Some of Australia’s Smallest Species Could Be Lost to Wildfires – By Helen Sullivan – The New York Times

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“SYDNEY, Australia — When Tanya Latty, an entomologist at the University of Sydney, started studying a species of velvet worm 18 months ago, she thought it was just a side project.

“It’s an adorable, adorable animal,” she said, speaking on the phone from her home in Sydney. The worms — which comprise the phylum Onychophora, are cousins of arthropods and somewhat resemble caterpillars — have a “beautiful blue velvety texture” and “cute little stubby antenna,” Dr. Latty said. The worms sleep together in a pile, she noted, and for that reason she and her colleagues have been trying to popularize the phrase “a cuddle of velvet worms” as a collective noun.

Velvet worms are predators; they have pairs of clawed legs down the length of their bodies, and they catch prey using glue shot from nozzles on their heads. Often, a single worm will catch the prey and others will then join the feast. Velvet worms are incredibly social; studying them provides clues to the evolution of social behavior in arthropods. And they give birth to live young, which remain with their parents for a period before shuffling off.

They also happen to live in one of the national parks in the Australian Capital Territory, an area badly affected by the recent wildfires. So far the fires have destroyed more than 40,000 square miles, threatening entire species, costing 26 human lives and exacting billions of dollars in damage. Dr. Latty would not reveal the worms’ exact location; people tend to poach them to sell or keep as pets. But she worried that the rotting logs they inhabit had not protected them from the blazes.”

Killer Slime, Dead Birds, an Expunged Map: The Dirty Secrets of European Farm Subsidies – The New York Times

“In the spring of 2017, a European Union working group of environmentalists, academics and lobbyists was having a technical discussion on green farming practices when a map appeared on an overhead screen. In an instant, the room froze.

A farm lobbyist objected. Officials murmured their disapproval.

The map juxtaposed pollution in northern Italy with the European Union subsidies paid to farmers in the region. The overlap was undeniable and invited a fundamental question: Is the European Union financing the very environmental problems it is trying to solve?

The map was expunged from the group’s final reports, those in attendance say. But using the European Union’s own economic models, The New York Times created an approximation that confirms what European officials did not want seen: The most heavily subsidized areas had the worst pollution.”

Overlapping E.U. subsidies with Italy’s nitrate pollution

E.U. farm subsidies                                                Nitrate pollution

More subsidies                                                     Higher pollution

 Pierre Philippe’s fight began when people and animals started dying on the beaches of northwestern France.

A man’s body was pulled from a pile of green slime. A rider was discovered unconscious beside his dead horse. A beach worker slipped into a coma, and a jogger fatally collapsed.

The reason seemed obvious to Dr. Philippe, an emergency room doctor. Every summer, algae coats the Brittany beaches with bright green slime. As it decomposes, it gives off hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can kill in seconds.

Dr. Philippe tried for years to persuade government health officials to acknowledge the threat, or even discuss it. They refused. “If they recognize the problem, they also indirectly admit responsibility,” he said. “And they know that.”

That’s because talking about the algae meant talking about farming.”

A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths – By Lisa Friedman – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under.

To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.

The state ended its island planning.

The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds.”

David Lindsay:  Thank you Lisa Friedman. The comments are also excellent, though deeply disturging. Here is perhaps my favorite:

froze
Indiana

What this sort of thing concerning bird population drop off is not addressing is that birds are starving for natural food which are insects. The insect population is dramatically down due to insect resistant modified plants and insecticide used on crops. I remember as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s bugs would smear the windshield like crazy while driving through the country, now bugs rarely hit the windshield! This massive decline in bugs is a HUGE reasons the bird population is way down, if the birds don’t have their natural food sources then they won’t survive and won’t have as many fledglings. But no one wants to address this reduction in insects due to insect resistant plants and insecticides because that’s what’s making money for the farmers. And as a side issue, how good is this genetically altered insect resistant crops for humans to eat over the long haul? I have a feeling we’re in for a very bad surprise.

4 Replies172 Recommended

Mystery solved: ocean acidity in the last mass extinction | YaleNews

Heterohelix globulosa fossils
A species of foraminifera called Heterohelix globulosa that were picked and isolated from the K-Pg boundary clay at Geulhemmerberg in the Netherlands. Each fossil measures between 150 and 212 microns.

“A new study led by Yale University confirms a long-held theory about the last great mass extinction event in history and how it affected Earth’s oceans. The findings may also answer questions about how marine life eventually recovered.

The researchers say it is the first direct evidence that the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago coincided with a sharp drop in the pH levels of the oceans — which indicates a rise in ocean acidity.

The study appears in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Cretaceous-Paleogene die-off, also known as the K-Pg mass extinction event, occurred when a meteor slammed into Earth at the end of the Cretaceous period. The impact and its aftereffects killed roughly 75% of the animal and plant species on the planet, including whole groups like the non-avian dinosaurs and ammonites.

For years, people suggested there would have been a decrease in ocean pH because the meteor impact hit sulphur-rich rocks and caused the raining-out of sulphuric acid, but until now no one had any direct evidence to show this happened,” said lead author Michael Henehan, a former Yale scientist who is now at GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany.

Turns out all they had to do was look at the foraminifera.

Pincelli Hull standing next to researcher Michael Henehan, who is looking into a microscope.
Pincelli Hull, assistant professor of geology and geophysics, standing next to researcher Michael Henehan, who is looking into a microscope.

Foraminifera are tiny plankton that grow a calcite shell and have an amazingly complete fossil record going back hundreds of millions of years. Analysis of the chemical composition of foraminifera fossils from before, during, and after the K-Pg event produced a wealth of data about changes in the marine environment over time. Specifically, measurements of boron isotopes in these shells allowed the Yale scientists to detect changes in the ocean’s acidity.”

Source: Mystery solved: ocean acidity in the last mass extinction | YaleNews

David Lindsay
Excess Carbon Dioxide is causing the oceans to acidify in the last 200 years or so, to the point that half of the Great Barrier Reef, is dead. Coral reefs are dying all over the world. This science shows that ocean acidity in the past led to a great die off of aquatic species during the 5th great extinction 66 million years ago.

Opinion | Tennessee Makes Way for the Monarchs – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditWilliam DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — A few years ago I started noticing wildflowers blooming beside the highway: ironweed and goldenrod and snakeroot and black-eyed Susan. The first time it happened the sun was in my eyes as I drove west toward Memphis, and a late summer drought was filling the air with dust motes. For a moment I thought I was imagining flowers where flowers had never been before. A daydream on a lonesome stretch of highway as twilight came on.

There was nothing unusual about the flowers themselves — they’re the plants that commonly bloom along Nashville’s greenways during late summer — but these flowers weren’t in a park or a nature preserve. They were growing right on the interstate median and on the side of the road. I figured the state’s Department of Transportation simply hadn’t gotten around to mowing yet.

Then I started to see the flowers in springtime, too, and all summer. The decision not to mow, it turns out, was deliberate. The Tennessee Department of Transportation — like many other state transportation departments across the country — now practices swath mowing, a strategy that allows wildflowers to bloom unmolested in rural areas till after the first frost. Instead of clearing the entire space between the road and the right-of-way fence, mowers clear only a 16-foot-wide area next to the road.

The mowed swath preserves clear sightlines for drivers while allowing wildflowers to grow in the deep margins between the mowed area and the fence. After the wildflowers have gone to seed, and the seeds have had time to ripen and drop, mowers clear the entire area again to keep trees from becoming established too close to the road. In Tennessee, this plan began as an experimental program in 2013 and now encompasses all rural highways managed by the state. That’s 13,807 miles of blooming flowers across Tennessee.”

A New Timeline of the Day the Dinosaurs Began to Die Out – By Katherine Kornei – The New York Times

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“The giant asteroid’s impact into shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago was bad enough. But then an amalgam of additional disasters ensued: Rocks fell from the sky, wildfires ignited and tsunamis inundated distant shorelines.

It was the beginning of the end of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs ruled the world.

Scientists released a new record of this day of chaos in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. Their timeline of the first day of the Cenozoic Era was developed using high-resolution photography, microscopy, computed tomography imaging and magnetic measurements of hundreds of feet of sedimentary rock recently recovered from Chicxulub, one of the largest impact craters on Earth.

In 2016, researchers drilled deep in waters off the Yucatán Peninsula for the first time into Chicxulub’s peak ring, a circle of mountains within the crater.

This new study, led by Sean P. S. Gulick, a marine geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, focuses on a subset of these cores, which are effectively a 430-foot-long sedimentary rock record of the first day after the asteroid impact.”

This Carnivorous Plant Invaded New York. That May Be Its Only Hope. – The New York Times

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“Across their kayaks, the three men passed the green shoot back and forth. Occasionally, one of them would cradle it in one palm and bring a hand lens to it with the other, inspecting the carnivorous plant that was their bounty.

By day’s end, the group — Seth Cunningham and Michael Tessler, biologists at the American Museum of Natural History, and John Thompson, coordinator of the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership — filled eight vials with the plant, Aldrovanda vesiculosa, also known as the waterwheel.

The plant shouldn’t be in this small, privately owned pond in Orange County, N.Y., and it presents an ecological conundrum.

Around the world, the waterwheel is going extinct. But from summer through late fall, the carnivorous, rootless, wetland-loving plant is plentiful in this swampy body of water near the Catskill Mountains.”

Opinion | The Real China Challenge: Managing Its Decline – The New York Times

Bret Stephens

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

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Sculptures on the campus of the Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, China.CreditCreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

“In 2009, The Economist wrote about an up-and-coming global power: Brazil. Its economy, the magazine suggested, would soon overtake that of France or the U.K. as the world’s fifth largest. São Paulo would be the world’s fifth-richest city. Vast new reserves of offshore oil would provide an added boost, complemented by the country’s robust and sophisticated manufacturing sector.

To illustrate the point, the magazine’s cover featured a picture of Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue taking off from its mountaintop as if it were a rocket.

The rocket never reached orbit. Brazil’s economy is now limping its way out of the worst recession in its history. The murder rate — 175 people per day in 2017 — is at a record high. One former president is in jail, another was impeached. The incoming president is an admirer of the country’s old military dictatorship, only he thinks it should have killed the people it tortured.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first tout as countries of the future.

I thought about The Economist story while reading a deeply reported and thought-provoking series in The Times about another country of the future: China. The phrase “rise of China” has now become so commonplace that we treat it more as a fact of nature than as a prediction of a very familiar sort — one made erroneously about the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ’60s; about Japan in the ’70s and ’80s; and about the European Union in the ’90s and ’00s.”

Source: Opinion | The Real China Challenge: Managing Its Decline – The New York Times

David Lindsay:

Bret Stephens, as my father liked to say, you’re not as dumb as you look.  Thank you for another terrific, mind-bending piece.

I hope your are right, but fear you are wrong. The Chinese appear to be preparing for the future, fighting for our lives and the lives of our grand children against climate change, better than the United States, which is deeply troubling. You do not appear to understand that climate change is rapidly becoming a crisis. Humans are putting 110 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every What.

Take a guess. Every year, month, week, day or hour. Take a guess.

Unfortunately the answer is daily. No wonder the coral and the shellfish are dying all over the oceans. Scientist who study the sixth extinction predict gloomily, that not only are we humans the cause of the sixth extinction, but we will be one of the myriad species that fails during it.

David Lindsay Jr. has written and performs a folk music concert and sing-a-long about Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction.

Why Southeast Asia and Australia’s Coral Reefs Became So Rich in Species – By Steph Yin – NYT

By Steph Yin,  Oct. 17, 2018

“Dive into the coral reefs of Southeast Asia or Australia and you’ll likely spot a wrasse. But which of the hundreds of kinds of wrasses will you see?

These fish can be an inch to more than eight feet in length. They can be skinny like cigars or hefty like footballs. Some are somber-colored; others look like they’re attending a rave. Different species have their own creative feeding strategies: humphead wrasses crush shellfish; tubelip wrasses slurp corals and cleaner wrasses act like carwashes, eating parasites and dead tissue off other sea creatures.

This spectacular diversity stems from wrasse ancestors that migrated from the prehistoric Tethys Sea to the area that now bridges the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There, in a vast and vibrant cradle of coral reefs, they settled and steadily diversified over tens of millions of years.

Their story fits into a larger pattern. This region, the Central Indo-Pacific, has become the hot spot with the most biodiversity in Earth’s oceans because many ancestors of today’s marine life colonized it so long ago, according to a recent paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.”

Source: Why Southeast Asia and Australia’s Coral Reefs Became So Rich in Species – The New York Times

How to Stop Poaching and Protect Endangered Species? Forget the ‘Kingpins’ – by Rachel Nuwer – NYT

By Rachel Nuwer     Sept. 24, 2018

“In 2003, enterprising criminals in Southeast Asia realized that they could exploit a loophole in South Africa’s hunting laws to move rhino horns legally across international borders. Normally, North Americans and Europeans account for the bulk of South Africa’s rhino hunting permits. But that year, 10 Vietnamese “hunters” quietly applied as well.

Hunters are allowed to transport legally obtained trophies across borders under various international and domestic laws. The Vietnamese hunters each returned home with the mounted horn, head or even whole body of a rhino.

Word spread. Though Vietnam and other Asian countries have no history of big-game sport hunting, South Africa was soon inundated with applicants from Asia, who sometimes paid $85,000 or more to shoot a single white rhino.

That represented the beginning of an illicit industry referred to as pseudo-hunting — a first step toward the rhino poaching crisis that rages today. And the story of one of its chief practitioners shows the lengths to which criminals will go to move wildlife contraband.”

Source: How to Stop Poaching and Protect Endangered Species? Forget the ‘Kingpins’ – The New York Times