New Threatened Ecological Hotspots


Ed Stoddard

A global study has identified nine new environmental "hotspots," areas of great ecological diversity that are under threat and together shelter most of the planet's endangered plant and animal species.

"Nine new hotspots have been identified, including one that traverses the US-Mexico border, one in southern Africa, and one that encompasses the entire nation of Japan," said Conservation International, which helped organize the analysis.

The findings bring to 34 the number of hotspots identified by leading scientists.

They are home to 75 percent of the world's most threatened mammals, birds, and amphibians, which survive in fragile habitats covering just 2.3 percent of the Earth's surface.

These areas once covered almost 16 percent of the planet, an area the size of Russia and Australia combined, underscoring the threats posed by human encroachment and habitat destruction.

Nearly 400 scientists and other experts contributed to the four-year study, described in a book entitled "Hotspots Revisited" which was launched on Wednesday.

Two key factors are used to designate a hotspot: a high concentration of endemic species - which means they are found nowhere else - and a serious degree of threat.

"Environmental Emergency Rooms"

The Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands hotspot has 24 plant and vertebrate families found nowhere else on Earth.

Some of the hotspots have less than 10 percent of their original habitat left - which means they probably once contained many unidentified species that have been lost forever.

"The biodiversity hotspots are the environmental emergency rooms of our planet ... We must now act decisively to avoid losing these irreplaceable storehouses of Earth's life forms," said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.

"We now know that by concentrating on the hotspots, we are not only protecting species, but deep lineages of evolutionary history. These areas capture the uniqueness of life on Earth," Mittermeier said.

Most of the hotspots are in tropical or sub-tropical areas, highlighting the diversity of life found near the equator, where year-round warmth and good rainfalls enable many plants and animals to thrive.

But many are also found in very poor countries or regions, which magnifies the threat as impoverished and swelling rural populations encroach on remaining habitat.

The new hotspots that have been added are:

- The East Melanesian islands which have been degraded dramatically over the last five years;

- the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands on the US-Mexico border.

- Japan

- The Horn of Africa

- Irano-Anatolian

- The mountains of central Asia

- Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany in southern Africa, which includes parts of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.

- The Himalaya and Eastern Afromontane, which stretches along the eastern edge of Africa from Saudi Arabia to Zimbabwe, have also been identified as distinct regional hotspots in their own right.

Biodiversity Park in Pakistan to Protect Environment Top

From Indo-Asian News Service

New York, Feb 1 (IANS) The UN and its partners have opened in Pakistan the first biodiversity park of its kind in the world that will help conserve endangered and important flora and fauna.

"In Asia and Pacific, conservation of biodiversity has assumed renewed importance after the recent tsunami which destroyed considerable parts of the region's reserves of biodiversity such as forests, fish stocks, coral reefs and mangrove swamps," Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the Bangkok-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said here.

The Morgah Biodiversity Park Project in Pakistan, the brainchild of ESCAP, brings the private sector, national and local governments, and the local community together to conserve endangered and important flora and fauna of the Pothwar region.

A part of ESCAP's Pro-Poor Public Private Partnership for poverty reduction, it is a follow-up of the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Efforts like the one in Morgah can serve as models for restoring the biodiversity of devastated countries and help prevent the further loss of the sustainable livelihoods of the people," Kim told a gathering to mark the opening of the park.

Kim commended the Pakistan government and Attock Refinery Limited for pioneering this first public-private partnership in providing the poor with access to biodiversity.

Also participating in the launch were Pakistani Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and Attock Refinery chief executive officer M. Raziuddin.

Japan Identified as Hotspot in Need of Intense Conservation Work Top

Thursday, February 3, 2005 at 07:36 JST

TOKYO — The world's largest conservationist group has identified the Japanese archipelago as a region where intense effort is needed to protect endangered species, the group said Wednesday.

Conservation International recognized Japan as one of the 34 "biodiversity hotspots" abundant in "endemic species and several endemic genera of plants and animals," and urged Japan to improve its conservation measures in a report on a research project involving some 400 scientists.

"The biodiversity hotspots are the environmental emergency rooms of our planet," CI President Russell Mittermeier said. "This latest assessment underscores the value of the hotspots concept for defining urgent conservation priorities."

In Japan's case, the conservation group cited endemic plants and animals in places such as the Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific, Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, Yaku Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Kushiro wetland in Hokkaido and forests on the Kii Peninsula.

"About one-quarter of the vertebrate species occurring in this hotspot are endemic, including the critically endangered Okinawa woodpecker and the Japanese macaque, the famous 'snow monkeys' that are the most northerly living nonhuman primates in the world," the group reported.

Conservation International spent four years updating data on the hotspots and recently expanded the number of such regions from 25 to 34, with Japan newly listed. Madagascar and islands in the Indian Ocean Caribbean Sea are also on the list.

Each hotspot holds at least 1,500 endemic species within its boundaries and has lost at least 70% of its original natural habitat, the group said.

The 34 hotspots, inhabited by 75% of the Earth's most threatened mammals, birds and amphibians, cover 2.3% of the planet's surface, the group said. (Kyodo News)

Endangered Wetlands Celebrated Top

Tuesday February 1, 2005

A nationwide series of events is taking place in early February to mark World Wetland's Day (WWD). The Day is held internationally on February 2. Fish & Game New Zealand, the lead agency for New Zealand's WWD, today announced the events and activities taking place around the country (list follows). . Fish & Game New Zealand is the agency coordinating New Zealand's World Wetlands Day 2005.

“Wetlands are a key part of our environment and biodiversity,” says Graham Ford, Fish & Game spokesperson “Yet, our record at preserving our wetlands as a nation is appalling. We have slashed and burned them, regarded then as wasted land to be drained and sown with grass seed, ignoring their ecological biodiversity.”

“In early February dozens of groups are getting together around the country to raise recognition of this ‘Cinderella of the environment - New Zealand has less than 10 percent of its wetlands left.”

“Wetlands are part of river systems” says Graham Ford. “They store flood water, filter out contaminants and they are often created by rivers as they change course. Last year the ‘Living Rivers' coalition was formed by Fish & Game, Forest & Bird, Federated Mountain Clubs and the Canoeists to protest at the pollution and abstraction of our rivers. The Living Rivers coalition adds wetlands to that list of waterways in urgent need of protection and enhancement.”

Says Graham Ford: “Wetlands are home to more bird, animal and plant species than any other type of habitat. Wetlands are home to rare and endangered animals and birds such as the Australasian bittern, brown teal, ferns and mosses.”

“They play an important international environmental role. Many migrating birds seek to visit wetlands. Arctic waders and terns migrate south after breeding during winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Thousands of godwits and sandpipers visit New Zealand wetlands annually.”

Wetlands are some of the most important ecosystems on the planet. They store and purify water, replenishing groundwater, storing carbon and supporting biological diversity.

According to the United Nations, last century 50% of the world's remaining wetlands were destroyed. Other wetlands have been significantly modified to fragment and alter water flow in 60% of the world's largest rivers, compromising many valuable ecosystem functions.

New Zealand's record at managing wetlands has been very poor. Between 1954 and 1976, 12,000 hectares of wetlands were being lost each year. Until the mid 1980s farmers were still being encouraged to drain wetlands through subsidies.

A large number of agencies come together to hold events to mark the Day. Agencies participating this year include: Fish & Game New Zealand, The Department of Conservation, Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, Iwi, Regional and District Councils, and the National Wetlands Trust.

Meghalaya Save-cave Brigade in PIL Threat Top

Shillong, Feb. 3: Environmental activists are up in arms over the Meghalaya government's nod to establish cement factories near an ecologically vital cave system. An association has threatened to go in for litigation if the D.D. Lapang government does not act fast to save it.

Meghalaya Adventurers' Association general secretary and Tenzing Norgay adventure award winner Brian Dermot Kharphran Daly, who is leading the campaign to save the caves here, said they wanted the government to act, and act fast. “Otherwise, we will have no other option but to file a public interest litigation against such rampant destruction of the biodiversity of our state and country,” Daly declared.

The longest cave system in the entire sub-continent is being destroyed on the pretext of economic development, said the spokesperson for the Meghalaya Adventurers' Association and speleologists at a news conference here.

The state government has allowed a cement plant to come up right in front of the Krem Kotsati-Umlawan cave system, which is 21.6 km long and has a fragile ecosystem.

A large number of speleologists, scientists and environmentalists from all over the world have come here to safeguard the caves and generate awareness about the need to protect them, a speleologist told the media.

The cement plant's activities have blocked the entrance of the Krem Kotsati-Umlawan and destroyed intrinsic cave formations.

“We are not sure how the pollution from the cement plant is affecting cave life,” Daly said.

This cement plant is likely to start production soon, while another is coming up at Nongkhlieh on a limestone-rich ridge. Yet another cement company's blasting area is close to a cave in Shella, Daly said.

World's Highest Botanical Garden Built in Southwest China Top

[World News]: Beijing, Jan 27 : China has opened the world's highest botanical garden in Lijiang, a picturesque city in Yunnan province in the southwest.

The Lijiang Alpine Botanical Garden, believed the highest botanical garden in the world, has opened in Lijiang in Yunnan Province, Xinhua news agency reported.

The botanical garden was built jointly by China and Britain under a contract signed between the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Garden and the Kunming Plant Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in May 2000.

The botanical garden, which has taken shape after a five-year construction, will be turned into an alpine germ bank in five years, Xinhua news agency reported from Kunming, the provincial capital.

The Lijiang Alpine Botanical Garden covers an area of 689 acres at a location approximate 24 km from the ancient city of Lijiang with an elevation ranking from 2,680 meters to 4,300 meters. Its field station, built with 148,190 US dollars provided by the British side, will be a laboratory for studying biodiversity at the Hengduan Mountains and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Lijiang was selected as the site for the garden as it is one of the world's top 10 regions for biodiversity research and one of the three seed plant centres in China.

According to a field survey conducted by the Kunming Plant Research Institute, the snow-capped Yulong (Jade Dragon) Mountains, the central scenic attraction in the Lijiang area, alone has 3,200 kinds of plants in 785 categories.

The plant species in the garden are expected to exceed 4,000 in 10 to 15 years. PTI

Molecular Biology Fills Gaps in Knowledge of Bat Evolution Top

California, Jan 31: RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- One in five mammals living on Earth is a bat, yet their evolutionary history is largely unknown because of a limited fossil record and conflicting or incomplete theories about their origins and divergence.

Now, a research team including University of California, Riverside Biology Professor Mark Springer, has published a paper in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Science that uses molecular biology and the fossil data to fill in many of the gaps.

Springer coauthors the paper, titled A Molecular Phylogeny for Bats Illuminates Biogeography and the Fossil Record, with William Murphy, Stephen J. O'Brien and Emma. C. Teeling of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, Frederick, MD; Ole Madsen in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands; and Paul Bates of the Harrison Institute's Centre for Systematics and Biodiversity Research, Kent, U.K.

“The present work advances our understanding of where bats originated, when they diversified and how different bat families are related to each other,” Springer said. “It also quantifies the fraction of the fossil record that is missing for bats.”

The team, using DNA sequencing, analyzed data from portions of 17 nuclear genes from representatives of all bat families.

Their results support the hypothesis that the group of large fruit-eating bats from the tropics, that fly mostly during the day – known to biologists as megabats – emerged from four major lineages of smaller and more widely dispersed, mostly insect-eating, night-flying bats, known as microbats. These microbats – also known for their highly specialized echolocation – originated about 52 to 50 million years ago during a lush period of significant global warming in a region that is now North America.

This latest research helps fill gaps in the evolutionary history of one of the most diverse group of mammals on earth and the only mammals capable of powered flight. The fossil record alone left bat evolutionary history about 61 percent incomplete, according to Springer. Bats play a major ecological role as plant pollinators and insect predators.

For Springer, this latest research is significant because it shows that molecular information can contribute to resolving and illuminating long-standing problems in evolutionary biology.

The current findings lay the groundwork for further research that, Springer hopes, will expand the coverage of classifications of bats from the family level to the genus level and probe in more detail into the bat evolutionary record. He also plans to compare the completeness of the bat fossil record with that of other mammals.

Queets is a Living Laboratory that Reveals the Web of Life Top

Posted on Thu, Feb. 03, 2005

SEATTLE - First to the ankles, then the knees, then mid-thigh: The river pushes higher and higher, its power sucking, pulling, tugging at your legs; how it wants to lie you down.

Stand mid-channel and watch its water surge toward you, glassy smooth, clear, slatey-green, a river used to getting whatever it wants.

The mighty Queets, one of the biggest undammed, wild rivers in the Lower 48, reigns supreme in its kingdom of Olympic National Park, where it muscles about 50 miles from the glaciers of Mount Olympus to the Pacific.

Wading across it in summertime when the water is lowest is a rite of passage for anyone who would hike the Queets trail, reached on the other side of the river.

Any other time of year? Forget it.

For all its charisma, the Queets is a river that people who don't fish don't talk of much.

It's four hours from Seattle, reached down a dead-end, gravel road. But to those who know it, well worth every pothole and busted tire.

The forests along its banks, protected within the park, and the river's untamed flow make the Queets a window into a lost world and a rare landscape.

Dammed, diked, drained and kept in solitary confinement, the riparian forests that keep company on their banks stripped: Such is the fate of most rivers in Puget Sound country.

Scientists call the Queets a living laboratory, one of the last, best places to see what a big, living river looks like.

As they try to revive dead and dying rivers around Puget Sound, they come here, stick their heads under the hood of the thrumming ecosystem of the Queets, trying to figure out how it all works.

"We don't know what rivers used to be like here," said David Montgomery, a scientist at the University of Washington who has studied rivers all over the world. In the Queets, he sees a river with lessons to teach.

"A river that is functioning in the way native ecosystems here once all functioned provides a blueprint for restoration."

A big river left to roam at will across its floodplain, the Queets undercuts its banks and devours old-growth trees, forms side channels and pools, floods.

It has taught scientists that the boundaries between land and water are more porous than they thought. What is forest today will be river in time and vice versa.

Big trees that seem a forest primeval are actually jewels left on pawn by a river that will be back to claim them later.

The river's chewing current fells big trees surely as a saw. Those logs in turn form jams in the river that armor its banks, enabling a new forest to establish and grow big trees the river will claim once more.

This is no casual relationship but an intimate connection between river and forest. It's a dance, between wood and water that becomes wood again.

This river and its forest aren't separate places, but interconnected, supporting one of the most diverse webs of life on Earth - including mostly healthy runs of salmon and steelhead.

But to discover that, folks have to get wet. Very, very wet.

A great battlement of silvery logs stacks against a point that juts into the river, meeting a push of water that hits hard enough to make one loose log knock rhythmically, steadily against another, shuddering with each push of the current.

The sound carries over the water, a steady knock ... knock ... knock. It is disembodied, mysterious, until the log's movement catches the eye and solves the riddle.

"It's the heartbeat of the river," said Josh Latterell, a University of Washington researcher, and he's just about right.

Latterell is part of a team from UW trying to figure out how this ecosystem ticks, from the soils of the forest to its big trees, the gnarly logjams they become and even the curtains of moss and lichens in the canopy.

Led by UW fisheries professor Robert Naiman, aka Dr. Queets, who has been studying the river since 1992, they are mapping log jams, climbing into the old-growth canopy, poring over aerial photo records, coring trees and gathering data from 30 research plots along the river.

Latterell, researcher Tom O'Keefe and field technician Nick Hurtado walk over the rough river cobble easily as a sidewalk, busting into the rushing current to fjord the river with the casual ease of much practice. Wading right in, boots and all, obviously staying dry is something they gave up on long ago.

They hike reach after reach, cross the river over and over, clambering over logjams, some stacked nearly two stories high, each numbered with a tiny silver tag.

With laser and tape measure, the three record the vital statistics of the jams, part of the data to figure out what happens to all this wood. How much does the river burp out to sea? How far do the pieces travel? How much racks up on the banks and stays there, to become the bones that support a new forest? How much does it entomb in its banks or on the river bottom? How much wood does the river actually capture from the forest every year?

Buried in the mud, deprived of the oxygen that aids decomposition, logs can last centuries. Naiman has found hunks of wood that were more than 1,300 years old, coughed up by the river at last.

Naiman's interest in the Queets goes back to at least the mid-1980s. He wondered what makes fish thrive in some rivers and not others and what the basis was for the rich biodiversity of a place like the Queets. He wanted to look at the river and its riparian zone as a system and understand it.

Migrating entirely across its valley floor every 800 to 900 years, the river revisits the forest over and over. The result is not the neat, linear bands of river, bank and forest conjured by buffer-zone regulations and other human niceties.

What Nature makes here instead is a mosaic. Picture a forest at every stage of life, interwoven. A living legacy of the river's journey, with pockets of old growth here, brand new stands of willow there.

The entire floodplain ultimately is just a big bank of wood for the Queets, in varying stages of growth, transit or storage.

This landscape is a guest book, with the river's visits clearly recorded for those who can read its hand.

And while it seems a chaotic place, there is an orderly succession playing out over time.

First, jams stabilize gravel bars and riverbanks, where the young willow stands are the newest pioneers, staking claim after the river's most recent visit. So recent, a bathtub ring of moss and mud still clings to the trunks of young trees.

In time, alders move in, shading out the willows, then spruce and hemlock.

The most productive places in the forest are terraces farthest from the river. Spared the chewing jaws of the river's current, these terraces are crowned with old-growth trees, big enough to help the forest regenerate when the river comes roaring back.

Felled by the current and jammed in great revetments, the big trees are the only thing massive enough to stand up to the river's push, creating nodes of stability in the chaos. In which the forest can grow once more.

No surface in this floodplain is more than 1,000 years old. The Queets sees to that.

The result of this landscape forever in flux is an ecosystem with every stage of life in play simultaneously.

"It makes for incredible biodiversity," Naiman said. "There is a house for everyone at one time or another."

But it's also easy to see, watching the Queets, how rivers and people parted ways, even in Ecotopia.

People want stability, predictability. They want the land underfoot to always be ... underfoot.

So they try to make it so.

"We have many fossil rivers in this country," Montgomery said, wistfully. "We lock them between levees, turn off their water with dams, shut off their sediment flow and cut down their forests. Their metabolism shuts down, the river starves.

"But the Queets is not starved. It can eat as much big forest as it wants."

Rain on the canopy over the picnic table was so loud talking became shouting as Cameron Williams, a California researcher, took a lush wad of moss from a trash bag and unrolled it on the table like a green shag rug.

He called out the species he found in this specimen from the tree canopy, gathered from a big leaf maple alongside the Queets.

Robert Van Pelt, lead of this inquiry into the secret life of canopy plants, recorded the names of his beloveds in pencil on waterproof paper.

Regionally famous for his books that chronicle the dimensions of championship trees, Van Pelt, he of the BIGTREEZ license plate, will spend the next three weeks in the forest alongside the Queets.

By day, he and a troupe of hired research climbers will be in the treetops, gathering canopy mosses and lichens and measuring and mapping the structure of some 50 trees. They range in age from young whips to monsters more than 300 years old and include everything from vine maple to hemlock.

By night the researchers go through their samples, compiling the data into Van Pelt's laptop, powered by a boat battery under the picnic table.

Not for sissies, this rain-forest-canopy research, which, in addition to demanding a tolerance for heights, has at least one other crucial prerequisite: You must be willing to get wet.

"There is no such thing as bad weather," Van Pelt said resolutely. "Only inappropriate clothing."

That, and wet sleeping bags: Rain puddled on the roof of their wall tent weighed down the roof until it collapsed. The result: one sleeping bag awash.

It hangs from a pole over the campfire as the two examine their mosses and lichen. But it looks more smoked than dried.

For the firewood is also wet. And the matches so wet that to light the camp stove come dinnertime, Van Pelt has to blast them with a lighter to make them flame.

The campground, with its one amenity of a pit toilet-cum-slug farm, is gradually filling like a leaky basement, a puddle here, an ever-bigger puddle there. Pitch the tent on high ground or suffer the consequences.

Crowded under the vinyl canopy like ducklings under their mother's breast, nobody ventures from under its protection as rain drills the campsite.

Latterell and Hurtado arrive, soaked to the armpits from a day kayaking the Queets in inflatable boats, scouting for logjams and climbing them, looking for identification tags.

Wet and tired, they decide to break camp and head up the road to a bunkhouse used by researchers at Kalaloch - prompting a ribbing.

"What do you expect in the rainforest?" Williams teases as they gather their tents.

"I like rain," Latterell said. "I just hate living in it. Imagine you wake up in the morning, get dressed for work, then stand in the shower with all your clothes on. Turn off the heat, and work at your computer all day long. When you are ready for bed, don't take your clothes off, and climb in bed. Do that five nights in a row, and tell me you love the rain."

And off into the gathering gloom they went, headlight beams bouncing in the potholes.

Van Pelt set to cooking dinner, nonplussed as flame kabooms out of the camp stove jets, nowhere near the burner, reaching for his belly.

"Maybe turn off the gas?" Williams suggested.

This, Van Pelt, big-tree hunter extraordinaire, bits of moss still clinging to the sleeve of his wool sweater, decided was a good idea.

He went mano-a-mano with the camp stove, first with a ratchet set, then with a Leatherman tool - finally in its element! - until that camp stove was purring, its blue flame the brightest thing in the rainforest camp.

Van Pelt put on a spread like the former chef he is, steak fajitas with red and yellow peppers and onions, the aromas of onion and pan-sauteed steak mingling enticingly with wood smoke as he works the big black iron skillet.

He stroked tortillas over the flame to warm them and settled by the campfire, stoked up with a visitor's dry wood, a dense-pack burrito in hand.

"I love camping," Van Pelt said with deep satisfaction.

The last person to swing around in the canopy of Western Washington's old-growth trees shocked the scientific community.

Canopy expert Nalini Nadkarni discovered that the thick bolsters of moss on big leaf maples in the Hoh create juicy soils on the branches beneath them. And the trees actually sprout roots into that soil, right from their branches.

This, said Nadkarni, was as unexpected as a person sprouting a thumb from the shoulder.

Van Pelt's hopes his work will pick up where Nadkarni's left off and take the inquiry further.

He hopes to extrapolate a first-ever measure of life in the canopy along the Queets. He won't be surprised if the Queets turns out to host a bigger mess o' moss per acre than anywhere else on the planet.

The Queets has proven a rich and rewarding laboratory.

Over the years, Naiman has taken hundreds of students here to observe river ecology.

UW research on the Queets has encompassed at least 14 projects ranging from how juvenile salmon use the river's side channels in the floodplain, to microbial communities thriving in the river's subsurface flow, all the way to the mosses in the treetops.

The results so far?

Nearly two dozen peer-reviewed publications, with at least eight more in preparation and two textbooks. About eight graduate theses were born on the river, and at least two more are in gestation for 2005. About six chapters for various books also came from the river's laboratory.

The Naiman team's recent fieldwork is largely completed. Researchers are synthesizing their work and trying to turn their days on the river into scientific papers.

As Van Pelt and Williams swing up into the trees on ropes to spend their day aloft, canopy research on a sunny autumn morning looks not so bad after all.

Theirs is an office of angels, a treetop redoubt, with views of the Queets and Mount Olympus standard. And every day is spent on a new frontier.

"What is the rainforest most famous for? These epiphytes," Van Pelt said of the canopy's lush gardens of plants. "And yet we don't even know what's here. No one's done this before. It's a huge amount of chlorophyll we are looking at up there, but I can't tell you anything about it."

Except this, Van Pelt said: The relationship between the river and forest is everywhere apparent.

"Everything we are studying is growing on something the river created. ... You can see it happening; it's just putting numbers on it, figuring out the relationships. Integrating it into a cohesive story."

A story with a moral: To heal the sick, first get a good understanding of what healthy looks like.

Naiman said, "Rather than try to do restoration with only half the picture, my motivation is to understand how natural rivers and processes work.

"Then, you can see what's missing."

Mouse Protection could End Top

WASHINGTON -- The Preble's meadow jumping mouse, once seen as a costly impediment to development, is now viewed by the government as a critter that never really existed -- and is no longer in need of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said the news means that farmers, ranchers, and other property owners in southeast Wyoming can "breathe easier."

The Interior Department said Friday that new DNA research shows the 9-inch mouse, which can launch itself a foot and a half into the air and switch direction in mid-flight, is probably identical to another variety of mouse common enough not to need protection.

"That action is based on new research that indicated the Preble's meadow jumping mouse should not be classified as a separate mouse," Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson said Friday, calling it "an example of the use of best available science that was peer-reviewed."

Manson and other Interior officials cited a peer-reviewed but unpublished study by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science suggesting the Preble's mouse is genetically identical to the Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse. The study was paid for by Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, the Energy Department, the state of Wyoming and the Denver museum.

Interior officials acknowledged that 14 peer reviewers had split 8-6 to narrowly support the study's conclusions.

Based on the study, the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose removing the Preble's mouse from the government's endangered species list about a year from now. It will remain protected until then. The Preble's mouse has been considered a distinct subspecies based on a 1954 study that looked at the skulls of three mice and the skins of 11 others.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said the hard work of state officials, local governments and private citizens has paid off.

"Wyoming has consistently led the effort in funding the scientific research, trapping mice for study, tracking the effects of the mouse's listing on agricultural operations and ultimately filing the delisting petition," Freudenthal said. "...By delisting species that don't need our protection, such as the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, we can save our resources for those plants, animals and habitats that do."

Nearly 31,000 acres have been designated critical mouse habitat for the Preble's mouse along streams in Wyoming and Colorado, including large parts of Colorado's Front Range, where sprawl is booming amid the foothills and the prairie. The mouse also has blocked construction of reservoirs despite a continued drought there.

Environmentalist groups called Interior's decision a political one.

"This proposal is a devastating blow to open space across the Front Range, to good science and to the public interest," said Jeremy Nichols, conservation director for the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

The decision came in response to twin petitions filed in December 2003 by Wyoming and the Denver-based Coloradans for Water Conservation and Development, an advocacy group for farmers, businesses and home builders. Kent Holsinger, an attorney for the Denver group, said the meadow jumping mice are abundant enough to survive without federal protection.
Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., called the action "good news both for private property owners in Wyoming and for those who enjoy the use of our public lands."

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said the decision points out the need to revamp the Endangered Species Act. "Although the act has noble goals, listing errors harm not only the credibility of the act, but also harm people such as farmers and ranchers whose lives are affected by a faulty species listing," he said.

Builders, landowners and local governments have spent as much as $100 million by some estimates protecting the Preble's meadow jumping mouse since it was added to the federal list in 1998 as a species whose survival was considered "threatened."

About the mouse

* Name: Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei).

* Behavior: It feeds voraciously and produces multiple litters before hibernating for six months of

the year.

* Size: Hardly larger than a house mouse and usually weighing between 18 and 22 grams, the mouse will add an additional 20 percent of its weight to prepare for the long winter underground.

* Diet: Arthropods, seeds, vegetation and fungi in grassland vegetation surrounding

willow habitats.

* Appearance: True to its name, it has large hind feet and hind legs that allow it to leap distances of 5 to 6 feet. To counterbalance the mouse while it bounds through dense, herbaceous vegetation, it has a long tail that encompasses nearly two-thirds of its total length.

Source: The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Chapter

EU Reports Thinning Ozone Layer over Arctic Top

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Record low temperatures over the North Pole are thinning the protective ozone layer, a condition which could affect human health in northern countries and even central European states, the European Union warned Monday.

"Large ozone losses are expected to occur if the cold conditions persist," said Janez Potocnik, the European commissioner for science and research.

He said the first signs of ozone loss have been observed after an extremely harsh winter above the Arctic.

The ozone layer keeps out ultraviolet radiation, which is dangerous to humans and animals. Less protection could increase risks of skin cancer and affect biodiversity, scientists say.

Because of the record lows over the Arctic, scientists have been put on alert to monitor closely the condition of the ozone layer over the coming months.

"The meteorological conditions we are now witnessing resemble and even surpass the conditions of the 1999-2000 winter - when the worst ozone loss to date was observed," said Dr. Neil Harris of the European Ozone Research Co-ordinating Unit in Britain.

He said temperatures at a 20-kilometre height had dropped to an average of -80 Celsius, the lowest over the Arctic in half a century.

People in some northern countries who work out in the open should take special precautions for sun protection in a month, Harris said.

While there are considerable year-to-year variations in the Arctic, there has been ozone loss in the southern Antarctic during almost all winters since the late 1980s.

"The concern is that the Arctic appears to be moving into Antarctic-like conditions which will result in an increase in UV radiation levels that will have consequences on human health in northern hemisphere countries," the statement of the EU head office said.

It said the hole in the ozone layer could affect areas around the polar zone, Scandinavia and even down to central Europe.

"Life" Spotted in New Wetland as Migratory Birds Flock in Top

[India News]: New Delhi, Jan 21 : The biodiversity park developed by Delhi Development Authority here some six months back has started showing indications of "life" - migratory birds have already started flocking in, bird watchers and scientists say.

"Besides migratory birds which are coming in huge numbers after a gap of over 6-7 years, Dragon flies and May flies have been spotted in equally good numbers," Scientific advisor to the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), which is collaborating with DDA in shaping up the park, Professor V G Gogate, says.

Dragon and May flies are the real indicators of life for a wetland and it is encouraging to see the small creatures even before "we thought the wetland was ready to accommodate migratory birds," he says.

Over 450 migratory birds including the Red Crest poachard, Common poachard, Ferugenous pochard, Pin tail and cormorants have, so far, been spotted, while Eurasian wigeon is the recent addition in the biodiversity park that is being developed in the national capital, he says.

"We had also spotted some cormorants who were trying to identify the nesting sites which is a good sign as the park is being developed keeping migratory birds in mind, as well," he adds.

The wigeon was last seen in other wetlands of the national capital about 12 years back, he says. PTI

European Wasp a Danger to Australia's Biodiversity Top

CANBERRA, Australia , January 11, 2005 (ENS) - Australia has been invaded by a wasp from Europe that government scientists say is posing a threat to the island continent's biodiversity, particularly moths and butterflies. High numbers of wasps can denude an area of other insects and spiders.

The Commonwealth scientific research branch, CSIRO, is working with Canberra Urban Parks and Places to alert Canberra residents about the harmful effects of the European wasp, the two organizations said today.

As an invasive species the European wasp, Vespula germanica, has what CSIRO called "a drastic effect on Australian biodiversity."

European wasp queens are usually only seen in winter and spring. (Photo courtesy CSIRO )

By the end of the Australian summer, each European wasp nest may contain several thousand individuals. The larvae complete their development after being fed a diet which mainly consists of other insects which the workers catch and kill. This means that each European wasp nest has the potential to remove several thousand native insects - often the caterpillars of moths and butterflies - from the environment.

"This can have a devastating direct effect on biodiversity, while also indirectly disrupting ecosystem function," CSIRO said in a warning statement.

"As with many introduced species there are few if any native predators which would naturally keep wasp populations under control," said Kim Pullen of CSIRO Entomology. "These insects are increasingly an environmental and economic pest to Australia."

European wasps are now found in many southeast Australian vineyards where they cause crop damage and threaten vineyard staff.

The first European wasp recorded in Australia was in Tasmania in 1959, and the wasps are now common there. On the mainland the European wasp was reported in Melbourne in 1977 and in Sydney in 1978. The wasp is now established in southern Victoria and in the Sydney area and has been seen in rural New South Wales.

Since early 1985 a number of European wasp nests have been found in Canberra. These were destroyed by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parks and Conservation Service in an effort to prevent the wasp becoming established in the ACT.

The European wasp is about the size of a honeybee, but thinner, and can be distinguished from other wasps by its yellow, not orange, and black color, with black arrowhead-shaped markings pointing backwards along the top of the abdomen and black spots on either side. Wings are long and transparent, antennae black and legs mostly yellow.

The nest of the European wasp is rarely seen out in the open. (Photo courtesy CSIRO)

These social wasps form large colonies. The queen spends the winter hibernating under shelter and emerges in spring to establish a new nest. Her first offspring are workers which take over nest chores. A papery nest is made by mixing saliva with wood fibers and it grows over summer to reach the size of a football.

The nests are nearly always concealed underground or in a roof or wall cavity or hollow tree.

The European wasp can inflict a series of painful stings when its nest is disturbed. Multiple stings or a sting in the throat can be dangerous or fatal as the swelling associated with the sting can block the victim's airway.

Pullen said European wasps thrive in urban areas, and their liking for fruit, meat and sweet foods and drinks means they often turn up at barbecues and picnics. Their sting is painful and unlike honeybees, they can use it repeatedly. Some people have a severe allergic reaction to the sting.

Pullen warned that if wasps are about, people should not drink directly from cans or bottles, and ensure children do not do so. "Wasps enter soft drink cans searching for food and can easily be swallowed with potentially nasty consequences," he said.

"The only effective way of reducing wasp numbers is by destroying nests, but this is a hazardous job best left to an experienced pest control operator," Pullen said. CSIRO Entomology can provide information on appropriate methods, he said, "for those householders brave enough to try."