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Ecology Today

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Updated: 58 min 14 sec ago

Changes in Precipitation Patterns Influence Global Natural Selection

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 02:54

By Nation Science Foundation

Climate variation plays key role in evolution of plants and animals in the wild

Gray Wolf  –  Photo Gary Karmer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (CCO)

What matters more for the evolution of plants and animals, precipitation or temperature? Scientists have found a surprising answer: rain and snow may play a more important role than how hot or cold it is.

Rainfall and snowfall patterns are changing with climate variation, which likely plays a key role in shaping natural selection, according to results published today by an international team of researchers.

Twenty scientists from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia contributed to the study. Their results were published in the journal Science.

The team assembled a database of 168 published studies that measured natural selection over certain time periods for plant and animal populations worldwide. The results from the data set the scientists examined showed that between 20 and 40 percent of variation in selection within studies could be attributed to variability in local precipitation.

“Previous evidence from other studies indicated that climate variation might be really important in how plants and animals evolve,” said lead author and University of Arkansas biologist Adam Siepielski, whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). “We wanted to know if we could explain variation in selection across diverse plant and animal populations through a few simple climate variables. It turns out that, yes, we can.”

That’s significant, he says, “especially considering the global scale of the study. These results suggest that variation in selection is actually partly predictable based on climate features like precipitation.”

Adds Doug Levey, program director in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, “These results show that changes in precipitation can have surprising evolutionary effects on plants and animals worldwide.”

In a time of change for rainfall, snowstorms and other forms of precipitation, plants and animals are changing, too, Siepielski said. As an example, Siepielski cited birds that live in the Galápagos Islands, called medium ground finches. The birds’ beak sizes and shapes have changed over several generations.

“Differences in precipitation over years have affected the sizes of seeds available for the birds to eat,” Siepielski said. “Birds that had bills well-matched to eat particular seed sizes were the ones that tended to survive.”

The team found that changes in temperature had much less effect than precipitation. Siepielski called that surprising. “Temperature didn’t have much explanatory power,” he said. “It might act on a different scale that we couldn’t pick up in the data set.”

“By showing that selection was influenced by climate variation,” the researchers stated in their paper, “our results indicate that climate variability may cause widespread alterations in selection regimes, potentially shifting evolution on a global scale.”

Translation: what comes down as rain or snow may radically alter how some species will evolve.

NSF

Categories: Ecological News

March for Science Will Take Place on Earth Day

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 00:57

By PRNewswire-USNewswire

The March for Science will take place worldwide on Earth Day April 22, 2017 and includes a teach-in and rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The politicization of science, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.

Using the teach-in concept from the very first Earth Day in 1970, the Washington rally and teach-ins, and the world-wide events will fight against efforts to silence science by creating and supporting knowledge sharing, community engagement, citizen science and stewardship.

The D.C. rally and teach-in along with sister actions across the world will kick off a week of action throughout local communities to support science across all disciplines. An announcement of the week’s agenda will occur at a later date.

The initial list of partner groups will be released this week.

For questions: Denice Zeck, (202) 355-8875, afmediaservice@gmail.com; Dan Abrams, Earth Day Network, (202) 518-0044, abrams@earthday.org; Ted Bordelon, March for Science, ted@314action.org, (267) 469-7048

SOURCE Earth Day Network; March for Science

Categories: Ecological News

Common Crop Chemical Leaves Bees Susceptible to Deadly Viruses

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 02:43

By Sara Lajeunesse
Penn State News

A chemical that is thought to be safe and is, therefore, widely used on crops — such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits — to boost the performance of pesticides, makes honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible to a deadly virus, according to researchers at Penn State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Female carder bee. Photo wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.5

“In the lab, we found that the commonly used organosilicone adjuvant, Sylgard 309, negatively impacts the health of honey bee larvae by increasing their susceptibility to a common bee pathogen, the Black Queen Cell Virus,” said Julia Fine, graduate student in entomology, Penn State. “These results mirror the symptoms observed in hives following almond pollination, when bees are exposed to organosilicone adjuvant residues in pollen, and viral pathogen prevalence is known to increase. In recent years, beekeepers have reported missing, dead and dying brood in their hives following almond pollination, and exposure to agrochemicals, like adjuvants, applied during bloom, has been suggested as a cause.”

According to Chris Mullin, professor of entomology, Penn State, adjuvants in general greatly improve the efficacy of pesticides by enhancing their toxicities.

“Organosilicone adjuvants are the most potent adjuvants available to growers,” he said. “Based on the California Department of Pesticide Regulation data for agrochemical applications to almonds, there has been increasing use of organosilicone adjuvants during crop blooming periods, when two-thirds of the U.S. honey bee colonies are present.”

Fine noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies organosilicone adjuvants as biologically inert, meaning they do not cause a reaction in living things.

“As a result,” she said, “there are no federally regulated restrictions on their use.”

To conduct their study, the researchers reared honey bee larvae under controlled conditions in the laboratory. During the initial stages of larval development, they exposed the larvae to a low chronic dose of Sylgard 309 in their diets. They also exposed some of the larvae to viral pathogens in their diets on the first day of the experiment.

“We found that bees exposed to the organosilicone adjuvant had higher levels of Black Queen Cell Virus,” said Fine. “Not only that, when they were exposed to the virus and the organosilicone adjuvant simultaneously, the effect on their mortality was synergistic rather than additive, meaning that the mortality was higher from the simultaneous application of adjuvant and virus than from exposure to either the organosilicone adjuvant or the viral pathogen alone, even if those two mortalities were added together,” said Fine. “This suggests that the adjuvant is enhancing the damaging effects of the virus.”

The researchers also found that a particular gene involved in immunity — called 18-wheeler — had reduced expression in bees treated with the adjuvant and the virus, compared to bees in the control groups.

“Taken together, these findings suggest that exposure to organosilicone adjuvants negatively influences immunity in honey bee larvae, resulting in enhanced pathogenicity and mortality,” said Fine.

The results appear in today’s (Jan. 16) issue of Scientific Reports.

Mullin noted that the team’s results suggest that recent honey bee declines in the United States may, in part, be due to the increased use of organosilicone adjuvants.

“Billions of pounds of formulation and tank adjuvants, including organosilicone adjuvants, are released into U.S. environments each year, making them an important component of the chemical landscape to which bees are exposed,” he said. “We now know that at least Sylgard 309, when combined at a field-relevant concentration with Black Queen Cell Virus, causes synergistic mortality in honey bee larvae.”

Other authors on the paper include Diana Cox-Foster, USDA-ARS-PWA Pollinating Insect Research Unit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported this research.

Categories: Ecological News

For the First Time in 40 Years EPA to Put in Place a Process to Evaluate Chemicals that May Pose Risk

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 00:14

By EPA

New chemical law requires the agency to look at chemicals that were grandfathered in under old law

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving swiftly to propose how it will prioritize and evaluate chemicals, given that the final processes must be in place within the first year of the new law’s enactment, or before June 22, 2017.

“After 40 years we can finally address chemicals currently in the marketplace,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Today’s action will set into motion a process to quickly evaluate chemicals and meet deadlines required under, and essential to, implementing the new law.”

When the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted in 1976, it grandfathered in thousands of unevaluated chemicals that were in commerce at the time. The old law failed to provide EPA with the tools to evaluate chemicals and to require companies to generate and provide data on chemicals they produced.

EPA is proposing three rules to help administer the new process. They are:

Inventory rule. There are currently over 85,000 chemicals on EPA’s Inventory, many of these are no longer actively produced. The rule will require manufacturers, including importers, to notify EPA and the public on the number of chemicals still being produced.

Prioritization rule. This will establish how EPA will prioritize chemicals for evaluation.  EPA will use a risk-based screening process and criteria to identify whether a particular chemical is either high or low priority.  A chemical designated as high-priority must undergo evaluation. Chemicals designated as low-priority are not required to undergo evaluation.

Risk Evaluation rule. This will establish how EPA will evaluate the risk of existing chemicals.  The agency will identify steps for the risk evaluation process, including publishing the scope of the assessment. Chemical hazards and exposures will be assessed along with characterizing and determining risks.  This rule also outlines how the agency intends to seek public comment on chemical evaluations.

These three rules incorporate comments received from a series of public meetings held in August 2016.

If EPA identifies unreasonable risk in the evaluation, it is required to eliminate that risk through regulations.  Under TSCA the agency must have at least 20 ongoing risk evaluations by the end of 2019.

Comments on the proposed rules must be received 60 days after date of publication in the Federal Register. At that time, go to the dockets at: https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for: HQ-OPPT-2016-0426 for the inventory rule; HQ-OPPT-2016-0636 for the prioritization rule; and HQ-OPPT-2016-0654 for the risk evaluation rule.

Learn more about today’s proposals: https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/frank-r-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act-5

Learn more about the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/frank-r-lautenberg-chemical-safety-21st-century-act.

Categories: Ecological News

Report Urges Emergency ‘Extinction Prevention Programs’

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 01:03

By The Center for Biological Diversity

Funding Study: U.S. Providing Just 3.5 Percent of What’s Needed to Recover Endangered Species Report Urges Emergency ‘Extinction Prevention Programs’ for Butterflies, Southeast Mussels, Southwest Fish

The amount of money appropriated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery of endangered species is just 3.5 percent of what is needed, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. The federal agency currently receives roughly $82 million per year for endangered species recovery, but based on the Center’s analysis of federal recovery plans for listed species, $2.3 billion per year, or 28 times current funding, is needed if species are going to be fully recovered.

Aside from calling for a dramatic increase in congressional funding for endangered species, today’s report also urges a $125 million infusion into emergency “extinction prevention programs” for Hawaiian plants and snails, butterflies, mussels in the Southeast and fish in the Southwest.

“The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly effective, saving more than 99 percent of species under its protection from extinction and putting hundreds on the road to recovery,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “We expect that rather than provide needed increases in funding, tragically, the Trump administration will move to cut money for endangered species, placing endangered species across the country at greater risk of extinction.”

Currently, roughly 1 in 4 species receives less than $10,000 a year toward their recovery, so any further cuts would be a disaster.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife is required to develop recovery plans for all endangered species that identify the actions needed to recover species and the cost of completing these actions. Bizarrely, these science-based estimates have never been utilized to help determine congressional appropriations for endangered species recovery. Instead congressional appropriations are based on the minimal amount needed by the agency to carry out basic functions, such as developing recovery plans and reviewing species’ status, and generally are not even enough for these critical activities. The Center used federal recovery plans to estimate what is actually needed to recover species and found much more is needed.

“We know the majority of species are recovering with protection under the Endangered Species Act, but if we want to take them over the finish line, much more money is needed,” said Greenwald. “The amount of money needed to do the job right is a fraction of the federal budget — roughly the same as subsidies given to the oil and gas industry for extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”

The report recommends increasing the annual appropriation for endangered species recovery from $82 million currently to the $2.3 billion needed over 10 years.

In the meantime the report recommends expanding two existing “extinction prevention programs” for Hawaiian plants and land and tree snails, and creating three more for North American butterflies, Southeast mussels and Southwest fish. These are some of the most endangered species groups in the country (see more below). The current programs are partnerships between the Fish and Wildlife Service, state of Hawaii and University of Hawaii, and have been very successful. Expansion of these programs, along with the three new ones, would help ensure the survival of some of the most endangered species in the country while funding is increased to help all species. Today’s report recommends funding each of these programs at $25 million per year for a total of $125 million.

Needed Extinction Prevention Programs

Southeast freshwater mussels. North America has the highest diversity of freshwater mussels in the world, but unfortunately much of this diversity is threatened. Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in the United States, with nearly 70 percent being at risk of extinction. Thirty-eight species of mussel have already gone extinct, and another dozen are likely gone. Many additional species survive only in small isolated populations that will be lost without intensive captive-breeding and reintroduction efforts. The scientific expertise now exists to save these species, but the Service lacks the funding to collect and propagate the surviving individuals of all the species that are spiraling toward extinction. In 2014 total expenditures on 85 species of endangered freshwater mussels was approximately $11.4 million, or just 0.8 percent of total expenditures, and some critically endangered mussel species received only $100 in recovery funding.

North American butterflies. Of all the endangered species in the United States, butterflies are one of the fastest declining groups, with several species on the verge of extinction. The Mount Charleston blue butterfly, Miami blue butterfly and Lange’s metalmark, for example, all have worldwide populations of fewer than 100 individuals. These and other species would benefit from captive propagation and habitat restoration well beyond what is currently occurring. In 2014 total expenditures on the 21 protected butterfly species were only $5.3 million, or just 0.4 percent of all expenditures.

Southwest freshwater fish. The unique and highly endemic fish fauna of the Southwest and greater Colorado River Basin have been decimated by a century of habitat degradation and non-native fish introductions. Presently 42 fish species are either endangered or threatened, and most have experienced drastic abundance and range reductions. At least one species is extinct. Non-native fish species dominate most fish communities, and include at least 67 introduced species. Controlling and removing these nonnative species and addressing widespread habitat degradation, even in just those areas necessary for recovery of the many endangered fish and other aquatic species, would be a massive effort requiring substantially more funds than currently allocated. In 2014 just $9.2 million was spent on these 42 fish, or 0.6 percent of all expenditures.

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Categories: Ecological News

Robust Technical Analysis Supports Leaving Carbon Pollution Standards for Cars and Light Trucks in Place Through 2025, EPA Administrator Finds

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 23:10

By U.S. EPA

Automakers on track to meet standards at lower than expected cost

Based on extensive technical analysis that shows automakers are well positioned to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for model years 2022-2025, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy today proposed leaving the standards in place, so the program that was established in 2012 will stay on track to nearly double fuel economy, dramatically cut carbon pollution, maintain regulatory certainty for a global industry, and save American drivers billions of dollars at the pump.

“Given the auto industry’s importance to American jobs and communities and the industry’s need for certainty well into the future, EPA has reanalyzed these clean car standards and sought further input,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “It’s clear from the extensive technical record that this program will remain affordable and effective. This proposed decision reconfirms our confidence in the auto industry’s capacity to drive innovation and strengthen the American economy while saving drivers money at the pump and safeguarding our health, climate and environment.”

Today’s proposed determination is based on years of technical work, including an exhaustive technical report released earlier this year, and the agency’s thorough review and consideration of comments received on that report. This extensive body of analysis shows that manufacturers can meet the standards at similar or even a lower cost than what was anticipated in the 2012 rulemaking, and that the standards will deliver significant fuel savings for American consumers, as well as benefits to public health and welfare from reducing the pollution that contributes to climate change. Full implementation of the standards will cut about 6 billion metric tons of GHG emissions over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025. Cars and light trucks are the largest source of GHG emissions in the U.S. transportation sector.

Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment.

Today’s announcement builds on years of success under EPA’s vehicle emission standards. Auto manufacturers are innovating and adopting fuel economy technologies at unprecedented rates. Car makers have developed more technologies to reduce GHG emissions, and these technologies are entering the fleet faster than expected. These technologies include gasoline direct injection, more sophisticated transmissions, and stop-start systems that reduce idling fuel consumption. At the end of 2015, all large automakers were in compliance with the standards. In fact, automakers on average out-performed the model year 2015 standards by seven grams per mile. These gains are happening at a time when the car industry is thriving, and domestic vehicle sales have increased for six consecutive years, while maintaining consumer choice across a full range of vehicle sizes and types.

As part of the rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle GHG standards, EPA committed to conduct a Midterm Evaluation of standards for model years 2022-2025. The public comment period for this action begins today and will end on December 30, 2016. After the comment period has ended and consideration of the input, the Administrator will decide whether she has enough information to make a final determination on the model year 2022-2025 standards.

For more information on today’s announcement, go to: https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/midterm-evaluation-light-duty-vehicle-greenhouse-gas-ghg.

To provide comment on today’s proposed determination, go to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0827 at www.regulations.gov.

Categories: Ecological News