The world's great deserts were formed by natural processes interacting over long intervals of time. During most of these times, deserts have grown and shrunk independent of human activities.
Paleodeserts, large sand seas now inactive because they are stabilized by vegetation, extend well beyond the present margins of core deserts, such as the Sahara. In some regions, deserts are separated sharply from surrounding, less arid areas by mountains and other contrasting landforms that reflect basic structural differences in the regional geology. In other areas, desert fringes form a gradual transition from a dry to a more humid environment, making it more difficult to define the desert border.
These transition zones have very fragile, delicately balanced ecosystems. Desert fringes often are a mosaic of microclimates. Small hollows support vegetation that picks up heat from the hot winds and protects the land from the prevailing winds. After rainfall the vegetated areas are distinctly cooler than the surroundings. In these marginal areas, human activity may stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limit, resulting in degradation of the land. By pounding the soil with their hooves, livestock compact the substrate, increase the proportion of fine material, and reduce the percolation rate of the soil, thus encouraging erosion by wind and water. Grazing and the collection of firewood reduces or eliminates plants that help to bind the soil.
This degradation of formerly productive land, desertification, is a complex process. It involves multiple causes, and it proceeds at varying rates in different climates. Desertification may intensify a general climatic trend toward greater aridity, or it may initiate a change in local climate.
Desertification does not occur in linear, easily mappable patterns. Deserts advance erratically, forming patches on their borders. Areas far from natural deserts can degrade quickly to barren soil, rock, or sand through poor land management. The presence of a nearby desert has no direct relationship to desertification.
Unfortunately, an area undergoing desertification is brought to public attention only after the process is well underway. Often little or no data are available to indicate the previous state of the ecosystem or the rate of degradation.
Scientists still question whether desertification, as a process of global change, is permanent or how and when it can be halted or reversed.
Desertification became well known in the 1930's, when parts of the Great Plains in the United States turned into the "Dust Bowl" as a result of drought and poor practices in farming, although the term itself was not used until almost 1950. During the dust bowl period, millions of people were forced to abandon their farms and livelihoods. Greatly improved methods of agriculture and land and water management in the Great Plains have prevented that disaster from recurring, but desertification presently affects millions of people in almost every continent.
Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands has accelerated desertification. In some areas, nomads moving to less arid areas disrupt the local ecosystem and increase the rate of erosion of the land. Nomads are trying to escape the desert, but because of their land-use practices, they are bringing the desert with them.
It is a misconception that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. Continued land abuse during droughts, however, increases land degradation. By 1973, the drought that began in 1968 in the Sahel of West Africa and the land-use practices there had caused the deaths of more than 100,000 people and 12 million cattle, as well as the disruption of social organizations from villages to the national level.
In 1988 Ridley Nelson pointed out in an important scientific paper that off-road vehicles significantly increase soil loss in the delicate desert environment of the western United States. In a few seconds, soils that took hundreds of years to develop can be destroyed.
While desertification has received tremendous publicity by the political and news media, there are still many things that we don't know about the degradation of productive lands and the expansion of deserts. The desertification problem and processes are not clearly defined. There is no consensus among researchers as to the specific causes, extent, or degree of desertification. Contrary to many popular reports, desertification is actually a subtle and complex process of deterioration that may often be reversible.
In the last 25 years, satellites have begun to provide the global monitoring necessary for improving our understanding of desertification. Landsat images of the same area, taken several years apart but during the same point in the growing season, may indicate changes in the susceptibility of land to desertification. Studies using Landsat data help demonstrate the impact of people and animals on the Earth. However, other types of remote-sensing systems, land monitoring networks, and global data bases of field observations are needed before the process and problems of desertification will be completely understood.
At the local level, individuals and governments can help to reclaim and protect their lands. In areas of sand dunes, covering the dunes with large boulders or petroleum will interrupt the wind regime near the face of the dunes and prevent the sand from moving. Sand fences are used throughout the Middle East and the United States, in the same way snow fences are used in the north. Placement of straw grids, each up to a square meter in area, will also decrease the surface wind velocity. Shrubs and trees planted within the grids are protected by the straw until they take root. In areas where some water is available for irrigation, shrubs planted on the lower one-third of a dune's windward side will stabilize the dune. This vegetation decreases the wind velocity near the base of the dune and prevents much of the sand from moving. Higher velocity winds at the top of the dune level it off and trees can be planted atop these flattened surfaces.
Oases and farmlands in windy regions can be protected by planting tree fences or grass belts. Sand that manages to pass through the grass belts can be caught in strips of trees planted as wind breaks 50 to 100 meters apart adjacent to the belts. Small plots of trees may also be scattered inside oases to stabilize the area.
On a much larger scale, a "Green Wall," which will eventually stretch more than 5,700 kilometers in length, much longer than the famous Great Wall, is being planted in northeastern China to protect "sandy lands" deserts believed to have been created by human activity.
More efficient use of existing water resources and control of salinization are other effective tools for improving arid lands. New ways are being sought to use surface-water resources such as rain water harvesting or irrigating with seasonal runoff from adjacent highlands. New ways are also being sought to find and tap groundwater resources and to develop more effective ways of irrigating arid and semiarid lands.
Research on the reclamation of deserts also is focusing on discovering proper crop rotation to protect the fragile soil, and on understanding how sand-fixing plants can be adapted to local environments.
If we are to stop and reverse the degradation of arid and semiarid lands, we must understand how and why the rates of climate change, population growth, and food production adversely affect these environments. The most effective intervention can come only from the wise use of the best earth-science information available.
The aquatic biome includes habitats around the world dominated by water. Aquatic ecosystems are divided into two main groups based on their salinity—freshwater habitats and marine habitats.
● Freshwater habitats are aquatic habitats with low levels of salt, less than one percent. They include rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, swamps, wetlands, bogs and lagoons.
● Marine habitats are aquatic habitats with salt concentrations of more than one percent. They include oceans, seas and coral reefs.
Some habitats exist where saltwater and freshwater mix together. These include mud flats, mangroves and salt marshes. Aquatic ecosystems support a diverse assortment of animals including fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and invertebrates.
When evaporated sea water falls as rain, it flows down mountain streams creating rivers and lakes. Rain water feeds freshwater rivers, which then flows back into the sea. Streams, rivers and lakes are home to countless animal species.
The two main types of freshwater habitat are rivers and lakes. Lakes are often fed by streams or rivers. They can also be enclosed areas where species live that are found nowhere else on the planet. Rivers usually contain large animals able to cope with strong currents, as well as animals such as crabs and birds that feed on the fish within the water.
Freshwater rivers provide habitat to a wide variety of species including fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and mammals. An extraordinary number of fish species inhabit streams and rivers.
Freshwater lakes are also home to a vast variety of wildlife. Some species spend their entire lives in one area. Others visit momentarily to eat and drink. Many species are specially adapted to life in particular lakes. Large mammals, including zebras, primates, giraffes and deer, visit lakes to drink.
Many freshwater habitats have been drastically affected by human activities. Chemicals and pesticides contaminate the water, as well as waste water. Animals and plants that inhabit the water can be affected, as are the animals that eat them.
Oceans create the largest habitat in the world. Countless animal species inhabit the planet's oceans which cover over 75% of the earth.
The two main types of ocean habitat are coastal, inshore habitats found around land, and open ocean habitats that stretch around the planet.
More animal species live in the rich, shallower waters than the deep sea, though animals live throughout the oceans.
The ocean landscape is as vast and varied as on land, featuring underwater continental shelves, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, trenches and plains.
Warmer, coastal waters around the globe are home to the majority of species. These areas feature more food sources than the deep ocean. Smaller aquatic animals often inhabit the shallower regions. Coastal waters provide them with a variety of places to hide, with fewer large predators. Larger animals tend to prefer deeper regions beneath the waves along the continental shelves.
Plankton -- microscopic plants and animals, fish eggs and animals in their larvae form -- provide a plentiful food source for many marine animals. Tiny fishes and crustaceans, to the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, feed on this vital food source.
The two largest threats to ocean habitats are over-fishing and pollution. Pollution from the land and air accumulate in the sea with devastating effects to many plant and animal species. Over-fishing threatens many species with extinction.
Coral reefs are the richest habitats on the earth. Found along the coastlines, they provide habitat to countless plant and animal species including fish, reptiles, invertebrates, echinoderms and crustaceans. Coral reefs are located in the tropical and sub-tropical coastal regions where it is always warm, day and night, year-round.
The two main types of coral reef habitats are soft coral reefs and hard coral reefs. Soft corals are animals that move through the water, eventually settling. Hard corals are the reef-building corals that are hard coral shells left behind when corals die.
The largest coral reefs are located along the south-west coast of Africa, in the Caribbean and all around Australia, south-east Asia and the coastal regions of the South Pacific Ocean.
So rich in life and biodiversity, coral reefs are home to an incredible variety animal species able to survive together with little competition for food. Animal species that inhabit coral reefs vary tremendously in shape, size and color. Sea urchins, starfish and crustaceans are invertebrates that call coral reefs home. Sea snakes hunt small fish and eels in the coral reefs. Eels and seahorses are among the many fish species. Sharks do not live permanently in coral reefs, but visit often in search of prey. Sea turtles also make frequent trips to coral reefs in search of food.
The threats to coral reefs and coastline wildlife include commercial fishing, pollution and storms. Dredging involves dragging fishing nets across the sea bed, destroying coral reefs in the process. Many animal species that inhabit coral reefs are on the brink of extinction. Sea storms, such as tsunamis, can also reek havoc on coral reef environments.
Wetlands are found throughout the world, often in more temperate regions where vegetation grows quickly. These large areas of water contain a wealth of plants and are broken up by small islands of land. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, fens and bogs. Many wildlife species are specifically adapted to wetland environments, including fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.
The two main types of shallow watery areas are swamps and wetlands. Swamps are usually located in forested areas. Trees, such as mangrove trees, survive in salt-water conditions and require ample space for their roots. Wetlands are usually near large rivers or estuaries that flood when river banks burst from a lot of rain.
Mangrove swamps are one of the richest habitats on the planet. Numerous animals species live above and below the water's surface. Many animal species that live in mangrove forests are found nowhere else on earth. The mangrove tree's enormous roots provide shelter to small fishes, amphibians and reptiles and provide a way for the animals to get in and out of the water. Larger animals have ample fish to feed on.
Large aquatic birds such as heron spear fish with long beaks in wetland habitats. Salt-water swamps contain snapping turtles, crabs, crocodiles and alligators. Amphibians and reptiles inhabit the water's edge. Many insects live, and lay their eggs, in wetland habitats...providing food for frogs and lizards.
The main threats to wetlands are deforestation and pollution. The animals in wetland habitats are specifically adapted to their environment and are vulnerable to toxins in the water and air.
Islands form when land breaks away from large land masses or volcanoes erupt on the sea floor. They are found throughout the world. Their isolated nature results in unique wildlife species, often different from their counterparts living in mainland habitats. Some island animal species have developed completely separately from mainland species.
Numerous habitats including forests, wetlands, deserts and tundra can be found on different islands. Limited in size and resources, ecosystems on islands are fragile and easily disturbed. Human activity and the introduction of new species on islands has caused much harm, making many species endangered or extinct. With nowhere else for them to go, the loss of habitat or food sources is particularly damaging to island animals.
Lemurs live only on the island of Madagascar, the tree kangaroo only in Papua New Guinea, the kiwi only in New Zealand and the orangutan only on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Separated from the mainland, these species have adapted to their isolated environments. The kiwi and the kakapo birds have adapted to a flightless lifestyle since there were no large predators on the islands to flee from. The introduction of predators by humans threatens their survival. Orangutans suffer from mass deforestation in south-east Asia and the exotic pet trade.
A breaking point has been reached in conserving the fragile habitats of islands. Without immediate action to save these precious ecosystems, many species will be lost forever.
What is a greenhouse? A greenhouse is a house made of glass. It has glass walls and a glass roof. People grow vegetables and flowers and other plants in them. A greenhouse stays warm inside, even during winter. Sunlight shines in and warms the plants and air inside. But the heat is trapped by the glass and can't escape. So during the daylight hours, it gets warmer and warmer inside a greenhouse, and stays pretty warm at night too.
How is Earth a greenhouse? Earth's atmosphere does the same thing as the greenhouse. Gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide do what the roof of a greenhouse does. During the day, the sun shines through the atmosphere. Earth's surface warms up in the sunlight. At night, Earth's surface cools, releasing the heat back into the air. But some of the heat is trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That's what keeps our Earth a warm and cozy 59 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. Greenhouse effect of Earth's atmosphere keeps some of the sun's energy from escaping back into space at night.
You might think 59 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty cold. Or, you might think that's warm. It depends on what you are used to. That temperature would melt all the Arctic ice. Yes, it's colder than 59 degrees in a lot of places, and hotter than 59 degrees in a lot of places, but 59 is the average of all of the places.
If the atmosphere causes too much greenhouse effect, Earth just gets warmer and warmer. The point is, if the greenhouse effect is too strong, Earth gets warmer and warmer. This is what is happening now. Too much greenhouse gases in the air are making the greenhouse effect stronger.
Why can't we just plant more trees? You might well wonder, because, after all, trees—like all plants—take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Well, that might help a little. But, instead of planting more forests, some people are cutting them down and burning them to make more farm land to feed the growing human population. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together, a staggering 51 percent or more.
The ocean also absorbs a lot, but not all, of the excess carbon dioxide in the air. Unfortunately, the increased carbon dioxide in the ocean changes the water, making it more acidic. Ocean creatures don't like acidic water. Bleached out, unhealthy coral are just one example of what acidic water can do.
Don't clouds keep Earth cooler? Water in the atmosphere also acts as a greenhouse gas. The atmosphere contains a lot of water. This water can be in the form of a gas—water vapor—or in the form of a liquid—clouds. Clouds are water vapor that has cooled and condensed back into tiny droplets of liquid water. Water in the clouds holds in some of the heat from Earth's surface. But the bright white tops of clouds also reflect some of the sunlight back to space. So with clouds, some energy from the sun never even reaches Earth's surface. How much the clouds affect the warming or cooling of Earth's surface is one of those tricky questions that scientists are aiming to answer.
Here is a riddle—a serious one, not a joke: As the ocean warms up, more water evaporates into the air. So does more water vapor then mean more warming? And does more warming mean more water vapor? And ‘round and ‘round we go?
At night, clouds trap some of the heat from Earth's surface. Thus, it does not escape back into space. Or, since more water vapor means more clouds, will the fluffy white clouds reflect enough sunlight back into space to make up for the warming? During the day, clouds reflect the sun's energy back to space, before it has a chance to heat Earth's surface.
This cloud riddle has scientists scratching their heads and trying to figure it out.
Coral reef ecosystems are complex, dynamic, and sensitive systems. Although they are geologically robust and have persisted through major climactic shifts, they are however, sensitive to small environmental perturbations over the short-term.
Natural And Human Influences
Slight changes in one component of the ecosystem affect the health of other components. Changes may be attributed to a number of causes but generally fall into two categories, natural disturbances and anthropogenic disturbances. Distinguishing between natural and anthropogenic disturbance is not always simple because the impacts of human actions may not be seen until well after the action has occurred, or may not be seen until it is coupled with a natural disturbance. Also, some events that appear to be natural may have been influenced by human actions. Impacts may be direct or indirect and may be compounded where several occur. For these reasons, it is often difficult to make cause-and-effect linkages when reef degradation is observed.
Coral reef ecosystems are naturally variable and experience natural disturbances that vary on both temporal and spatial scales. Natural disturbance events that affect coral reefs include tropical storms, outbreaks of a coral predators, disease, extended periods of elevated or low water temperatures, and extremely low tides.
Although these events disturb the reefs and may kill a significant amount of coral, they are part of a natural cycle that reefs experience and the reef ecosystem may benefit in other ways. The destruction caused by a hurricane, for example, opens space for reef organisms that had been excluded by larger and longer lived corals. Hurricanes also flush out accumulated sediment within the reef and create more substrate for organisms to settle and grow on.
A healthy reef ecosystem will eventually recover from natural disturbance events. However, when these natural disturbances occur to a reef system that has been impacted by human activities, the reef system may have a reduced or even no capacity to rebound. A natural disturbance acting synergistically with accumulated human impacts may result in destruction that is not reversed in the same time frame it naturally would occur.
Coral reefs around the world have experienced major recent natural disturbances. These natural events may have been influenced by human activities.
A recent World Resources Institute report estimates that nearly 60 percent of the world's reefs are threatened by increasing human activity. The expanding human population and its activities may impact coral reef health in a number of ways.
Development, urbanization, and agriculture lead to increases in freshwater runoff, polluted runoff, sedimentation, and nutrient inputs. Growing industry and automobile usage cause an increase in emissions contributing to the green house effect and chemical deposition from air to water. Commercial and private vessel traffic mean the possibility of fuel leaks or spills, vessel groundings, and anchor damage.
Harvest of reef resources is also taking a toll on the health of coral reef ecosystems.
Overfishing on reefs leads to an unbalanced ecosystem, allowing more competitive or less desirable organisms to become dominant. Fishing methods such as the use of explosives and poisons severely harm reefs and reef organisms.
Harvest of coral skeleton for souvenirs depletes healthy corals or substrate where coral larvae might have settled.
Increased tourism in areas of coral reef habitat contributes to increased pressure from scuba diving, recreational fishing, and vessel traffic.
While some wildlife groups may use media attention to speculate that cats are causing species loss, leading biologists, climate scientists, and environmental watchdogs all agree: endangered species’ fight for survival rests in our own hands.
Focusing on cats diverts attention from the far more dangerous impact of humans. Too many media stories sidestep these realities to focus on sensational issues like cats’ imagined impact on birds. But cats have been a natural part of the landscape for over 10,000 years—that has not changed. What has changed in that time is how we have re-shaped the environment to suit 21st century human needs—at a great cost to the other species that share our ecosystem. Our direct impact on our environment is without a doubt the number one cause of species loss.
Make no mistake—habitat loss is the most critical threat to birds. With this exponential human population growth comes massive use of natural resources and rampant development: industrial activity, logging, farming, suburbanization, mining, road building, and a host of other activities. The impact on species from habitat destruction, pollution, fragmentation, and modification is alarming. According to the World Watch Institute, “people have always modified natural landscapes in the course of finding food, obtaining shelter, and meeting other requirements of daily life. What makes present-day human alteration of habitat the number one problem for birds and other creatures is its unprecedented scale and intensity.”
Human activities are responsible for up to 1.2 billion bird deaths every year. Nearly 100 million birds die annually from collisions with windows; 80 million from collisions with automobiles; 70 million from exposure to pesticides. Millions of birds are intentionally killed by U.S. government-sponsored activities each year.
The human population continues to grow, threatening other species. Exponential population growth has left little land untouched by human development. In America alone, the population grew by 60 million people between 1990 and 2010, and experts predict we will add 23 million more people per decade in the next 30 years. That kind of growth—the equivalent of adding another California and another Texas to our already teeming population—is unprecedented in American history.
Killing cats will not save wildlife. Studies have shown cats to be mainly scavengers, not hunters, feeding mostly on garbage and scraps. When they do hunt, cats prefer rodents and other burrowing animals. Studies of samples from the diets of outdoor cats confirm that common mammals appear three times more often than birds. Additionally, scientists who study predation have shown in mathematical models that when cats, rats, and birds coexist, they find a balance. But when cats are removed, rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely.
Some wildlife organizations and media outlets continue to quote scientific studies that have been proven inaccurate. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife.
Although human civilization and domestic cats co-evolved side by side, the feral cat population was not created by humans. Cats have lived outdoors for a long time. In the thousands of years that cats have lived alongside people, indoor-only cats have only become common in the last 50 or 60 years—a negligible amount of time on an evolutionary scale. They are not new to the environment and they didn’t simply originate from lost pets or negligent animal guardians. Instead, they have a place in the natural landscape.
Being at the top of the food chain is no guarantee of a species survival. Not only are many of these so-called apex predators susceptible to human impacts, they also are slow to recover from them, which makes these animals vulnerable despite their high-ranking ecosystem status.
Ecologists and conservation biologists have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the global decline of apex predators — a group that includes gray wolves, spotted owls, bald eagles, cheetahs, killer whales and sea otters. However, restoration practitioners have met with limited success despite major efforts to recover some of the world’s most charismatic megafauna.
Recovery of apex predators is key because they often provide fundamental services such as disease regulation, the maintenance of biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. To recover apex predators, we must first appreciate that the pathway to predator recovery may differ markedly from the pathway predators initially followed to decline.
New research, conducted by Adrian Stier at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, examines the big picture with regard to predator and ecosystem recovery. Stier worked on the study with colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and University of Florida. The scientists’ comprehensive literature review revealed that full recovery of apex predator populations is currently the exception rather than the rule. In addition to well-known considerations, such as continued exploitation and slow life histories of these species, several under appreciated factors complicate predator recoveries.
Not all predator species are equivalent, so we need to tailor successful recovery strategies based on how these animals are connected to the surrounding ecosystem. The ‘when’ is just as important as ‘what’ with respect to timing predator recoveries. This means designing adaptive sequences of management strategies that embrace key environmental and species interactions as they emerge.
A good example of a successful restoration project is the reintroduction of wolves to the ecosystem in and around Yellowstone National Park. However, reintroducing wolves has not recreated an ecosystem that looks the same as it did pre-1920 when wolves were abundant. While wolves have contributed to a reduced elk population in recent years, lower elk numbers have not been sufficient to restore willows, the region’s dominant woody vegetation on which elk and other animals feed. This in turn has likely limited the recovery of the beaver population, which uses willow as building material for dams in small streams.
Sometimes just reintroducing a species isn’t enough. An ecosystem can morph into a different-looking system that can be relatively stable, and adding in these top predators doesn’t necessarily cause that system to recover back into its original state.
Then again, that may not always be the ultimate goal. Researchers point out that the recovery of apex predators isn’t always well-received, and reintroducing them in an artificial way can be controversial.
Conservation needs can be balanced. We have the opportunity to identify efficient win-win solutions that offer dual prosperity to these majestic carnivores and the human systems within which they are embedded.
Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world's oceans and waterways.
Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. It is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem.
There is no part of the world left untouched by debris and its impacts. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy, and human health.
Most of all, marine debris is preventable.
Anything man-made, including litter and fishing gear, can become marine debris once lost or thrown into the marine environment. The most common materials that make up marine debris are plastics, glass, metal, paper, cloth, rubber, and wood.
Glass, metal, and rubber are similar to plastic in that they are used for a wide range of products. While they can be worn away - broken down into smaller and smaller fragments - they generally do not biodegrade entirely. As these materials are used commonly in our society, their occurrence as marine debris is overwhelming.
Debris typically comes from both land-based and ocean-based sources. Plastics are used in many aspects of daily life and are a big part of our waste stream. Derelict fishing gear refers to nets, lines, crab/shrimp pots, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned, or discarded in the marine environment. Thousands of abandoned and derelict vessels litter ports, waterways and estuaries, creating a threat to navigation, recreation, and the environment.
How does marine debris move and where does it go? Wind, gyres, and ocean currents all impact how marine debris gets around. Floatable marine debris items, once they enter the ocean, are carried via oceanic currents and atmospheric winds. Factors that impact currents and winds, such as El Niño and seasons, also affect the movement of marine debris in the ocean. Debris items can be carried far from their origin, which makes it difficult to determine exactly where an item came from. Oceanic features can also help trap items in debris accumulation zones, often referred to in the media and marine debris community as “garbage patches.”
Wildlife entanglement and ingestion, economic costs, and habitat damage are some impacts of marine debris.
Marine debris is an eyesore along shorelines around the world. It degrades the beauty of the coastal environment and, in many cases, may cause economic loss if an area is a popular tourist destination. Would you want to swim at a beach littered in trash? Coastal communities may not have the resources to continually clean up debris.
Marine debris can scour, break, smother, and otherwise damage important marine habitat, such as coral reefs. Many of these habitats serve as the basis of marine ecosystems and are critical to the survival of many other species.
Wildlife Entanglement and Ghostfishing
One of the most notable types of impacts from marine debris is wildlife entanglement. Derelict nets, ropes, line, or other fishing gear, packing bands, rubber bands, balloon string, six-pack rings, and a variety of marine debris can wrap around marine life. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death.
Many animals, such as sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, have been known to ingest marine debris. The debris item may be mistaken for food and ingested, an animal's natural food (e.g. fish eggs) may be attached to the debris, or the debris item may have been ingested accidentally with other food. Debris ingestion may lead to loss of nutrition, internal injury, intestinal blockage, starvation, and even death.
Vessel Damage and Navigation Hazards
Marine debris can be quite large and difficult to see in the ocean, if it's floating below the water surface. Encounters with marine debris at sea can result in costly vessel damage, either to its structure or through a tangled propeller or clogged intake.
Alien Species Transport
If a marine organism attaches to debris, it can travel hundreds of miles and land on a shoreline where it is non-native. Invasive species can have a devastating impact on local ecosystems and can be costly to eradicate.
Marine debris, especially large and heavy debris, can crush and damage coral.
Wetland conservation is aimed at protecting and preserving areas where water exists at or near the earth's surface, such as swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands cover at least 6% of the earth and have become a focal issue for conservation due to the 'ecosystem services' they provide.
More than three billion people, around half the world’s population, obtain their basic water needs from inland freshwater wetlands. The same number of people rely on rice as their staple food, a crop grown largely in natural and artificial wetlands. In some parts of the world, such as the Kilombero wetland in Tanzania, almost the entire local population relies on wetland cultivation for their livelihoods.
In addition to food, wetlands supply fiber, fuel and medicinal plants. They also provide valuable ecosystems for birds and other aquatic creatures, help reduce the damaging impact of floods, control pollution and regulate the climate. From economic importance, to esthetics, the reasons for conserving wetlands have become numerous over the past few decades.
The main functions performed by wetlands are water filtration, water storage, biological productivity, and habitat for wildlife.
Wetlands aid in water filtration by removing excess nutrients, slowing the water allowing particulates to settle out of the water which can then be absorbed into plant roots. Studies have shown that up to 92% of phosphorus and 95% of nitrogen can be removed from passing water through a wetland. Wetlands also let pollutants settle and stick to soil particles, up to 70% of sediments in runoff. Some wetland plants have even been found with accumulations of heavy metals more than 100,000 times that of the surrounding waters' concentration. Without these functions, the waterways would continually increase their nutrient and pollutant load, leading to an isolated deposit of high concentrations further down the line. An example of such a situation is the Mississippi River’s dead zone, an area where nutrient excess has led to large amounts of surface algae which use up the oxygen and create hypoxic conditions (very low levels of oxygen).
Wetlands can even filter out and absorb harmful bacteria from the water. Their complex food chain hosts various microbes and bacteria, which invertebrates feed on. These invertebrates can filter up to 90% of bacteria out of the water this way.
Wetlands can store approximately 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater per acre. When you combine that with the approximate total acres of wetlands in the United States (107.7 million acres), you get an approximate total of 107.7 - 161.6 million million gallons of floodwater US wetlands can store. By storing and slowing water, wetlands allow groundwater to be recharged. And combining the ability of wetlands to store and slow down water with their ability to filter out sediments, wetlands serve as strong erosion buffers.
Through wetlands ability to absorb nutrients, they are able to be highly biologically productive (able to produce biomass quickly). Freshwater wetlands are even comparable to tropical rainforests in plant productivity. Their ability to efficiently create biomass may become important to the development of alternative energy sources.
While wetlands only cover around 5% of the Conterminous United States’s land surface, they support 31% of the plant species. They also support, through feeding and nesting, up to ½ of the native North American bird species.
Nearly all wetland conservation work is done through one of 4 channels. They consist of easements, land purchase, revolving land and monetary funding. In locations where wildlife habitat has been degraded and the land is for sale, wetland conservation organizations will seek to acquire it. Once purchased, the habitat will be restored and easements will be placed on land to perpetually protect resource values.
The world’s oceans are on the verge of collapse. The overexploitation of fish has tripled since the 1970s, rapidly depleting the seas of fish. About 90 percent of the world’s fish have now been fully or overfished, and a 17 percent increase in production is expected by 2025, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The UN's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) says that the state of the world's marine “resources” is not improving. Almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974. Some 31.4 percent of the commercial wild fish stocks regularly monitored by FAO have been overfished.
The situation in the Mediterranean and Black Sea - where 59% of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels - is alarming. This is especially true for larger fish such as hake, mullet, sole and sea breams. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern.
Globally, fish provide 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans. Some 57 million people are engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.
Fishery products account for one percent of all global merchandise trade in value terms, representing more than nine percent of total agricultural exports.
The depletion of the oceans' fish starts with consumer demand. You can make a difference by eliminating your consumption of seafood. The average person can save 225 fish and 151 shellfish a year by cutting seafood from their diet.
Humans are not the only species to show a strong work ethic and scruples. Researchers have found evidence of conscientiousness in insects, reptiles, birds, fish and other critters.
Attributes such as industriousness, neatness, tenacity, cautiousness and self-discipline have been proven to occur across a broad range of creatures great and small.
Just as in humans, conscientiousness in animals -- which includes working hard, paying attention to detail and striving to do the right thing -- has such evolutionary benefits as giving them an edge in hunting and gathering, attracting mates, procreating and fending off predators.
Honeybees, who are more likely to remove bee carcasses from their hive, have more offspring. Birds who keep their nests tidier are less susceptible to being preyed on. For many bird species, mastering song is key to mating success.
In some bird species, females carefully inspect the display nests that are built by males. Those males that build the best display nests, and that have chosen nesting sites that are well hidden from predators, are more likely to be selected as mates.
UC Berkeley psychologists have divided the conscientious characteristics in animals into two main categories: "order and industriousness," which includes organization and cleanliness, and "achievement striving and competence," which covers mastery and deliberation.
Birds and insects tend to fit into the orderliness category, whereas primates and other mammals fit more squarely into the achievement striving box.
Moreover, researchers say this split is reflected in the "phylogenetic" family tree in which primates and other mammals branched off from birds, reptiles, invertebrates and other species as their personality traits evolved to help them adapt to differing life conditions. Orderly and industrious tendencies appear to have originated in insects and fish, whereas achievement striving and competence may be more closely related to problem-solving, group living, and the complexity of the environment that those animals inhabit.
Among other tools, researchers track animal characteristics using the "Big Five" model, which breaks down personality into the five overarching categories of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Conscientiousness has been recognized throughout the animal kingdom.
Kelp forests grow predominantly on the Pacific Coast, from Alaska and Canada to the waters of Baja California. Tiered like a terrestrial rainforest with a canopy and several layers below, the kelp forests of the eastern Pacific coast are dominated by two canopy-forming, brown macroalgae species, giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana).
Conditions Required for Growth
Kelp forests grow along rocky coastlines in depths of about 2 m to more than 30 m (6 to 90+ ft). Kelp favors nutrient-rich, cool waters that range in temperature from 5o to 20o C (42o to 72o F). These brown algae communities live in clear water conditions through which light penetrates easily.
Kelp recruits most successfully in regions of upwelling (regions where the ocean layers overturn, bringing cool, nutrient-rich bottom waters to the surface) and regions with continuously cold, high-nutrient waters. Because the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen decreases significantly in marine waters warmer than 20oC, kelp experiences reduced or negative growth rates in warm water.
Kelp survival is positively correlated with the strength of the substrate. The larger and stronger the rock on which it is anchored, the greater the chance of kelp survival. Winter storms and high-energy environments easily uproot the kelp and can wash entire plants ashore.
Unique Characteristics of Kelp Plants
Instead of tree-like roots that extend into the substrate, kelp has "anchors" called holdfasts that grip onto rocky substrates. From the holdfasts, kelp plants grow toward the water's surface. Gas bladders called pneumatocysts, another unique feature of kelp, keep the upper portions of the algae afloat. A giant kelp plant has a pneumatocyst at the base of each blade. In contrast, a bull kelp plant has only one pneumatocyst that supports several blades near the water's surface.
Giant kelp is a perennial (it lives for several years) while bull kelp is an annual (it completes its life cycle in one year). Both types of kelp have a two-stage life cycle. They exist in their earliest life stages as spores, released with millions of others from the parent kelp, the sporophyte. The spores grow into a tiny male or female plant called a gametophyte, which produces either sperm or eggs. After fertilization occurs, the embryos may grow into mature plants (sporophytes), completing the life cycle.
Giant kelp can live up to seven years. Factors such as the severity of winter storms may affect its life span. Its average growth (in spring) is 27 cm/day (~10 inches/day), yet it may grow up to 61 cm/day (2 ft/day). The average growth of bull kelp is 10 cm/day (~4 inches/day).
The Kelp Forest Ecosystem
A host of invertebrates, fish, marine mammals, and birds exist in kelp forest environs. From the holdfasts to the surface mats of kelp fronds, the array of habitats on the kelp itself may support thousands of invertebrate individuals, including polychaetes, amphipods, decapods, and ophiuroids.
California sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and whales may feed in the kelp or escape storms or predators in the shelter of kelp. On rare occasions gray whales have been spotted seeking refuge in kelp forests from predatory killer whales. All larger marine life, including birds and mammals, may retreat to kelp during storms or high-energy regimes because the kelp helps to weaken currents and waves.
Perhaps the most familiar image of kelp forests is a picture of a sea otter draped in strands of kelp, gripping a sea urchin on its belly. Both sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus spp.) play critical roles in the stable equilibrium ecosystem. Sea urchins graze kelp and may reach population densities large enough to destroy kelp forests at the rate of 30 feet per month. Urchins move in "herds," and enough urchins may remain in the "barrens" of a former kelp forest to negate any attempt at regrowth. Sea otters, playing a critical role in containing the urchin populations, prey on urchins and thus control the numbers of kelp grazers.
The majority of the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse. Too many boats are chasing too few fish. Many of the fish species currently in decline serve as important food sources for sea animals who, unlike humans, have no other food choices. In the Bering Sea, the effects of overfishing on marine animals are obvious. Fur-seal populations have not increased despite a long-standing ban on commercial hunting. The number of Steller's sea lions, which feed mostly on pollack (the number one ingredient in frozen fish sticks and served by fast food chains), has plunged 80% since the 1970s, and seabirds such as the red-legged kittiwake are also in trouble.
Modern fishing techniques have enabled humans to catch more fish than ever before, and the once seemingly abundant ocean is now being stripped of life.
In addition to the vast numbers of target fish being caught by today's fishermen, there are also non-target casualties. "Bycatch" is the name that fisheries have given to sea life that is caught, yet not wanted at the time. Bycatch may include dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, starfish, or even commercially valuable fish not sought by a particular vessel.
DAMAGING FISHING TECHNIQUES
These are industrial fishing vessels with large-mouthed nets wide enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty lined up end to end. Upon being cast into the ocean, these nets catch just about everything they touch. "Trawling" and "trolling" are sometimes confused, but trolling refers to a vessel towing bait near the surface of the water. With trawling, for every pound of commercial catch, 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch is caught and discarded as waste. As the huge nets drag across the sea floor, they not only capture sea creatures, they literally clear-cut the ocean floor, grinding up coral reefs and other habitats. By removing the organisms that provide shelter for little fish, trawling is not only breaking the food chain, but may also be the underlying cause of the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, which include cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.
These are fishing lines up to 80 miles long, which carry several thousand baited hooks at a time. These may catch swordfish, sablefish and sometimes tuna. Frequently, longlines catch other sea animals including sharks and sea birds. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on longline hooks each year. Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, 3 of which are globally threatened with extinction. About 10% of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines. Sharks have also been severely impacted by longline fishing, often killed just for their fins to be used in soup. Sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
These vessels will surround a school of fish with a large net, which is closed off at the bottom with a cable. This technique can trap an entire school of tuna as well as other fish. In the Eastern Pacific, yellow fin tuna often travel with dolphins (for reasons yet unknown), who are vulnerable to entanglement in purse seines if herded and encircled by the net.
MARINE MAMMAL CONFLICTS
Many marine mammals eat the same fish that humans do. In the past, subsistence cultures that fished only to meet the needs of their villages had few conflicts with marine mammals. Today, commercial fisheries strive to profit by catching as many fish as possible, while marine mammals are perceived as competition. The fish that these marine mammals eat to survive is considered lost industry profit. Too often, many marine mammals become scapegoats for declining fish stocks and are harassed or killed. Other times, certain types of fishing gear inadvertently harms non-target marine mammals.
SEALS & FISHERY CONFLICTS
Fishermen claim that seals are a costly menace, because they damage nets and eat or wound fish that "belong" to the fishermen. Despite the fact that most of the world's fisheries are in trouble due to overfishing, fisheries mismanagement, and pollution, fishermen routinely blame seals for reduced catches. Complaints by fishermen often lead to seal slaughters or "culls," which are crude and cruel attempts to boost fishery yields. However, there is little scientific evidence that seal slaughters help replenish fish stocks. In fact, removing large numbers of seals may actually hurt fish stocks, as other animals usually eaten by seals also eat commercial fish or compete with them for the same food. Additionally, fish eaten by seals account for only a small proportion of the fish that are removed from the marine environment. In some cases, fishermen remove 25 times more than seals, while other fish may eat 30 times more.
OTTERS & SHELLFISH
To stay warm in the North Pacific's cool waters, a 50-pound adult otter will consume a quarter of its body weight each day, which equates to roughly 16 pounds of crab, lobster, urchins, oysters and clams. The shellfish industry of Southern California owes its success to the near eradication of the sea otter by fur traders almost 100 years ago. As the sea otter population is slowly recovering and has begun to reclaim its native range, the shellfish industry has pushed for the enforcement of "otter-free zones." These zones are created when otters are removed from their rightful place in the ecosystem, and relocated to less productive areas where fishermen, and subsequently otters, have little interest. Sea otter relocation efforts are doomed to fail, as otters cannot recognize the invisible line that surrounds an "otter-free zone." Once relocated, otters fail to thrive. Relocation not only disrupts the sea otter social structure, but it increases food competition and causes territorial disputes, which ultimately results in more otter deaths.
DOLPHINS & TUNA
Some species of tuna swim with dolphins. This special relationship has led to the depletion of both species, as fishermen locate tuna by looking for leaping dolphins. Scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins causes harm to their populations and suppresses their recovery. In 1986, before the original "dolphin safe" law went into effect, 133,000 dolphins were reported killed because of tuna fishing. In 1988, thanks to strict guidelines that prohibited the netting of dolphins, deaths were reported at less than 2,000. But in 1999, dolphin protection took a huge step backward. New guidelines have rendered the label meaningless, as tuna companies that encircle dolphins with huge nets are now allowed to label their tuna as "dolphin safe." Tuna are also in trouble from commercial fishing. Within the next few decades, blue fin tuna are expected to reduce to 10% of their historic range. Most blue fin on the market today are juveniles, as nearly all of the adults have been caught. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna populations are also declining.
SEA TURTLES & SHRIMP
All but one of the eight species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and all are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this protection, it is estimated that worldwide 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year -- many in U.S. waters. "Turtle-Safe" shrimp is caught with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which attach to shrimp nets and allow turtles to escape. While sea turtle drownings are almost entirely eliminated by the use of TEDs and are required in U.S. waters, some fishermen disable them because they mistakenly believe that TEDs reduce shrimp catches. Shrimp that is imported to the U.S. is also supposed to be caught with TEDs, however, regulation and compliance of foreign vessels is very questionable. And unfortunately, while TEDs may help protect sea turtles, they are unable to remedy the devastating damage that shrimp nets cause as they drag across the sea floor, destroying critical habitat and food sources for sea turtles and other sea life.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Eliminate or decrease fish from your diet.
Support legislation that sets strict standards for commercial fishing.
Urge National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Refuges to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing within their boundaries.
If you witness a marine mammal being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The toll-free, national phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
If you witness any other wild animals (ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, call your state Fish and Wildlife or Fish and "Game" department listed in the Government section of your local phone book.
When visiting a beach, lake or river, pick up any discarded fishing gear that you see and dispose of it properly.
No other ecosystem in America removes as much carbon from the atmosphere as prairie grasslands. Some carbon that is produced by our giant industrial complex is recycled into the fertile soils that have become a breadbasket for the entire world.
The rolling acres of grassland stretching across the center of the United States are a classic American image. Early European settlers of this eco-region were so impressed by these endless grasslands that they compared them to the ocean, and named their wagons "prairie schooners" after large ships of the time. Less than 4 percent of this once vast prairie grassland survives today.
It is fascinating to note that 80% of prairie plant life is underground. Long tentacled root systems survive grazing, fire and flood to sprout each spring and renew an amazing cycle of life that, due to its low lying subtlety, is often over looked.
The prairie grasslands begin with the Great Plains at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains and extend all the way to the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern part of the country. The Rocky Mountains prevent moist air from moving over the Great Plains, and this "rain shadow" helps to keep the prairie grasslands extremely dry. However, it is not just the lack of rain that makes the prairie a harsh place to live. Twelve thousand years ago, retreating glaciers left behind a flat landscape open to extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. The lack of geographic barriers or cover means that the wind runs rampant across the plains, leading to the "black blizzards" of the 1930s Dust Bowl and continuously endangering agriculture.
Despite these extremes, many plants and animals such as wildflowers, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes make their homes in the prairie grasslands. In addition, small, isolated wetlands dot the dry prairies, providing much-needed water and aquatic habitat for birds.
In the Northern Great Plains, these wetlands formed as the glaciers receded and left round, sunken areas behind them. Rain and groundwater fill these depressions during certain times of year, creating scattered wetland habitat known as "prairie potholes."
The Prairie Pothole Region in the Northern Great Plains contains 5-8 million small wetlands and some of the most important freshwater resources in North America. Bullrushes, sedges, and cattails grow on the edges of these potholes because they prefer standing water, and these plants in turn provide food and shelter for other species, such as birds. More than half of the migratory waterfowl in North America depend on prairie potholes for their survival.
THREATS TO PRAIRIE GRASSLANDS
Human activity has damaged many Great Plains habitats, primarily through agricultural and livestock activity in the region. For example, only 40-50% of the original prairie pothole wetlands remain intact and undrained today.
Climate change will affect the prairie grasslands ecoregion by pushing temperatures higher and decreasing rainfall in certain areas. Climate records reveal that while the average annual temperatures in the United States have increased about 1°F (0.6°C) over the past hundred years, average temperatures on the central and northern Great Plains have risen by at least 2°F (1.1°C). In some areas, such as North and South Dakota and portions of Montana, average temperatures have increased as much as 5.5°F (3.1 °C).
In addition to rapidly rising temperatures, patterns of rainfall have changed over the same time period so that the eastern areas of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado have suffered a decrease in precipitation of 10%. Climate models predict that this increased drought in some areas will cause wetlands to relocate or disappear. Climate change will challenge wetlands in particular, because most wetlands in the plains occur where the effects of climate change are predicted to be most severe. These findings imply that climatically drier portions of the Prairie Pothole Region, including areas that migratory birds rely on, are especially vulnerable. However, higher temperatures and decreased precipitation will make life harder for the entire region.
Thousands of plants and animals are endangered, and thousands more are threatened. Many of the reasons certain animals are disappearing forever are because of human activities.
FIVE MAJOR CAUSES
The mnemonic HIPPO represents the five major causes of declining wildlife biodiversity:
H - Habitat Loss I - Invasive Species P - Pollution and Pesticides P - Population Growth (human) and the Pet Trade O - Over-hunting and Over-collecting
Habitat Loss results from human activities and land development. Many animal species are in decline because their environment is no longer able to fulfill their basic requirements. All species require food, water, shelter, space and the ability to find a mate and have children. Some species require small habitats, while others need large areas to successfully survive. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of habitat loss and deforestation.
Invasive Species are plants and animals transported from one country or region to another and introduced into the wild. While most do not survive in a foreign world, some assimilate into their new world and thrive. Often they out-compete native plants and animals for their niche in the ecosystem, upsetting the balance of nature.
Pollution and Pesticides, in forms of garbage and trash, air and water pollution, soil contamination and noise and light pollution, harm ecosystems and wildlife. Pesticides are toxic and harm more than their target. Pollution harms the environment and animals.
Population Growth and the Pet Trade threaten countless animal species. As humans take more and more wilderness areas for agriculture, housing and industry, less land is available for wildlife. Native animals are often forced into less suitable habitats and can decline or disappear forever. Many “pets”, including fish, reptiles, spiders, birds, rodents and exotic mammals, are harvested from the wild.
Over-hunting and Over-collecting has impacted many endangered species, reeking havoc on ecosystems and eliminating entire species forever.
HOTSPOTS & COLDSPOTS
● Biodiversity Hotspots are regions with large numbers of species that do not live anywhere else in the world, where habitat destruction has occurred at alarming rates. Many organizations and agencies focus on saving these hotspots in an effort to do the greatest good and save the most species. Hotspots make up less than 2% of the planet.
● Coldspots, over 98% of the earth, are areas that have less species diversity but they need just as much help as areas with lots of biodiversity. In fact, some biodiversity coldspots are home to very rare plants and animals. Protecting these areas before too much destruction occurs prevents us from having to work backwards.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
All plants and animals have many complex intertwining links with other living things around them. Hippopotamus have birds that feed off the insects that grow on them. If the hippo were to become extinct, so would the birds…leading to further destruction as other species depend on the birds. This is referred to as Chains of Extinction, or the Domino Effect.
A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in how an ecosystem functions. Without the keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or would not be able to survive. While all species in a habitat rely on each other, keystone species have a huge impact on their environment. Their disappearance would start a domino effect, leading to other species in the ecosystem also disappearing.
An indicator species is a plant or animal species humans focus on to gather information about an ecosystem. Their presence or absence in an environment can be a signal that all is well, or something is not right. Certain types of plants or animals may exist in a very specific area. If the species begins to disappear, this ecoregion may be shrinking and action may need to be taken to save the environment. Indicator species can tell humans about the health of the environment. Many are extremely sensitive to pollution or human interference and serve as a “miner's canary”.
An umbrella species is a plant or animal species that has a wide range and requirements for living as high or higher than other animals in the habitat. If the umbrella species' requirements are met, then so are the needs of many other species in its ecosystem. The Monarch butterfly is an example of an umbrella species because of its lengthy migrations across North America, covering lots of ecosystems. Any protections given to the Monarch will also “umbrella” many other species and habitats.
Often times umbrella species are used by organizations and agencies to capture the public's attention for support for conservation efforts. These flagship species - such as pandas, whales, tigers, gorillas and butterflies - are species that the public finds captivating and are interested in helping. When the flagship species is helped, so are species in their ecosystems that the general public may find less appealing.
Monkeys have long been a common sight in temples and tourist destinations around the world. These intelligent animals once stayed away from urban hubs, restricting themselves to the fringes of big cities. But deforestation, animal agriculture, industrialization and fast expanding cities is reducing monkey habitat at an alarming rate. As a result, many species of monkeys are invading cities for food, shelter and water.
Many monkeys have long taken to temples, where they are often protected and fed. From these temples they radiate out to nearby forests. But urbanization has invaded temple areas, bringing the city to the monkeys.
As natural monkey habitats are continuously destroyed, monkeys are loosing their fear of humans. In search of new food sources, they raid farms, beg for food, and steal from homes and businesses. Urban areas offer monkeys easy access to shelter, food, water and large trees, causing population explosions. Telephone and electric wires give them easy access throughout the urban jungles.
Monkeys are now as plentiful as squirrels in many Asian cities. They hang out in train stations, beg at the side of roads, dig through trash cans, and steal food from humans.
Cows, stray dogs and cats have roamed the streets of the capital city of India, New Delhi, for centuries. Now, monkeys have taken over. There are tens of thousands of rhesus macaques skirting rooftops of buildings, darting through work places, raiding kitchens, scattering files and attacking workers. Instances of human-monkey conflicts include monkeys biting people, snatching foodstuffs, picking pockets, and even drunken monkeys misbehaving. Monkeys have spread to other Indian cities of northern states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Langurs, another species of monkey, are now seen on the rooftops of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. Ironically, the langur was brought in to scare off the rhesus macaques.
While the rhesus macaques are having a free run of many Indian and Asian cities, the baboons have their sights set on the affluent neighborhoods of Cape Town, South Africa. Man and baboon have co-existed in the Western Cape for centuries, but tolerance for the creature seem to be running thin. Loss of habitat from development and urbanization is turning this once-friendly creature into an aggressive one. Baboons are breaking into glitzy estates on the Cape, raiding kitchens for food, rummaging into garbage cans and stealing whatever they think may be of use to them. Even restaurants haven't been spared.
Many urban communities feed the monkeys, often compounding the problem. The monkeys quickly loose their fear of humans and become dependent on human handouts. Thousands of monkeys went on a rampage in northern Thailand when the council ran out of rice for the monkeys after a drought. Shops, homes and restaurants were invaded by gangs of hungry monkeys.
Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms, invade towns and break into homes and businesses to steal food. Forestry has reduced their wild food sources, leaving the monkeys little choice.
While monkeys are not native to the US, vervet monkeys have made a tiny patch of forest near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport their home. They have survived in the area for generations. Silver River, in central Florida, is home to rhesus macaques that were introduced to the central Florida wetlands to drum up tourism. They have lived there for decades and are now moving as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Orlando.
Attempts to reduce urban monkey populations have ranged from outright elimination, to forced migration and awareness campaigns not to feed monkeys.
Many farmers have resorted to shooting monkeys to save their crops. A more humane attempt to avoid monkey damage is switching from fruit and vegetable crops to growing crops less likely to attract monkeys.
Culling methods are not only inhumane, but also ineffective. New monkeys soon move in from surrounding areas. Their numbers swell quickly to match the original populations. Culling also results in the monkeys becoming more aggressive.
Capturing city monkeys in cages, and keeping them in captivity before release, causes extreme stress to the animals. Relocation of monkeys only results in new troops entering the area. Diseases can also be spread by monkeys from one area to another.
Large-scale sterilization of monkeys has yet to be attempted. At least 1/3rd of the population needs to be sterilized to arrest the rate of population growth. Capturing enough monkeys to be effective is both challenging and expensive. Oral contraceptives for monkeys, that can be administered through food, are in the works.
In South Africa, "virtual fences" on the perimeters of cities are being created. These virtual fences are a line of speakers that emit sounds of predatory beasts, like the lion, to keep baboons at bay. Whether that will be a long term solution is a matter of conjecture.
Conservationists are proposing filling monkey habitat with food sufficient enough to dissuade them from venturing into cities. Some areas have proposed mass planting of trees to create green islands to provide habitation to monkeys.
To help save monkey and other wildlife habitats, humans must also shift from animal based agriculture to plant based farming. Expanding animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, resulting in ever-increasing habitat loss. Animal agriculture takes up over 40% of the planet. 56 million acres of land are used to feed factory farmed animals, while only 4 million acres produce plants for human consumption. It takes 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant based diet than it does to feed meat eaters.
Urban monkey challenges have been created by humans, and must be solved by humans. Monkeys are not the villain. Monkey habitats and food-sources have been greatly depleted in the wild by irresponsible human activity. Coexistence is the only solution.
Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, results in no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuates the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: marine planning, marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation and enforcement.
Trophy hunting is the killing of an animal for recreation. Parts of the animal, in most cases the head or skin, are kept by the hunter as a display item or “trophy”. The hunters glamorize the killing of animals, believing it demonstrates their virility, prowess and dominance.
Trophy hunting is an elitist hobby for millionaires and billionaires who pay huge fees to kill large, exotic and rare animals. Many of these hunters are members of powerful and wealthy organizations that promote the slaughter of rare and sensitive species with elaborate award programs.
Trophy hunting has accounted for the lives of countless wild and exotic animals belonging to innumerable species. Cash-strapped governments, many in developing countries, are paid big bucks by wealthy patrons for the right to hunt in many of their game reserves. But these countries and rural communities derive little benefit from trophy hunting revenue. Wildlife-based eco-tourism offers much more economic impact to communities.
A majority of trophy hunters who visit Africa are from the U.S. Trophy hunting also occurs in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina, as well as over 100 other countries.
In most cases, the hunters are near amateurs and are incapable of a quick kill. This leaves their prey injured and open to the agonies of a long and painful death. Many of the younger animals are orphaned, their family structures thrown asunder by the wanton killing.
Trophy hunting organizations promote their “sport” as “conservation”, stating they contribute conservation funds through the purchase of hunting permits. But research shows that funds reaching the local communities are miniscule. Studies have determined that only 3 percent of funds from trophy hunting reaches the rural communities where the hunting occurs. Middlemen, and large companies and organizations, take the majority share of sport hunting proceeds.
In reality, the last thing on the minds of trophy hunters is conservation. In fact, the more endangered or rare a species, the higher the price of the permit and bigger the thrill to hunt it down. Bragging rights is the name of the game. It's about who made the biggest and best kill, and the number of animal parts like heads, horns, tusks and other body parts they carted away from such hunts.
Many animals killed by trophy hunters are threatened or endangered species. Among them are the African lion, African elephant, African rhino, and African leopard. Hunting quotas are set without scientific understanding of the animal populations and their ability to recover.
Trophy hunting is a major threat to the survival of the African lion. What the killing of a lion can do by way of disruption in the day-to-day existence of a pride is beyond the comprehension of trophy hunters. Trophy hunting is having a devastating effect on leopards. That the African elephant could soon become extinct is least of their concerns. Rhinos are in serious danger of extinction. If rhino hunting is not stopped, the world could lose African rhinos forever.
Many non-native species, that are harmful to the native environment, are also kept in the wild in numerous countries for the benefit of trophy hunters. Some animals are even kept in fenced areas with no chance of escaping. “Canned hunting” poses serious threats of disease transmission to wild populations.
Organizations such as the Safari Club International (SCI) hold events like the "Grand Slam", where the killing of select species can earn one the coveted "Grand Slam" title. The Africa Big Five, that accounts for the lives of animals like the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo, offers a prestigious title for trophy hunters. North American Twenty Nine is another contest that involves hunting down all species of bison, bear, caribou, moose and deer. To win the highest award, “World Hunter of the Year,” a hunter kills over 300 animals across the globe.
The entire worldwide list of animals to be slaughtered by SCI members contains a frighteningly long list of at least 1,100 species of wildlife. The organization promotes a warped logic that such killings benefit conservation. Guided by this false perception, many museums around the world tacitly facilitate the killing and import of endangered species.
Killing animals is not conservation – pure and simple. To say otherwise is to distort the gruesome reality of the situation. Extravagant trophy hunting of endangered species is the opposite of conservation. Trophy hunting is decimating wildlife populations around the planet. It glamorizes the death and violence of wildlife. Fortunes are made on the backs of millions of animals who are already struggling to survive in a human dominated world.
Genuine conservation organizations and animal advocates around the world are calling on authorities to end trophy hunting enterprises and to stop the slaughter of remarkable and rare animals.
Mountain ranges are located all around the globe. They are the result of plate movements below the planet's crust. Mountains vary in height from small hills to Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Animals that inhabit mountainous regions must withstand dramatic temperature changes and lower oxygen levels.
The two main types of mountain ranges are temperate mountains and tropical mountains.
Temperate mountains are often cold all year and more seasonal than tropical mountains. They are found in North and South America, Europe and Central Asia. During spring and summer months a burst of plant life at high altitude occurs, encouraging herbivores up the mountain.
Tropical mountains feature warmer climates with plants adapted to high altitudes. They are located in South America, Africa and south-east Asia.
Mountain wildlife are adapted to high altitudes and changing temperatures. The higher up a mountain, the lower the temperature. Plants are usually seasonal in mountains. Those that do occur year round, such as conifers, are adapted to handling the cold temperatures.
Hoofed and herbivorous mammals, including deer, goats, llamas and sheep, are common in mountains. They are well suited to the terrain and graze on ledges and cliff faces. During the spring and summer, they move up the mountains when plants are plentiful. In the fall, they move back down the mountains in cooler weather when food is more scarce.
Large predators also inhabit mountain regions, including bears and mountain lions, who prey on the herbivores.
Some animal species do not live on the mountains, but inside of them. Caves provide habitat for amphibians, insects and bats.
Threats to mountain habitats include deforestation, quarrying and development. Changes in climate also affects the growth of plants at higher altitudes.
Tropical forests are home to more of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity than any other habitat and are increasingly threatened by the impact of human activities. Illegal logging, in particular, poses a severe and increasing threat to tropical forests worldwide.
The devastating impact of illegal logging on bird communities is especially damaging. The level of legal and illegal logging has increased dramatically, greater than maximum sustainable rates. As a result, the abundance of forest understory bird species is declining. Species richness, or the number of different understory bird species represented, also show declining trends. The bird communities show no evidence of post-logging recovery.
A major driver contributing to tropical forest destruction worldwide, illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of timber harvested in many tropical countries. The effects of illegal logging is so rampant it cannot be ignored. In contrast to legal logging operations, which are undertaken by companies who apply for a government permit to log under certain parameters including restrictions on the number, size and species of trees that can be logged, illegal logging is much more devastating because it is completely unregulated.
Little attention is given to illegal logging because it is an underworld issue, so it’s not on the books, making it much harder to quantify. But it’s so prevalent that if we don’t look at it, these forests will be destroyed. The first step in doing something about it is knowing about it.
Logging and associated disturbances appear to have affected entire bird communities — including both common and rare or specialized species — causing abundance declines across species. Species that were already rare are most vulnerable to local extinction following logging, and many ‘common’ species have become much less common.
Illegal logging is having serious impacts – not just on the forests themselves – but on the animals. It is reasonable to assume that if the birds are being this powerfully impacted, it’s impacting other groups, such as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods. Birds – like the ‘canary in a coal mine’ – are a great indicator of what’s happening to other animals, and eventually, what will happen to us.
The situation, though dire, is not hopeless. There is enormous potential for regenerating logged forests for bird conservation. For this conservation potential to be realized, urgent measures must be taken to protect these surviving forest fragments and prevent further forest bird declines. Such actions would ideally include increasing forest ranger patrols, increasing forest law enforcement and increasing implementation of measures to prevent illegal logging, such as making roadblocks in logging roads following legal logging operations to prevent incursion by illegal logging operations.
There is hope and there are alternatives. But the situation urgently needs to be addressed and there is no time like the present. This can be stopped, it should be stopped – before it’s too late.
The sky is still blue. Trees are still green. Wind still blows. Clouds are still white and fluffy. Rain still pours from the sky. Snow falls and it still gets really cold sometimes in some places. Earth is still beautiful.
So what is the problem? What is the fuss about climate change and global warming?
Well, after observing and making lots of measurements, using lots of satellites and special instruments, scientists see some alarming changes. These changes are happening fast—much faster than these kinds of changes have happened in Earth's long past. All these satellites, plus a lot more, are studying Earth and all the changes happening with the air, ocean, land, and ice.
Global air temperatures near Earth's surface rose almost one and one-half degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. Earth has warmed twice as fast in the last 50 years as in the 50 years before that.
One and one-half degrees may not seem like much. But when we are talking about the average over the whole Earth, lots of things start to change.
Why is Earth getting warmer?
Here's one clue: As the temperature goes up, the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the air goes up. And as the carbon dioxide goes up, the temperature goes up even more.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it traps heat from Earth's surface and holds the heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have learned that, throughout Earth's history, temperature and CO2 levels in the air are closely tied.
For 450,000 years, CO2 went up and down. But CO2 levels never rose over 280 parts per million until 1950. But then something different happens and CO2 increases very fast. At the end of 2012, it is 394 parts per million. Why? Because of us.
Besides CO2 there are other greenhouse gases. These include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation put together. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.
How do we know what Earth was like long ago?
A big part of the answer is ice cores.
In Antarctica, scientists have drilled down two miles below the surface and brought up samples of the ice. These samples are called ice cores. It's like what you get if you plunge a drinking straw into a slushy drink and pull it out with your finger over the end of the straw. What you will have inside the straw is an ice core—although a very slushy one.
The layers in an Arctic ice core are frozen solid. They give clues about every year of Earth's history back to the time the deepest layer was formed. The ice contains bubbles of the air from each year. Scientists analyze the bubbles in each layer to see how much CO2 they contain. Scientists can also learn about the temperatures for each year by measuring relative amounts of different types of oxygen atoms in the water. (Remember, water is H2O: two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen.)
Other scientists study cores of sediment from the bottom of the ocean or lakes. Or they study tree rings and layers of rocks to give them clues about climate change throughout history. They compare all their findings to see if they agree. If they do, then their findings are accepted as most likely true. If they don't agree, they go back and figure out what is wrong with their methods. In the case of Earth's climate history, the facts agree from a lot of different kinds of studies.
How can so little warming cause so much melting?
Water can soak up a lot of heat. When the oceans get warmer, sea ice begins to melt in the Arctic and around Greenland. NASA's Earth satellites show us that every summer some Arctic ice melts and shrinks, getting smallest by September. Then, when winter comes, the ice grows again. But, since 1979, the September ice has been getting smaller and smaller and thinner and thinner.
Glaciers are another form of melting, shrinking ice. Glaciers are frozen rivers. They flow like rivers, only much slower. Lately, they have been speeding up. Many of them flow toward the ocean, then break off in chunks - sometimes huge chunks. In places such as Glacier National Park, the glaciers are melting and disappearing. The air is getting warmer, and less snow is falling during winter to renew the melted parts of the glaciers.
As more sea ice and glaciers melt, the global sea level rises. But melting ice is not the only cause of rising sea level. As the ocean gets warmer, the water actually expands. Sea level has risen 6.7 inches in the last 100 years. In the last 10 years, it has risen twice as fast as in the previous 90 years. If Greenland's ice sheet were to melt completely, sea level all over the world would rise by 16-23 feet (5 to 7 meters).
Life is a web, with every strand connected to every other strand. One species of plant or animal changes, and a whole chain of events can follow involving many other species. For example, herds of caribou live in cold, Arctic locations. Caribou hate mosquitoes. In the past few years, warmer temperatures in summer have allowed mosquito populations to explode. So the caribou spend a lot more energy swatting away the mosquitoes. All this swatting leaves the caribou less energy to find food and prepare for the next long winter. Female caribou are especially troubled because it takes so much energy to give birth and raise their young.
Animals that hibernate in the winter also suffer from warming temperatures. Marmots, chipmunks, and bears are waking up as much as a month early. Some are not hibernating at all. These animals can starve if they stay awake all winter, because they can't find enough food. If they wake up too early because it feels warm enough to be spring, the days may not yet be long enough to signal the plants to start their spring growth. So, again, the wakeful animals go hungry.
Many trees in the Western U.S. are already suffering from climate change. Droughts leave trees thirsty and stressed. Pine trees need cold winters, too. With warmer, drier conditions, the trees are more likely to become infected with insects. These bugs bore into the trees and lay their eggs. Eventually, they kill the tree. Some forests in the West have lost over half their trees already to pine beetles. When the forest is gone, birds and small mammals that lived there have to find new homes - if they can.
There are many more plant and animal species and communities struggling to adapt to the rapidly changing climate.