Surviving in the age of microplastics: the tale of a curious shrimp

Each year, a tremendous amount of plastic waste enters the marine environment. As plastic ages, it breaks down in to smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, but never degrades. These tiny plastic fibers are eaten by numerous organisms and can cause organ damage or even death. But one species is able to rid its stomach of accidentally ingested microplastics. This is the tale of the Atlantic ditch shrimp and how it will survive in the age of microplastics.

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Can shellfish farming clean our coastal waters?

Coastal waters throughout the United States and the globe are suffering from an excess of nitrogen due to human activities. Excess nitrogen comes from a variety of sources such as wastewater treatment plants and can impact the health of coastal habitats. Coastal managers are adopting a variety of practices to limit the nitrogen inputs to coastal waters including improved stormwater and wastewater treatments, but could shellfish farming help clean our coastal waters? A study from Cape Cod, Massachusetts sought to quantify how much nitrogen can be removed from coastal waters through oyster and quahog farming.

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Dead trees and utility poles partially offset the impacts of deforestation on birds

Mature trees serve as important habitats for a variety of species including insects and birds. Birds use trees for many purposes including nesting, perching, and foraging. Conservationists are exploring strategies to maintain bird populations in areas where mature trees are being lost due to agricultural expansion, wood production, and increased urbanization. In a recent study, scientists in Australia measured how utility poles and erected dead trees impacted the number and abundance of bird species in urbanized regions. The results suggest that artificial structures can offset some, but not all, of the bird loss due to deforestation.

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Can we increase agricultural production without threatening biodiversity?

The world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. This increase in population will put pressure on agriculture to produce more food. Many studies have reported that land-use changes, such as cutting down forest to make new farmland, can lead to a loss in the number of species living in an area, known as the biodiversity. It is important to maintain biodiversity because it supports healthy ecosystems and ultimately a healthy planet. A recent analysis of previously published scientific articles suggests that when farming efforts are intensified, agricultural production increases but the number of species supported by the farm decrease. This means that increasing agricultural production comes at a cost.

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Spring flowers are arriving earlier

In recent decades, trees and plants have begun to flower earlier in the spring. Many studies have shown that this advancement in timing is due to climate change, particularly increases in air temperature. However, these studies have generally been conducted in small areas. A recent study conducted across Europe reports that the timing of spring flowering and other events in 16 tree species has been advancing. More importantly, the timing of flowering trees in warmer and cooler regions of Europe is becoming more similar, which has wide spread ecological consequences.

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Global monitoring shows regulated atmospheric pollutants are not decreasing

PFAS and VMS are man-made chemicals that have been used for decades in products that we all use on a daily basis, including personal care products, cookware, and food packing. However, there is growing evidence that these chemicals, which are widespread throughout the globe, can have negative impacts on living organisms and human health. A recent study compared concentrations of these chemicals in the atmosphere at sites across the world from 2009 to 2015. Their findings suggest that there has been a significant increase in PFAS in the atmosphere over this time period, while certain types of VMS chemicals also increased. Future monitoring efforts across the globe are necessary to determine the changes in these chemicals in the air we breathe.

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Community and home gardens are hotspots for pollinators in cities

Pollinators, such as bees, are important parts of the environment since they are required for plant success and fruit production by humans and animals alike. However, populations of pollinators have been declining worldwide due to a number of issues, including widespread pesticide use and loss of habitats. A recent study conducted by researchers in the UK and their colleagues examined pollinator use of urban areas, comparing community gardens, home gardens, cemeteries, and other spaces. The researchers show that the abundance and diversity of many pollinator groups was highest in community and home gardens, and suggest that urban planners should increase these spaces to boost pollinator populations.

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Certified coffee farmers are environmentally friendly and compensated for their efforts: Imagination or reality?

Do you go to the grocery store and look for the Fair Trade™ or Rainforest Alliance™ certified coffee? Many consumers prefer to buy certified coffee because they believe there is an economic benefit to the farmer, environmental benefits, or both. However, do these certifications actually improve farmer income and/or protect important environmental services? A recent study conducted in Uganda suggests that farms that are double or triple certified for coffee production suffer trade-offs between economic and environmental benefits.

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What’s driving changes in cod spawning grounds: climate or fishing?

Northeast Arctic Cod perform seasonal migrations from their feeding grounds to their spawning grounds. Recent evidence suggests that the distribution of cod between spawning grounds is changing. Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain why fish spawning grounds are changing: climate and fishing pressure. In order to determine which of these hypotheses may be the driving force in changing Northeast Arctic Cod populations, a team of scientist from Europe investigated fishery data from 2008-2016. Their results suggests that climate is driving changes in the distribution of Northeast Arctic cod spawning grounds.

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Out of balance: how climate change is altering ocean food webs

Climate change has a number of impacts on the ocean. Did you know that the ocean absorbs at least one quarter of the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere? As the ocean absorbs carbon, the chemistry of the water itself is changed in a process known as ocean acidification. Ocean acidification can make it harder for organisms with shells to grow and thrive, but can benefit photosynthetic algae that need carbon dioxide to grow. Climate change is also warming the oceans, which impacts the metabolism of all organisms. A recent study from Southern Australia reported that ocean acidification boosted algae, herbivores, and fish predators in a trophic food chain, but when ocean warming was introduced, these impacts were reversed. This research highlights how the complex stressors of climate change may result in food webs that are out of balance.

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