Narco-Deforestation Accelerates Loss of Biodiversity

In Central America, drug policies become conservation policies. The Central American isthmus exploded into prominence as a drug trafficking corridor in 2006, when pressure on Mexican cartels pushed smuggling operations to the south and into the remote forest frontiers of Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Since then, vigorous interdiction programs have pushed traffickers into ever more remote zones, back and forth from country to country, bringing money, manpower, and greater opportunities for deforestation.Kendra McSweeney of the Department of Geography at Ohio State University and co-workers dug into the recent comprehensive report by the Organization of American States (OAS), titled The Drug Problem in the Americas, and wrote up their findings in a recent contribution to Science’s Policy Forum. They found that “mounting evidence suggests that the trafficking …

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Why are some corals flourishing in a time of global warming?

Sep. 10, 2013 — As Earth’s temperature climbs, the stony corals that form the backbone of ocean reefs are in decline.It’s a well-documented story: Violent storms and coral bleaching have all contributed to dwindling populations, and increasing acidity of seawater threatens to take an additional toll.Less discussed, however, is the plight of gorgonian corals — softer, flexible, tree-like species that can rise up like an underwater forest, providing a canopy beneath which small fish and aquatic life of all kinds can thrive.Divers have noted in recent years that gorgonian corals seem to be proliferating in certain areas of the Caribbean, even as their stony counterparts struggle. Now, a new study will look to quantify this phenomenon.Scientists from the California State University, Northridge and University at Buffalo will examine 27 years of photographs from reefs off the Caribbean island of St. John to determine how gorgonian numbers have changed, and run field experiments to see how competition with stony corals — or a lack of it — influences gorgonian growth.The study will also document what gorgonian coral populations look like now at St. John, which is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and track future development there.Understanding coral reefs is important as they are one of the planet’s most biologically diverse ecosystems.”When you look at these gorgonian corals, it seems that they’re increasing in abundance, and that’s an anecdotal observation that many people have made,” said UB geology professor Howard Lasker, one of three investigators heading the project. “Does this mean that as stony corals continue to decline, we’re going to see reefs transforming into these gorgonian coral-dominated communities? That’s what we’re trying to find out.””With climate change and ocean acidification, there certainly is a realistic possibility that coral reefs as we know them could pretty much disappear,” said Cal State Northridge biology professor Peter Edmunds, another principal investigator. “The question is, what will coral reefs look like in the future?”The nearly $1 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), started officially on Sept. 1.It brings together a powerful team. …

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Lionfish expedition: Down deep is where the big, scary ones live

July 11, 2013 — Last month, the first expedition to use a deep-diving submersible to study the Atlantic Ocean lionfish invasion found something very disturbing — at 300 feet deep, there were still significant populations of these predatory fish, and they were big.Big fish in many species can reproduce much more efficiently than their younger, smaller counterparts, and lionfish are known to travel considerable distances and move to various depths. This raises significant new concerns in the effort to control this invasive species that is devastating native fish populations on the Atlantic Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.”We expected some populations of lionfish at that depth, but their numbers and size were a surprise,” said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, who participated in the dives. OSU has been one of the early leaders in the study of the lionfish invasion.”This was kind of an ‘Ah hah!’ moment,” she said. “It was immediately clear that this is a new frontier in the lionfish crisis, and that something is going to have to be done about it. Seeing it up-close really brought home the nature of the problem.”OSU participated in this expedition with researchers from a number of other universities, in work supported by Nova Southeastern University, the Guy Harvey Foundation, NOAA, and other agencies. The five-person submersible “Antipodes” was provided by OceanGate, Inc., and it dove about 300 feet deep off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., near the “Bill Boyd” cargo ship that was intentionally sunk there in 1986 to create an artificial reef for marine life.That ship has, in fact, attracted a great deal of marine life, and now, a great number of lionfish. And for that species, they are growing to an unusually large size — as much as 16 inches.Lionfish are a predatory fish that’s native to the Pacific Ocean and were accidentally introduced to Atlantic Ocean waters in the early 1990s, and there became a voracious predator with no natural controls on its population. An OSU study in 2008 showed that lionfish in the Atlantic have been known to reduce native fish populations by up to 80 percent.Eradication appears impossible, and they threaten everything from coral reef ecosystems to local economies that are based on fishing and tourism.Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific — and researchers around the world are trying to find out what that is — is missing here. …

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