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The Canaries in the Mine Are Dying - How Much Longer Until It Spreads to Man?

By William Cormier  Posted by William Cormier (about the submitter)     Permalink
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For those who are too young to remember, early miners had a cage in their mines inhabited by canaries as an insurance policy against an explosion caused by methane gas or other deadly toxin(s) that could endanger their mine. The canary had small lungs and was particularly susceptible to these gasses, so if you noticed the canary had died or was acting sickly, it was time to high-tail it out of the mine until the problem could be fixed. If only our problem was that simple, because with us, it’s more than a canary dying, and other than migrating to other worlds which is decades or more away, man is destined to stay on earth and gradually witness the “canaries” of all types dying by the millions.

No, I’m not exaggerating, although I wish I were. It began a few years ago when I noticed that Butterflies were no longer in the abundance they were when I was a child; it was an innocent discovery, as I was attempting to show another child the wonderment of nature, something I had always enjoyed when I was growing-up which was now a matter of happenstance rather than the norm. Something had changed and I had an eerie feeling that whatever was missing was far beyond what I could see or hear. The Internet wasn’t as fast back then, nor were the search capabilities what they are today, so I let it go until another day, shrugging off what was one of the first warnings that our world was dying even as we ignored the warning signs and casually went about our lives.

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It turns out that the butterflies were dying, not just in the United States, but in several locations around the world. The beautiful Monarch Butterfly I remember as a child and was attempting to show to my niece was dying out, and it was thought that millions of Monarchs had died because of over-logging:

Dying Monarchs - Updates - butterfly - Brief Article:

The Environmental Magazine, May-June, 2002 by Chas OffuttConsidered an endangered phenomenon, the monarch butterfly’s arduous migration stretches 3,000 miles from the Rocky Mountains to Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico (see “The Monarch’s Perilous Flight,” In Brief, July/August 1998). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced that logging in and around the Mexican sanctuaries Sierra Chincua and El Rosario are the likely root causes of an estimated 250 million frozen butterflies during a mid-January winter storm. Butterfly biologist Lincoln P. Brower says up to 80 percent of the butterflies might have died from severe weather combined with the lack of tree cover, which exposed the insects to wind, rain and cold. MORE

It wasn’t just California and Mexico that were affected, and from several corners of the earth we have heard of Butterflies dying-off in massive numbers:

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Britain’s butterflies are dying out

Updated 01 November 2001, 19.56 

Britain’s butterflies are disappearing because we are destroying the places where they live. Around three quarters of Britain’s butterfly species have dropped in numbers during the last 30 years, even though the weather has changed to suit them.

Butterflies like hot weather, and the change in the global climate should have helped them. MORE

Also, for North America there is this sobering report, and we’re still miles from the tip of the iceberg:

Butterfly displaced by climate change? - Edith’s checkerspot butterflies dying off in southern North America as populations in northern North America expand -Science News, August 31, 1996 by Janet Raloff

Edith’s checkerspot butterflies inhabit patches of fields, rocky hills, and alpine terraces from Baja California to British Columbia. But throughout their lives, they don’t roam far. An entire population can confine its existence for decades to a piece of land 100 by 100 meters. Yet as a species, new data show, this butterfly is moving northward-big time.

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Camille Parmesan of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has just completed a census of 151 previously reported populations scattered along the west coast of North America. Because they are such stay-at-homes, the butterflies’ apparent northward trek actually reflects large numbers of populations dying off at the southern end of their range and presumably new populations in the north.

Mexican populations, for instance, were four times more likely to be extinct than ones in Canada. Low-altitude populations are also losing ground.

Biologists have argued that if Earth’s climate warms, whole ecosystems would begin moving into what had been cooler zones. While there has been evidence for several plant species that such a shifting may have begun (SN: 6/18/94, p.399), Parmesan says those data came from only a fraction of each species’ global population. Establishing a true shift requires canvassing the entire range of a plant or animal-which she has now done for Edith’s checkerspot. LINK

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