Weekly round-up: February 21

Goldfinches are among the species changing their winter migration habits due to climate change (Grégory Delaunay)

Climate change is altering the composition of wintering bird communities in Europe and North America faster than that of breeding populations, according to new research.

The study, led by the University of Helsinki, found that while warming temperatures are affecting both communities, the higher proportion of migratory species in the wintering areas revealed a more rapid move to higher latitudes and altitudes.

In addition, some birds are capable of mid-winter migration in response to weather and temperature, while relocation during the breeding season is not possible.

Aleksi Lehikoinen, senior curator at the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, University of Helsinki, said: “Climate change is reshaping bird communities so that abundance of southern species increases, while the abundance of northern species is reduced.

“In Finland, wintering bird communities in particular have changed due to the rapid increase in abundance of southern species, such as the tufted duck, the blackbird and the goldfinch. As winters become warmer faster than summers, our winter bird communities will continue to change rapidly also in the future.”

The study involved observation of almost three billion birds across Europe and North America over the past four decades.
Publication Journal of Animal Ecology

The Moonflower cactus in full bloom (Cambridge University Botanic Garden)

A rare Amazonian cactus at Cambridge University Botanic Garden drew attention from across the globe when blooming for the first time on Saturday – the fleeting event, which lasted just a few hours, was watched by thousands on YouTube.

The Moonflower cactus, Selenicereus wittii, is only found above the high waterline of floodplain forests in the Amazon Basin. Its flowers reach up to 27cm in length and emit “a beautiful sweet-smelling fragrance as they blossom at sunset”, but for just two hours – the scent quickly turns unpleasant and the flowering is over by sunrise.

The team at Cambridge believe it is the first time a Moonflower cactus has bloomed in Britain.

CUBG glasshouse supervisor Alex Summers said: “I noticed the flattened stems, or pads, which swirl around the trunk of our water chestnut had sent out a flowerbud in late November – which was a lucky spot as it’s almost 12 feet up in the air and could have so easily been missed!

“The flower has its nectary right at the base of the floral tube which means it can only be pollinated by an insect with a long tongue or proboscis. This is believed to be only one or two species of hawk moth. Once it has flowered and hopefully successfully pollinated, it then dies a few hours later, emitting a rancid smell.”

The Moonflower cactus’s flattened stems wrapped around a water chestnut (CUBG)

Cambridge’s cactus grew from a small pad acquired from Bonn Botanic Garden in Germany and has taken six years to flower.

Summers adds: “Other than being a highly rare and unusual event to witness, I also love the story about how this elusive flower came to our attention. This is thanks to an intrepid British female environmentalist and botanical artist Margaret Mee. She first saw the Moonflower in the Amazon in 1972 and then went back in her 70s to paint it in 1988.”

Watch a timelapse of the cactus flowering here.
Source Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

Bottlenose dolphins exposed to oil during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico still show disrupted immune function more than a decade after the ecological disaster.

Samples taken from dolphins in the Barataria Bay region of the Gulf exhibited alterations to their immune system similar to those taken immediately after the spill, and were also comparative to the effects seen in mice exposed to oil. Dolphins from Sarasota Bay in Florida, where no oil was observed, were sampled for reference.

The immunological changes were also observed in individuals born after the spill. 

Bottlenose dolphins continue to be affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Corresponding author Sylvain De Guise said: “The parallel between findings in dolphins exposed following the Deepwater Horizon spill and laboratory mice experimentally exposed to oil was impressive and really helped build the weight of evidence between oil exposure and specific effects on the immune system.

“However, the long-term effects and potential for multigenerational effects raise significant concerns for the recovery of dolphin populations following the spill.”
Publication Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

The global wildlife trade, worth billions of dollars annually, is having a significant impact on the world’s fauna and flora – with an average 62 per cent reduction in species diversity where trade takes place, a new study reports.

At least 100 million plants and animals are trafficked internationally every year – legally and illegally – including for use in medicines, luxury food or as pets. On a local scale, the trade in bushmeat supports around 150 million rural households worldwide.

Assessing 1,807 peer-reviewed studies and more than 200 reports from leading NGO Traffic, researchers found national and international trade to be most damaging, resulting in average declines of 76 per cent and 66 per cent. The pet trade drove average declines of 73 per cent, while extraction for bushmeat led to a drop of 60 per cent.

In protected areas the impacts were lower, but still resulted in declines averaging 56 per cent.

The authors of the study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, call for urgent improved management, stating that “tackling both unsustainable demand and trade reporting must be a conservation priority to prevent rampant trade-induced declines”.

The study, led by Oscar Morton from the University of Sheffield, concludes: “We must better protect traded species in the wild, via enhanced enforcement or improved local awareness of trade and hunting laws. However, these approaches can unfairly punish the economically marginalized, such as smallholders reliant on bushmeat for income and supplementary protein, and so they must be combined with programmes for up-skilling or income guarantees for local peoples. 

“Finally, international wildlife trade requires a globally coordinated and funded response to generate and synthesize data, as well as enact focused trade bans and appropriate policing. We need to combine this with enhanced global education and awareness to reduce global demand before local extirpations become global extinctions.”
Publication Nature Ecology and Evolution

Jaguars are part of rewilding efforts in Argentina (Nick Bar)

Jaguars have returned to Argentina’s Iberá wetlands as part of a rewilding project after being driven to local extinction 70 years ago. Only around 200 jaguars remain in the country.

Mariua, an adult female rescued as an orphan in Brazil, and her two cubs, were released into a protected area in the Gran Iberà Park last month – the first of nine planned for release.

Doreen Robinson, chief of wildlife at the United Nations Environment Programme, said: “Carefully re-introducing predators such as jaguars can help restore ecosystems. Without these species, biodiversity suffers and the services that nature provides can break down – from disease mitigation and soil protection to water system regulation.”

Watch Mariua and her cubs here.
Source Rewilding Earth/UNEP

The Covid-19 recovery is “an unmissable opportunity to invest in nature and reach net zero emissions by 2050” according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme, in which UN secretary-general António Guterres said humanity is “waging a war on nature”.

The report, Making Peace with Nature, addresses three major crises facing our planet – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – with the aim of creating a sustainable future and preventing future pandemics. 

Writing in the foreword, Guterres said: “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth. 

“Ending our war does not mean surrendering hard-won development gains. Nor does it cancel the rightful aspiration of poorer nations and people to enjoy better living standards. On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”

The report is designed as a “scientific blueprint” to help society tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution with the framework of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It highlights the need for collaborative transformation of societies and economies, with systemic change “a prerequisite for a sustainable future”.

Read the executive summary and full report here.
Source UNEP

Read At 50, the UN Environment Programme must lead again

Watch Get ready for International Polar Bear Day on February 21 with the BBC’s best polar bear moments

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