Michigan bird guide, financial case for carbon rule presented and the social network of prairie dogs: this week in environmental news

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Winged Wednesday: A Great Lakes summer bird guide (Great Lakes Echo): There are 47 million bird watchers in the nation over the age of 16, according to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey. With this nationwide trend, the Great Lakes State offers diverse habitats throughout both peninsulas, making it difficult for birdwatchers to pick a favorite location.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86 (New York Times): Basic animal science in the 1950s made the claim that animals made noises very unlike human conversation. Yet, when Peter Marler, an animal behaviorist born in Britian, came along, he showed that songbirds learned to sign in varieties or dialects of their region.

White House pushes financial case for carbon rule (New York Times): According to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday, carbon emissions causing climate change could cost $150 billion per year. The report serves as another way to further Obama’s plan of cutting carbon emissions and reducing climate change.

Vicious cycle: Air conditioning is making your city even hotter (Conservation Magazine): Rising temperatures start creating a cycle of turning on the air conditioning, emitting carbon into the air and causing temperatures to continue to rise in the long run. Yet recent research has shown that air conditioners are also making temperatures hotter just through the absorption of hot air in a room and its emission outdoors.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Creating a prairie dog “Facebook” to aid conservation (Conservation Magazine): In recent studies, researchers have attempted to gain more insight into the social world of animals via “social network analysis.” This method in research has helped scientists to take a closer look into the complex social networks, hubs and connections of prairie dogs.

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Lake Erie’s algal blooms: a cause for concern

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

In a story from the Great Lakes Echo, Lake Erie has yet again produced record-high algae blooms. In 2011, the amount was the worst ever recorded with 2013 coming in close.

Lake Erie has been used as a source of water for farming and drinking and the increasing toxicity poses harm to the environment.

According to Discovery News, algae blooms are a natural part in the life of an aging lake, but have been greatly increased due to human activity.

An explanation of algae

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer  courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Algae are common members of aquatic communities. Often in the form of green plants like seaweed, these plants grow and are green because they contain chlorophyll. Algae usually doesn’t pose problems in bodies of water, but algae blooms are of greater concern. These green-blue scum masses are full of harmful cyanobacteria, containing threatening cyanotoxins.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyanotoxins as “a diverse group of chemical substances that are categorized by their specific toxic effects. In humans, cyanotoxins can affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver and increase tumor growth.

Click here to read the fact sheet which includes symptoms of cyanotoxin consumption and contact and treatment.

The toxic dangers in Lake Erie

The problem facing Lake Erie is not only that it’s turning a pernicious green color, it’s under silent attack by toxins in water runoff making their way into the lake. Fertilizer from agricultural practices in recent years has contributed to this issue. Climate change may also be contributing to the issues surrounding Lake Erie, causing more storms, higher water temperatures and less control of fertilizer runoff.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Nutrients in the fertilizer runoff have contributed greatly to the growth of cyanobacteria, fertilizing the toxin rather than the intended on-land crops. Not only is this bacteria harmful for humans to consume in drinking water, it creates “dead zones” in different areas of lakes. A dead zone happens when the bacteria consumes most of the oxygen in a particular area of a lake, so that other organisms are deprived of that oxygen and die.

A plan of action 

In Michigan, scientists hope to continue monitoring the water, although the high amount of algae blooms has been a great cause of stress and concern. Recently, President Obama reauthorized a federal law which allocates $82 million for studying and monitoring algae blooms. This time, the Great Lakes were included.

 

Bee colony collapse disorder affecting Michigan

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

With summer in Michigan comes the hot sun along with plenty of critters coming out of their habitats. Among animals and insects that emerge, the honey bee is one of them, essential to maintain life of plants in ecosystems and the creator of sweet, gooey, golden honey.

The importance of bees

Bees are one of the main pollinators for several plants including flowers, fruits and vegetables. Bees have a hand in much of the produce Americans eat. Pollination is the process of moving pollen from one part of flowers to another, causing fertilization. This contributes to growth and production of flowers, fruits and vegetables. This process is important to maintaining ecosystems and natural plant communities.  Without insects like bees to pollinate flowers and other crops, the entire ecosystem is affected, causing a decline in natural flora in Michigan, an issue that has already arisen due to many other factors. Click here for more facts about bees.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

Colony collapse disorder

Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is a disorder in bee colonies connected to their decline in recent years. Scientists have not pinpointed a specific cause of this decrease but infer that climate change, pesticides, mite infestations and bee disease have all contributed to CCD, according to an article in the Washington Post. Hives have been dying each year, and it’s not uncommon to lose at least five percent of colonies in a winter, said a 2011 article from Michiganradio.org. According to the article, there was an overall 30 percent nation-wide decline at the time.

Repercussions in Michigan

With CCD on the rise, the amount of crops produced annually falls. This affects the entire U.S. but is a large problem in Michigan because of the state’s agricultural industry. Farmers have seen a decline in their crops. Michigan fell in pollen production in 2013, to ninth in the nation from seventh. Not only is CCD bad for crops and honey production, it can cost beekeepers thousands of dollars.

Restoration programs

President Obama showed his support for stopping CCD in his launch of a task force related to this specific issue on June 23, according to CNN.  $50 million will be allocated for the purpose of research to stop CCD and help restore bee colonies and the economy. According to a statement from the White House, bees contribute “more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets.” Programs like this will help the overall nation to try and stop the decline of bees and boost the economy.

Back in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the allocation of $3 million to Midwestern states including Michigan for the assistance of farmers who would participate in projects aimed at improving pollinator health.  “The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an MLive article.