Down To Earth brings you the top happenings in the world of global ecology
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland have found that the Siberian primrose, a plant endemic to the Nordic countries, could become extinct due to global warming.
The plant originated in southern Finland. From there, it spread northwards to the Gulf of Bothnia, an arm of the Baltic Sea and even farther north, to Norway on the Arctic Circle during the last Ice Age, according to a statement by the university.
The primrose specialised in growing on seashore meadows with low vegetation, which in Finland, were formed by the post-glacial isostatic rebound, Marko Hyvärinen, director of the Botany Unit of the Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, was quoted as saying in the statement.
In 2013, researchers at the Universities of Helsinki and Oulu (on the Finnish coast of the Gulf of Bothnia) tried an experiment.
They planted both, the Norwegian and Finnish varieties at five different botanic gardens: in Svanvik, northern Norway and in Oulu, northern Finland, as well as in Rauma and Helsinki further south in Finland and in Tartu, Estonia.
The plants of both varieties fared poorly in Rauma, Helsinki and Tartu while doing well in Oulu and Svanik.
This, the researchers said, was proof that the plant would not be able to survive warming climates.
Researchers at Leipzig create largest plant catalogue
Researchers at Leipzig University and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research had compiled the world’s most comprehensive list of known plant species, a statement by the Centre said.
The list contained 1,315,562 names of vascular plants. It extended the number of recognised plant species and subspecies by some 70,000 – equivalent to about 20 per cent.
The researchers had also clarified 181,000 species names that were not known till now.
The list was the result of more than 10 years of research by the scientists. The team was led by Martin Freiberg, curator of the Botanical Garden of Leipzig University.
The list had been published in the journal Scientific Data.
Before the Leipzig Catalogue of Vascular Plants, The Plant List, a catalogue created by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London was the most important reference source for plant researchers.
York University creates new wheat variety that could tackle global food shortage
Researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom had created a new variety of wheat that increased grain production by up to 12 per cent, a statement by the University said.
The rate of wheat yield increase had been slowing since the Green Revolution and was currently less than one per cent per year, the statement said.
Most improvements were by breeding varieties with higher number of grains. But when researchers tried to increase the size of grains, it was accompanied by a decrease in grain numbers.
The researchers at the University of York had now resolved the issue by modifying the growth of the young developing grain by increasing the amount of a protein that controlled growth rates in plants.
This, the university said, had resulted in plants that produced grain that were up to 12 per cent bigger than in the conventional variety.
In field experiments conducted by the university’s collaborators in Chile, they found that there was no decrease in grain number, resulting in an increase in yield.
New research sheds light on how the Arctic has influenced Antarctica’s ice sheets
New research by Canada’s McGill University has shown that the Antarctic ice sheet was largely moulded in the last 40,000 years by its counterpart in the Arctic.
As climate cooled during the last Ice Age, water became locked up in land ice in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to dropping sea levels in Antarctica. This consequently led to growth of the Antarctic ice sheet.
On the other hand, as the climate warmed during the period of deglaciation, the retreating ice in the Northern Hemisphere led to rising water levels around Antarctica.
This, in turn, drove a retreat of the Antarctic ice sheet.
The research was published November 25 in the journal Nature.
Discarded fishing gear threatens Ganga dolphins, turtles
Waste fishing gear in the Ganga posed a threat to the river’s wildlife including otters, turtles and dolphins, new research led by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom showed.
Entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin, according to the study.
The researchers conducted surveys along the length of the Ganga and found that the levels of waste fishing gear were highest near to the sea.
Fishing nets — all made of plastic — were the most common type of gear found.
The scientists also found that a large number of fishing equipment was being discarded in the river, driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.
The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s Sea to Source: Ganges expedition.
“The Ganga supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry and its impacts on wildlife,” Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, was quoted as saying in a press statement.
“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species,” she added.
The researchers used a list of 21 river species of ‘conservation concern’ identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.
They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganga to estimate which species were most at risk.
Most fisherfolk the scientists interviewed said they discarded fishing equipment as there was no system to recycle them.
They also held the view that the river would clean itself. “So, one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts,” Nelms said.
The researchers also said the study’s findings offered hope for solutions based on ‘circular economy’ — where waste was dramatically reduced by reusing materials.
“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” Heather Koldewey, professor at the university, National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition, said.
“Collection and recycling of nylon 6 has strong potential as a solution because it would cut plastic pollution and provide an income,” she added.
Koldewey said the problem was complex and would require multiple solutions — all of which must work for both local communities and wildlife.
The paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, is entitled Riverine plastic pollution from fisheries: insights from the Ganges River system.
Expect more elephant raids during paddy harvest in Dooars this year
People in north Bengal are on tenterhooks this November as the paddy harvesting season starts. They have reason enough to be so. The region is known for human-elephant conflicts. Add to this, more paddy has been planted this year due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Lakshman Oraon sounds anxious. He is a small-scale paddy farmer from the Patibari division of Jalpaiguri district in the Dooars region of north Bengal.
Oraon said this year, COVID-19 returnees had brought more area under paddy cultivation than usual. “Migrants have not left any space and covered every inch of the ground with paddy. Last year the situation was not like this,” he said.
Paddy farmer Om Narayan from Bagrakote gram panchayat of Jalpaiguri corroborated Oraon’s statement.
He said in his area, 30 per cent of people used to cultivate paddy usually. But this time, it had gone up to 100 per cent due to the lack of jobs during COVID-19. Many workers came back from Kerala and Goa and grew paddy after a gap of seven-eight years.
Nitai Biswas, from the West Bengal forest department, is posted in the Malbazar (a city in Jalpaiguri) wildlife squad. He said there had been an increase in the area under paddy by up to 50 per cent this year. Naturally, the department was expecting conflict cases to rise during the harvest season starting November onwards.
His colleague Rajkumar Sah, the beat officer of Malbazar, said paddy had been sown in riverine areas as well as open spaces adjacent to forests and tea gardens. “We are apprehending electrocution of elephants in paddy fields. To prevent such occurrences, we are conducting community awareness programmes.”
Elephant raids in crop fields are not a new thing in north Bengal, which is interspersed with patchy forests, tea gardens, human habitations and paddy fields.
According to a study published by Souraditya Chakraborty, north Bengal experiences one of the highest levels of human-elephant conflict in Asia.
Another study published in July 2020 in the journal PeerJ, said: “The north Bengal region situated at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas is well known for the severity of human-wildlife conflicts with nearly 500 fatal attacks on humans by elephants in the last 15 years.” In fatal cases, the compensation paid to victims’ families is Rs 400,000.
Sustainable peatland management can prevent future pandemics: Study
Sustainably managing peatlands — peat-swamp forests found around the tropics — can protect humans from future pandemics, according to a new study.
Peatlands were rich in biodiversity, including many potential vertebrate and invertebrate vectors, or carriers of disease, the study said.
These included numerous vertebrates known to represent a risk of spreading zoonotic disease, such as bats, rodents, pangolins and primates. Zoonotic diseases are those that jump from animals to humans.
These areas also faced high levels of habitat disruption such as wild or human-made fires and wildlife harvesting that were perfect conditions for potential zoonotic emerging infectious diseases (EID), it added.
The study gave examples from around the world.
The first reported case of Ebola in 1976 was from a peatland area, as was the most recent outbreak in May 2020, it noted.
The cradle of the HIV/AIDS pandemic was believed to be around Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, another area with extensive peatlands.
Wildlife harvesting for consumption and trade was common in tropical forest nations. For instance, in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, fruit bats were captured in tropical peat-swamp forest areas and transported to local markets for sale as wild meat.
High densities of domestic and semi-wild animals reared on peatlands could also serve as a direct or indirect zoonotic EID vector to humans, the study said.
It gave the example of the predominantly peatland municipality of Palangka Raya in Indonesia. The area had over 1.8 million chickens, according to the Statistics of Palangka Raya Municipality, 2018.
The study also talked about large numbers of naturally cave-roosting edible-nest swiftlets being reared in special buildings in many peatland areas, with most nests exported to China.
Sustainably managing tropical peatlands and their wildlife was important for mitigating the impacts of the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the study said.
The move would also help in reducing the potential for future zoonotic EID emergence and severity, it added.
The study titled Tropical peatlands and their conservation are important in the context of COVID-19 and potential future (zoonotic) disease pandemics was published in the PeerJ journal November 17, 2020.
Cyclone Gati spurs locust outbreak threat in Somalia
Widespread and heavy rains due to Cyclone Gati in Somalia have spurred a threat of a widespread locust outbreak in the east African country.
Gati, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded Somalia, made landfall on November 22, 2020, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast System.
Heavy rainfall due to the cyclone in the East African nation are likely to provide suitable conditions for breeding of locusts and aggravate the crisis, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
“From the second week of December, several waves of swarms can be expected to move south in Somalia and Ethiopia, reaching northern Kenya. Intensive aerial and ground control operations continue in both countries,” said FAO in its forecast November 20.
The locust outbreak of 2019 to early 2020 across several East African countries had posed a serious risk to food security and livelihoods. The three cyclones in 2018 and two in 2019 contributed to the 2020 locust upsurge in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, according to the FAO.
Cyclonic storm Sagar was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Somalia in recorded history before Gati. It was the first named cyclone of the 2018 North Indian Ocean cyclone season.
Tropical Cyclone Pawan, which made landfall in Puntland State of Somalia on December 7, 2019, too, was devastating.
Cyclones are the originators of swarms, according to Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the FAO.
According to him, there is a correlation between the intensification of cyclones in 2018 and 2019 and the locust outbreaks in 2020. He added the cyclones of 2018 and 2019 facilitated origin and breeding of locusts.
Extreme weather events led by climate change, increases in temperature and rainfall over desert areas, as well as strong winds associated with tropical cyclones provide a new environment for pest breeding, development and migration according to a study Climate change and locust outbreak in East Africa published in the journal Nature.
FAO has warned about the threat to southern Somalia from locust swarms in December 2020. Desert locust infestations are expected to continue to threaten crop production and pastureland across Ethiopia and Somalia through at least March 2021, according to GEOGLAM Crop Monitor.
But with Gati, Somalia along with Ethiopia and Kenya may be staring at another cycle of locusts outbreaks in 2021. In early to mid-2021, the acutely food insecure population is likely to rise to over 2.5 million in Somalia.
FAO has, therefore, called for scaled up desert locust surveillance and control operations as the Somali populations are already facing multiple threats to food security: desert locusts, socio-economic impacts of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and a developing drought condition.
According to the meteorologists, Gati strengthened rapidly because it was located in an area of warm water and low wind shear.
The tropical cyclone made landfall in Somalia with sustained winds of around 105 miles per hour. It is the first recorded instance of a hurricane-strength system hitting the country. At one point before the landfall, Gati’s winds were measured at 115 mph.
“Gati is the strongest tropical cyclone that has been recorded in this region of the globe; further south than any category three-equivalent cyclone in the North Indian Ocean,” stated Sam Lillo, a researcher with the NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory.
Its intensification from about 40 mph to 115 mph was “the largest 12-hour increase on record for a tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean,” Lillo added.
Ocean temperatures and wind shear, or the change in wind speed at different levels in the atmosphere, help determine whether a tropical system would develop, gain additional strength or fall apart.
“The system may impact Socotra, Somalia, Yemen and western Oman with heavy rain and flash flooding,” AccuWeather Lead International Meteorologist, Jason Nicholls, said.
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