Earth ChangesS


Birds Can 'Read' Human Gaze

© iStockphoto/Dmitry MaslovWe all know that people sometimes change their behavior when someone is looking their way. Jackdaws --- birds related to crows and ravens with eyes that appear similar to human eyes --- can do the same.
"Jackdaws seem to recognize the eye's role in visual perception, or at the very least they are extremely sensitive to the way that human eyes are oriented," said Auguste von Bayern, formerly of the University of Cambridge and now at the University of Oxford.

When presented with a preferred food, hand-raised jackdaws took significantly longer to retrieve the reward when a person was directing his eyes towards the food than when he was looking away, according to the research team led by Nathan Emery of the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London. The birds hesitated only when the person in question was unfamiliar and thus potentially threatening.

In addition, the birds were able to interpret human communicative gestures, such as gaze alternation and pointing, to help them find hidden food, they found. The birds were unsuccessful in using static cues, including eye gaze or head orientation, in that context.

Bizarro Earth

Urban hunters do most harm to ape populations

© WSPA/K. Ammann/Rex Features Ape parts discovered in markets tell little of how the populations are faring.
Commercial hunters from towns are exacting a much bigger toll on great apes than subsistence hunters from small villages, according to an analysis of ape nest density near human settlements.

The finding that numbers of gorillas and chimpanzees appear to have dwindled twice as much near towns in Gabon than near villages supports a focus on conservation efforts that tackle commercial hunting over those that aim to convince villagers to give up subsistence hunting, says Hjalmar Kühl at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who conducted the study with colleagues.

The team counted sleeping nests left by gorillas and chimps in Gabon's mountainous Moukalaba Doudou National Park. They found that nest density decreased the closer they got to the towns that surround the park. The towns' populations range from 10,000 to 18,000 people.

Although some nests could be found close to the towns, their overall density was only half that seen in the centre of the park. In contrast, the team found no such gradient near smaller villages.


UK: Public asked to take part in largest ever survey of garden amphibians and reptiles

© GettyFrogs spend time in garden ponds when hibernating or breeding
Frogs, newts and other "pond life" found at the bottom of the garden are to be counted in the first UK survey of reptiles and amphibians.

Hundreds of frogs, toads, snakes and lizards can live at the bottom of town and country gardens.

However global warming and development means many species are increasingly at risk. Of the 13 species of amphibians and reptiles native to the UK, 10 are considered endangered including the great crested newt, natterjack toad, adder and pool frog. Other species like grass snakes or common frogs are also suffering from habitat loss.

The national "stock take" of newts, toads, snakes and other traditional "garden pests" has been organised by a network of conservation groups including the British Trust for Ornithology and Froglife.

Black Cat

Kenyan lions being poisoned by pesticides

Kenyan lions
© GettyKenya's lion population is a fifth of what it was in the 1970s
Conservationists call for ban after 'staggering' number of deaths

Conservationists in Kenya are calling for a deadly pesticide to be banned after it was linked to the poisoning of a "staggering" number of lions and other wildlife.

The East African nation famous for its immense game reserves is also home to traditional cattle herders whose livestock often comes under threat from predators such as lions and hyenas. In the past, this has seen lions shot or speared but more recently herders have switched to using deadly chemicals sprinkled over animal carcasses and left as traps for the big cats.

The lion researcher Laurence Frank, from the University of California, said lions were dying at a "staggering rate" with as many as 75 poisoned in the past five years. Combined with other threats including loss of habitat, this could eventually see the lion become extinct, Dr Frank told CBS's 60 Minutes.

Cloud Lightning

Australia's once-in-a-century deluge worsens floods

Floods described as a once-in-a-century deluge have left thousands stranded or isolated on Australia's east coast. Nearly 4,000 people may remain cut off until the weekend, and emergency crews are conducting food and supply drops.

In Queensland, heavy rains and strong winds led to flash floods, blocking roads and causing widespread blackouts. More storms have been forecast. Meanwhile, four areas have been declared disaster zones, with some 70cm (27.6in) of rain recorded in 48 hours.


US: What is that creature?

Largest salamander
© UnknownLocal conservation agent recently investigated a Dunklin County resident's discovery of this animal, Missouri's longest salamander.
"What in the world is that? A snake, eel, possibly a salamander?"

These are the questions that likely traveled through the mind of a Dunklin County resident who recently located a strange looking creature in a ditch positioned in the front yard of his home.

According to local Missouri Department of Conservation Agent, Eric Heuring, he recently visited the area residence to exam the animal and found himself, like the homeowner, in awe.

"After arriving at the residence and taking a look at it, I found myself speechless," Heuring said of the strange find.

It turns out that the once unidentified creature is actually Missouri's longest salamander, a Three-toed Amphiuma, growing to more than 30 inches.

Better Earth

Earth's Population Limit Exceeded

© US Census Bureau Current world population - 6.8bn
Net growth per day - 218,030
Forecast made for 2040 - 9bn
There are already too many people living on Planet Earth, according to one of most influential science advisors in the US government.

Nina Fedoroff told the BBC One Planet programme that humans had exceeded the Earth's "limits of sustainability".

Dr Fedoroff has been the science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state since 2007, initially working with Condoleezza Rice.

Under the new Obama administration, she now advises Hillary Clinton.

"We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can't support many more people," Dr Fedoroff said, stressing the need for humans to become much better at managing "wild lands", and in particular water supplies.


6,000 Rare Dolphins Found in South Asia

© Irrawaddy dolphin Although not considered an acrobatic animal, the Irrawaddy dolphin occasionally leaps into the air.
A huge population of rare dolphins threatened by climate change and fishing nets has been discovered in South Asia.

Researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society estimate that nearly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins, marine mammals that are related to orcas or killer whales, were found living in freshwater regions of Bangladesh's Sundarbans mangrove forest and adjacent waters of the Bay of Bengal.

There has been hardly any marine mammal research done in this area up to this point.

Each discovery of Irrawaddy dolphins is important because scientists do not know how many remain on the planet. Prior to this study, the largest known populations of Irrawaddy dolphins numbered in the low hundreds or less.

Better Earth

Rainforests may pump winds worldwide

© Kim Eijdenberg/Flickr/GettyThe rainforests may be the heart as well as the lungs of the planet.
The acres upon acres of lush tropical forest in the Amazon and tropical Africa are often referred to as the planet's lungs. But what if they are also its heart? This is exactly what a couple of meteorologists claim in a controversial new theory that questions our fundamental understanding of what drives the weather. They believe vast forests generate winds that help pump water around the planet.

If correct, the theory would explain how the deep interiors of forested continents get as much rain as the coast, and how most of Australia turned from forest to desert. It suggests that much of North America could become desert - even without global warming. The idea makes it even more vital that we recognise the crucial role forests play in the well-being of the planet.

Scientists have known for some time that forests recycle rain. Up to half the precipitation falling on a typical tropical rainforest evaporates or transpires from trees. This keeps the air above moist. Ocean winds can spread the moisture to create more rain. But now Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva of the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in Russia say that forests also create winds that pump moisture across continents.

Magic Hat

Best of the Web: Rise of sea levels is 'the greatest lie ever told'

© UnknownComputer-model based political scaremongering, as it turns out
The uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.

If one thing more than any other is used to justify proposals that the world must spend tens of trillions of dollars on combating global warming, it is the belief that we face a disastrous rise in sea levels. The Antarctic and Greenland ice caps will melt, we are told, warming oceans will expand, and the result will be catastrophe.

Although the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only predicts a sea level rise of 59cm (17 inches) by 2100, Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth went much further, talking of 20 feet, and showing computer graphics of cities such as Shanghai and San Francisco half under water. We all know the graphic showing central London in similar plight. As for tiny island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, as Prince Charles likes to tell us and the Archbishop of Canterbury was again parroting last week, they are due to vanish.