New partners join national governments to fight climate change

Argentina
In November, a new coalition of Argentinian businesses, cities, investors, civil society, and universities banded together to form the Alianza para la Acción Climática Argentina. Members include clothing company Patagonia, cosmetics company Natura, the capital city of Buenos Aires, University of El Salvador, and the association of 2,000 agro-commodity producers in Argentina called CREA. Together this coalition represents over 13 million citizens and over 30% of the nation’s economy.

Mexico
In August, more than 35 Mexican entities—from universities to local governments—officially signed a declaration stating that they will work together to advance the country’s goal of reducing up to 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Japan
in July, nearly 300 companies, cities, investors and other partners are part of the Japan Climate Initiative, a group dedicated to realizing a carbon-free society and expanding renewable energy across the country. The group is comprised of local governments from many of Japan’s major cities, like Tokyo and Yokohama, and small businesses, and major companies such as Sony and Panasonic Corp.,

United States
When the US government announced that it would withdraw from the historic Paris agreement, We Are Still In was formed to ensure the US remains a global leader in reducing emissions. We Are Still In has grown to 3,600 signatories collectively representing 155 million Americans and $9.5 trillion of the US economy. 

All of these climate coalitions are partners of the Alliances for Climate Action (ACA), a new global network—supported by WWF and our partners—working to speed up individual countries’ progress towards climate targets.

According to the United Nations, action by businesses and local leaders around the globe has the potential to halve the emissions gap. But if we’re going to avoid 2°C of global warming, then a greater collective action is needed.

Through the Alliances for Climate Action, WWF and partners will continue to support and grow these new leaders dedicated to pursuing immediate climate action. 

Originally posted 2018-11-20 13:00:00.

The Rare Primitive Crane Fly and the Inelegancies to Find It

(Patagonia’s Untold Stories)

While packrafting the southeastern edge of the Northern Patagonia Ice Field along Chile’s largest river, the Baker, in search of primitive crane flies, Anand Varma and I came across an exciting find.

In a fragmented location only accessible via water, among a lichened-covered forest, we discovered a single wing of the genus Neoderus adhered to the underside of a leaf, between the Northern and Southern Ice Fields. Yes, a single wing is a fantastic find when it comes to primitive crane flies.

Most likely you have never heard of them and that is because primitive crane flies are considered to be one of the rarest groups of flies in the world and only a handful of people have been able to collect them. With only one specimen ever collected in the late 1800s in the southern Chilean fjords, the genus Neoderus can be considered the rarest of all primitive crane flies.

During my last expedition in 2015 I secured four flies, the first and only specimens collected of this genus since its discovery.

stacked image of a Female neoderus sp. hanging on a Nothofagus sp. twig. Photo by R. Isaí MAdriz

With colder temperatures marking the last chance this year to find this rare group, I set off once again to complete what Anand and I started. I decided to target the locality where I found a lone wing two years prior. I loaded my backpack, took my hiking poles (or as my collaborators call them, “my gimpy sticks”, due to the frequency of my ankle injuries) and limped into one of the most pristine creeks I have seen. After a 1100ft climb and bushwhacking across dense forest I arrived to the location.

Upon arrival I removed my hiking boots and proceeded to relieve my ankle pain in the glacial creek. Soon after, I unpacked my 60+lb backpack and identified the perfect configuration for my tree tent, which was strategically located near the creek 6ft above the ground. Below my tent, I set up my “field laboratory” consisting of a stereomicroscope from the early 1980s with generic USB lights secured by duct tape and powered via rechargeable solar battery. This arrangement allows me to collect aquatic insects and immediately identify any promising specimen under high magnification. The dream camp set up of any insect-loving seven-year-old!

Not only does my tree tent provide a dry refuge from sudden rainfall, characteristic to this area, but it is also the perfect barrier from the numerous avian intestinal discharges I am constantly being bombarded with by territorial birds.

With sunset approaching, I decided to have something to eat. I packed all the necessary gear for this short expedition but managed to forget food.

Loose in one of my backpack’s hipbelt pockets, I found a handful of stale trail mix (from sometime since September) and a piece of chocolate.

Lack of aesthetically pleasing or “proper” camping food, seem to be a trend for this site. A couple of years ago, my food bag punctured and got wet while reaching this exact location, leaving me to consume lukewarm soft cheese, soggy bread and broken crackers accidentally blended into a paste-like consistency. Read more about this particular story here.

This time was no different. As I searched the creek looking for the unknown larvae of Neoderus and other aquatic insects, I intentionally separated the largest common stoneflies. I later proceeded to make my “back-country specialty” of au naturel stonefly and stale raisin kebabs on endemic southern beech twigs, complemented with all-you-can-drink glacial melts. A true delight!  My other options were: 1) No food or 2) Soggy almonds and common black fly larvae, but the latter are quite slimy and a last resort among the edible insect choices on my list.

With hunger “satisfied”, I set up my blacklight a few feet away from the stream.  While waiting for insects to be attracted to the light reflected on a white sheet, I set off into the dark forest in true nerd-like fashion with my rain pants synched up to my mid abdomen, my cuffs tucked into my socks and sporting my night vision goggles in search of nocturnal six-legged gems.

stacked image of a female Neoderus sp. resting on Nothofagus sp. twigs. Photo by R. Isaí MAdriz

Throughout the night, the UV light attracted all sorts of insects, including Darwin’s beetles, half-inch-long parasitic wasps, caddisflies, moths and many midges. Alas, no Primitive Crane Flies.

Soon after midnight, rain drove away most of the insects and continued to pour until mid-morning. With sunrise approaching and a sufficient few hours of sleep, I climbed out of bed, ate a forgotten stonefly still in the “food” container and the piece of chocolate for breakfast, put on my rain gear and limped across the forest in search of the insect I came for.

After wadding through the creek for a couple of hours with no success, I decided to direct my attention to the numerous fallen trees around the forest. Interestingly, a large decaying tree still hangs 8ft high over the creek. Underneath, a Neoderus female. After squealing like a piglet for some time, I proceeded to secure the specimen. Crane flies in general are well known among taxonomists to lose or detach their legs at will. This particular female had all six legs still attached, making it the only pristine specimen in the world.

With my precious find, I headed straight back to camp. Once there, I frantically packed it all up and awkwardly limped back to my vehicle a few miles away, all the while juggling the specimen, my heavy backpack and my “gimpy sticks”.

I drove eight hours back to my headquarters and proceeded to photograph the female. After a long and continuous photography session of 48hours the female finally died, but not before yielding the photographs above. These, along with one poor quality image from 2015, are the only photographs of a live Neoderus in existence.  A true reminder of the biological jewels awaiting discovery in the vicinities of the Patagonia Ice Fields.

R. Isaí Madriz identifying aquatic insects in the field. PHOTO BY R. ISAÍ MADRIZ

*The Neoderus specimen in the photographs above belongs to a new species of primitive crane fly. A scientific (peer reviewed) publication is in process to formally describe this species.

Follow Isaí Madriz on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Equipment used for this nine month project is courtesy of Fulbright, National Geographic, Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Aqua-BoundBoo Bicycles, Kokatat, Seal Line, Osprey, TentsilePatagonia, Voltaic & Jax Outdoor Gear.

Originally posted 2018-03-20 22:39:01.

Secrets of Our Ocean Planet: The Not-So-Simple Sea Sponge

Sponges help form incredibly vibrant seafloor communities like this one in Antarctica (Photo credit: Greenpeace.)

By Rachel Downey (Australia National University & British Antarctic Survey) and Claire Christian (ASOC)

Every so often, conservationists make a concerted effort to get the public to care about some humble or overlooked species. Cephalopod Awareness Day, anyone? Photos of unusual species lacking the fur or feathers typically required for cuteness, might even go viral, if they show some charisma, for example, the smiley-faced axolotl salamander. The task gets tougher if the species doesn’t have a face (unless we consider the well-loved children’s cartoon character SpongeBob). But in a series of blog posts, we – an invertebrate scientist and an Antarctic conservationist – are going to try to convince you that sea sponges are the next unusual creature you should learn to love.

First, a few basics. Although sponges are sessile (meaning they don’t move, but they can manoeuvre a small amount to get themselves in a better position) they are animals, not plants. Sponges are minimalists – they have no organs that serve as digestive, nervous, circulatory or excretory systems – they are instead composed of masses of cells in a matrix stiffened by a collagen, silica or calcium carbonate skeleton. Sponges are by-and-large filter feeders, with their bodies composed of pores and canals, pumping the surrounding water for tiny particles of food and oxygen. However, one group of sponges has abandoned filter-feeding altogether and turned carnivorous! This special group of sponges has evolved in very food-poor environments, so has modified its internal skeleton in order to ‘hook’ (a bit like Velcro strips) passing swimming animals, often tiny crustaceans, that land upon the sponge, which they ingest over several days.

This primitive-seeming member of the animal kingdom is also far more diverse than most people realize. There are over 8500 sponge species currently known (with hundreds more being described by scientists every year), and they are found throughout the world’s oceans, from the ice-covered poles to the sun-baked tropics, from the deepest ocean trenches to the rocky inter-tidal zone. Sponges come in every colour, and vary in size enormously, from just a few millimetres to over 2 metres in size, with the largest known sponge so far (the size of a small truck) found in the deep waters near Hawaii.

Sponges are a group of animals incredibly diverse in color and shape. A grEy Hyrtios cavernosus sponge is surrounded lilac Callyspongia fallax Sponges. (Photo credit: Sven Zea, spongeguide.org).

Many sponges have cell and canal structures which enable them to grow into innumerable shapes including irregular, massive blobs, flatter, encrusting forms, perfect spheres, enormous vases, elongated tubes and elegant funnels. This ability to grow into different shapes also helps sponges adapt to different types of environments, partly explaining their presence in every marine environment. Sponges also have the amazing ability of being able to regenerate and reconstruct their entire bodies, even if broken into tiny pieces (video here) . Combined with this, is the fact that sponge cells are totipotent, each cell is like a stem cell, so any cell in a sponge body can become another cell type if required. Sponges can regenerate and change the function of every cell in their body if required – a set of talents that humans would no doubt like to have!

Another impressive sponge ability is that it can change its metabolism. Antarctic sponges have been found to have some of the largest changes in physiology of any group of animals, not surprising when they live in a part of the world with some of the most extreme environmental changes between seasons. Polar sponges must be able to cope with going from a food-poor winter with 24 hours of darkness, to a food-rich summer with 24 hours of daylight. Sponges living in the deep sea, where food is generally scarce, might also have to cope with long intervals without food.

A yellow Agelas cerebrum sponge (Photo credit: Sven Zea, spongeguide.org)

Finally, as fellow animals, sponges are family. All animals alive today have descended from a common ancestor. Sponges are now thought to have branched off of that ancestor first, with all other animal species descending from a different branch. Therefore they are the “sister” to all animals on Earth, no matter how unlike humans or frogs or toucans they seem.

In fact, sponges and humans share a lot more in common than we first thought, as a new finding indicates that we both share the same type of gene regulation. So, despite the sponge being a simple animal, we both share a toolkit within our bodies that regulates how and when genes are activated, meaning that this mechanism has not changed since the dawn of sponge existence. In our next post, we’ll explain how our ancient siblings exert an enormous influence on ocean environments, and how they protect themselves from a world of mobile predators.

 

 

 

 

Originally posted 2018-04-23 16:00:05.

In Sharm el Sheikh, A Time for Action on Biodiversity

By Susan Lieberman

Sharm el Shekih, Egypt

The global community has gathered in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt for the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD—an international treaty to which every country in the world other than the U.S. is a member (but that’s another story). I am here leading the delegation from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the global organization I’m proud to work for as Vice President for International Policy.

For close to two weeks, we will discuss the many threats to the world’s wildlife and habitats, from tropical rainforests to the world’s ocean. Our planet is in the midst of an extensive, well-documented biodiversity crisis. We see a loss of species, habitats, and ecosystems critical to our planet’s health, and to the well-being of all of us—including to Indigenous Peoples and local communities that are directly dependent on healthy ecosystems for their very survival.

A tiger in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. Photo credit: Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli/WCS.

Recent scientific reports have shown that the extent of terrestrial and marine ecosystems that can be still be considered intact and ecologically functional is dwindling. Threats across the globe today are massive, and include habitat loss and devastation, illegal killing of wildlife and wildlife trafficking, illegal and unsustainable fishing, illegal and unsustainable timber trade, harmful development projects, climate change, and so much more.

The images of devastated landscapes devoid of their natural biodiversity, vast industrial-scale monoculture for commercial agriculture, and largely empty seas are becoming all too familiar and all too dominant. The consequences for biodiversity are clear: ever increasing numbers of species facing extinction and the degradation of the critical ecosystem services that underpin the very health of our planet and our own well-being.

In short, we are moving from a serious erosion of biodiversity to a serious ecological crisis that will impact all of us. And yet how many people know about this conference in Egypt? Or that between this meeting and the next conference in Beijing in 2020, the world will adopt new targets to set the course of biodiversity conservation for the next decade and beyond? But even as we endeavor to expand the constituency for this critical work, we cannot wait to take action.

The expansion of humanity’s footprint both on land and in the sea is staggering and ever-increasing. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

More than anything, all of the governments here in Egypt must work and commit to save the Earth’s last intact places: the remaining boreal forests of Canada and Russia; the remaining tropical forests of Central Africa and the Amazon Basin; the remaining grasslands of Central Asia; and the remaining healthy coral reefs found in the tropical belt around the world to identify just some of the most critical biodiversity strongholds.

Just as urgently, we must secure the intact ecosystems and corridors between these place that are so critical for the maintenance of healthy, thriving populations of jaguars, elephants, tigers, sea turtles, parrots, whales, and so many other species threatened by the actions of people.

These intact forests, grasslands, coral reefs, and other intact landscapes and seascapes must be prioritized for many reasons, including because they are the most resilient to the impacts of climate change and increasing development pressures, and offer some of the greatest potential for protecting biological diversity for future generations.

Threats across the globe today include the illegal killing and trafficking of wildlife such as the pangolin. Photo credit: Lucie Escouflaire/WCS

I am excited to be here in Egypt to work through these issues with government officials from around the world, as well as other conservation organizations, indigenous peoples and local community representatives, and so many more. But I am very worried. This treaty, like all treaties, is made up of governments, and they are the ones making the decisions on behalf of all of the inhabitants of our beautiful and fragile planet—the only one we have.

Will the governments of the world talk but not act, show complacency, support business-as-usual, and squabble over minutiae? Or will they be ambitious and bold, and show true leadership and commitment to the future of a healthy planet? Will we be able to look back on this meeting as a watershed moment, when the governments of the world, through the CBD, truly committed to real conservation action, and to saving the magnificent, intact places on earth, for all of us?

Our children and future generations will ultimately be the judge, and they need our commitment, action, and leadership more than ever.

——————————————
Susan Lieberman is Vice President for International Policy at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

(Photo, top: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

Originally posted 2018-11-19 12:37:56.

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Following decades of seemingly irreversible decline, the Irrawaddy River dolphin population in the Mekong region is rebounding. According to a recent census released by WWF and the Government of Cambodia, the number of these critically endangered dolphins has risen from 80 to 92 in the past two years—the first increase since scientists began keeping records more than twenty years ago.

This historic population increase can be attributed to several factors, including more effective patrolling by river guards and an increase in the confiscation of illegal gillnets, which can trap and drown dolphins. Over the past two years, guards have confiscated more than 200 miles of illegal gillnets—almost double the length of the dolphins’ remaining home range—from core dolphin habitat.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WWF, the tourism industry, and local communities, we finally have reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction,” said Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF Cambodia. “The tour boat operators are the secret ingredient of this success story—they work closely with law enforcement to report poaching and help confiscate illegal gillnets.”

Originally posted 2018-04-23 12:00:00.

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