Which side of the fence are you on?
Bill Nye, Balance of Nature, Evolution
The majority of people have come to recognize that there is definitely something going on with our climate. Whether they agree it is human caused is still a question in many minds. Bill Nye does an excellent job in his short video Climate 101 explaining the facts about global warming. Everyone should watch it, no matter what side of the fence you are on.
Nature maintains an ecological system that balances our world. What happens when human actions disrupt that balance? For example, when the wolves were chased out of Yellowstone National Park, what were the consequences to the biodiversity? Or another example in Thailand, when elephants were not only taken out of their natural environment, but also used to destroy it? What happens when we heed nature and put things back the way they should be? Are there other areas we can take these lessons and apply them to help our environment?
In this edition we are exploring those issues, as well as looking at the way nature is responding to climate change through an evolution of species.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy is a long time supporter of Climate Science education in our schools. Currently he is actively engaged in debate with Climate Change deniers, recently released his book Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. He also hosts a science show on Netflix Bill Nye Saves the World. Watch the video for a clear picture of what is happening with our climate.
Balance of Nature
Restoring an Ecosystem
By Madeline McElwain
Oh, the wonders of nature! As I write this sitting outside the Warm Heart Children’s home, I am surrounded by lush green mountains, slithering snakes, and wicked fast lizards. I cannot help, but to ponder the ecosystem I am a part of.
On my drive to Warm Heart with founders, Michael and Evelind, I innocently asked what kind of wildlife is in the surrounding area. Michael replied, “Hardly anything. The ecosystem has been wiped out from the forest burning.”
I was shocked. I knew of the detrimental air quality effects from burning, but I did not realize that an entire ecosystem disappeared. Of course, there are bugs and lizards, but besides that there is little that remains.
Upon researching ecosystems, I found a lot of disheartening information. Climate change is affecting every ecosystem, changing the food chain webs and upsetting the balance of nature that has existed for hundreds of years. It is not just about the polar bears anymore.
Scary doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of a crumbling planet. In an article published on the University of Santa Cruz website, it is stated that large animals once kept the ecosystem in sync. But now, with “their decline, largely caused by humans through hunting and habitat fragmentation” there are “far-reaching and often surprising consequences, including changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality, and nutrient cycles.”
The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in California is proof of just how fragile, yet powerful, an ecosystem is. According to How Wolves Change Rivers, (see video below) wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995, following a 70-year absence. With the absence of a top predator in the food chain, deer populations were astoundingly high in Yellowstone. Furthermore, due to grazing by the deer, vegetation in the valleys was nearly nonexistent.
However, the wolves changed everything when they arrived. The wolves ate the deer, which created less grazing. Subsequently, the valleys and gorges began to flourish with vegetation. Trees quintupled in size in only six years!
With a growing forest coming back to life, birds reappeared. Beavers started to grow their population, as they eat the bark from trees. Then, the beavers made dams that provided an environment perfect for otters, ducks, fish, and reptiles.
Wolves also killed coyotes. With less coyotes there were more weasels, mice, and rabbits. With more mice, there were more hawks.
Additionally, with increased vegetation there was less erosion. With decreased erosion the riverbanks collapsed less frequently. This created more consistent pools of water for wildlife. And there it went. An ecosystem brought back to life with the mere introduction of a few wolves.
This anecdote inspired me. Yes, climate change is a looming and terrifying threat. But, we can make positive changes. We can use science and technology to correct some of the terrible environmental consequences we are experiencing. Let’s get started!
Balance of Nature
Return to the Forest
Thailand was once covered by lush forests which provided flood management, climate stability and biodiversity. Asian elephants were the super keystone species that kept the forest healthy and thriving. Elephants were captured and put to work, carrying armies to victory, their strength was used to log the forests, destroying their natural habitat.
After years of over logging there are few forests left. While at one point there were between 100,000 – 200,000 elephants, today there are only about 4,000 elephants remaining in Thailand, and of those only a handful are living in the wild.
As with the wolves in Yellowstone, a similar balance of nature was restored when asian elephants were set free from captivity into the forests. Their presence in the forest has helped balance the ecosystem, bringing back biodiversity. Watch this amazing documentary to discover more about the “Return to the Forest” project in Thailand.
Migration in response to global warming.
By April Sigmund
When you hear the word migration, it’s easy to picture a flock of birds flying in unison toward warmer skies or a herd of animals taking a similar journey by land. But migrating trees? That might be a little harder to picture, but scientists say it’s a process that is becoming more and more common due to climate change.
During a tree migration, tree populations shift over time when seedlings expand to new regions as their elders die in the region they originated in. These migrations can happen due to changes in temperature and climate, changes that have taken place much more frequently and intensely today due to global warming. A recent study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service concluded that some species of North American trees have been migrating north toward cooler temperatures at a rate of 60 miles per century.
Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology also found that the network of micro-organisms found beneath a trees’ roots is playing a major role in how quickly the tree responds to climate change and begins migration. The research team analyzed soils and seeds found beneath cottonwood trees at low and high elevations in the Rocky Mountains. They then placed baby trees from lower elevations into soil found in higher elevations, mimicking the trees’ natural process of moving toward cooler temperatures in higher elevations.
The results found that micro-organisms had the power to either limit or expand the area of where a tree’s offspring can grow. Trees near the base of the mountain thrived in the soil collected near their parent, while trees from higher elevations thrived when they were moved to even higher elevations, meaning this second population of trees is more likely to adapt to the effects of climate change. If the climate surrounding the lower elevation trees continues to warm, it is likely that this population will become cut off from other tree populations due to its inability to grow and thrive in warming temperatures. Researchers concluded that human intervention may be needed to help this population migrate to higher altitudes by planting its seedlings in higher elevations.
While the effects of climate change have been devastating, studies like this are crucial to helping us understand its effects and find solutions to those effects. By educating ourselves, we can help preserve and protect the natural world we depend on for survival.
Ecological hiccup – birds are affected by the changing seasonal start times
By April Sigmund
One sure sign that spring has arrived is hearing the chirps and songs of birds that have returned from their winter getaways. For thousands of years, birds have timed their migration schedule with incredible accuracy by using the length of sunlight. When the sun begins to rise earlier in the morning, birds take their cue that spring has arrived and begin their long journey home. But as climate change continues to create shifts in weather and temperature, this once dependable natural timer is thrown off, which in turn throws off the timing of when birds return.
A new study in the journal Scientific Reports notes that birds typically arrive at the first signs of spring, that is, when plants begin to sprout their leaves. But researchers who studied migration patterns of songbird species in North and South America between 2001 and 2012 concluded that birds were arriving either too early or too late. This year, the first leaf of spring arrived nearly three weeks earlier than expected in some places, and for nine bird species who had difficulty adapting to these changes, the gap in expected arrival was double or triple the rate of other birds.
This upset to a once perfectly synchronized natural process can have serious consequences. Birds and other migrating animals depend on an accurately choreographed migration schedule for their survival. If they arrive too early, they can be faced with low temperatures still dwindling from winter. Arriving late can endanger a bird’s mating habits, and limit and morph their diet. If plants sense the weather has changed earlier than migrating animals do, they will bloom before the animal gets to them, causing the animals to miss out on an essential food supply.
It is important that we continue working to combat climate change to preserve the delicate ecosystem that all life on our planet depends on. If not, it is likely that naturally occurring processes crucial to our ecosystem will continue to disrupt, leading to devastating consequences.
“Just a little climate change. Nothing to worry about.” ~ Bill Nye, the Science Guy
Environmental News Daily Updates
We care about sharing information. We add a new link to current articles on a daily basis. To see a recap of all previous daily articles visit our Daily Updates Archive. (Worth a read!)
Everyone always talks about our “Carbon Footprint”, and what we can do to reduce it.
Mathis Wackernagel suggest we do an “Ecological Footprint” as well, and look at ways to estimate how much of the global resources individuals use to sustain their lifestyles.
What is Warm Heart?
Warm Heart Worldwide is a grassroots non-profit organization in Phrao, Thailand. We are involved in the community building sustainable programs. Please visit our Who We Are page to find out more.
The focus of our Environmental Newsletter is on current positive steps that are being taken around the world. Our goal is to inform and share resources.
We encourage article submissions that focus on what is working locally.
Articles can be submitted to Editor, Environmental Progress News
News at Warm Heart
August 2016 (First Edition)
Florida Green Anole Lizards
When a species is threatened, nature can step in and fix the problem with an evolutionary change. A good example is the native green lizards that live in Florida.
They were quite happy living in the tree trunks and lower branches of trees. Until their invasive cousins, the brown anole lizards, moved in.
Competition for limited sources of food forced the green lizards upwards, moving up to the treetops, but they faced the problem of dealing with limbs that were thinner and smoother.
In just 15 years their toepads grew bigger and their scales got stickier, which allows them better cling to their new environment high in the treetops.
Evolutionary changes take place to protect a species from danger of extinction.
Before the Industrial revolution, the majority of Peppered moths had a light mottled coloring, which provided safe camouflage from predators. Only 2% of the Peppered Moths were a dark uniform variant.
Today, 95% of Peppered Moths are the darker variation. Scientists believe with the onset of light surfaces being darkened by pollution, the lighter moths lost their camouflage and were eaten more frequently by birds.
Evolution can take time, changes occur over many generations. The big question is will nature be able to respond to the climatic changes we are experiencing today through evolution?