The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is getting the word out on simple steps we can all take to help save birds. This follows on the Lab's reporting on the significant loss of birds that was highlighted in one of our earlier blog posts. On the Lab's website are Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds. Check it out.
Some the actions listed are approved ORMN projects. For instance Feeder Watch and eBird. And if you need to brush up on your bird identification skills, the Lab's Bird Academy is offering Feeder Watch bird identification online courses (as well as host of other online courses to meet your continuing bird education needs) . Check out their other bird information resources as well.
The FeederWatch season runs from November 9 – April 3. Happy feeder watching!
First global map of earthworms reveals which places are chock-full of them—and why
By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine, Oct. 24, 2019 , 2:00 PM
Earthworms are the unsung heroes of the planet’s ecosystems: Unnoticed below our feet, they grind up soil and dead matter, recycling essential nutrients and moving air and water deeper into the ground. Without them, soil health would suffer and plant productivity would falter. Now, for the first time, researchers have mapped where these humble invertebrates live, identifying wormy hot spots around the globe. The project, which pooled earthworm data from more than 140 scientists and 6900 sites, has cataloged hundreds of species and revealed trends about where each plies the soils—and under what conditions they thrive.
“The results … provide a comprehensive global perspective on one of the most important animal groups,” says Stefan Scheu, an ecologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who was not involved with the work. Scientists can now start to come up with conservation plans for worms and other organisms that integrate life above and below ground, he adds.
During the 1800s, intrepid explorers collected and cataloged many of the world’s plants and animals, providing range maps for different species that launched further study. But that wasn’t true for subterranean life. “We’ve been lacking basic information [for a long time] about what earthworms live where,” says Noah Fierer, a soil ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
So, soil ecologist Helen Phillips from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig and her colleagues contacted all the earthworm researchers they could track down to ask for data about the animals living in their study sites. Ultimately, 141 scientists provided numbers and species names from more than 6900 sites across 57 countries. “There was about three times as much data as I was expecting,” Phillips says.
Compiling and analyzing those data, many of them in different formats, must have been a challenge, says Katalin Szlavecz, a soil ecologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. For example, earthworms have been studied long enough in Europe that most of the species are known. (The United Kingdom has 33 kinds.) But in the tropics, “Every time they dig a hole, they find a new species of earthworm,” Phillips says. And that uneven amount of study had to be taken into account to use the data effectively.
She and her team evaluated the data to make sure they were as comparable as possible from site to site, and then used computer modeling to generate their global map. They were surprised when their analysis showed that temperature and rainfall seem to have a greater influence on where earthworms do best than soil type, they report today in Science.
“It’s surprising that soil properties weren’t the most important driver,” says Tami Ransom, a community ecologist at Salisbury University in Maryland. Szlavecz, too, was astonished how little soil type mattered. The effects of temperature and rainfall suggest climate change will have a far greater influence on below-ground life than expected, they say. Consequently, life above ground might also be affected in ways not previously anticipated.
The distribution of different earthworm species was also surprising. When it comes to life above ground, the tropics have the greatest biodiversity. But underground, these constantly warm regions are far less diverse, at least at a local scale: The rich soils of Europe, the northeastern United States, the southern tip of South America, and the southern regions of New Zealand and Australia seem to have more earthworm species in a given area. Those temperate zones also host more earthworms overall, according to the model, with up to 150 per square meter versus just five per square meter in the tropics.
It’s vital to know what earthworms exist where, says Kevin Butt, an ecologist at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the work. That’s especially true, he adds, “as we are in an era when large global upheavals are at play.”
Posted in: Plants & Animals doi:10.1126/science.aaz9771
By Eva Frederick, Science Magazine Oct. 10, 2019 , 12:15 PM
State birds can be a source of tremendous local pride—but as the climate warms, at least eight state birds may no longer call their native state home, The New York Times reports. In a new study, National Audubon Society scientists mapped the ranges of 604 North American bird species and used climate models to predict how the their habitats would change. Many species, the team concluded, would likely end up moving north to find their ideal habitats. For example, if temperatures rise 3°C above preindustrial levels—a plausible outcome, according to scientists—the common loon, Minnesota’s state bird, might bypass the state entirely and fly farther north to breed and hunt for food. Unfortunately, moving north might not be enough for many species—out of all types of bird studied, two-thirds face increasing risk of extinction as temperatures rise.
Trees and Climate Resilience
Article from NPR Website
October 16, 2019 12:08 PM ET
Forest biologist Patricia Maloney is raising 10,000 sugar pine seedlings descended from trees that survived California's historic drought.
When California's historic five-year drought finally relented a few years ago the tally of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada was higher than almost anyone expected: 129 million. Most are still standing, the dry patches dotting the mountainsides.
But some trees did survive the test of heat and drought. Now, scientists are racing to collect them, and other species around the globe, in the hope that these "climate survivors" have a natural advantage that will allow them to better cope with a warming world.
On the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Patricia Maloney, a UC Davis forest and conservation biologist, hunts for these survivors. Most people focus on the dead trees, their brown pine needles obvious against the glittering blue of the lake. But Maloney tends not to notice them. "I look for the good," she says. "Like in people, you look for the good, not the bad. I do the same in forest systems."
Maloney studies sugar pines, a tree John Muir once called the "king" of conifers. "They have these huge, beautiful cones," she says. "They're stunning trees." The sugar pines on these slopes endured some of the worst water stress in the region. Winter snowpack melts fastest on south-facing slopes, leaving the trees with little soil moisture over the summer. That opens the door for the trees' tiny nemesis, which would deal the fatal blow.
Here you have some really good mountain pine beetle galleries," Maloney says, as she peels the bark off a dead sugar pine to show winding channels eaten into the wood. "Like little beetle highways." Pine beetle outbreaks are a normal occurrence in the Sierra. As the beetles try to bore into the bark, pine trees can usually fight them off by spewing a sticky, gummy resin, entrapping the insects. But trees need water to make resin.
During the drought, "the tank ran dry, and they weren't able to mobilize any sort of resin," Maloney says.
Evolution is a tool that we can bring to bear in helping us get through this future.
But next to this dead tree, Maloney points to one towering above, the same exact species, that has healthy green pine needles. Somehow, it was able to fight the beetles off and survive the drought. As she's found more and more of these survivors, Maloney has studied them, trying to figure out their secret. "What we found is that the ones that were green, like this one, were more water-use efficient than their dead counterparts," she says. In other words, the survivors had an innate ability to do more with less. Individual members of any species can vary dramatically, something tied to genetic differences. That diversity comes in handy when environmental conditions change.
The drought, heat and beetle outbreaks in recent years put extreme pressure on sugar pines, creating a natural experiment that weeded out all but the toughest. "I think what we're seeing is contemporary natural selection," Maloney says. Now, she's trying to ensure their descendants survive.
Inside a greenhouse at her Tahoe City field station, Maloney shows off a sea of young green trees in their own containers. These 10,000 sugar pine seedlings grew from seeds Maloney and her team collected from 100 of the surviving sugar pines. Over the next year, these young trees will be replanted around Lake Tahoe, both on national forest and private land. The hope is the trees, due to their genetics, will be better able to handle a warming climate, more extreme droughts and more frequent beetle outbreaks. "These survivors matter," Maloney says. She plans to study the genetics of these trees as they grow, research that could help in other climate-threatened forests.
And Maloney's not alone in searching for species that can handle the warming climate. "Evolution is a tool that we can bring to bear in helping us get through this future," says Steve Palumbi, a biology professor at Stanford University, who has been looking for coral that can handle heat. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying as oceans warm, so Palumbi is growing surviving corals in the hope they can build new reefs full of "super corals." Reefs aren't just tourist attractions, he says. They're also biodiversity hotspots that protect coastlines from flooding by absorbing wave energy. "If it gives us another decade, if it gives us another two generations, that'll be good, we'll take it," he says. "I see these next 80 years as the time where we have to save as much as possible."
But beyond that, it gets trickier, given the rate the climate is changing. "The question in the future is: When the environment changes and it changes really fast, can these populations keep up?" he asks. "How fast can they adapt? How much help will they give us in keeping those ecosystems going?" Ultimately, Palumbi says, the best solution for these species is for humans to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases. In the meantime, scientists are trying to buy them a little more time.
© 2019 npr
See also: The Tree Canopy Biota video
The Complex Webs We Weave
by Jeff Stehm
Halloween is approaching and it’s time to consider that ubiquitous symbol of the haunted house – the spider’s web. We often see spiders as scary or a nuisance, and their webs as something that must be brushed away, but in fact spiders and the webs they weave are one of the complex wonders of nature.
Dating back almost 400 million years ago, spiders are among the most diverse of terrestrial predators. At least 48,200 spider species, and 120 spider families have been recorded by taxonomists. While we typically associate spiders with webs, not all spiders spin webs (see Wolf Spiders) or use the silk they produce for webs (see Jumping Spiders). Species that produce silk, but not webs, may use silk in several ways: as wrappers for sperm and for fertilized eggs; as a "safety rope"; for nest-building; and as "parachutes" by the young of some species.
But webs are what we notice, so let’s learn a bit about web materials, web structure, web functions, and the evolution of webs.
Attached is a paper titled "Biodiversity Loss - The Decline of the North American Avifauna" authored by scientists from Cornell Ornithology Lab, SCBI, and others on the loss of North American birds. It not only documents the extraordinary loss of birds in North America, but also shows important citizen science has been in conducting such research.
Paper Summary: Species extinctions have defined the global biodiversity crisis, but extinction begins with loss in abundance of individuals that can result in compositional and functional changes of ecosystems. Using multiple and independent monitoring networks, the article reports population losses across much of the North American avifauna over 48 years, including once-common species and from most biomes. Integration of range-wide population trajectories and size estimates indicates a net loss approaching 3 billion birds, or 29% of 1970 abundance. A continent-wide weather radar network also reveals a similarly steep decline in biomass passage of migrating birds over a recent 10-year period. This loss of bird abundance signals an urgent need to address threats to avert future avifaunal collapse and associated loss of ecosystem integrity, function, and services.
Link to Science Magazine article
What Can ORMN Members Do?
Cornell Ornithology Lab is encouraging citizen scientists in the month of October to use the eBird application to record bird observations. In particular, October 19th has been designated as the Global Big Day where citizen scientists are asked to use eBird over 24 hours to note the birds observed at their favorite park/county/state/province country/continent (https://ebird.org/octoberbigday). The record to beat is last year’s total of 6,331 species on a single October day.
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