Earth ChangesS

Magic Wand

Scientists find elephant memories may hold key to survival

©Charles Foley
In a recent paper in The Royal Society's Biology Letters, conservationists with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological of London found that the oldest matriarch elephants may retain valuable memories of permanent sources of food and water and their that become crucial in times of drought.

A recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) suggests that old female elephants - and perhaps their memories of distant, life-sustaining sources of food and water - may be the key to survival during the worst of times.

In particular, experienced elephant matriarchs seem to give their family groups an edge in the struggle for survival in periods of famine and drought, according to a recently published paper in The Royal Society's Biology Letters.

"Understanding how elephants and other animal populations react to droughts will be a central component of wildlife management and conservation," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Charles Foley, lead author of the study. "Our findings seem to support the hypothesis that older females with knowledge of distant resources become crucial to the survival of herds during periods of extreme climatic events."


Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis

©Vance Vredenburg
Carcasses of Southern Yellow-legged Frogs in Sixty Lake Basin in Sierra Nevada, California. The frogs died of chytridiomycosis, an amphibian disease caused by a particularly virulent fungus.

Devastating declines of amphibian species around the world are a sign of a biodiversity disaster larger than just frogs, salamanders and their ilk, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet.

"There's no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now," said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. "Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn't. The fact that they're cutting out now should be a lesson for us."


Storms kill 28 in southwest China


Tropical storm Kammuri battered southwest China leaving 28 dead with a further eight people unaccounted for, Xinhua said on Tuesday.

Around a million people are thought to have been affected by floods and landslides as heavy rain and winds smashed China's Yunnan province.

Bizarro Earth

Update: At least 150 dead, missing after storms hit Vietnam

Vietnamese emergency services were Monday seeking to reach isolated and flood-hit northern communities after tropical storm Kammuri left at least 100 people dead and 50 missing over the weekend.

Flash-floods and landslides since Friday have cut major highway and rail links to the mountainous region bordering southern China. The heavy downpours have also knocked over trees and telephone and electricity lines.

Thousands of troops and disaster relief personnel were using trucks and boats to deliver water, food and medicines to residents in flooded villages, with some people stranded on roofs by the murky waters.


How Whales And Other Marine Mammals React To Sonar

NOAA's Fisheries Service, in partnership with top international scientists and the U.S. Navy, has just completed a pioneering research effort in Hawaii to measure the biology and behavior of some of the most poorly understood whales on Earth. During the study, for the first time, scientists attached listening and movement sensors on marine mammals around realistic military operations.

NOAA scientists use tags to photograph and identify individual whales.

Using satellite-linked and underwater listening tags to monitor movement and behavior, NOAA and partnering scientists tagged more than thirty individual marine mammals of four different species. They measured how deep-diving marine mammals feed, interact with one another, dive and respond to sounds in their environment in this pioneering pilot project carried out in conjunction with the Navy's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercises.

Scientists used the naval military exercises, hosted biennially by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, as an opportunity to learn more about deep-diving whales and how they might respond to military sonar in their environment. RIMPAC includes the use of mid-frequency active sonar for anti-submarine warfare training in various areas around Hawaii. Transmissions were not directed at marine mammals for the study. Scientists and the Navy used mitigation measures to minimize exposure to nearby mammals.


Flashback Lightning Strike Sparks Apartment Fire in South Carolina, US

A lightning strike sparked a fire that ripped through a roof at an apartment complex near Clemson University. Lightning hit the attic of the Clemson Place Apartments around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Most of the tenants are university students. Ashley Simmons, who lives downstairs in the building, was at work at the time of the strike. The students who live upstairs are away for the summer.

Simmons came home to find her roof in shambles and many of her belongings were drenched.


US: Second bear attack in Anchorage park

Another Anchorage resident has been mauled by a grizzly bear in a city park popular with joggers and bicyclists. The woman was attacked by the bear Friday evening while jogging in Far North Bicentennial Park. She has not been identified. The woman was attacked by a sow with two cubs.

Rick Sinnott, the area's wildlife biologist, believes it is the same bear that chased a mountain biker earlier this summer and came within inches of harming a cross-country runner in late July. Neither of those people was injured.

Anchorage police say this time the bear caused serious injuries. The woman was bitten on her torso, arm and neck.


Brown Tree Snake Could Mean Guam Will Lose More Than Its Birds

In the last 60 years, brown tree snakes have become the embodiment of the bad things that can happen when invasive species are introduced in places where they have few predators. Unchecked for many years, the snakes caused the extinction of nearly every native bird species on the Pacific island of Guam.

brown tree snake slithers on Guam
©Isaac Chellman
A brown tree snake slithers on Guam.

A variety of other damage has been directly attributed to brown tree snakes, including large population losses among other native animal species in Guam's forests, attacks on children and pets, and electrical power outages.

But new research by University of Washington biologists suggests that indirect impacts might be even farther reaching, possibly changing tree distributions and reducing native tree populations, altering already damaged ecosystems even further.

Arrow Down

Iconic stone arch collapses in a southern Utah National Park

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, Utah - One of the largest and most photographed arches in Arches National Park has collapsed.

Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, said Wall Arch collapsed sometime late Monday or early Tuesday.

Wall Arch
©AP Photo/National Parks Service
his undated image provided by the National Parks Service shows the Wall Arch prior to it's collapse Monday Aug, 4, 2008. One of the largest and most visible arches in Arches National Park collapsed according to park officials. Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, said Wall Arch collapsed sometime late Monday or early Tuesday. The arch is along Devils Garden Trail, one of the most popular in the park. For years, the arch has been a favorite stopping point for photographers. Henderson said the arch was claimed by forces that will eventually destroy others in the park: gravity and erosion.

Cloud Lightning

UK: Weather Eye: multi-coloured lightning strikes a mysterious pose

[The following pictures were taken in South London during a storm.]


There was a magnificent display of lightning on Monday night over much of the southern half of Britain. As the flashes came thick and fast, the West Midlands was hit hard by lightning strikes causing power cuts and fires, while the torrential downpours caused flash floods.