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.

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.