Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘News’

In 1982, the year I was born, there were only 22 California Condors alive in the world. Those 22 birds were all that remained of a population that once spanned the western US, and bits of Canada and Mexico. The Condor population plummeted as a result of lead poisoning, hunting, habitat loss and pollution.

California Condor 01

Geographic range of the California Condor in the 1880s

By 1987, the world population of California Condors was 27 birds. Since the causes of the California Condor decline were distinctly human activities, it only seemed appropriate for humans to step up and attempt to fix what they had broken. To that end, the 27 birds were captured and taken into a captive breeding program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal of that captive breeding program was to first raise Condors and establish multiple captive breeding populations, and then to establish multiple wild populations. It was an ambitious plan.

Over the last 37 years, the program has overcome countless challenges from figuring out how to hatch condor eggs, to how to raise babies that will grow into wild adults, to teaching those young adults to find food. California Condors are not fast breeders. A pair will only lay one egg each year, and they sometimes skip years. The young birds take several years to grow and gain full independence, and will begin to breed after about five years. It has taken extensive amounts of money and time, but success after success have become realities.

California Condor 03

An adult California Condor

A small number of captive breeding populations were established in zoos raptor breeding facilities. In 1992, Condors began to be released into the wild. Additional releases established small populations in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mexico.

Now a new milestone has been reached. In March of this year, the 1000th California Condor chick has hatched since 1987 when the captive breeding population was initiated. This brings the living population to around 500 individuals, since numerous chicks, juveniles, and adults have died in the last 37 years. The 1000th chick hatched in the wild to a pair of Condors living in Zion National Park in Utah.

A population of 500 individuals is still not big enough to be out of danger of extinction, and as such are still protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But it is certainly a wonderful accomplishment, and the 1000th chick born is also a occasion to be celebrated. Hopefully, the California Condor population will continue to grow, and the amazing birds, the largest in North America, with their 9 foot wingspans will be circling 15,000 feet over our heads in greater numbers and across greater areas as the next 37 years unfold.

California Condor 02

 

Read Full Post »

The United Nations (UN) announced last Friday, the 10th of May, 2019, that almost every country on earth has agreed to a legally binding plastic waste pact. This agreement will mean that several thousand different types of plastic waste will be tracked. This means that countries will have to monitor and keep track of plastic waste within and beyond their boarders.

Related imageThis agreement sends a strong message to governments, industries, and consumers that the issue of plastic waste cannot be ignored. This is a good thing since plastics in the environment have become a huge problem. There are gigantic rafts of plastics floating in the oceans of the world (at least one is the size of the state of Texas). There is plastic scattered along every road, in every river, on every beach. A recent dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the deepest dive by a submarine ever) even found some pieces of either metal or plastic trash as the sub scanned to bottom.

Image result for plastic in the oceanWe humans need to stop flinging our trash all over the world. The wide-spread agreement on this need as evidenced by the wide-spread by-in to the plastic waste pact is encouraging. Unfortunately, one of the few countries that did not agree to the pact was the USA. I very much hope that my country will turn around on this stance.

 

Read Full Post »

A news story has been circulating a fair bit in the past couple of weeks. This story has been picked up by numerous news and science outlets. How it is being reported and explained is just plain misleading and inaccurate.

Image result for aldabra rail

The Aldabra Rail is a subspecies of the White-throated Rail.

Here are a few titles that show how the subject is being covered.

Science Magazine – Evolution Brings Extinct Island Bird Back into Existence

Smithsonian Magazine – How Evolution Brought a Flightless Bird Back from Extinction

CBS News – An Extinct Bird Species Has Evolved Back into Existence, Study Says

From these titles, and from the bodies of the articles themselves, readers would think that the same species of bird existed at some point in the past, went extinct (as in died out completely), and then re-evolved!

That does not happen.

Here is what actually did occur.

The small atoll of Aldabra is a pretty spectacular spot. It is very remote. It is quite beautiful. It is home to a bunch of unique animals found no where else on earth. It has one of the longest fossil records on any island in the Indian Ocean.

That fossil record includes a lot of the animals that have called the atoll home over the past few million years. One of those animals was the Aldabra Rail. This rail was a small flightless bird that was probably found hunting through reed beds along the edges of water. The Aldabra Rail went extinct about 136,000 years ago at about the same time that global sea level was rising and submerging oceanic islands like Aldabra. After a few thousand years, sea level dropped and Aldabra became an exposed island once more. Not long after that fossils of a rail on Aldabra start showing up again.

There are a couple of possible explanations. One is that some remnant population of the Aldabra Rail hung on, some how, and did not die. These were flightless birds, so it is not clear how this might have happened, but perhaps a small population managed to survive on a floating raft of vegetation long enough to reach an exposed bit of land. This seems like a very long shot. It is much more likely that the Aldabra Rail simply died out completely. It went extinct.

The other possible explanation is much more likely and widely understood and accepted, and it is this: the Aldabra Rail went extinct when the atoll went under water. Then after it re-emerged, a group of birds likely from the same parent stock of the original Aldabra Rail re-colonized the atoll (quite probably from Madagascar). This new group of colonizers eventually became flightless and filled the same, or very similar, ecological niche as the original Aldabra Rail.

This is a process called iterative evolution and it is pretty rare. The definition of iterative evolution is: the evolution of similar or parallel structures in the development of the same main line.

But iterative evolution does not produce the same species twice. It may produce similar species, but to produce the same species twice would require starting with the same gene pool twice. The group of birds that first colonized Aldabra, and became the Aldabra Rail 1.0, had a unique combination of genes to work with. The group of birds that later colonized Aldabra, and became the Aldabra Rail 2.0, had a unique combination of genes to work with. Those two combinations of genes may have been similar, but they were not the same. Therefore the decedents of those two groups would not be the same.

I really think that the implications of how this story is being reported is really misleading and possible even damaging.

Misleading because they imply that a species can evolve twice. To go back to the definition of  iterative evolution, it the evolution of “similar or parallel structures…” Similar or parallel structures are not the same as identical species. Two rails that evolved at different times in the same place and that are both flightless, are not the same species.

Damaging because there is weight to the idea of extinction. Extinction is forever. It means that an entire evolutionary lineage has ended, and any potential future that that lineage may have had is gone. If the idea of extinction becomes an impermanent one, it looses its urgency and tragedy. People may well not worry about extinction as that species can just re-evolve. No harm, no foul.

Again, no species can ever occur twice. Once a species goes extinct, that is it for that evolutionary lineage. Even if some other lineage emerges that is close, it will not be the same and will not have the same evolutionary trajectory or potential.

When reporting on science, I feel strongly that the ideas behind the science should be accurately represented. I think it is especially distressing when the sources of the misrepresentations are otherwise reputable sources for science.

I hope the current Aldabra Rail has a long future filled with descendants, and I mourn the loss of the previous rail of Aldabra and the lineage it might have left behind, but never will.

Read Full Post »

Image result for ecorestore

A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Image result for malaria vaccineAn amazing thing is happening! For the first time, a malaria vaccine is being distributed to Malawi, and soon to Ghana and Kenya!

Over 1 million children are expected to be immunized against this debilitating, and sometimes deadly, disease in the next three years.

This is an excellent example of how modern medical research is continuing to improve the lives of humans all around the world by creating vaccines that reduce the terrible impacts of diseases that effect millions of people. In this case, this vaccine, and other malaria vaccines that are in development will help to reduce the over 250,000 child deaths in Africa every year.

Science is changing the world and saving lives!

Read Full Post »

Jakarta 01

Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia.

Climate change is having more and more dramatic and direct effects on life on earth. One of these effects that climate change is having on humans that I read about just recently is the plan by the Indonesian government to move their capitol, Jakarta.

Jakarta 04

Flooding in central Jakarta.

It turns out that Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. A significant portion of the city already lays below sea-level, and with a predicted sea-level rise of between 20 inches and 5 feet in the next century, it is likely that Jakarta will be flooded by 2050.

In order to move the capitol, a new city will have to be built. It is not yet clear if the new city will be somewhere else on Java (the same island that Jakarta is on and the most populous island in Indonesia), or if it will be built on a different island (Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo has been suggested).

A move such as this is a huge and historic example of managed retreat (which I have written about previously here).

This process will take a while. Not only will new government buildings need to be created, but all the people who work in those buildings,, and their families, will need homes to live in, stores to shop in, schools to go to, police and fire departments to protect them, hospitals to care for them, parks to play in, etc., etc. Building a city is a daunting proposition.

But it is a very good thing for the Indonesian government to be thinking about. Very forward thinking, indeed. Just about every country on earth is going to have to consider how it is going to change in response to sea-level rise and other effects of climate change. Doing so before disaster strikes is a much wiser strategy than waiting to scramble after the disaster has already occurred.

Jakarta 02

Jakarta at night.

Read Full Post »

WalletHub is a personal finance website based in Washington D.C. They specialize in helping individuals decide how to finance large purchases, choose credit cards, and about various types of bank accounts. One of the things that WalletHub produced a few months ago is a ranking of the greenest cities in the USA. While the report, called Greenest Cities in America, was written in October 2018, it is still getting a lot of attention now.

Green Cities 01

This report ranked the 100 most populous cities in the USA according to how they scored across four dimensions 1) Environment, 2) Transportation, 3) Energy Sources, and 4) Lifestyle and Policy. Each of these dimensions have many criteria that contribute to them, and the total scores of all four are combined to form a cities score.

The top ten greenest cities are:

  1. San Diego, CA
  2. San Francisco, CA
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Irvine, CA
  5. San Jose, CA
  6. Honolulu, HI
  7. Fremont, CA
  8. Seattle, WA
  9. Sacramento, CA
  10. Portland, OR

The bottom ten greenest cities are:

90. Jacksonvile, FL, 91. Gilbert, AZ, 92. Cleveland, OH, 93. Mesa AZ, 94. Lexington-Fayette, KY, 95. Detroit, MI, 96. Memphis, TN, 97. Toledo, OH, 98. St. Louis, MO, 99. Corpus Cristi, TX, 100. Baton Rouge, LA.

Some of the note worthy findings are that of the top ten greenest cities in this analysis, 6 are in California and 8 are on the west coast, but only one is on the east of the Mississippi. Also of note is that no west coast states appear in the bottom ten cities, and the only eastern seaboard state in the bottom ten is in Florida.

Other than the strait ranking, the report also highlights some other interesting facets. One such facet is the percentage of each cities that is devoted to green space. This criteria had a three-way tie between Honolulu, HI, Anchorage, AK, and Fremont, CA. The cities with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, per capita, were Virginia Beach, VA, Reno, NV, Hialeah, FL, San Bernardino, CA, and Honolulu, HI which is a pretty wide geographical spread of cities. A criteria that I was a bit surprised to see included was the number of farmers markets, per captia, in a city. This criterion jumped out at me because it does not seem like a particularly important aspect of the greenness of a city, but I suppose this may stand as measure of how environmentally conscious the population of a city might be.

All in all, it is an interesting report and generally fun to look over and think about. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »