Earth ChangesS


Saving The Endangered Tasmanian Devil In Australia

University of Adelaide zoologist Dr Jeremy Austin will lead a national project to help save the endangered Tasmanian devil from extinction.

Dr Austin and colleagues from SA Zoos and the Tasmanian Government will spend the next three years establishing a conservation program and working to suppress the infectious cancer, devil facial tumour disease, which is ravaging Australia's largest living marsupial carnivore.
male Tasmanian devil
© University of AdelaideA male Tasmanian devil.

The Tasmanian devil is not only a key tourism icon for Australia's most southern State, but also ecologically critical to Tasmania's native ecosystem.

"Extinction of the species is a possibility within the next two decades unless disease spread can be stopped," says Dr Austin.


Flood toll rises, rains resume in Hanoi

vietnam floods
© AP Photo/Chitose SuzukiPeople struggle to go through a flooded street in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008.
Hanoi, Vietnam - The death toll from several days of flooding in Vietnam rose to 83 on Tuesday as authorities announced they had recovered 17 more bodies.

Disaster officials said they recovered two more bodies in the capital, Hanoi, 12 more in nearby northern provinces, and three more in central Vietnam, areas still suffering from flooding caused by heavy rains last week.

Showers resumed in northern and central Vietnam on Tuesday, and forecasters predicted several more days of rain but said it would be lighter than the downpours that soaked the region over the weekend. The weekend rains in Hanoi were the worst in at least two decades. On Monday, the rains stopped for most of the day and water levels began to recede.


Petal power: How flowering plants conquered the world

Scrambling along a rough mountain trail, I am surrounded by strange trees clinging precariously to the slopes. With their etched and contorted trunks topped by jagged fronds and gaudy orange cones, these are the most bizarre trees I have ever seen.

This is the sacred cycad forest of the Rain Queen, the hereditary ruler of the Balobedu people of Limpopo province in South Africa. Cycads grow here more abundantly than anywhere else on Earth, and the queen is said to use her magical powers to protect them. These strange plants need all the help they can get right now, magical or otherwise, to ward off the unscrupulous collectors that are plundering them. But long before the human threat arrived, the cycads faced a challenge of an altogether greater magnitude.


Coral Bleaching Disturbs Structure Of Fish Communities

There is no longer any shadow of a doubt about the impact of global warming on coral reefs. A rise of a few degrees in sea surface temperature induces the expulsion of essential microscopic algae which live in symbiosis with the coral. This process is the cause of coral bleaching and is well known to scientists, but few large-scale studies have dealt with its effects on the structure of communities of hundreds of species of reef-colonizing fish.
Healthy and dead parts of the same coral
© iStockphotoHealthy and dead parts of the same coral. There is no longer any shadow of a doubt about the impact of global warming on coral reefs. A rise of a few degrees in sea surface temperature induces the expulsion of essential microscopic algae which live in symbiosis with the coral.

Research work reported on recently by an international research team*, including an IRD scientist, brought out evidence of the impact on the fish communities of a mass bleaching event resulting from the 1997-1998 El Niño climatic episode. The investigation was wide in scope, focusing on more than 60 coral reef sites in the Indian Ocean, including nine located in Marine Protected Areas.


World's Rarest Big Cat Gets A Check-up

The world's rarest big cat is alive and well. At least one of them, that is, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who captured and released a female Far Eastern leopard in Russia last week.
 Far Eastern leopard
© Andrew HarringtonNice kitty..."Alyona," a critically endangered Far Eastern leopard being examined by Clay Miller (right) of WCS and John Lewis (left) of Wildlife Vets International who listens for abnormalities of the heart.

The capture was made in Primorsky Krai along the Russian-Chinese border by a team of scientists from WCS and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology and Soils (IBS). The team is evaluating the health and potential effects of inbreeding for this tiny population, which experts believe contains no more than 10-15 females. Other collaborators include: Wildlife Vets International, National Cancer Institute, and the Zoological Society of London.


Inland Ants Often Prefer Salt Over Sugar, Implying Salt May Be A Limitation On Their Activity

Ants prefer salty snacks to sugary ones, at least in inland areas that tend to be salt-poor, according to a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
© Stephen P. Yanoviak, University of Arkansas at Little RockAnts far from the coast are more attracted to a dilute salt (NaCl) solution than to a more concentrated sugar solution, probably because plant-eating ants in salt-poor inland areas are salt-starved.

Ecologists from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and the University of Oklahoma tested the salt versus sugar preferences of ants from North, Central and South America, using ant populations at varying distances from the ocean. While ocean spray and storms can spread salt tens of miles from the coast, areas farther inland are often deprived of salt, and the researchers suspected they might find different taste choices between coastal and inland ants.

Bizarro Earth

Magnitude-6.1 quake shakes Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Anchorage - The U.S. Geological Survey says a significant earthquake has jolted the ocean floor near Alaska's remote Aleutian Islands.

The agency says in a preliminary report that the magnitude-6.1 quake struck the seismically active but sparsely populated island chain at 4:49 a.m. Sunday.

It was centered at a depth of about 39 miles, and 35 miles southwest of the island of Atka, which lies about 1,100 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Cloud Lightning

Recent Hurricane History Provides Diverging Interpretations On Future Of Hurricane Activity

In a paper published in the journal Science, scientists Gabriel A. Vecchi of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Kyle L. Swanson of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Atmospheric Sciences Group and Brian J. Soden from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science teamed up to study hurricane data observed over more than 50 years.
hurricane models
© NOAA GFDLLooking at recent observations leads to two hypothesize that imply vastly different futures; only hypothesis two is consistent with current dynamical understanding, as contained in high-resolution models.

The study explores the relationship between sea surface temperature (SST) and seasonal hurricane activity, and show how differing interpretations of the observational record can imply vastly different futures for Atlantic hurricane activity due to global warming. The two interpretations arise from assumptions of whether it is the local SST in the Atlantic in isolation, or whether it is the SST in the Atlantic 'relative' to the rest of the tropics, that drives variations in Atlantic hurricane activity.


Sea Urchin Yields Key Secret Of Biomineralization

The teeth and bones of mammals, the protective shells of mollusks, and the needle-sharp spines of sea urchins and other marine creatures are made-from-scratch wonders of nature.

Used to crush food, for structural support and for defense, the materials of which shells, teeth and bones are composed are the strongest and most durable in the animal world, and scientists and engineers have long sought to mimic them.
Sea urchin
© iStockphoto/Ronald FernandezSea urchin. The teeth and bones of mammals, the protective shells of mollusks, and the needle-sharp spines of sea urchins and other marine creatures are made-from-scratch wonders of nature.

Now, harnessing the process of biomineralization may be closer to reality as an international team of scientists has detailed a key and previously hidden mechanism to transform amorphous calcium carbonate into calcite, the stuff of seashells. The new insight promises to inform the development of new, superhard materials, microelectronics and micromechanical devices.


Bumblebee Colonies Which Are Fast Learners Are Also Better Able To Fight Off Infection

Bumblebee colonies which are fast learners are also better able to fight off infection, according to scientists from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Leicester.
© Nigel RaineFast learning bees fight off infection.

Dr Nigel Raine from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, and Akram Alghamdi, Ezio Rosato and Eamonn Mallon from the University of Leicester tested the learning performance and immune responses of bumblebees from twelve colonies.

The team tested the ability of 180 bees to learn that yellow flowers provided the biggest nectar rewards, and to ignore blue flowers. To test the evolutionary relationship between learning and immunity, they also took workers from the same colonies and tested their immune response against bacterial infection.