Earth ChangesS


Beavers: Dam Good For Songbirds

The songbird has a friend in the beaver. According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the busy beaver's signature dams provide critical habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds, particularly in the semi-arid interior of the Western U.S.
Beaver dam
© iStockphoto/Yenwen LuBeaver dam in Lundy Canyon, Eastern Sierra, California, U.S. The busy beaver's signature dams provide critical habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds, particularly in the semi-arid interior of the West.

The study, which appears in the October 2008 issue of the journal Western North American Naturalist, says that through dam building, beavers create ponds and stimulate growth of diverse streamside vegetation critical for birds, including many migratory songbirds in decline. The study found that the more dams beavers build, the more abundant and diverse local songbirds become.

"We found that increasing density of beaver dams was associated with a diverse and abundant bird community and the wetland and streamside habitat these species depend on," said Hilary Cooke, the study's lead author who is now finishing her dissertation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "This habitat is critical to birds in semi-arid regions yet has been severely degraded or lost through much of the West. Our results suggest that management of beavers may be an important tool for restoring habitat and reversing bird declines."

Bizarro Earth

Mutant fish is hunting humans

Big Mutant Fish
© The SunCaught... Jeremy Wade and locals hold a goonch
Scientists have claimed a fearsome mutant fish has begun actively hunting people - after gorging itself on human corpses which have been dumped in rivers.

They reckon that a huge type of catfish, called a goonch, may have developed a taste for flesh in an Indian river where bodies are dumped after funerals, reports The Sun newspaper.

Cloud Lightning

Norbert becomes Category 4 hurricane in Pacific

Ciudad Obregon, Mexico - Hurricane Norbert strengthened Wednesday into an extremely powerful Category 4 storm off Mexico's Pacific coast and was on track to hit the southern Baja California peninsula over the weekend.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Norbert will likely turn toward the northeast over the next two days en route to the Baja peninsula and Mexican mainland. Officials across the region were setting up shelters and preparing for possible evacuations from low-lying regions.


Future Looks Bleak For One Of World's Smallest Seal Species

One of the smallest seals - the Caspian - has joined a growing list of mammal species in danger of extinction.
Caspian seal
© Simon Goodman, University of Leeds/Caspian International Seal SurveyCaspian seal (Pusa caspica).

Scientists from the University of Leeds together with international partners have documented the disastrous decline of the seal - a species found only in the land-locked waters of the Caspian Sea - in a series of surveys which reveal a 90 per cent drop in numbers in the last 100 years.

The research findings have prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to move the Caspian seal from the Vulnerable category to Endangered on its official IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, announced today in Barcelona [06 October 2008].

Dr Simon Goodman of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences says: "Each female has just one pup a year, so with numbers at such a low levels, every fertile female that dies is a nail in the coffin of the species. We're hoping that the seal's change in Red List status will help raise awareness about their plight, and the many important conservation issues facing the whole Caspian ecosystem."

Commercial hunting, habitat degradation, disease, pollution and drowning in fishing nets have caused the population of the seal collapse from more than 1 million at the start of the 20th century to around 100,000 today.


Arctic Soil May Contain Nearly Twice Greenhouse-Gas Producing Material Than Previously Estimated

Frozen arctic soil contains nearly twice the greenhouse-gas-producing organic material as was previously estimated, according to recently published research by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists.
Chien-Lu Ping
© UAF School of Natural Resources & Agricultural SciencesChien-Lu Ping conducting soil tests.

School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences professor Chien-Lu Ping published his latest findings in Nature Geoscience. Wielding jackhammers, Ping and a team of scientists dug down more than one meter into the permafrost to take soil samples from more than 100 sites throughout Alaska. Previous research had sampled to about 40 centimeters deep.

After analyzing the samples, the research team discovered a previously undocumented layer of organic matter on top of and in the upper part of permafrost, ranging from 60 to 120 centimeters deep. This deep layer of organic matter first accumulates on the tundra surface and is buried during the churning freeze and thaw cycles that characterize the turbulent arctic landscape.


Deepest-living Fishes Caught On Camera For First Time

Scientists filming in one of the world's deepest ocean trenches have found groups of highly sociable snailfish swarming over their bait, nearly five miles (7700 metres) beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. This is the first time cameras have been sent to this depth.
© Natural Environment Research Council and University of AberdeenSnailfish

'We got some absolutely amazing footage from 7700 metres. More fish than we or anyone in the world would ever have thought possible at these depths,' says project leader Dr Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, on board the Japanese research ship the Hakuho-Maru.

'It's incredible. These videos vastly exceed all our expectations from this research. We thought the deepest fishes would be motionless, solitary, fragile individuals eking out an existence in a food-sparse environment,' says Professor Monty Priede, director of Oceanlab.

Bizarro Earth

Arctic quake sends waves through Nevada

North Fork - Scientists say what appeared to be an earthquake in northeastern Nevada was actually a seismograph picking up waves from an earlier quake in the Arctic Ocean.

A preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey said a magnitude-4.2 temblor centered about 18 miles west of North Fork shook Elko County at 3:07 a.m. Tuesday.

USGS geophysicist Jessica Sigala says a seismologist reviewed the record and determined that phases from a magnitude-5.8 quake in the Arctic Ocean seven minutes earlier had been wrongly interpreted by a seismograph as a local quake.


Indonesians warned to stay away from erupting volcano

Jakarta - People living in the shadow of Mount Soputan volcano on Indonesia's Sulawesi island were warned to stay away Tuesday after it started erupting with smoke and flame, officials said.

"There's no order to evacuate but people are asked to stay outside a radius of four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the volcano's summit because it could spew lava and heat clouds down its slopes," volcanologist Sandi said.


Volcano activity and fears of eruption rise

Volcano Nevado del Huila in southeast Colombia displayed prolonged "seismicity" last weekend, causing alarm to the inhabitants of the surrounded urban and rural zones.

Small eruptive chains that normally produce 400 movements were even more active this weekend, said Jair Cardoso, member of the local Attention, Prevention and Disasters Committee, according to El País. He did not say how many were registered.

The volcano has ejected only mud and ashes so far, but a large eruption at any moment, or at least more solid materials, that would leave disastrous results.

Authorities maintain a yellow alert in the zone, but will raise it to orange if the situation continues.


'Deadly Dozen' Reports Diseases Worsened By Climate Change

Western lowland gorillas
© Thomas Breuer/Wildlife Conservation Society-Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyWestern lowland gorillas and Ebola: There is significant evidence that outbreaks of Ebola in western lowland gorillas and other primates--including humans--are related to unusual variations in rainfall/dry season patterns, potentially caused by climate change.
Health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society have released a report that lists 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions as a result of climate change, with potential impacts to both human and wildlife health and global economies. Called The Deadly Dozen: Wildlife Diseases in the Age of Climate Change, the new report provides examples of diseases that could spread as a result of changes in temperatures and precipitation levels.

The best defense, according to the report's authors, is a good offense in the form of wildlife monitoring to detect how these diseases are moving so health professionals can learn and prepare to mitigate their impact.