Record drought in the U.S., cod fishery recovery and Bjork’s ode to E.O. Wilson

This is the last post I will contribute as moderator of ESA’s blog EcoTone—it has been a wonderful, educational experience to explore the connectivity and complexity of life processes and to meet the scientists who have helped to further this cross-disciplinary research. I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them! Please continue to visit the blog frequently for new posts, and remember that guest submissions are always welcome at esablog@esa.org. See the end of this post for a few highlighted EcoTone articles published since January 2010. Detrimental drought: According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Texas and other southern states are experiencing record-breaking, “exceptional” drought.  And as a recent Reuters article pointed out, these conditions are leading to wildlife hardships. In Austin, for example, the world’s largest urban bat colony has been departing from under the Congress Bridge earlier than usual to search for prey. “The drought has killed off crops in Texas, and that in turn has killed off those delicious pests the Mexican free-tailed bats consider dinner,” wrote Karen Brooks. As a result, the bats are emerging before sunset—providing ample viewing time for bat-watchers but indicating the bats are exerting greater energy to feed. “An extended drought could be a double whammy for central Texas farmers, who depend on the bats to remove some 1,000 tons of insects and pests from the air each night,” wrote Brooks. Read more at “1.5 million bats in Texas city left hungrier by drought.” Conserving water in the West: Many U.S. residents are aware that turning lights off after leaving a room conserves energy; however, people may not be as aware that conserving water is also conserving energy. As Daniel Glick reported in a Scientific American article, “Nationally, energy production sucks more water from freshwater sources than any other sector except agriculture. It takes water to create the power we use to drive our cars, transport our groceries, and run our toaster ovens. Virtually every source of electricity in a typical American home or manufacturing plant—whether it comes from hydroelectricity, coal, natural gas, nuclear, biofuels, or even concentrated solar—also requires water. Lots of water.” Read more at “How Saving Energy Means Conserving Water in U.S. West.” Slow recovery: Researchers from Dalhousie University have reported that, after nearly two decades, cod and haddock fisheries off the coast of Nova Scotia are showing signs of recovery. After the fisheries collapsed due to overconsumption, the Canadian government closed this area in 1993 and has just started to see the ecosystem begin to stabilize. As Hannah Waters concluded in a Scientific American article, this is just one example...

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Mississippi floods out humans and wildlife

In late April, two major storm systems across the Mississippi River watershed brought about one of the most catastrophic floods upon the Delta region in generations. Thousands of homes have had to be evacuated and there have been a number of deaths. President Barack Obama has declared bordering counties in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky as federal disaster areas. The flooding along the Mississippi River has also sparked a great migration among the numerous species of wildlife. In one of the worst cases of overflow since the Great Depression, the Mississippi River has flooded three million acres across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. The Mississippi River has the third-largest drainage basin in the world, absorbing 41 percent of the drainage from the 48 contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The massive river covers more than 1,245,000 square miles. According to the National Weather Service, a number of cities are currently experiencing record flood levels. In Natchez, Mississippi, the water now stands at 58.3 feet, shattering the 1937 watermark of 53.04 feet. In Memphis, the Mississippi crested May 9 at 47.8 feet, just under a foot below the city’s record, set in 1937. A wide range of wildlife is on the move, trying to escape the rising waters.  Animals such as deer have been frequently spotted swimming across stretches of water in search of higher ground. Wild turkeys, which nest this time of year, have lost nesting spots and hatchlings to the floodwaters. Other creatures swept up in the floodwaters include alligators, spiders, rats and even fire ants. Venomous water moccasins have been reportedly appearing everywhere from residential trees to yard porches and sheds. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, it is also mating season for the water moccasins, making the reptiles more aggressive than usual. The Tennessee government has issued a press statement advising residents to avoid the displaced snakes and offering tips on how to treat snake bites. However, some species may benefit from the floods. Biologists have noted that flood waters, which wash increased amounts of worms and insects into the water, provide extra food to fish such as catfish, common carp, bluegill and crappie. However, an aggressive non-native species, the Asian carp, is also expected to flourish. Contamination of the water is also a concern, with the Tennessee and Mississippi State Departments of Health warning residents to steer clear of the water for health reasons.  The greater Mississippi River is expected to contain a number of contaminants, from trash and farm runoff to untreated raw sewage and chemicals. Testing performed by ABC News found E. coli and coliform at 2,000 times the...

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From the Community: mapping whale acoustics, photographing the mosquito heart and measuring fly suction

Addressing plastic pollution, raising wolves for reproductive success, images of the mosquito heart to advance malaria research, mapping whale habitats and acoustics to visualize obstructions in whale communication, the potential environmental impact of space tourism and sloth anatomy to understand the evolution of mammal backbones. Here is news in ecology from the month of October.

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Pet snakes could be next big eco-menace

Scientists at USGS released a 300-page report today detailing the vulnerability of U.S. lands to invasion by large snakes from other continents. The report finds that Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors and yellow anacondas are a high-risk animal for invasion. The report echoes the unfortunate situation on the America territory of Guam, where introduced brown tree snakes have extirpated most forest vertebrates, including some birds endemic to the island. Released from natural predation pressure, these snakes altered the island’s natural ecology so much that it affected human habitats and business. The USGS report mentions that the five snake species that could pose a threat are common in the pet trade. These species have been spotted in the wild but have yet to establish detectable reproductive populations.  Which begs the question: Does the presence of one or two neglected pets in the wild thus necessitate the production of a 300 page report? Absolutely. The reason the brown tree snake story is such a sad one is simply lack of initiative before it became too late.  The report points to animals which, because of their habits, preferred habitats and likely predators and prey items, have the greatest potential to become invasive.  Now is the critical time to circulate this information, so that a hapless Burmese python owner thinks twice about letting his now-unwieldy pet loose in his backyard. Read the full report (and its abstract)...

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