Oceans: Satellite data shows leatherback sea turtles ranging far and wide in search of jellyfish

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A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

New study to help inform conservation efforts along East Coast and Caribbean

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Threatened leatherback sea turtles like to hang out off the northeastern U.S. coast in late summer and fall, when mature jellyfish are abundant in the area, scientists said last week, sharing the results of a long-term study based on satellite data of tagged sea turtles.

“Our study provides new insights about how male and immature turtles behave, how they use their habitats and how that differs from adult females,” said University of Massachusetts researcher Kara Dodge. “Resource managers for protected marine species have lacked this key understanding, especially in coastal regions of the U.S. and Caribbean where leatherbacks and intense human activity coincide.” Continue reading

New Idaho wolf law draws howls of outrage

State lawmakers aim to cut wolf numbers drastically

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park)

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Just a few years after Congress removed endangered species protection for wolves in Idaho, state lawmakers seem hellbent on driving the predators back to brink of extirpation.

The Idaho Legislature this week created a wolf depredation control board controlled by anti-wildlife interests. The board will administer a $400,000 fund set up explicitly to kill wolves. Conservation advocates say the new law could result in the slaughter of 500 wolves, leaving just 150 in the state. Continue reading

Report: Ecosystem disruptions expected in Ross Sea

‘Portions of the food web that depend on ice in their life cycles will be negatively impacted, leading to severe ecological disruptions’

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How will changes in the Antarctic food chain affect aquatic mammals? bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Climate change will fundamentally change The Ross Sea, one of Antarctica’s productive biological regions, but exactly how those changes will play out is hard to predict, scientists said after running computer models combining sea-ice, ocean, atmosphere and ice-shelf interactions.

The region is likely to experience ‘severe ecological disruptions,” a group of scientists wrote in their new study, explaining that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will create longer periods of ice-free open water, affecting the life cycles of both predators and prey. Continue reading

Environment: Study says overpopulation of deer at root of invasive plant problem in Pennsylvania forests

Ecosystem breakdown more complex than just invasive species

Colorado mule deer.

Colorado mule deer. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Valiant weed warriors, who have made it their mission to try and eradicate non-native plants, may want to think about the bigger ecological picture as they plan their weekend weed pulls.

A new study led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Susan Kalisz suggests that, in some cases, invasive plants overwhelm native ecosystems because of an overpopulation of deer. The density of deer in the United States is about four to 10 times what it was prior to European settlement of North America. That density, Kalisz posits, is the main reason garlic mustard is crowding out native plants, such as trillium, which are preferred food for wild deer. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Montana Supreme Court ends bison battle

Ruling gives herds more room to roam

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Bison grazing in the South Dakota badlands. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Native bison will get more room to roam outside Yellowstone National Park, as the Montana Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that will end the slaughter of bison leaving the park. The court decision also gives the wild animals seasonal access to important winter and early spring habitat outside the north boundary of the park in the Gardiner Basin area until May 1 of each year.

The ruling ends a bitter and long-running battle between wildlife advocates and ranchers, who just can’t seem to let go of their innate hostility toward most native species, including predators. The courts have now twice rebuffed demands by some livestock producers and their allies to require aggressive hazing and slaughtering of bison that enter the Gardiner Basin area from Yellowstone National Park in the winter and early spring in search of the forage they need to survive. Continue reading

Do farmed salmon threaten wild populations?

Salmon species.

Salmon species.

Millions of escaped domestic salmon could overwhelm genetic pool of wild fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Farmed salmon represent a clear threat to wild populations based simply on the sheer numbers of domesticated fish that escape their pens. Millions  of farmed salmon escape captivity each year, potentially with huge consequences for the genetics of wild populations, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia.

The researchers concluded that, while farmed salmon are genetically different to their wild counterparts, they are just as fertile. With full reproductive potential to invade wild gene pools, farmed salmon should be sterilized, the study concluded. Continue reading

Study: Eastern chickadee populations moving fast in response to global warming

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Some bird populations are shifting fast in response to climate change. bberwyn photo.

‘The rapidity with which these changes are happening is a big deal’

*More Summit Voice stories on birds and climate change here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Watching climate change is a little more subtle than just sitting around watching a thermometer, but sometimes even scientists are surprised at just how fast things are changing.

A group of East Coast university researchers probably felt that way as they studied the breeding areas of Carolina and black-capped chickadees. Along a narrow zone in the eastern U.S., the two species interbreed, and that overlap zone is moving northward at 0.7 miles per year — a full-on sprint by geological time standards. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds finalize critical habitat for jaguars

Jaguar. Image via the Wikimedia Commons.

Jaguar. Image via the Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly 1,200 square miles of territory protected for recovery of native cats

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Nearly 17 years after federal biologists first listed jaguars under the Endangered Species Act, the wild cats may now have a protected area to roam in the wilds of the Southwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week designated about 1,200 square miles of rugged desert, mountain and forest lands in southern Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for jaguars — but only after a sustained legal push by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federal wildlife agency initially resisted mapping out protected areas, claiming that the cats are too rare for habitat protection. Wildlife advocates challenged the agency’s position and a federal court rejected the government’s argument, leading to this week’s critical habitat listing notice in the Federal Register. The USFWS is also working on a jaguar recovery plan for the area. Continue reading

Study tracks feeding habits of black bears in Yosemite National Park

American black bears are notorious scavengers, and their habit of seeking out human food nearly always ends badly. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

American black bears are notorious scavengers, and their habit of seeking out human food nearly always ends badly. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

‘Dumpster diving’ back down to levels of 100 years ago

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Biologists say that recent measures to prevent bears in Yosemite National Park from eating human food are showing signs of success. The proportion of human foods in their diets decreased by about 63 percent after new strategies were implemented in 1999.

The new study, led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, shows how much human food has contributed to the diets of Yosemite bears over the past century. The scientists reached their finding after comparing chemical isotopes in hair and bone samples from today’s park bears with samples from museum specimens. Continue reading

Bay Area national parks to host BioBlitz 2014

Citizen science in the spotlight

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Fungi growing in redwood litter at Muir Woods National Monument. bberwyn photo.

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Muir Woods. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — California’s Golden Gate National Parks will host BioBlitz 2014 (March 28-29), bringing together 300 scientists and naturalists from around the country, more than 2,000 students, including 1,400 students from the San Francisco Unified School District, school groups from surrounding counties and thousands of Bay Area community members.

Bioblitz participants will comb the parks, observing and recording as many plant and animal species as possible in 24 hours. Inventory activities include counting seals, documenting insects, spotting birds, examining aquatic invertebrates and using technology to better understand the varied ecosystems of these unique national parks in an urban area.

“The Golden Gate National Parks are well-loved by the surrounding Bay Area as well as visitors around the world,” said Golden Gate National Recreation Area General Superintendent Frank Dean. “BioBlitz will allow people to explore the parks in a new way, better understand the biodiversity that exists and help document and protect these amazing natural resources,” Dean said. Continue reading

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