The Butterfly Effect: Early Spring Could Lead To Wildlife Population Declines

Photo credit: Carol Boggs

A chain of events caused by climate change has led to a decline in butterfly populations in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, researchers at Stanford University recently found.

The study, published in the scientific journal Ecology Letters, could be prescient in determining the long-lasting effects of climate change on many of the world’s species.

As climate change leads to an early spring, the snowmelt caused by the warmer temperatures on the Rocky Mountains decreases the number of summer wildflowers. Fewer flowers, of course, mean less nectar available to butterflies.

In the researchers’ tests, the more nectar female butterflies ate, the more eggs they laid. Therefore, less available nectar led to fewer butterflies being born and, consequently, population declines, they concluded.

If climate change could have such a dramatic impact on butterfly populations, could similar cascading effects be seen in other wildlife species?

It’s quite likely, scientists say, because of the close interconnection among species within an ecosystem.

For instance, earlier snowmelt’s effect on flowers also impacts bees , which pollinate many of the plants that other species rely on for nutrition.

All of these studies serve to remind us of the wide-reaching impacts of climate change.

“Long-term studies such as ours are important to understanding the ‘ecology of place,’ and the effects of weather and possible climate change on population numbers,” says David Inouye, co-author of the paper. “This research is critical to assessing the broader effects of weather on an ever-changing Earth.”

 

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Ocean Acidity Eating Away At Important Ecosystems

Photo credit: Toby Hudson

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase ocean acidity levels by 150% by the year 2100, which would have catastrophic effects on the planet’s ecosystems, a new report shows.

The study, conducted jointly by several United Nations (UN) sub-organizations, was prepared by scholars for the UN Climate Change Conference – to be held this June in Rio de Janeiro – in order to educate the global community about the vital need to protect the planet’s oceans from rising carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Ocean acidity levels have increased by 26% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. According to the UN report, even under a business-as-usual scenario, ocean-acidity levels would be destructive enough to dissolve calcium-carbonate phytoplankton and zooplankton species, which serve as a crucial food source in ocean ecosystems.

The impact would be most profound in colder temperate and polar regions, where carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed, wreaking further havoc on already threatened environments.

A grim picture? Perhaps. But the reality could be even worse if steps are not taken to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Nonetheless, and as cliche as it may sound, recognizing the problem is the first step in curing it. The good news is that one of the primary focuses of the climate-change conference in Rio will be to take action to mitigate and adapt to – and even reverse – ocean acidification to protect biodiversity and the planet’s ecosystems.

 

Brazil’s Forests, Ecosystems At Lawmakers’ Mercy

The Amazon and other important ecosystems in Brazil could soon be in danger, as new legislation attempts to send crucial forest protections to the chopping block.

The bill seeks to cut elements of the nation’s Forest Code, which mandates that a certain proportion of rural land be protected as forest, as well as establishes protections for natural vegetation in “sensitive” areas, such as on steep slopes and along the margins of rivers and streams.

According to a statement issued by the World Wildlife Fund, which starkly opposes the legislation, Big Ag has been lobbying Brazilian lawmakers to remove portions of the code in order to open up more land for cattle ranching and agriculture.

Thousands of protestors filled the lawn in front of the Brazilian National Congress this week, urging lawmakers to reject the legislation. The WWF also reports that over 1.5 million Brazilian have signed a petition encouraging President Dilma Rousseff to veto the reform bill if it were to pass both house of Congress.

Several of the country’s senators have expressed their opposition to the bill, according to representatives from the WWF who were present at the demonstrations.

“The draft bill, as it stands, only benefits a handful of big agribusiness groups and large landowners, and it will actually be promoting and rewarding deforestation in the Amazon,” Sen. Randolphe Rodrigues commented, according to a WWF report. “The text sets us against the tide of history – it stands for economic power alone, which destroys and debilitates so many beautiful things.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week, and it will then be sent back to the House for the final vote.

Study Reveals Massive Ecological Effects Of Animal Population Declines

Photo by Erik Christensen

The loss of large predators and herbivores has led to a staggering ecological shift and, in some cases, even contributed to climate change, according to a new research released by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

According to the study, reductions in the populations of large animals have had detrimental effects on marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems around the world.

For example, whales sequester carbon in the ocean through the deposition of feces. Industrial whaling has caused whale populations to plummet over the last 100 years, causing an additional 105 million tons of carbon to be released into the atmosphere, the research concludes.

In this instance, a population decline has contributed to climate change. But the inevitable chicken-and-egg quandary emerges: Are the changes to the ecosystem leading to climate change, or is climate change resulting in ecological shifts?

Perhaps a combination of both, depending on the individual animal population and ecosystem. Even this study admits that, in addition to the loss of large predators and herbivores, a variety of factors – including land-use practices, habitat loss, pollution and climate change – have altered ecosystems worldwide.

Catch 22 aside, this research sends a clear message: Earth’s delicate balance is easily disrupted, and conservation is key to its survival.