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Of Animals and Bees and Flowers Wild on Earth Day

By       Message Arshad M Khan       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Common Dreams.

Nature cheers us. Animals can be powerful, beautiful, sleek, graceful. A field of wild flowers chanced upon can take our breath away. Wordsworth so moved by 'a host of golden daffodils' put pen to paper, and we are richer for his poem. So it's distressing when scientists confirm our gut feelings about the human footprint on this natural environment. Wild Animals are no longer free to roam. Bordered by encroaching human populations they have been forced into shrinking invisible cages, leading inevitably to shrinking numbers. It is not a rosy prospect, while pollution and mounting plastic waste cause additional disasters.

Few people know that March 3 was World Wildlife Day, or this coming Sunday (April 22) is Earth Day -- perhaps Trump sucking up all the media oxygen is responsible. The fact remains, world wildlife is under serious threat, and in ways we can't even imagine -- not forgetting the eventual disaster due to climate change, unless the world wakes up.

Not too long ago Science, the voice of AAAS, America's largest science body, published three papers describing the harmful, even devastating, impact of modern human presence. These are encapsulated below, and should be of serious concern to anyone who cares for wildlife and the planet we inhabit.

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The theme for Earth Day is End Plastic Pollution. If one ever wondered what can happen to a plastic bag discarded carelessly, the following research has a surprising and worrying answer.

This Science article looks at plastic waste entering the oceans -- often through catchment areas and into rivers that flow to the ocean. It assesses the influence of such waste on disease in reef-building corals. The authors survey 159 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific, a region containing 55.5 percent of global reefs and 73 percent of the human population living within 50 km of a coast -- about a quarter billion people.

Our plastic bag finally reaches the ocean and microbes hitch a ride on it, living longer and increasing their chances of landing on an unfortunate host: a coral reef. The authors have measured plastic items per 100 square meters. The count can vary from a low of 0.4 in Australia to a high of 25.6 in Indonesia. Size of human population in coastal regions, good management or mismanagement of plastic waste disposal are all factors in the amount of waste entering the water.

The study results are striking. The likelihood of disease from the microbes rises from 4 percent in areas free of plastic to a whopping 89 percent average when the corals have such debris. Another major issue is coral structural complexity which, importantly, underpins micro-habitats for reef-reliant organisms. Unfortunately, the study also finds that plastic debris is up to 8 times more likely to affect reefs with greater structural complexity. The resulting lack of habitat can devastate fisheries through a drop in productivity by a factor of three. Thus public awareness here could be a critical factor.

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Next is a vast global study spanning the four major continents and New Zealand. Authored by 115 scientists, it traces the movement of 57 mammalian species through the GPS-tracking of 803 individuals. It finds a strong negative effect of the human footprint on animal spacial mobility, threatening long-term viability unless the situation changes.

The scientists develop a human footprint index (HFI) comprising multiple aspects of human influence: built environment, croplands, pastures, nighttime lights, roads, waterways, railroads, population density, etc. On the animal side, they note and separate the effects of resource availability and body mass on vagility (migration distances) -- larger species travel further as do carnivores.

They then compute animal movement as the distance between subsequent GPS locations over nine time scales ranging from one hour to 10 days. At each time scale and for each individual, they calculate the median (middle range) and longest distance movements. These procedures point to the thoroughness of the research.

Overall the findings indicate a decline in movement of mammals in high HFI areas ranging on average from one-half to one-third of their movement levels in areas without human presence. For example, the median displacement of carnivores over the 10-day period in high HFI areas was only about half when compared to zero-impact regions. And the long-distance movement over the same period in HFI areas was down to a third, averaging 6.6 km versus 21.5 km. The impact on feeding and breeding then is clearly severe.

The authors note the consequences for ecosystem function globally as the effects are critical for wildlife conservation and also in the spread of disease. In the latter aspect, the authors warn that "reduced vagility may go beyond ecosystem functioning to directly affect human well-being." In their understated words, it means the danger of accelerated animal extinction and human epidemics.

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Most of us tend to assume all bees are good. Apparently not, as a couple of scientists explain. So as we reach for that honey jar ... it all depends on where it came from. That is the contention of the last paper, which assesses the impact of managed honey bees on wild bees and other pollinators.

Pointing to the rapid global growth in managed-bee colonies and the attention devoted to them, the authors believe this focus reduces efforts to preserve wild pollinators so necessary for wild plants and flowers. In fact, high densities of such bees worsen the decline of these wild pollinators, and have also been linked to the spread of disease via shared wild flowers. Long term this is a worsening threat to wild plants and flowers, many facing extinction.

The authors identify managed honeybees and their honey production and pollination of commercial crops as an agricultural issue, not an ecological one. They advocate restriction of managed-honey beehives in protected-ecological areas to reduce their harmful effects noting that half of all European wild bees are threatened with extinction.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 

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3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments


Suzana Megles

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Hope this takes. My last comment required the third degree in logging in and was lost. But thanks Arshad. Everyone who says he cares about the environment should have read this post and commented on it. How sad for supposedly a nation of brainy people, we haven't yet found a solution for the horrendous plastic problem.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 23, 2018 at 9:13:23 PM

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Arshad M Khan

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Publishing this piece required the third degree also! In the end they were kind enough to reprint the original source. As is obvious, I have not been able to master the navigation either, although why the program kept omitting several paragraphs is still not clear.

One would think readers would do as you presume. Perhaps immediate disasters like Trump are more in vogue. And who can blame anyone?

Thank you for taking the time to comment.


Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 at 2:25:06 PM

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Bill Johnson

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Under serious threat? Your science is behind the times.

Science has already determined that we humans have brought the process that created today's wildlife to a screeching halt.

Normal natural progress of all wildlife on this planet is already compromised.

All we humans can do at this point is try to prevent a species from going extinct, never mind the process that made the creature is now gone and obliterated by we humans so any natural progression of a future has been completely destroyed.

Saving the species from extinction is too little too late.

Long ago humans should have been smart enough to limit their destruction of the natural environment.

Point is, it is already too late. Saving species from extinction is a last gasp effort that is doomed to fail unless those creatures can have the same eco system that created them. And since we all know humans are gobbling up the earth there is no hope in wasting our efforts at saving creatures we have already destroyed any possibility for survival.

There is a growing list of extinction and humans by our own stupidity have put ourselves on that list.

Not only do we kill everything, but we poison the very environment we all need to live within. Pure stupidity on our part.

The earth and other life on this planet NEEDS our extinction because WE are the cause of theirs.

Humans must learn to live differently upon this planet and the ideas of freedom and do as you please will have to go out the window if we are to survive.

Humans can not be "free" to destroy the earth. And if humans will not control themselves then Nature will do it for us.

So if we are too survive, then we will have to shift the priority rights from ourselves to other life forms. As long as we think we are on top we are actually suicidal and don't even seem smart enough to know it.

Saving the few animals left behind has become a joke until we reverse human population numbers and our assault upon our planet.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 at 2:52:15 PM

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We are on the same page perhaps, although your language is different. Should you wish to actively engage in pursuing your inclinations, here for a start is a petition to stop the poisoning of big game -- lions in this case. Such efforts can be successful, as in Namibia some years ago with cheetahs.

All the best and thanks for your comment.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 at 3:37:35 PM

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