Wildlife damage from Japan’s tsunami

Most people have heard about the damage caused by last week’s massive magnitude 9 earthquake that sent a tsunami—at times reaching 33 feet—onto the island nation of Japan. The situation in Japan is dire. According to CBS News, “An estimated 452,000 people are living in shelters following the earthquake and tsunami. Japan’s police agency currently puts the death toll at 6,900 with 10,700 more people still missing.” Meanwhile, the threat of a nuclear meltdown is looming. The effects of the tsunami are devastating and far-reaching. From around the world, search teams, medics and volunteers work tirelessly to locate and help victims of the quake and floods. While the world’s attention is rightly focused on aiding the people of Japan, other nearby island countries are trying to recover from severe damage to their infrastructure as well. One example is the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Research Station on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. As described in a recent Southern Fried Science post, “The tsunami hit the island at high tide on March 11, and the resulting 1.7 meter flood destroyed essential equipment and shut the research station down for the foreseeable future.” Despite extensive flooding in the Marine Laboratory, the animals at the Research Station were relocated in time to be saved. “Lonesome George, the iconic last Giant Tortoise from Pinta island, had been moved to high ground prior to the tsunami as a precautionary measure,” reported the World Heritage Convention. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, the island’s animal and plant life  may have suffered significant damage: “With regard to the flora and fauna, the impacts are being assessed. According to Galapagos National Park reports, some marine turtle nests at Garrapatero Beach on Santa Cruz were destroyed. We had significant damage to the vegetation along the shore of the Research Station. The marine iguana nests that we have been monitoring within the area…seem fine.” In Japan, the wildlife casualties are more severe than in the Galapagos. As described in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, “A tsunami generated by a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan struck Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge at 11:36 PM on Thursday, March 10th and continued for the next few hours…Fortunately, no one was injured and no major damage occurred to the island’s infrastructure…” “The short-tailed albatross nest was washed over again, but the [first short-tailed albatross] chick [to hatch on Midway in decades] was found unharmed about 35 [meters] away and returned unharmed to its nest area. A minimum of 1,000 adult/subadult, and tens of thousands of Laysan Albatross chicks, were lost. Thousands of Bonin petrels were buried alive. Spit Island [was]...

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Living video games, seed science and bat rescues

Video games that guide the movement of paramecia, dogs trained to aid in data collection, the evolution of seeds in the Amazon Rainforest, environmental degradation captured as art and the successful rescue of more than 100 bats stranded by the devastating floods in Australia. Here are stories in ecology for the third week in January 2011. PAC-mecium: Stanford University researchers have developed, not a life-like video game, but a video game that incorporates life into its programming, according to New Scientist. “A game called PAC-mecium is Pacman with a twist: players use a console to change the polarity of an electrical field in a fluid chamber filled with paramecia, which makes the organisms move in different directions,” explained the article. As shown in the above video, the user shapes the behavior of the organisms according to what the game board shows, such as avoiding “Pacman-like fish.” Read more at “Play Pacman, Pinball and Pong with a paramecium.” Beautiful and dangerous: There has been quite a bit of news surrounding an increase in the prevalence of jellyfish in China, Australia, North America and around the world; the population boom has been linked to ocean acidification, overfishing and climate change. Researchers suggest that the jellyfish numbers indicate a larger issue of imbalanced ecosystems and an overall decline in ocean health. While often times beautiful, jellyfish can also pose a risk to humans and other marine life and have even caused power outages. Scat hunters: According to The New York Times, researchers have been using dogs to sniff out scat, making it easier to collect population distribution data. A study published recently in The Journal of Wildlife Management examined factors that would affect the dogs’ abilities to detect scents in the field. “Trained dogs can detect scat up to 33 feet away about 75 percent of the time, the researchers found,” wrote Sindya Bhanoo. “Humans, on the other hand, can see scat only within three to five feet.” Read more at “Four-Legged Assistants Sniff Out Wildlife Data.” The science of seeds: Botanists examined some of the seeds found in the Amazon Rainforest and cataloged the evolution, distribution and role that these seeds play in the most diverse rainforest in the world. “Some [of the seeds] look like brains, some like arrowheads, others like beads, propellers or puffs of cotton,” began the Scientific American article. “Seeds have evolved many of these striking features to help them propagate in the wild.” Read more at “Seeds of the Amazon” or view the slide show. Degradation as art: The New York Times highlighted the work of photographer J. Henry Fair, who collects aerial images of environmental degradation...

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