Category Archives: Ecology

An Unexpected Source of Mercury: Greenland’s Glaciers

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Greenland. Credit: Rene Schwietzke (CC BY 2.0).

Greenland, the largest island in the world not considered its own continent, lies above the Arctic Circle with the exception of its Southern tip. Ice—the Greenland Ice Sheet—is everywhere but is rapidly becoming a major contributor to sea level rise as it melts because of climate change. Now, a new study shows that the resulting freshwater (or meltwater) runs off to the ocean taking along an unexpected and toxic companion—mercury, a chemical that when transformed into methylmercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in fish, shellfish, and animals that eat fish, causing nervous system damage and other deleterious effects in humans and wildlife.

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Understanding Underwater Sounds: Evaluating Risks of Human Activities

Commercial shipping density (red lines).
Credit: B.S. Halpern (T. Hengl; D. Groll) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A guest post by Andrew McQueen, US Army Corps of Engineers

Researchers around the world are focusing more on the role of anthropogenic (human-made) sounds in marine ecosystems. In the last half century, as we have industrialized and expanded our use of the “blue” ocean economy (maritime transport, fisheries, and renewable energy), some regions have observed incremental increases of anthropogenic underwater sounds. However, the ecological consequences, or risks, of these changing underwater soundscapes remain largely unknown.

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Lost Wilderness: Restoring both Habitat and Animal Species

Photo credit: Hannes Flo, CC BY 2.0.

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

A month after the death of Henry David Thoreau, The Atlantic published his 1862 essay “Walking,” which “extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.” It included Thoreau’s famous line “In wildness is the preservation of the world”—eight powerful words that played a major role in saving places such as Yosemite and Cape Cod from human-caused environmental destruction, inspiring the creation of the US National Parks system. Upon signing the US Wilderness Act in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Continue reading

Biodiversity Under Attack in Rivers: Human Activities Cause Changes All Around the Globe

Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

On 18 February, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report highlighting the three major emergencies that are currently challenging the entire planet— climate, biodiversity, and pollution. “Making peace with nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” is based on evidence from global environmental assessments. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in the report foreword.

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Ancient Marine Mammal Bones Record Dynamic Change in Mercury Concentrations Over the Last 3000 Years

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 41st Annual Meeting (SciCon2), 15–19 November 2020.

A guest post by Julie P. Avery, Nicole Misarti, Todd M. O’Hara, and Lorrie D. Rea

Do you like fish?  Have you heard warnings from the FDA about consuming predatory fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark due to high mercury? Fish are a healthy food and an excellent source of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fats, vitamin D, iron, selenium, zinc, and iodine. Fish provide all these nutrients, which are essential for human and animal health. Marine mammals in Alaska, like Steller sea lions and northern fur seals, thrive on a diverse fish diet. But what about the mercury? Since we eat some of the same fish as seals and sea lions, we can study them to understand how mercury might affect humans. 

Coastal and Arctic communities are especially vulnerable to the effects of mercury contamination due to their dependence on fish and marine resources for food and sociocultural needs. According to the World Health Organization, mercury is one of the top 10 contaminants of concern for human health.  

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“Humanity at a Crossroads”: How Will Future Generations Experience the Natural World?

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Hopetoun Falls
Photo by DAVID ILIFF, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43330268

In 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are our common home and adopted its first resolution on “Harmony with Nature.” It recognized that while Nature has been treated as a commodity that exists largely for the benefit of people, it is now necessary to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations. Since then, the UN General Assembly has adopted eleven resolutions on Harmony with Nature.

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COVID-19 and the “Anthropause”: Studying the Impact on Human-Wildlife Interactions

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Urban coyote (Canis latrans). Credit: Connar L’Ecuyer for US National Park Service (public domain).

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Since COVID-19 started spreading worldwide during the first months of this year, we’ve heard intriguing stories and watched fascinating videos of wildlife emerging in city streets emptied by lockdown measures, even in metropolitan areas. The “great pause” has brought about unexpected effects. “Peacocks stroll the streets of Ronda, Spain; a gang of goats wander around a seaside town in north Wales; a puma climbs down from the Andes Mountains into Santiago, Chile; and coyotes trot around San Francisco.” Continue reading

Getting to the Root of It: Why Plants Matter and How We Can Best Protect Them

The following post previews the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting, held virtually as SciCon (3–7 May 2020).

A guest post by Verena Sesin, Steering Committee member of the SETAC Global Plants Interest Group

From our backyards, to parks, nature areas, and agriculture – plants surround us! We often forget that plants not only look pretty, but they are also vital for our daily lives. Plants are key parts of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. In rivers, wetlands, grasslands, forests, agricultural fields, and various other habitats, plants provide shelter and food for many animals, from tiny microbes and invertebrates, to large mammals – including us humans. And, don’t forget, plants use the light energy from the sun to produce macromolecules and oxygen – a very special skill that supports all life on our planet. Continue reading

Desert Locusts: Unprecedented Swarms Destroy Farmland and Intensify Food Insecurity in East Africa and Beyond

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Locusts—the oldest migratory pests in the world—are decimating crops and threatening food security in East Africa. Unlike ordinary grasshoppers, these pests gregarize and migrate over long distances. The most devastating of all locust species is the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), which is currently swarming at extraordinary levels. According to the latest update (5 March 2020) provided by Locust Watch, “The situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, specifically Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season.” Continue reading

Climate Change and Warmer Temperatures: A Growth Opportunity for Blue Crabs

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Blue crabs. CC-BY-NC 2.0

With their sapphire-tinted claws, their olive green shell, and their paddle-shaped rear swimming legs, blue crabs are easily recognizable. They’re famous not only for their looks, but also for their telltale scientific name (Callinectes sapidus), which translates roughly to “savory beautiful swimmer.” Indeed, they’re prized for their tender meat and sweet, delicate flavor and are, not surprisingly, the most heavily harvested crustaceans in the geographical areas in which they live. They’re found in brackish coastal lagoons and estuaries from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Uruguay. Notably, they’re considered the Chesapeake Bay’s signature crustaceans. Continue reading