Cool Green Science http://blog.nature.org/science Cool Green Science: The Science Blog of The Nature Conservancy Mon, 24 Nov 2014 03:33:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Mushroom Man, Crime-Fighting Reindeer & Saving Silverbacks http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/21/best-science-nature-web-news-gorillas-reindeer-mushroom-man/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/21/best-science-nature-web-news-gorillas-reindeer-mushroom-man/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:00:52 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45096 Sabyinyo group of mountain gorillas. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Photo ©  Carine06/Flickr.

Sabyinyo group of mountain gorillas. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Photo © Carine06/Flickr.

By Bob Lalasz, Matt Miller, Lisa Feldkamp and Cara Byington of the TNC Science Communications team

We find tons of cool conservation and conservation science stuff on the Internets — and share the best of it with you every week in The Cooler:

Biodiversity & Wildlife

Can ecotourism save mountain gorillas? (The Breakthrough Institute)

Migrating wildlife depend on more than just wilderness. (New York Times)

Afield with Captain Aquatic Mushroom Man, and other fall mycological adventures. (Fat of the Land)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Ranger: Why Russians might use reindeer to battle crime. (Outside)

New Research

Carbon sequestration in soil — what really drives reductions? (Would you have guessed…temperature changes?) (Nature)

More biodiversity = more seafood: Ocean biodiversity is good for ocean health and productivity. (Oikos Journal)

Citizen science takes on crisis mapping. (Nature News)

Global diets: Bad for you and the environment. (Nature)

Climate Change

Acid maps: Where climate change is hitting oceans the worst. (Scientific American)

Climate change and violence: How significant is the link? (SciDev Net)

As Peru gets ready to host climate talks, the defenders of its indigenous forests are being murdered. (DotEarth)

Nature News

Will your next car run on hydrogen? (Scientific American)

The culprit behind the sea star die-off is likely a virus. (Not Exactly Rocket Science)

The Gunnison sage grouse is officially listed as a threatened species. (Durango Herald)

Flying under the influence? Drunken Bohemian waxwings storm the Yukon. (PRI)

Thousands of acres protected in South Texas will benefit ocelots and other endangered species. (The Conservation Fund)

Frack away: US Forest Service backs off ban in Virginia’s George Washington Forest. (Washington Post)

Conservation Tactics

Loving monarchs to death? Planting tropical milkweed to help them might actually be hurting. (New York Times)

The best conservation areas? It’s IUCN’s new Green List. (Nature)

Hunters paying for US conservation: Is that era over? (High Country News)

Installing better glass could save hundreds of millions of birds each year. (National Geographic)

Roof gardens can help control urban flooding. (Mashable)

Can one woman stop the concert business’s reliance on plastic? (Rolling Stone)

This and That

Concrete progress: They’re making wooden batteries. (Orion)

Yikes! Daily photos of a single skyscraper show the reality of Beijing’s toxic smog. (Atlantic Cities)

Zootopia: The dark side of the future of nature. (New York Times)


Have suggestions for next week’s Cooler? Send them to lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org. Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/21/best-science-nature-web-news-gorillas-reindeer-mushroom-man/feed/ 0
Sea Turtles of St. Croix: Research Benefits Nesting Beaches http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/20/sea-turtles-st-croix-research-benefits-nesting-beaches/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/20/sea-turtles-st-croix-research-benefits-nesting-beaches/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 10:00:25 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45077 A green sea turtle nests on St. Croix. Photo: © Marjo Aho

A green sea turtle nests on St. Croix. Photo: © Marjo Aho

By Matt Miller, senior science writer

Everyone enjoys a day at the beach, but for sea turtles safe beach access is a matter of life and death.

Sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach. Nesting is often the only time female sea turtles touch land.

It’s a time of peril: both females and baby hatchlings are vulnerable to poachers and predators.

On St. Croix, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, green and hawksbill sea turtles dramatically increased nesting activity in recent years, the result of a comprehensive effort that not only protects turtles from threats, but also provides substantial data on the population.

I’m here to learn more about this research program that could provide a blueprint for protecting sea turtle nesting beaches.

My guide is Kemit-Amon Lewis, a coral conservation manager for The Nature Conservancy. Lewis proudly displays his passion for the creatures, and I mean that quite literally: four turtle tattoos climb up his right leg.

Our first night, we load Lewis’ car with gear and head out into the night to join volunteer turtle researchers. As we leave the lights of St. Croix’s largest town, Christiansted, behind, Lewis fills me in on the ongoing story of sea turtle recovery on St. Croix.

A Brief but Perilous Journey

The Conservancy's Kemit-Amon Lewis. Photo: © Marjo Aho

The Conservancy’s Kemit-Amon Lewis. Photo: © Marjo Aho

First, a bit about sea turtles and their nesting habits. There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide, but the Conservancy’s project on St. Croix focuses on green and hawksbill turtles.

Like other sea turtles, these two species spend their life almost entirely at sea, even though many of their movements remain a mystery.

Their nesting habits, though, are well known. Sea turtles return to the beach where they were born to nest. They labor onto the sand, dig a nest, lay their ping pong ball-sized eggs, bury them and return to the sea.

Sixty days later, the young sea turtles hatch, dig through the sand and begin their sea odyssey. They likely won’t return to the beach until they can lay their own eggs, 15 to 30 years later.

Under the best of conditions, life is tough for a young sea turtle. The trip across the beach is filled with dangers, from ants to crabs to sea birds.

They reach the oceans, and then things get really dicey: fish feed voraciously on them.

“Any predatory animal bigger than a turtle eats turtles,” says Lewis. “They run the gauntlet as soon as they hatch.”

Life is perilous for baby sea turtles under the best of circumstances. Photo: © Marjo Aho

Life is perilous for baby sea turtles under the best of circumstances. Photo: © Marjo Aho

To add to the difficulty, sea turtles no longer only face these usual threats: They have been poached for their meat, eggs and shells. They get tangled in nets. They face pollution and climate change.

And they face new threats on the beach. Could protecting nesting beaches and addressing threats there improve overall sea turtle populations?

One nesting beach on St. Croix, Jack and Isaacs Bay, provides hopeful answers. The Conservancy has made a long-term investment in protection and research, and it’s paying off.

That’s where we’re headed now.

Bringing Back the Turtles

Jack and Isaacs Bay. Photo: © Marjo Aho

Jack and Isaacs Bay. Photo: © Marjo Aho

In the early 1990s, it was clear that sea turtles were disappearing on St. Croix. But why?

In 1994, the Conservancy conducted a survey of beaches that looked promising for habitat. The best of the lot, Jack and Isaacs Bay, had only 14 nesting green and hawksbill sea turtles.

The habitat looked right. It could clearly support more turtles. Clearly.

“The Conservancy immediately set about identifying the threats,” says Lewis. “In this case, it became pretty apparent. It was non-native mongoose, and human poachers.”

A mongoose will follow an adult turtle and then dig up the eggs, devouring an entire hatch at once. By setting traps around the beach prior to the nesting season, Conservancy staff found they could remove the mongoose threat. (Read more about the devastating impacts non-native mongoose have on island fauna, and conservationists are addressing this invasive threat, in an upcoming Cool Green Science blog).

For human poachers, it became apparent that there just needed to be enforcement – someone on the beaches to deter illegal harvesting.

Conservancy staff also recognized that they needed more data – a lot more data – to effectively conserve the turtles.

Having researchers on the beach could deter poachers while providing valuable research and monitoring.

Volunteer researchers are in the field until 3 a.m. most nights. Photo: © Marjo Aho

Volunteer researchers are in the field until 3 a.m. most nights. Photo: © Marjo Aho

The Conservancy purchased Jack and Isaacs Bay in 1999 and established a turtle research program, with three volunteer researchers living at the Little Princess Preserve and conducting turtle research five nights a week.

The poaching is non-existent. We’ve addressed the mongoose problem,” says Lewis. “And the turtles have responded.”

This year, 250 green and hawksbill turtles have nested on Jack and Isaacs Bay. But there is still much to learn about these animals.

A Night on the Beach

Kemit-Amon Lewis follows a turtle into the brush.  Photo: © Marjo Aho

Kemit-Amon Lewis follows a turtle into the brush. Photo: © Marjo Aho

We switch on our red head lamps (turtles are highly sensitive to white lights; it can even throw off their entire nesting process) and head to the beach, where we immediately meet up with one of the volunteers.

They’re out here on the beach from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., amongst the turtles.

Almost as soon as we set foot on the beach, Lewis points. As my eyes adjust, I make out a dark form digging in the sand.

A turtle digging a nest.

Farther up the beach, another lumbers out of the water.

In water, sea turtles are the very definition of grace; on land, they struggle and lumber. Their flippers appear ill suited for digging, but they shovel out a couple of meters of sand for their nest.

A green sea turtle prepares to nest. Photo: © Marjo Aho

A green sea turtle prepares to nest. Photo: © Marjo Aho

We watch from a short distance away, and the turtle doesn’t notice us. But something about this spot of beach isn’t right, and so the turtle heads back into the water.

For volunteers, each turtle spotted is a bit of a victory – more evidence of conservation success – but also a bit of work. Each turtle must be fitted with a tag, punched harmlessly into its shell. Some will be fitted with satellite telemetry.

Many turtles are already tagged, so they need to be documented. All are measured across the shell. Their general health is recorded. Their nest location is marked and watched. After the babies hatch, they nest will be excavated to determine the rate of hatching success.

Each volunteer also has her own individual research project, including how turtles are utilizing different bays and nesting patterns of the turtles.

“It provides us with an incredible amount of data on these animals,” says Lewis. “It will help us continue to improve our conservation program.”

In a Turtle Trance

The author awaits the arrival of sea turtles. Photo: © Marjo Aho

The author awaits the arrival of sea turtles. Photo: © Marjo Aho

As the evening wears on, the dark beach seems to sparkle with turtle activity. We sit by another digging a nest, enjoying the sounds of waves breaking and the sight of bioluminescence on the bay.

The shadowy forms of other turtles appear as they make their way out of the water. The volunteer radios crackle as they report back and forth what’s happening. A nest of hatchlings has left for the sea. A hawksbill turtle has nested in the forest. More turtles are coming ashore.

Sitting there, it’s easy to revel in the spectacular conservation success. And Lewis beaming, but he also reminds me of the reality of sea turtle conservation – and perhaps of successful conservation everywhere.

We are not done here,” says Lewis. “Far from it. If we stopped this program now, we could lose everything we accomplished here on Jack and Isaacs Bay. Mongoose would swarm back if we stopped trapping them. Poaching could resume.”

“Conservation is often not a short-term project,” he says. “We still have a lot to learn. We still think we can accomplish more. As we get more data, and conduct more research, we’ll undoubtedly better be able to protect sea turtles as Jack and Isaacs – and across St. Croix.”

The Conservancy is already partnering extensively with local organizations, businesses and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that manages another beach important to leatherback turtles.

Lewis is investigating the possibility of paid volunteer trips – where conservationists pay a fee to join turtle research for a week, an incredible nature experience. That would help gather more data, and also provide a funding stream for this program to continue.

A sea turtle's flipper pushes sand over its eggs. Photo: © Marjo Aho

A sea turtle’s flipper pushes sand over its eggs. Photo: © Marjo Aho

In the meantime, there’s this turtle in front of us. Her digging slows. Lewis taps me on the back, a smile across his face.

“She’s getting ready to lay eggs,” he whispers.

When the turtle lays eggs, it enters into a kind of a trance – it’s oblivious to what is going on around it. And so we gather close, as she strains and pushes. The round, leathery eggs fall into the sand.

My face is now down there with her, as the eggs drop. Minutes later, I realize I’m in my own turtle trance, grateful for the opportunity to be so close to this beautiful creature.

The nesting sea turtle. Photo: © Marjo Aho

The nesting sea turtle. Photo: © Marjo Aho

Lewis again taps my shoulder. “Shall we go look at some other turtles, maybe look for some hatchlings?” he asks.

I nod my head as I pull myself up off the sand. I know that sea turtles face many challenges, and the work here is not done. But as this turtle kicks sand on me – covering her nest – it’s hard not to feel hope for the sea turtles of St. Croix.

Every year we learn more about turtles, and every year we see more signs of their continuing recovery,” says Lewis. “The combination of land protection, addressing threats and research has combined to create what you see here. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have seen this many turtles in an entire season. There are still threats, but we have had some very promising results.”

And with that, he is bounding down the beach, towards the next nesting turtle.

A special thanks to photographer Marjo Aho for accompanying this field trip and providing all images used in this blog.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/20/sea-turtles-st-croix-research-benefits-nesting-beaches/feed/ 1
Video: Infrared Technology for Wildlife Conservation http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/19/infrared-technology-conservation-wildlife-innovative-video/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/19/infrared-technology-conservation-wildlife-innovative-video/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 10:00:12 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45061 Hummingbird as seen in infrared. Image courtesy of This video wasn’t taken for research, but illustrates the hummingbird’s variation in body temperature – from its super-heated body to its fluttering wings. Video courtesy of Nature Conservancy partner John Romero of Owyhee Air Research.

Hummingbird in infrared. Image by John Romero/Owyhee Air Research.

By Matt Miller, senior science writer

Infrared technology has many applications for wildlife research, including enabling biologists to more accurately count greater sage grouse in the rugged country of the arid West (covered in Monday’s blog).

There are many other applications. Here, we showcase video that demonstrates the many ways infrared is aiding conservation research and monitoring.

Infrared allows researchers to detect minor variations in temperature. In these videos, different temperatures show up as different colors – enabling researchers to see creatures in thick forests and at night.

Enjoy these videos, all courtesy of Nature Conservancy partner John Romero of Owyhee Air Research. Romero is pioneering the use of infrared for many field research applications.

In this video, researchers are tracking wolves in a remote Idaho forest.

In the timbered terrain, even a large animal like a wolf is hard to locate. But with an infrared camera, they show up quite clearly. Look closely, and you can even see the radio collars on some of the wolves.

Monitoring wildlife populations for state game agencies is an important application for the technology. These elk are hard to miss, but they can be difficult to count in the rugged, roadless wilderness that comprises much of their range in the American West.

This video wasn’t taken for research, but illustrates the hummingbird’s variation in body temperature – from its super-heated body to its fluttering wings.

Counting bats emerging from a cave would be difficult at best. Note how clearly the bat shows up in this video. You can also see how infrared can even pick up differences in vegetation.

Another application for infrared is tracking fire on the landscape. It can show how hot the fire is burning. You can see here the different intensities of a fire in the Hells Canyon region of Idaho.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/19/infrared-technology-conservation-wildlife-innovative-video/feed/ 0
New Report: Blueprint for Urban Water Security http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/18/urban-water-blueprint-security-freshwater-cities-supply-watershed/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/18/urban-water-blueprint-security-freshwater-cities-supply-watershed/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:00:42 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45052 View of New York City from Central Park. Photo © Paul-W/Flickr through a Creative Commons License.

View of New York City from Central Park. Photo © Paul-W/Flickr through a Creative Commons License.

Rob McDonald is senior scientist for sustainable land-use for The Nature Conservancy.

Cities: Investing in conserving your watershed just might help secure water for your city.

That’s one of the key findings from a just-released report from The Nature Conservancy on the potential for nature to help protect the water supplies of hundreds of the world’s largest cities — supplies that will face mounting demands and threats from growing urban populations, agriculture and climate change.

Our report — the Urban Water Blueprint— quantifies the potential for conservation activities to help protect these cities’ water supply by mapping where nature could most help protect urban water supplies, and how much conservation investment would be needed to achieve impact.

It finds that, for about one in four cities around the world, investment in source watershed conservation could pay for itself in terms of avoided water treatment cost.

Why Conservation Can Be Critical to Securing Water for Cities

The report combines hydrological models and data from the City Water Map, which scientists at the Conservancy and others created to capture where 534 large cities get their water from.

The information the report provides is critical for urban planners across the globe. That’s because the condition of a city’s watershed (the areas upstream of a city’s water source, like a lake or reservoir) affects the quantity and quality of the water that eventually reaches the city’s water source.

For instance, forest and other natural habitats help prevent soil erosion and maintain water quality. On the other hand, if a city’s source watershed contains a lot of cropland or developed areas, it can be difficult to prevent pollutants from reaching a city’s water source.

For each of the 534 cities in the City Water Map, we estimate the water quantity and quality risks that the cities’ water supplies faced. More importantly, we assessed the opportunity for five common conservation strategies to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution for urban water supplies:

* Forest protection, which reduces the risk of future deforestation increasing pollution
* Reforestation of pastureland to reduce pollution
* Agricultural best management practices, to prevent erosion and nutrient runoff
* Riparian restoration to prevent pollution from reaching streams
* Forest fuel reduction, which reduces the future risk of catastrophic wildfire and massive erosion

Why Small is Beautiful and Other Factors When It Comes to Watershed Conservation

Our approach moves past platitudes about source watershed conservation to specific predictions about how it might work for specific cities. And it reveals that, for effective conservation interventions, hydrology, geography and size matter.

Source watershed conservation, the report finds, makes the most sense where there’s a small source watershed that serves a big population, such as New York City.

Indeed, New York City is the poster child for source watershed conservation, which has clearly helped the city save hundreds of millions per year. But the strategy may not be as helpful in those other three out of four cities.

For instance, the five conservation strategies we considered are helpful primarily for maintaining the water quality of surface water sources, such as reservoirs, lakes, and streams.

Thus, cities that depend primarily on groundwater — like Berlin and Mexico City — have relatively low potential to be helped by these specific strategies. (Other strategies, like protecting aquifer recharge areas, are possible for these cities).

Even for surface sources, there is enormous complexity in how cities obtain water. Sao Paulo, for instance, draws from twelve different surface water sources, some of them interlinked with others. Some cities draw water from a river immediately adjacent to them, while some cities go hundreds of miles away for water.

This geography ends up mattering a lot when you evaluate the potential for nature to help urban water supplies.

And as for New York, we discovered that for source watershed conservation efforts, small is beautiful.

The size of the source watershed from which a city draws varies enormously, from a few thousand hectares up to millions of hectares. New York City draws most of its water from a watershed around 84,000 ha in size, while Bangkok draws its water from a watershed around 14 million ha in size.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conservation action required to meaningfully change the water quality in these two reservoirs varies accordingly.

In general, in small watersheds conservation action is needed on fewer hectares to change the concentration of pollutants an equivalent amount. This makes running conservation projects much more feasible in New York’s watershed than in Bangkok’s.

Small watersheds also seem to offer a greater return on investment, all else being equal. It costs less to work on fewer hectares. This in turn means it will be more likely to be cost effective for the water utility.

For instance, if a conservation action reduces the costs of treating water at a facility, then the utility will be more likely to embrace conservation. On the other hand, the size of the city’s population also matters. All else being equal, a big city is able to spend more money to protect its water supply than a small one.

The bottom line: While there is no universal strategy for solving conservation challenges, our report shows that source watershed conservation is an important tool in the toolbox for urban water utilities, to be used where the conditions are right.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/18/urban-water-blueprint-security-freshwater-cities-supply-watershed/feed/ 0
Grouse Count: Aerial Infrared Technology Ensures Accurate Wildlife Census http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/17/sage-grouse-aerial-infrared-technology-wildlife-census-conservation/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/17/sage-grouse-aerial-infrared-technology-wildlife-census-conservation/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:00:08 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45041

By Matt Miller, senior science writer

The challenge: find a chicken-sized bird in a million-acre expanse characterized by rugged canyons and bad or non-existent roads.

That’s the reality of monitoring greater sage grouse populations throughout much of their range.

The solution: infrared sensing that revolutionizes aerial grouse censuses — providing a safe, reliable method for counting the birds.

This technology’s application goes well beyond sage grouse counts – it can help researchers find wolves in forested terrain, detect bat caves in remote deserts and even measure the impacts of fire.

Needle in a Haystack

Greater sage grouse have become one of the most-studied wildlife species in the American West. This stems from their well-publicized decline due to habitat conversion, too-frequent fires, non-native weeds, West Nile virus and other factors.

The foundation of sage grouse research – and conservation – is ensuring accurate counts of the birds.

As birds go, they’re fairly big. Each spring, the males gather at display grounds, called leks, where they display for females.

It’s not especially challenging to see grouse when they’re on the lek. But counting them – and counting an entire population – is a whole different ballgame.

That’s what Art Talsma, director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho, tells me.

When Talsma tells me something’s difficult, I pay attention: I’ve been afield with him, as he lopes up steep mountain slopes and dodges striking rattlesnakes. The consummate wildlife biologist, there’s not much Talsma finds difficult.

But to count grouse at a lek, a researcher has to be there before the birds show up – often 3 a.m. From ground level, it can be difficult to assess the exact number of birds without disturbing them.

Once that is accomplished, the researcher must move quickly to another site – traversing rutted roads, deep canyons and thick brush to do so. The grouse quit displaying by mid-morning, so the window is small.

“You would be lucky to count two to three leks in a day,” says Talsma. “And that’s being very, very ambitious.”

Greater sage grouse display in a lek. Photo © Tony Morris/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Greater sage grouse display in a lek. Photo © Tony Morris/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

A 20 Lek Day

That’s why he wants me to meet John Romero, chief pilot and chief of operations for Owyhee Air Research, a firm in Nampa, Idaho that conducts aerial biological surveys. Romero is pioneering a technique that is resulting in much more accurate, reliable grouse counts.

Romero has conducted aerial sage grouse counts for years, with observers counting and video documenting leks. But even that approach had limitations.

“You were flying over the sagebrush, looking for a white dot of a male’s chest,” says Romero. “Standard protocol is to count a half mile away to avoid disturbing the birds. It’s very difficult to get an accurate count from that distance.”

He’d have two to three observers working, flying just 300 to 500 feet above the ground. And still, Romero realized they were undoubtedly missing birds. Missing leks.

Romero used to fly for the military, so he was already familiar with infrared technology. Infrared detects minor changes in temperature, and shows up as different colors on the screen. Even one degree shows as a different color – making it easy to locate grouse (and other wildlife) remotely.

They show up as recognizable (to trained scientists) blobs on leks. Using proper technique, all birds can be counted.

“The first time we flew over a lek, I could see the birds just light up,” says Romero. “I knew right then, this really would work.”

The technology is not cheap; Romero mentions that nerve-wracking first flight when a researcher held a $125,000 camera out the window. But in the long run, it will prove a much more efficient and cost-effective method.

When a lek is located, the crew flies around it, ensuring it is documented from 360 degrees – a bush or rock covers a birds’ heat signature, so they want to make sure every angle is covered.

The resolution is quite high, researchers familiar with grouse can tell right away from bird habits and size.

Lek locations are recorded via GPS and are recounted later in the season, or ground truthed, to ensure accuracy.

It’s fast – a crew will count at least ten leks per day, and often 15 to 20 per day. During March and April last year, the height of the lekking season, the crew counted 250 leks.

“You would have to have a huge number of people on the ground counting to achieve that count,” says Romero. “It would be a staggering amount of work, and probably would disturb the birds, too.”

Using the infrared, the air crew can easily count from a distance, and also high in the air to ensure crew safety.

The sensing camera is mounted on the airplane in way so that it provides stable images, easy for researchers to analyze.

“No matter what the airplane is doing, the video is rock solid,” says Romero. “That’s critical when we’re running transects.”

The technique is being published in the Journal of Wildlife Management and has been enthusiastically embraced by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations as a method to count grouse and other wildlife.

“The infrared sensing provides the data to The Nature Conservancy to inform our decisions on where and how we work in sagebrush country,” says Talsma. “This is big, remote, wild country. We can’t just work everywhere. This allows us to pinpoint areas where we can make the most difference for grouse.”

Later this week: Join us for fun videos of other applications for infrared in wildlife research.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/17/sage-grouse-aerial-infrared-technology-wildlife-census-conservation/feed/ 1
Shouting Fish, Farming Fail and Snow Leopards Everywhere http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/14/best-science-nature-web-news/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/14/best-science-nature-web-news/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 10:00:31 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45010 Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) at the San Diego Zoo. Photo by Aaron Logan/Wikimedia through a Creative Commons license.

Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) at the San Diego Zoo. Photo by Aaron Logan/Wikimedia through a Creative Commons license.

By Bob Lalasz, Matt Miller, Lisa Feldkamp and Cara Byington of the TNC Science Communications team

We find tons of cool conservation and conservation science stuff on the Internets — and share the best of it with you every week in The Cooler:

Biodiversity & Wildlife

Snow leopards everywhere: ecotourism industry in Ladakh offers trips to see this almost mythically elusive beast. (Mammal Watching)

Why are fish shouting? Noisy seas are changing fish vocalizations. (The New Yorker)

Pregnancy cravings: Why expectant snakes crave toxic toads. (Strange Behaviors)

The bears of Hall Mountain: camera traps document bear use of forest easements. (Idaho Nature Notes)

Backyard bait: why raising chickens will draw plenty of wildlife to your neighborhood. (Orion Magazine)

New Research

Tropical storms: Have not intensified over the past 3 decades, despite popular belief. (AMS Journal)

Ag intensification might promote more invasive invasive species. (PNAS)

PADDD: A new threat to REDD+? (Conservation Letters)

Climate Change

China and the U.S. agree to cut carbon emissions. (NPR)

Why conservatives have a hard time accepting free-market solutions to climate change. (Vox)

Peru’s forests store more CO2 than the US emits in a year. (The Guardian)

Company wants to build the world’s largest solar installation — in the Sahara. (Fast Company)

New Amazon climate maps could slow deforestation. (Scientific American)

Nature News

Reducing deforestation is good for business. (Mongabay)

But palm oil is bad for everything. (Quartz)

Alaskans vote to support Bristol Bay conservation. (Wildlife Society News)

Conservation Tactics

Jane Lubchenco talks more about the movement to diversify conservation. (YaleE360)

Hackathon on Climate-Smart Agriculture. (CCAFS)

Leave your leaves where they fall. (National Wildlife Federation)

Factory and irrigation technologies have significantly cut U.S. water use. (Popular Science)

Local people are not the enemy: Working with the campesinos. (Mongabay)

One man planted a forest larger than Central Park. (The Atlantic)

Science Communications

Dan Kahan: The definitive profile. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Motivated disbelief: The reason climate communications don’t work? (DotEarth)

DotEarth turns 7, and Andy Revkin crowdsources its future. (DotEarth)

Anthropocene risks: Social scientists need to step up to the challenge, says Victor Galaz. (The Guardian)

This and That

Scientists are more creative than many people think. (The Atlantic)

The Netherlands gets the first solar-powered bike lane. (Atlantic Cities)

When urban farming goes bad: And in Portland, no less. (Narratively)


Have suggestions for next week’s Cooler? Send them to lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org. Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/14/best-science-nature-web-news/feed/ 0
A Tale of Two Turkeys http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/13/turkey-natural-history-conservation-science-thanksgiving/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/13/turkey-natural-history-conservation-science-thanksgiving/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 10:00:09 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=45017 The return of the American wild turkey is either an incredible conservation success or too much of a good thing, depending on who you ask. Photo: © Mark Godfrey

The return of the American wild turkey is either an incredible conservation success or too much of a good thing, depending on who you ask. Photo: © Mark Godfrey

With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, it’s time to talk turkey.

Actually, two turkeys. And very different ones at that.

The American wild turkey is arguably one of the greatest conservation success stories ever; some argue it’s been far too successful.

The little-known ocellated turkey – with its fantastic technicolor head – faces poaching and habitat loss in the Central American forest.

You don’t have to eat turkey this Thanksgiving to enjoy the bird. Here’s a (virtual) taste of turkey lore and natural history – from two popular posts that ran previously on Cool Green Science — to put you in the holiday spirit.

The American Wild Turkey: Can Conservation Be Too Successful?

The American wild turkey. Photo:   © Chris Anderson/TNC

The American wild turkey. Photo:
© Chris Anderson/TNC

The restoration of the American wild turkey may be the greatest wildlife conservation success story. Ever.

Consider this: many conservationists once thought turkeys would go extinct. And who could blame them?

By the early 1900s, the continent’s wild turkey population had been reduced to an estimated 30,000 birds—a smaller number than today exists for orangutans, polar bears and African elephants, all species with futures causing considerable angst among conservationists.

Rampant poaching and habitat destruction offered little hope for the wild turkey’s future.

Fast forward to today: 7 million turkeys trot, cluck and scratch around North America, occupying almost all suitable habitat and even expanding beyond their original range.

How did conservationists achieve this dramatic turnaround? Can we repeat it?

Or is it too much of a good thing?

Read the rest of the story.

The Ocellated Turkey: Secretive Bird of the Central American Forest

An ocellated turkey male. Photo:  (C) Yeray Seminario, lightasfeathers.net

An ocellated turkey male. Photo: © Yeray Seminario, lightasfeathers.net

And here’s the turkey as conceived by Dr. Seuss. Or so it may appear.

The ocellated turkey is found only on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) bears a certain resemblance to the American wild turkey.

But it’s a different species. It is smaller and lacks the “beard” typical of the more familiar wild turkey. Its mating call is higher pitched than the usual “gobble.” The most striking difference, though, is the color.

The vibrant, almost unreal color: iridescent feathers, large spots on the tail, a bright red ring around the eye and a blue head covered with red and yellow nodules (nodules that swell and become brighter in males during the breeding season).

But despite its charismatic appearance, it’s striking how little we know about this beautiful bird, especially information critical for its conservation.

Read more about the ocellated turkey.

And coming Thanksgiving week: Join ornithologist and blogger Joe Smith as he takes an in-depth look at turkey reintroduction and its unintended impacts on the 5 turkey subspecies.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

 

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/13/turkey-natural-history-conservation-science-thanksgiving/feed/ 1
My Day as a Mule Deer http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/12/mule-deer-migration-wyoming-wildlife-corridors/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/12/mule-deer-migration-wyoming-wildlife-corridors/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 10:00:42 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=44993 Mule deer face numerous obstacles on their migrations, including lots of fences. Photo: © Scott Copeland

Mule deer face numerous obstacles on their migrations, including lots of fences. Photo: © Scott Copeland

By Jennifer Lamb, Southwest Wyoming Program Director

I spend a lot of time thinking about migration – in particular,  migrating mule deer and their journey through a landscape marked by change.

Today I’m on the western flank of the Wind River Range in southwest Wyoming.

I’m here because I want to experience what these migrating critters deal with every day of their lives.

Seven does and a three-point buck bound away from me through the sagebrush. They were so still in the draw that I hadn’t noticed them, even through my binos.

I’m hiking part of a mule deer migration corridor that runs from the Red Desert to the Hoback, south of Jackson Hole.

Scientists from the University of Wyoming recently documented this daunting route: Each year, these animals journey 150 miles twice a year, moving between winter and summer range.

But it’s no longer a straightforward journey; these deer face obstacles along the way. They are considerable. Some day they may be insurmountable.

Mule deer still have space to migrate, but what does the future hold? Photo: © Chris Pague/TNC

Mule deer still have space to migrate, but what does the future hold? Photo: © Chris Pague/TNC

I watch as the buck and three does leap the fence that divides federal and private land. The remaining three think too long about the leap, resist, and look for options to go around. There are none for miles.

Jump, they must.

Of course these deer can’t know that the fence they jumped may one day mark a divide between functional habitat and fragmented land that becomes too tricky to traverse. In this wide-open and stunning landscape, there is pressure from both residential and energy development.

After this fence, there are more than a hundred between here and their destination. Some have been modified by landowners to comply with “wildlife friendly” specifications. Some have not and will catch their share of animals that become ensnared and eventually starve to death.

Fences may look innocuous, but they can be deadly for mule deer and other wildlife. Photo: © Scott Copeland

Fences may look innocuous, but they can be deadly for mule deer and other wildlife. Photo: © Scott Copeland

A few miles up the corridor, my group of furry friends will begin to negotiate numerous roads, some paved, some dirt. All are potentially deadly crossings.

Nestled within these roads are homes, recreation sites and campgrounds. My friends at Wyoming Game and Fish tell me that they have spent hours watching the deer as they wait in the sage, scanning the activity, timing their dash through the threat web of people, cars, dogs and roads. My anxiety rises just thinking about it.

It’s a stressful effort, and we know that additional stress puts these animals at risk. They often have to move too quickly through stopover areas – those places where they pause to rest and refuel – and crucial range that would otherwise provide critical food and a safe haven.

Further up the corridor, my ungulate friends will come to a quarter-mile bottleneck, where they’re forced to find a way through a busy recreation site or make an icy swim across a lake to private land.

In the spring, when the lake is still partially frozen, some are trapped under the ice and drown.

Scientists tell us that these deer have followed this exact same path for hundreds of years, as mothers pass the tradition to their fawns. What’s amazing is that the corridor is still largely passable, though shortened at its southern end by the construction of Interstate 80 in the 1960s.

Knowing the patchwork of land ownership, however, and the growth in recreation and development, the landscape will change. Stress levels will rise.

How can we help maintain traditional wildlife movement in a dynamic landscape?

How can we help maintain migration corridors in a dynamic landscape? Photo: © Scott Copeland

How can we help maintain migration corridors in a dynamic landscape? Photo: © Scott Copeland

Fortunately, the use of technology tells us a great deal about where and how these animals move and the obstacles they must overcome. With the University’s research as our roadmap, agencies and conservation groups are working together to address the biggest threats to the mule deer journey.

Good things are happening. Wyoming’s Department of Transportation has already lowered the top strand of wire on a highway right-of-way fence.

Conservation groups are working with landowners to prevent fragmentation on key private land, including in the quarter-mile bottleneck. Others are working with federal agencies to ensure that land management plans require measures that enable migration.

Little by little, we hope to reduce the number of stress points. But as I head home to my warm fire and mug of tea, I think about what lies ahead for the group of seven.

Perhaps it’s good that they don’t know the details. They will plug away, mile by mile, doing what they’ve been taught to do, come hell or high water.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/12/mule-deer-migration-wyoming-wildlife-corridors/feed/ 1
Citizen Science Tuesday: Plankton Portal http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/11/citizen-science-plankton-oceans-climate-environmental-change-wildlife-nature/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/11/citizen-science-plankton-oceans-climate-environmental-change-wildlife-nature/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:00:52 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=44975 Physonect siphonophore. Image © Jessica Luo / Cowen Lab / Plankton Portal.

Physonect siphonophore. Image © Jessica Luo / Cowen Lab / Plankton Portal.

Citizen Science Tuesday connects you with opportunities to be a part of conservation science with outdoor projects around the world and online projects to try from the comfort of your own home.

By Lisa Feldkamp, senior coordinator, new science audiences, The Nature Conservancy

What is Plankton Portal? 

A world without plankton.

That might not seem difficult to imagine. It’s likely you don’t think about plankton often.

But the fate of those seemingly inconsequential organisms affects the entire ocean. And you can help. In fact, you might even help make a new discovery.

“If all the plankton in the oceans were to die off, then we would see a catastrophic collapse of life in the oceans,” says Jessica Luo of the Plankton Portal science team.

A loss of plankton would also affect the global carbon cycle and therefore the climate.

And yet, plankton are poorly understood. Their small size, massive numbers, and wide variety make them difficult to study, especially outside of the lab.

Enter Plankton Portal. New imaging systems allow researchers to capture pictures of plankton in their native environment. They are calling on citizen scientists to help them categorize the images for further study.

“Folks have already started finding new things that we have never seen,” Luo notes.

That’s right, you really could make a scientific discovery.

“This project is one of the first of its kind — the first time that we have used crowd-sourcing to analyze plankton samples,” Luo adds. “This is really just the beginning of our being able to harness the power of the crowd to make scientific discoveries about previously under-studied animals in the ocean. We hope that this data can be used to inform our current limited understanding of species distribution and behavior.” 

Why is Plankton Portal Important?

Understanding more about plankton (what kinds, where, and how many?) can tell scientists a lot about ocean health.

“As someone who enjoys living near the ocean, eating seafood, and visiting beaches, I value plankton immensely. They are the bottom of the food chain, the absolute essential food item for a whole variety of organisms, from larval and juvenile fish to baleen whales,” says Luo.

Answering questions about plankton distribution could also lead to better climate models.

“Climate change is happening – so what? How will climate change affect ecosystems, and ecosystem services? Incorporating plankton into climate models is the first step to addressing those kinds of questions for the global oceans,” Luo explains.

Perhaps most importantly, Plankton Portal teaches people about the incredible diversity of plankton and the role of plankton in keeping the oceans and the atmosphere healthy.

Spend some time with this project, and you won’t wonder about the value of plankton any longer.

“When you look under a microscope at a plankton sample and see all the different bugs crawling around, you get a small sense of the diversity that is in the ocean,” Luo remarks. “But what I never realized was all the different kinds of plankton that aren’t usually caught by nets – at least in their whole form.”

Those hard to catch plankton, primarily zooplankton, are what Plankton Portal scientists are especially keen to study.

Not only are there resources for using Plankton Portal in the classroom, seeing the beauty and diversity of plankton on the website inspires many citizen scientists to learn more.

“Users have gone way above and beyond in their classifications and started learning about the biology and ecology of the organisms we find in Plankton Portal,” Luo explains.

How Do You Get Involved In Plankton Portal?

Plankton Portal is a Zooniverse citizen science project, like Floating Forests or Penguin Watch. If you’ve already signed up for one of those, you can use the same log in information to track your contributions.

You can also visit Plankton Portal and classify images anonymously.

Classifying plankton is surprisingly easy to learn with the help of the Plankton Portal interface, a brief tutorial will have you up and running in about ten minutes.

The images are beautiful and you can help out from anywhere in the world.

Plankton Portal invites you on a voyage into the unknown. Try it yourself or with your family. It could spark a lifelong passion for science and the ocean!


Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/11/citizen-science-plankton-oceans-climate-environmental-change-wildlife-nature/feed/ 0
Eating Lionfish: Effective Conservation, or a Cure Worse than the Disease? http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/10/eating-lionfish-effective-conservation-or-a-cure-worse-than-the-disease/ http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/10/eating-lionfish-effective-conservation-or-a-cure-worse-than-the-disease/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 10:00:23 +0000 http://blog.nature.org/science/?p=44961 Lionfish have become invasive in the Caribbean. Can eating them help stop the spread? Photo: © Jeff Yonover

Lionfish have become invasive in the Caribbean. Can eating them help stop the spread? Photo: © Jeff Yonover

By Matt Miller, senior science writer

Save the reef. Eat a lionfish.

It’s a rallying cry heard ‘round the Caribbean.

Conservationists have embraced the call to stop this marine invasive species – via the dinner plate.

There are lionfish safaris. Lionfish derbies. Restaurants from Key West to St. Croix to Cancun serve lionfish ceviche, lionfish chowder, lionfish fritters.

There are even entrepreneurs selling jewelry made of lionfish.

Add to this diving courses, web sites and even a Twitter feed (@KillTheLionfish) all aimed at educating would-be lionfish hunters.

Is this a highly effective response to a conservation issue?

Or, as prominent marine ecologist John Bruno has maintained, are we promoting “lionfish hysteria,” with the control tactics doing more harm than good?

Snapshot of an Invasion

Lionfish are a Pacific species that have been sold as aquarium pets, but they don’t always make the best species to keep in an aquarium.

“When you see how aggressively a lionfish behaves on a reef, you can see why people wouldn’t want them in an aquarium,” says Kemit Amon-Lewis, coral conservation manager for the Conservancy. “They eat everything. Invasive species experts theorize that, when pet owners found this out, they set them free.”

This has wreaked havoc on many reefs, and they have spread rapidly on the Caribbean. They showed up on the reefs around St. Croix, where Lewis lives, in 2007.

“At first, some thought we could catch it early and eradicate them,” says Lewis. “It soon became clear that wasn’t going to happen.”

Instead, lionfish threatened to alter reef ecology. “They don’t have natural predators in the Caribbean. They’re voracious feeders,” Lewis says. “They eat everything smaller than them. And I mean everything, even smaller lionfish. Most damaging, though, is the fact that they’re removing important reef herbivores essential for keeping the reef healthy.”

While it became clear that lionfish were too prevalent to completely stop, it also became clear some action was needed.

And here, many conservationists realized one important fact about the lionfish: They’re tasty.

Is this an invasive problem we could solve via the dinner table?

Lionfish, It’s What’s For Dinner

A typical sign seen in many Caribbean locales.

A typical sign seen in many Caribbean locales.

Lewis sees promising signs that this approach could work. Local restaurants have had promising results serving lionfish in a number of ways, and local dive clubs and even tour operators organize trips to hunt lionfish with spears.

“They’re easy to recognize, they taste good and divers can make a big difference when they target reefs,” Lewis says.

Conservationists have been busy demonstrating how to prepare fish and how to deal with the venomous spines (deactivated when the fish is cooked) as well as working with dive operators so they report any lionfish they see.

We want lionfish hunters to kill them all, not just focus on individuals big enough for the market,” says Lewis. “In this case, we want people to overfish them. Not only does eating lionfish help remove invasives, it also takes pressure off native reef fish.”

But other conservationists ask: Is this really a viable approach? Or does it cause more problems than it solves?

Lionfish Hysteria?

The idea of eating invasives – known by some as the invasivore movement – has become a popular idea in certain conservation circles, thanks to prominent media coverage and books like Jackson Landers’ Eating Aliens.

Other conservationists see some inherent pitfalls. They worry that creating a market for invasive species could actually cause invasives to have a constituency, which in turn would lead to sustainable management rather than prevention or eradication.

Some might even spread the invasives further. This has happened with feral hogs. Some believe hunters could help stop the spread. But the reality is, hunters have been primarily responsible for spreading hogs into new states.

In the case of lionfish, this seems less likely, as marine species are managed differently.

Some worry that encouraging the hunting of lionfish could encourage spearfishing for other, native species.

Lewis believes education is vital to the success of the control effort. People need to know where the lionfish comes from. They need to know how to deal with them. And they need to practice responsible lionfish hunting.

“There are people who were spearing them and feeding them to sharks,” says Lewis. “This was training sharks to associate with people. That’s not a good strategy. We have been very focused on educating people on how to deal with a lionfish encounter, and also training restaurants on how to serve them.”

The Quest for a Lionfish Dinner

Despite this, during my two weeks reporting on marine issues in St. Croix and the Florida Keys, I failed in my attempt to have a dinner of lionfish. While more restaurants are serving the invasive, it remains difficult to find a place with it on the menu.

Here I am reminded of other efforts to get people to eat invasives, from nutria to carp to squirrels.

They all make perfect ecological sense, and taste just fine.

But in the end, few will eat nutria. There might be a few who try it as a stunt, but it’s not going to replace beef.

Here, though, is where the lionfish might be different. It’s a fish, colorful and bizarre but no more so than many other marine species on our plate. People don’t have food prejudices against it like they do for, say, rodents or insects.

And lionfish is delicious. While I failed on this trip, I have previously had lionfish ceviche served on the Yucatan Peninsula. People were already seeking that restaurant out due to that dish.

So maybe this is a case where it really can work. Lewis, who actively campaigns for lionfish control, sees this as an invasive problem that tourists, divers, commercial fishers and chefs can make a big difference.

“I think people are making a difference at specific reef sites,” says Lewis. “No, we are not going to be able to eradicate lionfish. But we can help people pinpoint reefs where they can make a real difference, really affecting reef health and native fish populations. With a bit of education, there’s no hysteria here. It’s just a common-sense strategy that works.”

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.

]]>
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/11/10/eating-lionfish-effective-conservation-or-a-cure-worse-than-the-disease/feed/ 6