Christmas Bird Count, rehabbing reefs, and piping plovers: this week in environmental news

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count takes off Dec. 14 (Mother Nature Network): The 116th annual Christmas Bird Count begins Dec. 14, and scientists are relying on more than 70,000 volunteers to help them gather data about birds across the Western Hemisphere. Information gathered from the CBC will help scientists pinpoint priority areas for conservation efforts.

christmas bird count

For the fourth season in a row, the 115th bird count documented a major flight of snowy owls southward. Photo: mO1229/flickr

Limestone dumped in Lake Michigan aims to rehab reef (Detroit Free Press): About 450 tons of limestone have been dumped into Lake Michigan as part of an effort to rehabilitate a northern Michigan reef and boost native fish populations. The limestone was put in a reef complex in Grand Traverse Bay near Elk Rapids where lake trout, lake whitefish, and lake herring are known to spawn. The fishes’ populations plummeted due to overfishing, degraded habitat, and invasive species, so the project team hopes rehabilitating the reef will help native fish keep eggs safe from predators and the harsh winter.

Smart Science: App Helps Protect Shorebirds (U.S. Department of the Interior Blog): Rob Thieler, U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, is combining science and smartphone technology to help study a threatened bird – the Atlantic Coast piping plover. Rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change, as well as increased development in their beach habitats, threaten the species. To help track changes in piping plover habitat, Thieler developed a free app called iPlover. All the information scientists and citizen scientists alike collect helps federal and state agencies create policy plans for addressing climate change impacts worldwide.

piping plover

A piping plover stands on a beach with three small chicks. Photo: USFWS

Tradition, science join to combat emerald ash borer (Great Lakes Echo): A new study shows how science and traditional Native American cultural traditions can combat emerald ash borer. The collaboration showed how the traditional practice of submerging black ash logs until they’re ready to use for basket-making can kill borer larvae and prevent adults from emerging. In their two-year study, they discovered that keeping logs in a stream for at least 14 weeks during the spring and for at least 18 weeks during the winter kills all the larvae and prevent adults from emerging. The study said the project illustrates the value of meshing scientific and traditional knowledge to seek solutions to environmental problems.

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How Will This Harsh Winter Affect Wildlife?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA  intern

The polar vortex may be finally past us, but cold temperatures are still prevalent throughout Michigan. We all know it made for a miserable winter for us, but how was wildlife affected?

Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner blue butterfly lays it’s eggs near the ground so the snow can help insulate them through the winter. Photo from MNA Archives.

Many wildlife species are well adapted to thrive in cold temperatures. This winter proved to be beneficial for some endangered species here in Michigan. The Karner blue butterfly will hopefully see a spike in population from the excessive amounts of snow this winter brought. The butterfly’s eggs, which are laid on leaf litter near the ground over the winter, do best when there is deep snow cover on the ground over the course of the entire winter. The snow keeps them from drying out and provides extra insulation from air temperatures which can be colder than the ground temperatures.

Cisco fish are another endangered species that will benefit from the cold. They lay their eggs under the ice of the Great Lakes which protects them from getting thrashed around too much by waves. When there is little to no ice coverage, the waves cause the eggs to break. The heavy and vast ice coverage that the Great Lakes has had this winter will help provide a great barrier for the eggs and hopefully lead to more of them surviving.

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Honeybees continue to thrive in the hive during extreme cold streaks. They gather in massive amounts to form a dense cluster around the outside of the hive when the temperature drops. As it gets colder, the cluster of bees becomes tighter and they move closer inside the hive. In order to stay warm and keep the queen warm, they exercise by rapidly vibrating their wings. It also creates air currents that expel carbon dioxide and moisture.

Not every species benefits from the extreme cold. Many invasive species are unable to handle the sub zero temperatures. Although it is unfortunate for the insects, it is good news for the plants affected by them and it could help solve issues with some invasive species in Michigan.

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Temperatures were cold enough in certain areas to freeze and kill many invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer. They are able to withstand several degrees below zero, but if temperatures hit 20 or 30 degrees below zero, they may not be able to survive.

Other invasive species do not fair as well as the emerald ash borer. The gypsy moth begins to freeze when temperatures hit below 17 degrees and the wooly adelgis, which has killed thousands of hemlock trees in the Northwest, dies when temperatures fall just below zero.

 

 

Farm bill, drops in Monarch migration and invasive species: this week in environmental news

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A Monarch Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and country. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news.

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear (The Washington Post): The number of Monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico from the United States in the winter is at a record low since 1993, experts say. There are a number of reasons that could be the cause, but the believed main culprit is herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops that are leading to the killing of milkweed, the butterfly’s main food source. This years extreme weather patterns are also playing a significant role.

White Lake to be first Area of Concern in Michigan removed from list this summer (mlive): White Lake should be removed from the Great Lakes Area of Concern list by the summer of 2014 due to efforts to bring awareness and routine cleanups to the lake and surrounding areas. White Lake would become the first of 14 lakes of concern in Michigan to be removed from the list. Efforts included cleaning up the shoreline to make the lake more ascetically pleasing and removing drinking water pollution.

Sleeping Bear bill likely headed to House floor (record eagle): Legislation has been introduced to protect 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a wilderness area, which is important to northern Michigan’s tourism industry and conservation. The bill has made its way closer to reaching the U.S House of Representatives this past week.

Farm bill heads to vote; US Sen. Debbie Stabenow talks about how it could affect Michigan (mlive): A five-year farm bill was announced that will extend crop insurance for apple and tart cherry farmers in Michigan. The frost that occurred in 2012 destroyed 90 percent of the states crops and the new bill will allow disaster assistance for farmers who were affected by this. Also, when farmers sign up, they are agreeing to adopt better conservation practices to benefit the land and the Great Lakes.

Cold spells may kill some but not worst invasive bugs (Great Lakes Echo): A recent study found that this severe winter we are experiencing may lead to the death of some invasive species of insects. The emerald ash borer, though, seems unaffected. The storms happened later in the winter resulting in animals acclimating to the weather and the cooler temperatures so they become less affected. MSU professor Deborah McCullough hopes that the cold will kill off other harmful species that are less immune to the weather like the mimosa webworm.

 

A chemical spill, the emerald ash borer, and ice balls: this week in environmental news

Ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo via YouTube.

Every Friday, MNA shares news stories related to conservation from around the state and the world.

Chemical spill fouls water in West Virginia (The New York Times): A chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va. left more than 100,000 people without safe tap water. The spill happened at a storage facility about a mile north of a water treatment plant on the Elk River, where a compound used to clean coal began leaking. Officials do not currently know how much of the chemical spilled into the river.

Extreme cold may wipe out high percentage of emerald ash borer larvae (MPR):  A forestry expert in Minnesota says that the extreme cold temperatures may kill off a significant percentage of emerald ash borer larvae. Studies have shown that 34 percent of larvae die at -10 degrees Fahrenheit, with that number jumping to 79 percent at -20, and 98% at -30. These numbers could vary, depending on whether or not the insects are insulated by the bark of trees or snow.

Watch captivating video of Lake Michigan ice balls at Sleeping Bear Dunes (MLive): The giant ice boulders on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore were recognized as one of the most amazing earth images of 2013. They have formed once again, and can be seen washing in and out from the Lake Michigan shoreline. Several photographers have captured fascinating images and videos of the beach-ball sized ice formations.

‘Carnivore cleansing’ is damaging ecosystems, scientists warn (The Guardian): According to a new study, more than three-quarters of the 31 species of large land predators, such as wolves and lions, are in decline. Of these species, 17 species are now restricted to less than half the territory they once occupied. An international team of scientists say that the large predators play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems. The group has called for a global initiative to conserve large predators.

Plastics in your face? There’s an app for that (Great Lakes Echo): Plastic microbeads, which are often found in personal hygiene products, have been polluting the Great Lakes and other waterways. A new app has been designed that allows customers to scan a barcode and see if the product contains microbeads. The app is called “Warning: Plastics Inside!” and can be downloaded for free in the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and the Windows Phone Store.

Dolphin deaths, tiny plastic pollutants, and a predator for the emerald ash borer: this week in environmental news

Each Friday, MNA rounds up news stories focused on nature and the environment. Here is what happened this week in environmental news:

The BP oil spill as seen from space by NASA’s Terra satellite in May 2010. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Study links BP oil spill to dolphin deaths (The Guardian):  A study led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found lung disease, hormonal abnormalities and other health effects among dolphins at Barataria Bay in Louisiana, an area heavily oiled during the April 2010 BP spill. The diseases and elevated mortality rates have raised concerns about the short-term and long-term impacts on the Barataria Bay dolphin population.

Emerald ash border may have met its match (Science Daily): A study has found a native predator that is able to detect and respond to the invasive emerald ash border. Bark-foraging birds, including woodpeckers and nuthatches, were found to be feeding on the emerald ash borer, an invader responsible for the death of 30 million trees in the U.S. and Canada. The native birds are more efficient than other methods to slow the spread of the invasive.

Scientists turn their gaze toward tiny threats to Great Lakes (The New York Times): Tiny plastic beads used in facial scrubs and toothpastes are turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, where fish and other aquatic life eat them and the pollutants they carry. Scientists fear that the pollutants may be working their way back up the food chains to humans. Recent studies have found that there may be greater concentrations of plastic particles in the Great Lakes than in the oceans.

Chemistry getting greener at Michigan companies, universities (Great Lakes Echo):  Michigan companies are leading the way in a movement to make chemical manufacturing more environmentally friendly. Created under Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s executive order in 2006, the Green Chemistry Program has brought together government agencies and businesses. Companies involved are making strides in using chemistry that is benign toward people and the environment.

As wolves die out on remote national park in Michigan, debate brews over whether to intervene (The Republic):  The gray wolf population on Isle Royale National Park has dropped steadily in recent years. Eight wolves remained last winter, the lowest rate since the 1950s. Park managers are now trying to determine whether they should intervene to preserve the wolf population in the park. The situation could set a precedent for other parks and wilderness areas dealing with threats to species as climate change alters the environment.

Invasive species, a fishing boom and algae blooms: 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:

An emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Invasive emerald ash borer hurts Michigan timber sales (Great Lakes Echo): The emerald ash borer first caused an infestation in Michigan in 2002. The beetle eats the layer below bark, causing a lack of nutrients and ultimately leads to the death of the tree. The Department of Natural Resources said timber sales are being hurt by the spread of the emerald ash borer. Not all timber is meant to be sold right away, but because of this insect, the process has to be sped up. The infestation is causing a decrease in salvage bid sales and there will be a noticeable decrease in timber sales next year, according to the DNR.

Climate change is making Lake Superior a fishing haven, for the moment (PRI): Lake Superior is warming faster than any other lake on the planet. Because of this, there has been a shift in the species that the lake supports. Lake trout are becoming rarer and are being joined by the walleye in Lake Superior. James Kitchell, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said there will be an economic boost in the short run from this change. However, it will cause problems in the long run. As fish population increases, the amount of food per fish decreases, causing overall growth rates to decline. The warmer temperature of the lake also reintroduces the sea lamprey, a major predator of lake trout.

Algae blooms on Lake Erie getting ‘difficult to control’ (CBC): Massive algae blooms on Lake Erie are becoming harder to control, according to a scientist at the International Joint Commission. The algae blooms are being caused by fertilizer runoff from nearby farms. Raj Bejankiwar of the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority correctly predicted that Lake Erie would see near-record algae levels because more intense storms cause more intense runoff. The algae is also causing a higher level of toxins in drinking water. This is causing both economic and environmental problems, as 20 percent of the world’s freshwater comes from the Great Lakes.

18-foot-long deep-sea creature found off California (LiveScience): Dive instructor Jasmine Santana found an oarfish carcass while swimming in about 20 feet of water. The animal is rare and serpent-like, and is usually found in much deeper waters. With the help of many others, Santana dragged the carcass onto land, where people took pictures and eventually put the oarfish on ice so it could be shown to students the next day.

Forget polar bears: Global warming will hit the tropics first (Mother Nature Network): Researchers at the University of Hawaii are saying the tropics will suffer “unprecedented” climate change effects in the next ten years. This is predicted to come long before the Arctic and polar bears see effects. Camilo Mora, lead study author and a geographer at the University of Hawaii, Manoa said, “The coldest year in the future will be hotter than the hottest year in the past [150 years].” The amber-eyed jaguar is near the top of the list to become extinct due to climate change.

An endangered butterfly, emerald ash borers and a new dinosaur: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, 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:

In Great Lakes, Reports Offer Reassurance and Warnings About Oil Pipeline Safety (Circle of Blue): Recent studies from the National Research Council contradict the previously-believed corrosive nature of some oil compounds. The three studies focused on diluted bitumen, a heavy oil mined in Alberta. Recent ruptures and leaks in U.S. pipelines transporting diluted bitumen from Canada have raised concern that the compound may be more corrosive and difficult to move than conventional crude oil. Though researchers have found bitumen to have no unique corrosive properties or greater spill risk than crude oil, the compound continues testing.

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The poweshiek skipperling.
Photo courtesy of Dwayne Bagdero.

Researchers work to save endangered prairie butterfly (Toronto Star): Researchers in the U.S. and Canada are searching for ways to stop a rapid population decline among the poweshiek skipperling, a once-common prairie butterfly. The brown, moth-like insect was once common in areas of Canada and the Midwest but, as prairie habitats began to diminish, the species’ population suddenly shrunk to alarmingly low numbers. Researchers are cautious yet optimistic about the poweshiek skipperling’s rehabilitation and are working to prevent some wildfires and farming practices that are currently devastating to the species.

Michigan’s native plants are essential in preserving the state’s ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Detroit native Cheryl English maintains an extensive home garden not only to add beauty to her neighborhood, but also to share the necessity of Michigan’s native plants. English’s yard stands out among the rest on her East English Village block, as her front and back lawns are covered with Michigan-native plants, including various bushes, shrubs, cacti and wildflowers. One of the main lessons English hopes people will learn from her garden is the environmental significance of native plant life and how every species plays an important role in its ecosystem.

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The emerald ash borer.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Little Things, Big Problems: Emerald Ash Borer (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing a series of educational videos on the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle species that originated from Asia and eastern Russia. The series emphasizes the harmful effects of the beetle, which lays its larva in ash trees and has killed a total of 40 million of these trees in the United States. It is critical that people know their role in the spreading of emerald ash borer and that they prevent the spread of the insect by never moving firewood to or from other areas.

Conservationists are peeping mad about birdsong apps (Mother Nature Network): Smartphone apps that play audio of bird calls have drawn attention from conservationists in England, as many park visitors are using the sounds to draw birds from their nests in order to photograph them. Conservationists argue that this distraction prevents birds from performing necessary duties, such as protecting their young. Still, some enthusiasts believe that bird watching apps help draw a wider audience to the hobby, allowing more people to better understand and enjoy nature.

New Big-Nosed Horned Dinosaur Found in Utah (National Geographic News): Paleontologists in Utah have discovered a new dinosaur, Nasutoceratops titusi. The dinosaur, a Triceratops relative, is a member of a group of horned, four-legged herbivores called ceratopsids. This newly discovered species is especially interesting to researchers because, though most known ceratopsids resemble the Triceratops, the new dinosaur looks quite different, with a large nose and curved horns over its eyes.