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The crowd goes wild: FC Barcelona reveals Camp Nou stadium’s animal inhabitants

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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census showsIn the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy. Continue reading...

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census showsIn the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy. Continue reading...

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census shows

In the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.

Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy.

Continue reading...
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We know how to save these beloved endangered whales. Yet we’re mindlessly killing them.

A North Atlantic right whale, entangled in fishing rope, next to her newborn, on December 2, 2021, near Cumberland Island, Georgia. | Georgia Department of Natural Resources/NOAA Permit #20556 via AP Two simple solutions would save the North Atlantic right whale. Why aren’t we using them? The story of the North Atlantic right whale, an icon of the East Coast, should be one of hope — a tale of recovery. Humanity’s strongest tools have been mobilized for their protection. For centuries, whalers hunted these graceful giants, which were once found throughout the North Atlantic, for their baleen and oily blubber. By the early 20th century, they were nearly extinct. But in 1935, alarmed by the shrinking number of right whales, international authorities banned commercial hunting of these animals. Decades later, as North Atlantic right whales were starting to recover, the US gave them another lifeline, listing them as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That made killing or harming them a federal crime. On paper, these whales were — and still are — highly protected. The US and Canadian governments also invest millions into their conservation, as do nonprofit environmental groups. Yet they continue to perish, often tragically. Since summer 2017, more than 120 North Atlantic right whales have died, been seriously injured, or fallen sick, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many deaths have likely gone undocumented, experts say. Today, officials estimate that there are just 360 of these animals left, down from a historic population that was likely in the tens of thousands, making them one of the most endangered whales on the planet. “North Atlantic right whales are approaching extinction,” NOAA has warned. The problem is no longer whaling. What’s killing these animals today is certain fishing and shipping practices — and the people and politicians who enable them. Lines of rope attached to crab and lobster traps are ensnaring right whales, slowly digging into their bodies over months and even years, often until they die. Fishing boats and container ships, meanwhile, are accidentally ramming into the marine giants, which are known to cruise near the surface. If you don’t fish or live far from the East Coast, this may seem like a distant concern, one to comfortably ignore. Yet most Americans are implicated in the demise of these whales if they buy goods shipped in from overseas or eat lobster, Michael Moore, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told Vox. “The wants and needs of today’s consumers indirectly and unintentionally precipitate vessel strikes and entanglement of whales and are the ultimate cause of the death of these animals,” Moore, one of the nation’s foremost right whale experts, wrote in a recent paper. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images A right whale seen feeding near Duxbury Beach in Massachusetts, just south of Boston. The story of the right whale is not only tragic but it reveals a flaw in modern environmental policies: They don’t work well when they run against consumerism and convenience, when they require industries and consumer behavior to change. It’s not that solutions to saving North Atlantic right whales don’t exist. They do — and as I’ll explain, they’re extremely simple. It’s that the economy of the US and elsewhere prioritizes cheap products over the lives and welfare of wild animals. Why are so many of these whales dying? Earlier this year, a young female North Atlantic right whale washed up dead on Martha’s Vineyard. She was thin. Somewhat gruesome images show thick rope sticking out of a large wound near her tail. A preliminary necropsy showed “chronic entanglement” and an analysis of the rope linked it to a fishery in Maine. This case was bleak. The animal, the only known calf of a whale called Squilla, had been entangled for more than a year. But these circumstances are not uncommon. Entanglements are a leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales, according to government authorities and independent scientists. Most of that rope likely comes from lobster and crab fisheries, in Maine, eastern Canada, and elsewhere. Fishermen commonly use lines attached to buoys to mark and retrieve baited traps, which essentially turn large swaths of the North Atlantic into a minefield for whales. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Permit #594-1759 via AP A female North Atlantic right whale trailing fishing line, seen on December 30, 2010. She died in early 2011. Entanglement is an “utter nightmare” for these animals, as Moore, a veterinarian who’s examined more than 40 dead North Atlantic right whales, wrote in his 2021 book We Are All Whalers. Here’s how he explained it in the book: Hitting a line makes them panic, and they tend to spin, trying to evade it, but instead they get multiple wraps of line around various body parts, such as the upper jaw, flippers, and tail. If they cannot disentangle themselves, the wraps constrict through time and slowly squeeze the life out of the animal over a matter of months. More than 85 percent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, according to NOAA. And whales that die from entanglement are ensnared, on average, for six months, Moore’s older research shows. It’s hard to see this as anything other than brutal. Short of killing the whales, chronic entanglement also makes it hard for these animals to feed (by gulping up large mouthfuls of plankton, which they filter through their baleen) and have babies. Wrapped around their bodies, rope not only stresses out the animals but causes drag, meaning whales expend more energy swimming, eating into valuable fat stores. North Atlantic right whales were once able to produce a calf every three years, Moore said, but now it happens just once every six or seven years, on average. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA permit #24359 A 1-year-old female North Atlantic right whale that was found dead near Savannah, Georgia, likely after getting hit by a ship. The other major problem for these animals is fast-moving and abundant boats. North Atlantic right whales are slow swimmers that spend a lot of time at the ocean’s surface, where they catch their breath and socialize, making them especially vulnerable to strikes. These events, like entanglement, are not uncommon. Earlier this month, for example, a young female right whale, shown above, was found dead near Savannah, Georgia. She had a fractured skull, experts determined, which was consistent with a vessel strike. More than a dozen North Atlantic right whales have died from similar collisions in the last five years. The GIF below shows all of the ships (blue dots) that a single whale (red dot) has to contend with. Even small boats — such as sportfishing vessels, which take people fishing recreationally, or research ships — can cause serious injuries or death. NOAA Fisheries Researchers track the movement of a young right whale as it dodges ships off the East Coast in March 2021. (The noise produced by ships can also be a problem. It likely makes it harder for whales to communicate with each other, though it’s not clear what that means for their long-term survival.) There are clear solutions, yet the US has failed to implement them What scientists and environmental advocates I spoke to find especially frustrating is that much of this problem could be solved if fishers had the right incentives and support. “We know exactly what we have to do,” Moore said. “The science is all there.” Take, for example, entanglement. The problem, again, is rope that runs from a buoy on the surface to traps on the seafloor. Yet the fishing industry has the technology to catch lobsters and crabs without it. Various forms of ropeless gear, also known as on-demand technology, allow fishing boats to find and retrieve pots wirelessly — meaning they don’t need a buoyed line, visible from the sea surface, to find their catch and reel it in. A small number of fishers have started using these ropeless systems. Others are resisting change, for many reasons. On-demand gear is likely less reliable compared to traps made of rope and metal; more parts can fail. There are also concerns related to visibility. If there are no surface buoys to mark a trap, bottom trawlers might have a harder time avoiding them. “I think the fear is it would create more problems amongst each other just fishing,” Dave Casoni, a longtime lobster fisher, told NPR’s Lauren Sommer. “It’s a very busy, dangerous operation to begin with, and we don’t need to add that.” Then there’s the question of cost. Ropeless gear raises the cost of lobstering — the devices themselves are expensive, and these systems can slow down the speed of trapping. Nathan Klima/Boston Globe via Getty Images A dead right whale on the beach on Miscou Island, New Brunswick, Canada, on June 7, 2019. Georgia Department of Natural Resources via AP A dead young right whale near Tybee Island, Georgia, on February 14, 2024. Yet these challenges are fixable. NOAA is testing on-demand gear to iron out the technical issues. Plus, the government has allocated millions of dollars to these technologies and currently lends them out for free to fishermen. The longer-term goal, NOAA told Vox, is “to expand capacity to support all fishermen wishing to trial on-demand gear and, eventually, an experimental fishery encompassing many more participants.” What that ultimately means for the costs assumed by fishers — and the costs passed down to consumers — is not yet clear. “If the motivation is there, the dollars will be too,” Moore said. A bigger issue, Moore said, might be shifting the deeply ingrained culture of the lobster industry in Maine toward a new way of doing things. Contributing to this tension: The industry has long downplayed its role in killing whales, obscuring who ultimately feels responsible. After NOAA linked the dead right whale to the Maine fishery earlier this year, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association said that “entanglement in Maine gear is extremely rare.” The group, which advocates for the state’s lobster fishers, added that it “remains committed to finding a solution to ensure a future for right whales and Maine’s lobster fishery.” Moore says the risk of entanglement in these waters is significant, and until recently, it was challenging to trace gear back to Maine fisheries. Efforts to address ship strikes have been similarly sluggish. Once again, the solution is, at least on the surface, painfully clear: slow boats down. For more than a decade, NOAA has required that large ships (longer than 65 feet) reduce their speeds to 10 knots (~11.5 mph) in certain areas along the East Coast and at certain times of year to avoid whales. The agency also urges boats to avoid or slow down in areas where a handful of North Atlantic right whales have been detected. These rules are grossly inadequate, said Erica Fuller, an attorney at Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group that advocates for whale conservation. A key problem, she said, is that “young animals continue to be killed by and seriously injured by boats that are smaller than 65 feet.” Plus, compliance with the current regulations is weak. In 2022, NOAA proposed new speed regulations that would apply to much smaller boats and across a much larger area of the ocean. These rules are an improvement, Fuller said, though she’s frustrated by how long it’s taking the government to adopt regulations that it knows are necessary. (Some special-interest groups, like the American Sportfishing Association, strongly oppose these changes. They have also questioned whether smaller boats are really harming whales.) Georgia Department of Natural Resources/NOAA Permit #20556 via AP A mom and calf near Wassaw Island, Georgia, on January 19, 2021. The true cost of consumer goods Protecting wild animals or ecosystems often requires giving something up. Stop hunting American alligators to save the American alligator. Don’t clear-cut old-growth forests to safeguard the northern spotted owl. This is not the case with North Atlantic right whales. We can save these animals and still eat lobster, and still get foreign-made goods at Walmart, and still go sportfishing. With technology like on-demand fishing gear, “you keep the fisherman fishing, and you can keep the whales swimming, entanglement-free,” said Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, an ocean scientist and right whale expert at the University of South Carolina. Fishing without rope and driving boats more slowly may make some of the products we love more expensive. But what are those extra dollars worth to us? Would you pay more for lobster if it meant that whales would suffer less? What if it meant saving a species from extinction? Maybe paying for food fished from the sea, from ecosystems that the US is trying to protect, should cost more. And it’s consumers who should be paying the difference, not fishers. “Where the rubber hits the road is in the politics of and the expectations of voters,” Moore said. “What matters to them is dinner on the table, kids in college, houses warm, clothes to wear, Christmas presents to give — none of that includes anything about biodiversity or right whales.” In many ways, saving the North Atlantic right whale should be easy. These animals are charismatic and intelligent. People love to see them. We love whales! Most important of all, we know what’s killing them and what to do about it. But so far, that’s not enough. Ensuring the survival of these animals will ultimately require a change in our economy and in our personal behavior. Every consumer has a part to play in this reckoning: Pay the true cost.

“Fascinating” New Animal Discovery Could Protect Crops Without Pesticides

A new species of nematode has the potential to safeguard crops without the need for pesticides. Scientists at UC Riverside have identified a new species...

Researchers at UC Riverside have discovered Steinernema adamsi, a new nematode species that kills insects, offering a promising biological control option for crop pests in challenging climates. This discovery adds a valuable tool to sustainable agriculture and pest management, with potential applications in understanding ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Steinernema adamsi being released from the body of a deceased host. Credit: Adler Dillman / UCRA new species of nematode has the potential to safeguard crops without the need for pesticides.Scientists at UC Riverside have identified a new species of tiny worms capable of infecting and eliminating insects. Known as nematodes, these worms offer a potential solution for managing crop pests in warm and humid regions where other beneficial nematodes struggle to survive.This new species is a member of a family of nematodes called Steinernema that have long been used in agriculture to control insect parasites without pesticides. Steinernema are not harmful to humans or other mammals and were first discovered in the 1920s.Contributions to Agricultural Pest Control“We spray trillions of them on crops every year, and they’re easy to buy,” said UCR nematology professor Adler Dillman, whose lab made the discovery. “Though there are more than 100 species of Steinernema, we’re always on the lookout for new ones because each has unique features. Some might be better in certain climates or with certain insects.” Hoping to gain a deeper understanding of a different Steinernema species, Dillman’s laboratory requested samples from colleagues in Thailand. “We did DNA analysis on the samples and realized they weren’t the ones we had requested. Genetically, they didn’t look like anything else that has ever been described,” Dillman said.Dillman and his colleagues have now described the new species in the Journal of Parasitology. They are nearly invisible to the naked eye, about half the width of a human hair and just under 1 millimeter long. “Several thousand in a flask looks like dusty water,” Dillman said.They’ve named the new species Steinernema adamsi after the American biologist Byron Adams, Biology Department chair at Brigham Young University.VIDEONew nematode species Steinernema adamsi close up under a microscope. Credit: Adler Dillman / UCR“Adams has helped refine our understanding of nematode species and their important role in ecology and recycling nutrients in the soil,” Dillman said. “He was also my undergraduate advisor and the person who introduced me to nematodes. This seemed a fitting tribute to him.”Adams, who is currently doing research on nematodes in Antarctica, said he is honored to have such a “cool” species bear his name in the scientific literature.Unique Features and Future Research“The biology of this animal is absolutely fascinating,” Adams said. “Aside from its obvious applications for alleviating human suffering caused by pest insects, it also has much to teach us about the ecological and evolutionary processes involved in the complex negotiations that take place between parasites, pathogens, their hosts, and their environmental microbiomes.”Learning about these worms’ life cycles as an undergraduate is what hooked Dillman on studying them. As juveniles, nematodes live in the soil with sealed mouths, in a state of arrested development. In that stage, they wander the soil looking for insects to infect. Once they find a victim, they enter the mouth or anus and defecate highly pathogenic bacteria.“A parasite that poops out pathogenic stuff to help kill its host, that’s unusual right out of the gate,” Dillman said. “It’s like something out of a James Cameron movie.”Within 48 hours of infection, the insect dies. “It essentially liquefies the insect, then you’re left with a bag that used to be its body. You might have 10 or 15 nematodes in a host, and 10 days later you have 80,000 new individuals in the soil looking for new insects to infect,” Dillman said.The researchers are certain that S. adamsi kills insects. They confirmed this by putting some of them in containers with wax moths. “It killed the moths in two days with a very low dose of the worms,” Dillman said.Going forward, the researchers hope to discover the nematode’s unique properties. “We don’t know yet if it can resist heat, UV light, or dryness. And we don’t yet know the breadth of insects it is capable of infecting.However, S. adamsi are members of a genus that can infect hundreds of types of insects. Therefore, the researchers are confident it will be beneficial on some level whether it turns out to be a specialist or a generalist parasite of multiple types of insects.“This is exciting because the discovery adds another insect killer that could teach us new and interesting biology,” Dillman said. “Also they’re from a warm, humid climate that could make them a good parasite of insects in environments where currently, commercially available orchard nematodes have been unable to flourish.”Reference: “Steinernema adamsi n. sp. (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae), a new entomopathogenic nematode from Thailand” by Anil Baniya, Chanakan Subkrasae, Jiranun Ardpairin, Kyle Anesko, Apichat Vitta and Adler R. Dillman, 9 February 2024, Journal of Parasitology.DOI: 10.1645/23-60

What Will It Take for the EPA to Ban a Pesticide Linked to Parkinson’s?

Pesticides, Rachel Carson wrote in 1962, have “the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil—all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should be called … ‘biocides.’”Carson’s book, Silent Spring, helped launch the modern environmental movement. But more than six decades later, we are still struggling to heed her warning. Farmlands and lawns in the United States are drenched in about a billion pounds of pesticides per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.The Environmental Protection Agency recently reapproved paraquat, a toxic herbicide, even though a group of environmental and public health groups have been suing the agency for ignoring multiple studies showing paraquat exposure increases a person’s odds of developing Parkinson’s disease. That’s in addition to paraquat’s short-term effects, which can include heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, and lung scarring if even a small amount of it is ingested, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the CDC fact sheet on paraquat includes the striking recommendation that if you get any on your clothes you should cut the affected garment off your body—because it is too dangerous to pull it over your head and risk ingesting paraquat—and see a doctor immediately. The company that sells paraquat, according to documents leaked to The Guardian in 2022, has known about possible long-term neurological effects since 1975 and deliberately downplayed them.What’s particularly grim about the paraquat decision is that it was Rachel Carson’s writing—and the environmental movement her book helped to inspire—that led to the creation of the EPA in 1970, precisely to stem the flood of poisons she warned about. As Richard Nixon envisioned it, studying and regulating the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment was one of the new agency’s major tasks. Then, in 1972, Congress greatly strengthened the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, creating a much stricter regulatory framework for the EPA to follow.Over the last half-century, however, industry has grown ever more adept at creating and widening loopholes in that framework. The EPA also doesn’t make full use of its power. For example, despite having enormous authority to protect endangered species, the agency has never studied the impact of a pesticide on an endangered animal or plants prior to approving its use. When other organizations and government agencies have studied the effect of pesticides on biodiversity, they’ve concluded that the harm is staggering; a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study found that just two widely used pesticides alone posed an existential threat to some 1,300 species.Another example is the agency’s struggle to curb Roundup, a weed killer that has proved extremely dangerous to humans. Roundup contains glyphosate, which the World Health Organization has described as “probably carcinogenic.” In 2022, the CDC found that 80 percent of urine samples taken from U.S. adults and kids had traces of glyphosate in them. A follow-up by CDC and National Institutes of Health scientists found that people with glyphosate in their urine also have cancer biomarkers in their urine. Bayer, the company that owns the agrochemical manufacturer Monsanto, which makes Roundup, has faced numerous lawsuits over the herbicide’s toxic health effects. Courts have often ruled in favor of the company, but Bayer has spent billions settling many of the lawsuits, and more cases are currently proceeding. Plaintiffs have been winning some of them. Last week an appeals court in Georgia turned down Bayer’s effort to dismiss a suit arguing that Roundup caused cancer, and the previous week, a Philadelphia jury awarded $2.25 billion to a man who developed lymphoma after using the product on his own property for decades.Here again, the EPA has not been of much help and seems markedly less concerned than other U.S. government agencies. The EPA in 2020 said Roundup posed no “risks of concern to human health.”For decades, an anti-regulatory ideology has seeped into our government like atrazine leaching into our groundwater. But the EPA’s problems are more directly a result of deliberate interference by industry. Agribusiness spends heavily on lobbying the EPA and on extensive strategies to compromise research at the agency, according to exhaustive reporting by the Intercept in 2021.  But recent weeks have shown that the United States isn’t the only government struggling to regulate these poisons, 60 years after Rachel Carson’s death. The European Union announced that it was dropping an ambitious plan to cut pesticide use in half, following weeks of disruptive protests by farmers across Europe using tractors to block highways and railways and burning hay bales and tires. The farmers argued that the new rules would mire them in bureaucracy and hurt their businesses. Death threats and right-wing disinformation on the topic didn’t help matters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announcing the decision to abandon the bill, described the effort to reduce pesticides as “worthy” but said that it had become “a symbol of polarization.” Those still hoping, in the tradition of Rachel Carson, to stanch the flow of toxins, can claim some recent victories and momentum. Those most harmed by pesticides—from human babies to honeybees—are widely loved. It’s always politically fruitful to evoke that love, as Carson did when she confronted us with the threat of silencing some of our favorite sounds: the song of the birds and the leaping of the fish in our streams. That’s probably why in December, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, not usually a politician feared by earth-ravaging special interests, signed the Birds and Bees Protection Act, prohibiting neonicotinoid pesticides, which are toxic to birds and pollinators, as well as other wildlife. Beekeepers in Vermont are pushing for a similar law.We have known about the damage from pesticides for such a long time—even longer than we’ve known about global warming. These “biocides” are every bit as dangerous as Rachel Carson once described, and our knowledge of their harms has only grown more horribly specific. It’s decades past time for our governments to choose life over disease, suffering, and death.  

Pesticides, Rachel Carson wrote in 1962, have “the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil—all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should be called … ‘biocides.’”Carson’s book, Silent Spring, helped launch the modern environmental movement. But more than six decades later, we are still struggling to heed her warning. Farmlands and lawns in the United States are drenched in about a billion pounds of pesticides per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.The Environmental Protection Agency recently reapproved paraquat, a toxic herbicide, even though a group of environmental and public health groups have been suing the agency for ignoring multiple studies showing paraquat exposure increases a person’s odds of developing Parkinson’s disease. That’s in addition to paraquat’s short-term effects, which can include heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, and lung scarring if even a small amount of it is ingested, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the CDC fact sheet on paraquat includes the striking recommendation that if you get any on your clothes you should cut the affected garment off your body—because it is too dangerous to pull it over your head and risk ingesting paraquat—and see a doctor immediately. The company that sells paraquat, according to documents leaked to The Guardian in 2022, has known about possible long-term neurological effects since 1975 and deliberately downplayed them.What’s particularly grim about the paraquat decision is that it was Rachel Carson’s writing—and the environmental movement her book helped to inspire—that led to the creation of the EPA in 1970, precisely to stem the flood of poisons she warned about. As Richard Nixon envisioned it, studying and regulating the impact of toxic chemicals on the environment was one of the new agency’s major tasks. Then, in 1972, Congress greatly strengthened the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, creating a much stricter regulatory framework for the EPA to follow.Over the last half-century, however, industry has grown ever more adept at creating and widening loopholes in that framework. The EPA also doesn’t make full use of its power. For example, despite having enormous authority to protect endangered species, the agency has never studied the impact of a pesticide on an endangered animal or plants prior to approving its use. When other organizations and government agencies have studied the effect of pesticides on biodiversity, they’ve concluded that the harm is staggering; a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study found that just two widely used pesticides alone posed an existential threat to some 1,300 species.Another example is the agency’s struggle to curb Roundup, a weed killer that has proved extremely dangerous to humans. Roundup contains glyphosate, which the World Health Organization has described as “probably carcinogenic.” In 2022, the CDC found that 80 percent of urine samples taken from U.S. adults and kids had traces of glyphosate in them. A follow-up by CDC and National Institutes of Health scientists found that people with glyphosate in their urine also have cancer biomarkers in their urine. Bayer, the company that owns the agrochemical manufacturer Monsanto, which makes Roundup, has faced numerous lawsuits over the herbicide’s toxic health effects. Courts have often ruled in favor of the company, but Bayer has spent billions settling many of the lawsuits, and more cases are currently proceeding. Plaintiffs have been winning some of them. Last week an appeals court in Georgia turned down Bayer’s effort to dismiss a suit arguing that Roundup caused cancer, and the previous week, a Philadelphia jury awarded $2.25 billion to a man who developed lymphoma after using the product on his own property for decades.Here again, the EPA has not been of much help and seems markedly less concerned than other U.S. government agencies. The EPA in 2020 said Roundup posed no “risks of concern to human health.”For decades, an anti-regulatory ideology has seeped into our government like atrazine leaching into our groundwater. But the EPA’s problems are more directly a result of deliberate interference by industry. Agribusiness spends heavily on lobbying the EPA and on extensive strategies to compromise research at the agency, according to exhaustive reporting by the Intercept in 2021.  But recent weeks have shown that the United States isn’t the only government struggling to regulate these poisons, 60 years after Rachel Carson’s death. The European Union announced that it was dropping an ambitious plan to cut pesticide use in half, following weeks of disruptive protests by farmers across Europe using tractors to block highways and railways and burning hay bales and tires. The farmers argued that the new rules would mire them in bureaucracy and hurt their businesses. Death threats and right-wing disinformation on the topic didn’t help matters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, announcing the decision to abandon the bill, described the effort to reduce pesticides as “worthy” but said that it had become “a symbol of polarization.” Those still hoping, in the tradition of Rachel Carson, to stanch the flow of toxins, can claim some recent victories and momentum. Those most harmed by pesticides—from human babies to honeybees—are widely loved. It’s always politically fruitful to evoke that love, as Carson did when she confronted us with the threat of silencing some of our favorite sounds: the song of the birds and the leaping of the fish in our streams. That’s probably why in December, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, not usually a politician feared by earth-ravaging special interests, signed the Birds and Bees Protection Act, prohibiting neonicotinoid pesticides, which are toxic to birds and pollinators, as well as other wildlife. Beekeepers in Vermont are pushing for a similar law.We have known about the damage from pesticides for such a long time—even longer than we’ve known about global warming. These “biocides” are every bit as dangerous as Rachel Carson once described, and our knowledge of their harms has only grown more horribly specific. It’s decades past time for our governments to choose life over disease, suffering, and death.  

Scientists shocked to discover new species of green anaconda, the world’s biggest snake

Green anacondas are the world’s heaviest snakes, and among the longest. it’s remarkable this hidden species has slipped under the radar until now.

Source: Jesus RivasThe green anaconda has long been considered one of the Amazon’s most formidable and mysterious animals. Our new research upends scientific understanding of this magnificent creature, revealing it is actually two genetically different species. The surprising finding opens a new chapter in conservation of this top jungle predator. Green anacondas are the world’s heaviest snakes, and among the longest. Predominantly found in rivers and wetlands in South America, they are renowned for their lightning speed and ability to asphyxiate huge prey then swallow them whole. My colleagues and I were shocked to discover significant genetic differences between the two anaconda species. Given the reptile is such a large vertebrate, it’s remarkable this difference has slipped under the radar until now. Conservation strategies for green anacondas must now be reassessed, to help each unique species cope with threats such as climate change, habitat degradation and pollution. The findings also show the urgent need to better understand the diversity of Earth’s animal and plant species before it’s too late. Scientists discovered a new snake species known as the northern green anaconda. Bryan Fry An impressive apex predator Historically, four anaconda species have been recognised, including green anacondas (also known as giant anacondas). Green anacondas are true behemoths of the reptile world. The largest females can grow to more than seven metres long and weigh more than 250 kilograms The snakes are well-adapted to a life lived mostly in water. Their nostrils and eyes are on top of their head, so they can see and breathe while the rest of their body is submerged. Anacondas are olive coloured with large black spots, enabling them to blend in with their surroundings. The snakes inhabit the lush, intricate waterways of South America’s Amazon and Orinoco basins. They are known for their stealth, patience and surprising agility. The buoyancy of the water supports the animal’s substantial bulk and enables it to move easily and leap out to ambush prey as large as capybaras (giant rodents), caimans (reptiles from the alligator family) and deer. Green anacondas are not venomous. Instead they take down prey using their large, flexible jaws then crush it with their strong bodies, before swallowing it. As apex predators, green anacondas are vital to maintaining balance in their ecosystems. This role extends beyond their hunting. Their very presence alters the behaviour of a wide range of other species, influencing where and how they forage, breed and migrate. Anacondas are highly sensitive to environmental change. Healthy anaconda populations indicate healthy, vibrant ecosystems, with ample food resources and clean water. Declining anaconda numbers may be harbingers of environmental distress. So knowing which anaconda species exist, and monitoring their numbers, is crucial. To date, there has been little research into genetic differences between anaconda species. Our research aimed to close that knowledge gap. Read more: Stop killing brown snakes – they could be a farmer's best friend Green anaconda have large, flexible jaws. Pictured: a green anaconda eating a deer. JESUS RIVAS Untangling anaconda genes We studied representative samples from all anaconda species throughout their distribution, across nine countries. Our project spanned almost 20 years. Crucial pieces of the puzzle came from samples we collected on a 2022 expedition to the Bameno region of Baihuaeri Waorani Territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We took this trip at the invitation of, and in collaboration with, Waorani leader Penti Baihua. Actor Will Smith also joined the expedition, as part of a series he is filming for National Geographic. We surveyed anacondas from various locations throughout their ranges in South America. Conditions were difficult. We paddled up muddy rivers and slogged through swamps. The heat was relentless and swarms of insects were omnipresent. We collected data such as habitat type and location, and rainfall patterns. We also collected tissue and/or blood from each specimen and analysed them back in the lab. This revealed the green anaconda, formerly believed to be a single species, is actually two genetically distinct species. The first is the known species, Eunectes murinus, which lives in Perú, Bolivia, French Guiana and Brazil. We have given it the common name “southern green anaconda”. The second, newly identified species is Eunectes akayima or “northern green anaconda”, which is found in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. We also identified the period in time where the green anaconda diverged into two species: almost 10 million years ago. The two species of green anaconda look almost identical, and no obvious geographical barrier exists to separate them. But their level of genetic divergence – 5.5% – is staggering. By comparison, the genetic difference between humans and apes is about 2%. Read more: The forgotten Amazon: as a critical summit nears, politicians must get serious about deforestation in Bolivia The two green anaconda species live much of their lives in water. Shutterstock Preserving the web of life Our research has peeled back a layer of the mystery surrounding green anacondas. This discovery has significant implications for the conservation of these species – particularly for the newly identified northern green anaconda. Until now, the two species have been managed as a single entity. But each may have different ecological niches and ranges, and face different threats. Tailored conservation strategies must be devised to safeguard the future of both species. This may include new legal protections and initiatives to protect habitat. It may also involve measures to mitigate the harm caused by climate change, deforestation and pollution — such as devastating effects of oil spills on aquatic habitats. Our research is also a reminder of the complexities involved in biodiversity conservation. When species go unrecognised, they can slip through the cracks of conservation programs. By incorporating genetic taxonomy into conservation planning, we can better preserve Earth’s intricate web of life – both the species we know today, and those yet to be discovered. Professor Bryan G. Fry is a National Geographic Explorer and has previously received funding as part of this role.

The Mysterious 280-Million-Year-Old Fossil That Fooled Scientists for Decades

Paleontological analysis shows renowned fossil thought to show soft tissue preservation is in fact just paint. A 280-million-year-old fossil that has baffled researchers for decades...

Tridentinosaurus antiquus was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931 and was thought to be an important specimen for understanding early reptile evolution – but has now been found to be, in part a forgery. Its body outline, appearing dark against the surrounding rock, was initially interpreted as preserved soft tissues but is now known to be paint. Credit: Dr. Valentina RossiPaleontological analysis shows renowned fossil thought to show soft tissue preservation is in fact just paint.A 280-million-year-old fossil that has baffled researchers for decades has been shown to be, in part, a forgery following new examination of the remnants.The discovery has led the team led by Dr. Valentina Rossi of University College Cork, Ireland (UCC) to urge caution in how the fossil is used in future research. Tridentinosaurus antiquus was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931 and was thought to be an important specimen for understanding early reptile evolution.Its body outline, appearing dark against the surrounding rock, was initially interpreted as preserved soft tissues. This led to its classification as a member of the reptile group Protorosauria.Uncovering the TruthHowever, this new research, published in the scientific journal Palaeontology, reveals that the fossil renowned for its remarkable preservation is mostly just black paint on a carved lizard-shaped rock surface.The purported fossilized skin had been celebrated in articles and books but never studied in detail. The somewhat strange preservation of the fossil had left many experts uncertain about what group of reptiles this strange lizard-like animal belonged to and more generally its geological history.Dr. Valentina Rossi with an image of Tridentinosaurus antiquus. The fossil, discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931, was thought to be an important specimen for understanding early reptile evolution – but has now been found to be, in part a forgery. Its body outline, appearing dark against the surrounding rock, was initially interpreted as preserved soft tissues but is now known to be paint. Credit: Zixiao YangDr. Rossi, of UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said:“Fossil soft tissues are rare, but when found in a fossil they can reveal important biological information, for instance, the external coloration, internal anatomy, and physiology.“The answer to all our questions was right in front of us, we had to study this fossil specimen in detail to reveal its secrets – even those that perhaps we did not want to know.”The microscopic analysis showed that the texture and composition of the material did not match that of genuine fossilized soft tissues.Deception and DiscoveryPreliminary investigation using UV photography revealed that the entirety of the specimen was treated with some sort of coating material. Coating fossils with varnishes and/or lacquers was the norm in the past and sometimes is still necessary to preserve a fossil specimen in museum cabinets and exhibits. The team was hoping that beneath the coating layer, the original soft tissues were still in good condition to extract meaningful paleobiological information.The findings indicate that the body outline of Tridentinosaurus antiquus was artificially created, likely to enhance the appearance of the fossil. This deception misled previous researchers, and now caution is being urged when using this specimen in future studies.The team behind this research includes contributors based in Italy at the University of Padua, Museum of Nature South Tyrol, and the Museo delle Scienze in Trento.Co-author Prof Evelyn Kustatscher, coordinator of the project “Living with the supervolcano,” funded by the Autonomous Province of Bolzano said:“The peculiar preservation of Tridentinosaurus had puzzled experts for decades. Now, it all makes sense. What was described as carbonized skin, is just paint.”However not all is lost, and the fossil is not a complete fake. The bones of the hindlimbs, in particular, the femurs seem genuine, although poorly preserved. Moreover, the new analyses have shown the presence of tiny bony scales called osteoderms — like the scales of crocodiles — on what perhaps was the back of the animal.This study is an example of how modern analytical paleontology and rigorous scientific methods can resolve an almost century-old paleontological enigma.Reference: “Forged soft tissues revealed in the oldest fossil reptile from the early Permian of the Alps” by Valentina Rossi, Massimo Bernardi, Mariagabriella Fornasiero, Fabrizio Nestola, Richard Unitt, Stefano Castelli and Evelyn Kustatscher, 15 February 2024, Palaeontology.DOI: 10.1111/pala.12690

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