Modified poplars, Asian carp and a new invasive species: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

Poplar trees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Poplar trees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Poplars modified for ethanol production still fight bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent University of Wisconsin study found that genetically modifying poplar trees to more easily produce ethanol had little to no effect on the tree’s susceptibility to insects. The trees were modified in two ways, making the production of ethanol easier. These findings may bring genetically modified poplar trees closer to commercial use for a biofuel made from the cellulose in plant cell walls.

Asian carp DNA detected in Lake Michigan sample (ABC News): Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin has tested positive for the invasive Asian carp, which is the second water sample to test positive for the invasive species in recent years. The Asian carp was accidentally introduced into the Mississippi River and has made its way north. Scientists fear the Asian carp could out-compete native species in the Great Lakes and damage the $7 billion fishing industry. Scientists say it is unknown whether the sample came from a live fish or not, so the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take more samples.

New invasive species battle brewing in northern Michigan (Up North Live): The Department of Natural Resources has turned their attention to a new aquatic invasive plant called the European frog-bit. This species has been detected in Saginaw Bay, Alpena and Munuscong Bay in Chippewa County. Frog-bit shades out submerged native plants, which reduces plant biodiversity, disrupts natural water flow and may adversely affect fish and wildlife habitat. Control measures are underway, including removing 1,500 pounds of the free-floating plant.

Crying wolf: Michigan’s first hunt heavily influenced by outside interests; follow the money (MLive): The Humane Society of the United States has donated more than $300,000 in an effort to end the Michigan wolf hunt. More than $600,000 was donated in total. Jill Fritz, the director of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign said the newest petition drive is all volunteers. Other opponents to the hunt include native tribes, the Doris Day Animal League and individual contributors from outside the state. Many of these people provided statements to Michigan lawmakers.

Tsunami debris ‘island’ isn’t Texas-sized, but it is headed toward the U.S. (Mother Nature Network): About 1.5 million tons of debris from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 is drifting across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cannot accurately predict when the debris will arrive on U.S. shores. Debris has been washing up along the shores of Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. The docks that washed ashore in Washington and Oregon contained large amounts of marine life that had to be decontaminated to prevent invasive species from entering the U.S. coast.

Species Spotlight: Cerulean Warbler

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a small, but strikingly beautiful, songbird that has been declining rapidly in the United States over recent decades.

The cerulean warbler. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The cerulean warbler. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The cerulean warbler has a length of only 4.3 inches and a wingspan of 7.9 inches. Male and female cerulean warblers look rather different from each other. The males are bright blue with a white underbelly. Black streaks line their sides. Females are a dull turquoise color with a yellowish underbelly. The male cerulean warbler has a song that is distinguishable from all other warblers.

These birds spend summers breeding in the United States, ranging from the lower Great Lakes region all the way down to northern Louisiana. It is most prevalent in eastern Ohio and southern Missouri and Wisconsin.  They usually arrive to build nests and breed in the United States in late April or early May. Cerulean warblers then leave in August and migrate down to South America where they will stay until the next summer.

Cerulean warblers live in deciduous forests, choosing to build their nests higher up in the canopy than most other warblers. They piece grass stems, hair and bark fibers together in a spider web to create their nest. Here, they will lay between three and five eggs. When their eggs hatch, cerulean warblers will feed their young insects found on tree leaves.

These tiny birds face many threats to their population. Habitat destruction due to land development is a key threat. Climate change is another problem for cerulean warblers, as it may alter forest types. They also face the threat of habitat fragmentation. Brown-headed cowbirds will lay their eggs in cerulean warblers’ nests. When the brown-headed cowbird eggs hatch first, they tend to push all other eggs out of the nest.

Between 1966 and 1999, the cerulean warbler population in the United States declined 70 percent. Its population is dropping faster than any other warbler species.

Luckily, there have been two recent sightings of cerulean warblers in MNA sanctuaries. There was also nesting activity documented in one. This is a positive sign for the cerulean warbler, as there is a guarantee that their habitat will not be destroyed within the land protected by MNA.

Bat-killing fungus, air patterns and microbeads: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A brown bat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bat-killing fungus all but invincible, study finds (Mother Nature Network): The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, causes white-nose syndrome in American bats and is extremely difficult to kill. It has already killed about 6 million American bats in the last seven years and has a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent. The fungus can be found in 22 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. The fungus most likely came from Europe, where native bats are mostly immune. Scientists are searching for ways to control the spread of the fungus because American bats are important to the economy. Insect-eating bats keep disease-spreading and crop-killing insects in check and save the U.S. agriculture industry around $3 billion per year.

Strange air patterns could help predict heat waves (Mother Nature Network): New research shows that heat waves are usually preceded by a global weather pattern known as a wavenumber-5 pattern. This consists of five high-pressure systems evenly distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. The configuration usually occurs 15 to 20 days before extreme weather in the United States. Because of this, the wavenumber-5 pattern could be used to enable better forecasting, which could save between 600 and 1,300 lives per year.

Nonprofit launches consumer app to help keep microbeads out of the Great Lakes (Journal Sentinel): Microbeads found in hand soaps, facial scrubs and other exfoliating products bypass sewage treatments and ultimately end up polluting the Great Lakes and getting eaten by wildlife. Researchers say there are higher concentrations of microbeads in the Great Lakes than there are in the oceans. Several companies, including L’Oreal, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, pledged to use natural alternatives to microbeads after the findings were shared. A Netherlands-based foundation has created a free cell phone app called “Beat the Microbead” that allows consumers to scan a product before buying it to figure out if the product contains microbeads and if the company has agreed to remove them or not.

Great Lakes state playing catch-up in effort to build water-based economy (Great Lakes Echo): Milwaukee and Ontario are ahead of Michigan in efforts to turn water-based technology, academic research and tourism into jobs and revenue. The director of the Michigan Economic Center, John Austin, said Michigan has all the assets necessary to support a thriving “blue economy:” plentiful freshwater, a growing tourism industry, research universities focused on water issues and manufacturers to turn concepts into products. Austin said building Michigan’s blue economy begins with cleaning polluted waterways and restoring damaged shorelines.

Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler: Looking good, but what lies ahead (MLive): The Kirtland’s Warbler has much such a drastic turnaround in Michigan that government agencies and non-governmental groups have discussed taking it off the federal Endangered Species list. Michigan holds 98% of the Kirtland’s Warbler population, so it is important to assure the birds have ongoing support once they come off the list. Continued human intervention is the key to the warbler’s success. It is also important to limit the population of cowbirds, who lay their eggs in warbler nests and compete for food.