Can birds affect tree growth?

Growing conditions, such as water and nutrient supply, are the major determinates of tree growth, but insectivorous birds can also play an important role, say scientists in a study published in the January issue of Ecology. Under the right conditions, birds contribute to whole tree growth by preying on herbaceous arthropods, such as leafhoppers, caterpillars and grasshoppers…

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Research demonstrates that marine protected areas aid coral reefs

Research has shown that marine protected areas (MPAs)—areas where fishing and other potentially destructive activities are regulated—are benefitting, not just the fish habitats they are known to aid, but nearby coral reefs as well. MPAs may benefit corals by restoring reef-based food webs and protecting damage from anchors and nutrient runoff…

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Nutrient enrichment linked to diseases in humans and wildlife

Scientists have provided a rather grim prognosis for global health: the recent increase in nutrient enrichment due to human activities, such as nitrogen pollution through fossil fuel combustion, is likely contributing to several varieties of infectious diseases in humans and wildlife.

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Australian scientists fight cane toad invasion with cat food and laced sausages

Scientists from the University of Sydney are getting creative with their efforts to combat destructive cane toad populations in Australia and to protect native species from the pests. Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935. Cane toads, which were introduced to Australia in 1935 from Hawaii in an attempt to eradicate cane beetles, have caused a decline in other native species populations, such as snakes, lizards and quolls. Scientists have been trying to control the spread of cane toads for years; recent experiments have shown progress. For example, Georgia Ward-Fear and colleagues used open cans of cat food to lure native meat ants to the shores of ponds inhabited by baby cane toads. Once there, the meat ants turned to the baby toads for a food source. Since the toads’ natural defense mechanism is to freeze and secrete a poison from glands in their backs, the effort is no match for the impervious meat ant. Rick Shine, who heads the lab where both studies were conducted, describes the interaction in a Reuters article: All we’re doing is encouraging the ants to flourish somewhere where they already flourish, letting them know there’s particularly good food around so we get more of them down there on a very short-term basis. Baby toads are incredibly stupid and their reaction to being attacked is to freeze. I think they’re trying to advertise the fact they’re poisonous and let the predator get a taste of that, but it doesn’t work for the ant because it isn’t affected. The results, published in February edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology, are impressive: the meat ants attacked 98% of the toads within the first few minutes. In addition, over 50% of the attacks were immediately fatal and 88% of escapee toads died within 24 hours. Native animals, like this Tiger quoll, are threatened by the rise in cane toad populations. In other research, Stephanie O’Donnell and colleagues are training quolls, one of the predators affected  by the toads, to avoid eating the poisonous amphibians. Quolls, most of which are listed as threatened, are carnivorous marsupials related to the Tasmanian devil. They rely mostly on insects, birds, rodents and amphibians as a food source. However, since the cane toad is non-native, quolls are not predisposed to avoid them. Shine explains in a press release: Quolls have largely disappeared from the areas where cane toads occur. We know from Stephanie’s work that if you don’t train quolls to leave toads alone they’re very likely to eat the first toad they encounter and die as a result. The researchers are attempting to train the quolls to associate the...

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EPA releases action plan to clean up the Great Lakes

In a follow-up to last year’s approval of $475 million for the cleanup of the Great Lakes ecosystem by the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced an action plan to do just that. Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, WI Yesterday EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with governors of Great Lakes states to discuss the goals for cleaning up Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario from 2010 through 2014.  The plan focuses on five specific efforts: pollution prevention and cleanup, prevention of invasive species invasions, reduction of urban, suburban and agricultural runoff into the watershed, habitat and wildlife protection and restoration, and education, public outreach and strategic partnerships. According to the plan, these efforts include “the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the entire 530,000 acres of Great Lakes coastal wetlands for the purpose of strategically targeting restoration and protection efforts in a science-based manner.” It also requires the collection or prevention of 45 million pounds of electronic waste, 45 million unwanted pills and 4.5 million pounds of household hazardous waste in the Great Lakes basin by 2014. In addition, it calls for the reduction of harmful algal blooms, which have polluted drinking water, and for the cleanup of 9.4 million cubic yards of toxic sediment. The plan also calls for a “zero tolerance” policy regarding invasive species and requires a 40% decline in such species by 2014. This is particularly targeted at Asian carp, a non-native species known for its voracious appetite. According to a Reuters article, around $60 million of the funds will go directly to combating Asian carp populations. An Asian carp was reportedly found in the ship canal connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan late last year. As a result, several states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force Chicago to shut down its shipping locks in an attempt to keep the Asian carp from infiltrating Lake Michigan. The Supreme Court sided with Illinois and declined to close the locks over concerns of endangering the $7-billion fishing industry. Last month, however, DNA evidence suggested the presence of Asian carp in Lake Michigan. The Associated Press reports that wildlife officials are currently searching for carp in the Chicago area and will continue to for the next two to three weeks. Read the full action plan at http://greatlakesrestoration.us. http://www.flickr.com/photos/indykethdy/ / CC BY-SA...

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