Without ice, the thermohaline circulation may be interrupted or weakened, with the consequences that would follow.

La circulación termohalina es responsable del clima a nivel mundial (Foto: Blog de recursos de Cpmc).
The thermohaline circulation is responsible of worldwide climate (Picture: Blog de recursos de Cpmc).

ARCTIC AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Due to the increase in temperature on a global level, the ice covering the Arctic has been reducing. Several reports indicate that this reduction was  about 30% in just two decades. Also, if this trend continues, in twenty years might disappear all Arctic ice, at least during summer. Without ice, many species will have serious problems to survive, such as the polar bear, seals and other pinnipeds.

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(Picture: India Today).

As we have seen, no ice, no albedo; but also if the permanent ice melts, it will cause the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases that are trapped in either the ice or in the frozen Arctic soil (permafrost); providing a positive feedback to climate change.

Some studies suggest that, if the entire Greenland ice melt the average sea level will rise 7 meters.

In addition, increasingly massive algal blooms occur, which sink and cause eutrophication of the ecosystem. The ice thickness reduction allows increasing carbon dioxide in water to penetrate, causing water acidification, which can cause bleaching of coral and shells malformations in animals.

There are many companies that see the melting of the Arctic as a commercial possibility:

  • Obtaining energy resources such as natural gas and oil (for only 3 years, according to experts).
  • Exploitation of mineral resources such as manganese, gold, lead and diamonds.
  • New fishing grounds.
  • New trade routes for shipping and tourism.

Thus, the Arctic is a very fragile ecosystem that we must protect together. Acting locally, we are acting globally.

REFERENCES

  • Broecker, WS (2005). The role of the ocean in climate: Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Eldigio Press
  • El mar a fondo: El agua de mar y las corrientes oceánicas (Guía didáctica).
  • McIntyre, A (2010). Life in the World’s Oceans. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Greenpeace (2013). El Ártico y los efectos del cambio climático en España. Salvar el Ártico es salvar mucho más. Greenpeace.
  • Hutchinson, S & Hawkins, LE (2004). Océanos. Libros Cúpula. Coleccion Biblioteca visual
  • Palacín, B (2010). La creciente importancia el Ártico. Revista Española de Defensa
  • Perrin, WF; Würsig, B & Thewissen, JGM (2009). Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Academic Press (2 ed)
  • Cover picture: Kerstin Langenberger

Difusió-anglès

Disease outbreaks, another effect of climate change?

We know that many infectious diseases depend on climatic factors such as temperature. So, can climate change cause an increase of the outbreaks? Let’s find out!

HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE

 According to some surveys conducted by the Pew Research center, 54% of respondents believe that climate change is a serious problem and their major concerns include drought, intense rainfall and heat. If you are interested in to learn more about this survey, you can find them in the following article.

These changes have a negative effect on human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) expected that between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause some 250,000 additional deaths a year. The effects can be very varied: deaths by  heat, floods, increase in respiratory diseases, stress etc. One of the important health effects is an increase in the transmission of infectious diseases.

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Graphic of impacts of climate change on human health (Photo: CDC)

Infectious diseases are closely related to  environment’s characteristics (such as temperature and humidity). In some cases, these diseases are transmitted by vectors (bats, arthropods, snails, rodents, ticks…). A  temperaturerising  will modified its geographical distribution, seasonality and population size. An example is  the presence of the mosquito Aedes albopictus, known as mosquito tigre, in Spain.

On the other hand, changes in the use of the soil, overcrowding of cities, poor hygienic habits and other socio-economic factors also have an effect in the transmission of certain diseases. For example, deforestation and poor hygiene of the population increases the breeding sites of the mosquitoes, causing an increase in the probability of malaria transmission.

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Human activities may effect diseases transmission rate. (Photo: OMS)

VECTOR DISEASES

Vector diseases are those that are transmitted through a vector animal (whether a mosquito, rodent, tick, snail, bat…). These diseases may be zoonotic (animal to human, as rabies) or antroponotic (among humans, such as malaria or dengue). If you want to know more about the effects of climate change on vector, feel free to access this article.

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Different types of vector diseases. (Photo: OMS)

There are many vector diseases which should be monitored in the coming years, as for example the malaria, dengue fever chikungunya, Boutonneuse etc. Let’s look at the two best known infectious diseases.

MALARIA

This disease is caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium, which is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. There are four different types of malaria, but the most deadly is that caused by the species Plasmodium falciparum.

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Plasmodium falciparum gametocyte. (Photo: CDC)

The WHO estimates that in the year 2013, 198 million people were infected,  584,000 of which died. It is expected that these numbers will increase due to climate change. Temperature rise leads to an increase in the infective period of the mosquito and the modification of vector’s geographical distribution. Possibly in the next few years, if the trend does not change, there will be an increase in the spread of the disease in endemic areas  and will probably resurface in other areas (red areas on the map).

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Estimation of the spread of malaria in 2050 (Photo: Randolph Rogers)

In Spain, the autochthonous malaria was eradicated in 1964. Currently, the spanish cases of malaria are imported from countries with indigenous malaria. Even so, note the geographic situation of our country, the rising temperatures, the presence of a competent vector and the presence of imported parasit, significantly increase the likelihood of disease’s transmission.

DENGUE FEVER

This is a viral disease (caused by viruses of the genus Flavivirus) that is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes of the Aedes genus (including the Tiger mosquito). Dengue fever is a widespread disease in tropical countries, although its suffering geographical changes due to changes in temperature, precipitation and a demographic overcrowding of the cities.

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Structure of dengue fever virus (Photo: César Cabezas)

Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced serious dengue epidemic episodes. In recent decades, the cases have increased sharply. According to WHO estimates, each yerar are produced about 390 million infections,  23%  of which are clinically manifested.

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forecast of the spread of dengue fever in Europe during the twenty-first century. Expressed in nº of cases /100.000 habitants. (Photo: Moha Bouzid)

As in the case of malaria, current climatic variations alter the geographical distribution of the vector. As we can see in the previous map, the predictions for this century, if conditions do not change, are a significant dengue fever cases increase in Northern Europe (lighter areas are potential sites of infection). As we see in the case of Spain, the Mediterranean would be the region that would have more cases of dengue fever.

WATERBORNE DISEASES

Climate change also affects the water cycle. The news about weather disasters (floods, strong drought, torrential rains, hurricanes…) never cease to appear in the media. These climatic variations affect those diseases that are spread by water, either by contamination of the flows, by human migration and low hygiene that exist in certain places of overcrowded cities.

The most known diseases associated with floods and droughts are infections of Cryptosporidium or cholera. Let’s look at this last example.

CHOLERA

Vibrio cholerae is a bacilar bacteria that causes this disease. It is a diarrheal infection that suffer every year between 1.4 and 4.3 million people, 142,000 which end up dying. The transmission of this Bacillus is closely linked to environmental mismanagement. Heavy rains or flooding can cause water pollution, and extreme drought increases the bacterial charge of the existing flows.

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Microphoto of Vibrio cholerae (Photo: Louisa Howard).

During the 19th century, cholera spread across the world from Ganges (India). The last cholera epidemic began, as we can see in the map, in the South of Asia in 1961. Now cholera has been distributed worldwide due above all to human migrations (bacillus carriers), the agglomeration of people in suburban areas without hygiene habits and climate disasters. The WHO estimates that by 2030 there will be 10% more cases due to climate change.

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evolution of last epidemic of cholera (1961-2004). (Photo: IPCC)

It may not be possible to quantify in that measure climate change can affect the transmission of these diseases, since these depend on many other factors (demographic dynamics, immunization, etc.). Is worth mentioning, that the provisions set out in this article are assumptions obtained from current data. That means, that if the mechanisms for the reduction of global climate change works and environmental conditions improve, these data would no longer have any statistical value

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Remember that it is better to be safe than sorry!

Cares for the environment: the Earth is your home. 

REFERENCES

Maribel-anglès

54% of world population considers climate change a very serious problem

Climate change (or global change if we consider that it doesn’t affect only climate) is a very recurrent topic these days. The reason is that on November 30 started the COP21 in Paris, in which more than 190 nations have gathered, and will finish on December 11. Here, instead of talking about the climate evolution or its possible effects, we are going to talk about the results of a survey made by the Pew Research Center about the world population’s opinion on global change. 

ABOUT THE SURVEY

The survey was carried out from March 25 to May 27, 2015, at 45,435 people from 40 countries around the world.

GENERAL CONCERN

The majority of the people surveyed in all 40 nations consider that climate change is a serious problem. In concrete, 54% consider it a very serious problem. Latin America (mainly Brasil, Chile and Peru) and Africa (principally Burkina Faso, Uganda and Ghana) are even more worried than the global average. However, 85% say global change is a serious problem to some extend.

Moreover, 51% hold that this worldwide issue is harming people now (being Latin America, Europe and Africa more concerned than the global median) and another 40% are very worried that climate change will harm them personally in the future (specially in Latin America). 

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Percentage of people very concerned that global climate change will harm them personally (Picture: Pew Research Center, 2015).

What attracts attention is the fact that USA and China, the two countries in the world that produce more dioxide carbon, are among the least concerned. Generally, people from countries that produce more carbon dioxide per capita are less anxious about the climate change. 

WHICH ARE THE BIGGEST FEARS?

In general, 44% of the respondents consider water shortages the major concern and, in fact, is the biggest fear in all regions, followed by sever weather (such as floods or intense storms, 25%), hot weather (14%) and sea level rise (6%).

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Droughts are the biggest concern in all polled nations (Picture: Weather Wiz Kids).

Latin America, Africa and USA are more worried by water shortages than the average, while Asia/Pacific and Europe surpass the average of the concern in severe weather.

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Regional medians of most concerning effects of global climate change (Picture: Pew Research Center, 2015).

HAVE THE PERCEPTIONS CHANGED OVER TIME?

In general, there have been a very little increase in the perception that climate change is a very serious problem. While in 2010 47% of the respondents considered it a very serious problem, in 2015 they are a 49%.

However, in some countries the perception have changed. In some key economies, such as Turkey (reduction of 37%), China (-23%), South Korea (-20%) or Japan (-13%); the number of people saying that climate change is a very serious problem has reduced. On the other side, in Nigeria (an increase of 18%), France (+10%) and in USA (+8%) the concern is now higher.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO DEAL WITH IT?

In 39 of 40 countries (the exception is Pakistan), people consider that their countries should do something to fight against the problem. In specific, 78% of the polled people support the fact that their country should limit greenhouse gas emissions, specially in Europe (a median of 87%) and Latin America (83%).

But this would not be enough. 67% say that people will have to change their lifestyle (mainly Latin Americans and Europeans), while 22% think that thanks to technology the problem will be solved. Probably, a combination of both will be the solution.

Which countries should do more? 54% find that rich countries should do more than the developing ones because they have produced most of the greenhouse gas emissions, while a 38% consider that developing countries should do just as much because they will produce more in the future.

REFERENCES

Difusió-anglès