Tag Archives: climate change

It Takes A Village

Testing the parasite-mediated competition hypothesis between sympatric northern and southern flying squirrels (2022) O’Brien et al. 2022, International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijppaw.2021.11.001

Image credit: Stephen Durrenberger, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

The Crux

One consequence of climate change is that organisms move to new habitats, as they try and track suitable environmental conditions. This can result in closely related species coming into contact with one another, which in turns drives competition among these organisms. Competition between these organisms can manifest as either direct competition (where two organisms directly compete with one another for food or habitat), but it can also manifest as apparent competition.

Apparent competition happens when species A serves as a food source for predators or parasites, which increases the numbers of predators/parasites in the environment. This increase in predators or parasites then puts more pressure on species B. Apparent competition via parasitism was actually a major driver for the decline of red squirrels in the UK, as the introduced grey squirrel brought along squirrelpox virus that had severe effects on the red squirrels.

If one species is more tolerant to a parasite than another, this can result in competitive exclusion, where one species outcompetes the other species to such an extent that the outcompeted species goes locally extinct. This is particularly important when a climate-mediated range expansion brings two species together that share parasites. Today’s authors sought to quantify how infection by parasites affected a vulnerable population after a range expansion by a potential reservoir species.

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What 18,000 Empty Flights Does To A Climate Optimist

I want to preface this article by saying I’m a believer that individual choices can make a significant difference in the fight to change the outcome of climate change. Up to 72% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to household consumption. While a great deal of this could be reduced by local governments and industry offering leaner and cleaner options, I refuse to believe there’s nothing we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon emissions. 

That could include living more sustainably, normalising greener behaviour, or putting pressure on governments and corporations to change their ways. The idea that our personal carbon footprint is meaningless has always struck me as defeatist. It robs us of agency, and only produces depression and apathy.

However, once in a while something comes along that really makes it hard to cling to my determined sense of optimism.

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Of Course Climate Change Is A Threat To Global Ecosystems

Last week, prominent Australian conservation scientist Professor Hugh Possingham caused quite a stir when he stated that “personally [he is] not convinced that climate change is a huge threat to many species”. This naturally sparked heated debates among ecologists the world over, with varying levels of vitriol. As Dr. Charlie Gardner put it, it “is an extraordinary thing to hear from a leading conservation scientist”.

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How Fur Colour Influences The Arctic Fox’s Survival Chances

This is a guest post by Lukas Tietgen

Fur colour in the Arctic fox: genetic architecture and consequences for fitness (2021) Tietgen et al., Proceedings B, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1452

The Crux

Researchers who try to understand the dynamics of wild populations often look at how different traits affect the survival and reproduction of different individuals within those populations. Usually, the investigated traits are visible and easy to observe, like an animal’s size or their colour. However, there may be cases where the important traits are not as conspicuous or even hidden behind more striking features.

The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) occurs with two distinct fur colours, often called morphs. The two most common are the white morph and the blue morph. Which of these morphs is more common depends on the population. In Norway, the white morph is more common but in recent years an apparent increase in foxes of the blue morph has been observed. Previous research has shown that blue arctic foxes are usually fitter, but until now there hasn’t been a good explanation of why.

We wanted to dive a little bit deeper into the differences between the two colour morphs, explore the genetics behind this trait and seeing whether we could find any “hidden” traits connected to fur colour that could explain the difference in fitness between the two morphs.

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Started at the Bottom, Now We’re Here…

Predicting how climate change threatens the prey base of Arctic marine predators, Florko et al., 2021 Ecology Letters. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13866

Image credit: Kingfisher, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Crux

We are all (unfortunately) very familiar with the effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems. Horrifying images of polar bears on small blocks of ice and the shrinking polar ice caps are but two of the many results of a warming climate, yet a great deal of the work in the realm has focused on the the charismatic, apex species (like the aforementioned polar bear). These are obviously important things to consider, but it is also necessary to look into the effects of climate change on the lower positions within food webs, as any change to these organisms and processes are likely to cascade upwards to effect the upper trophic levels (like our friend the polar bear).

Hudson Bay in North America is one such area impacted by our warming climate. Due to the changes in temperatures, the energy flowing through ecosystems has shifted away from away from species living in the ice and on the bottom. As a result pelagic (free-swimming) species are favored over benthic species (those living on the bottom of the bay), which alters the rest of the food web itself. Specifically, the fish that feed on pelagic species are increasing, while those that feed on benthic species are decreasing. Today’s authors wanted to understand how these changes in fish numbers are will affect Arctic predators, namely the ringed seal (Pusa hispida).

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On The Path Of The Prey Of The Pangolin

Image Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Do seasonal dietary shifts by Temminck’s pangolins compensate for winter resource scarcity in a semi-arid environment? (2022) Panaino et al., Journal of Arid Environments, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2021.104676

The Crux

Climate change and habitat destruction are never positives for any species, but if that species is adaptable, they might be able to tolerate such hazards. Finding food in changing environments is one of the big challenges for a species, and there are a few things that species can do to adapt their diets when new conditions emerge. They can try and find more energy-rich food, or they could spend more time foraging to increase their energy intake (though this could also cost them more energy as well).

This is a particular problem for species which live in dry, arid environments, where food can already be scarce. In many environments vegetation and all the animal life that comes with it will often increase with temperature, but in an area that is already hot, at a certain point an increase in temperature will result in lots of vegetation dying off.

Today’s researchers selected a particularly charismatic species, the Temminck’s pangolin, and through some truly admirable fieldwork, monitored whether or not their foraging activities changed as the environment varied.

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What COP26 Is And Why It Matters

Image Credit: Casa Rosada, CC BY 2.5 AR, Image Cropped

COP26 has dominated the news over the past two weeks. The post pandemic world has watched as finger pointing and vague promises have emerged from Glasgow as talks progressed. But underlying all the drama is the realisation that the world is rapidly approaching a point of no return.

For many people the COP circus is just a bunch of world leaders hogging the news outlets for two weeks every year talking a lot of blah, blah, blah. But there’s more to it than that. It may not be obvious, but some genuine collaboration and agreements come out of most COP (Conference of the Parties if you’ve ever wondered) events. So let’s take a closer look and see what it’s all about.

The Background

To understand what the COP is, you need to know what the IPCC and UNFCCC are. The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came about at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. The Earth Summit was inspired by the Brundtland report, a report headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. It popularised the definition of sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The UNFCCC is essentially a commitment to a sustainable future, with responsibilities handed down to different countries depending on their economic status. It ostensibly encourages ‘developed’ countries to lead the way, often funding climate change related projects in ‘developing’ countries. It’s actually only one of three different treaties signed at the Earth Summit, which initially primarily was concerned with sustainable development. At the Earth Summit, 154 countries signed the UNFCCC, and it came into force two years later.

The IPCC has a different aim – sort of. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a large team of experts put together to prepare comprehensive reviews of the science surrounding climate change. They’re the ones who put out those landmark climate reports every few years – more about the most recent version here.

Then we have the COP. This usually happens once a year, and lasts for about two weeks. The parties who are signatories to the UNFCCC come together to review progress, share research and make plans for the future. There are (as with any major conference) a variety of keynote speakers, whose speeches often make the news, or at the very least your social media feed.

Do They Mean Anything?

A lot of good has come from these conferences. The 1992 Kyoto Protocol was a product of one of the first conferences, and committed parties to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions by individually defined amounts over a given time period. The Paris agreement in 2015 was a product of COP21, and set a key goal for countries to limit the global average temperature increase to below 2 degrees, ideally below 1.5. Yet as with many of these conference decisions, the targets aren’t enforceable, so the COP is often accused of being one giant mess of greenwashing, grandstanding and back-patting.

It’s hard to argue with many of these claims. The private jets these leaders use seem like mass hypocrisy – if the global shakers and movers can’t limit themselves to (lord forbid) first class as opposed to a private jet, it’s hard to convince the rest of us they’re there to help. But where I feel the real strength of these conferences lies is in the harsh glare of the public spotlight which is shone on the world governments who claim to be tackling the climate crisis. For all the Australian Prime Minister’s talk on how he’s working towards a sustainable future, when you’re almost universally panned by scientists and other countries it’s hard to maintain that image. They’re an opportunity for the public to hold their politicians accountable, and see whether or not they’re doing their job in ensuring a sustainable future for humanity.

So What Happened At This One?

It’s difficult to summarise the last two weeks in a couple of paragraphs. Often the results of these conferences aren’t immediately visible, as there’s a universe of difference between a national COP commitment and actual implemented policy once the leader returns home. This report last week from Indonesia outlining their massive U-turn on deforestation is a case in point. The draft text released by the parties this week though was pretty dire, and expressed very serious concern at how little has been done to limit rising temperatures, and how much remains to be done.

I’ve listed some articles below that go into a bit more detail on some of the highlights surrounding the event.

Jeremy Corbyn hits out at COP26 ‘greenwashing’

At COP26, new alliance tries to kill oil and gas industry

Barack Obama has a nerve preaching about the climate crisis

Women bear the brunt of the climate crisis, COP26 highlights

If you have any questions about the conference or want to know anything about what you can do to live more sustainably, as always, feel free to get in touch.


Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and is currently working as a climate data analyst at Ducky AS. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

The EU Taxonomy: What It Is And Why It Gives Me Hope For A Sustainable Future

Those of you not seeped in the work of sustainability reporting may have missed the recent introduction of the ‘EU Taxonomy’. While it may sound like yet another piece of overly bureaucratized legislation, it’s a new initiative meant to spur financing in sustainable activities. It’s also intended to hold large businesses responsible for their social and environmental footprint, an important goal in a world where our own quest for sustainable lifestyles often feel overshadowed by the greed of big business. 

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On The Trail Of Explosive Seaweed Blooms

You’ve probably heard of the Sargasso Sea – it is well-known for the floating seaweed called Sargassum that provides a habitat for baby sea turtles and many other sea critters. Floating in the Atlantic Ocean just off the east coast of North America, it’s also the region where the European and American eels mate, a process that scientists still don’t fully understand after centuries of research.

For the last 10 years, a phenomenon has occurred in the Atlantic where never-ending masses of Sargassum inundate beaches after uncharacteristically large blooms occurred. The Sargassum originates from the nutrient-poor waters of the North Equatorial Recirculation Region off the west coast of Africa and spreads throughout the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent ocean basins, affecting the Caribbean, states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, South America and even Africa. Tom Theirlynck  is a marine biologist, currently working on his PhD at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and University of Amsterdam (IBED-FAME), and he as part of the Amaral-Zettler (NIOZ/UvA) research group is studying the excessive Sargassum blooms in detail. 

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Good News In Case The IPCC Report Got You Depressed

Image Credit: Charlie Marshall, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Image Credit: Charlie Marshall, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

I’ve spent the last few days churning through the IPCC report and by jove, it is BLEAK. I’ll have a summary up soon in some format for those of you who find even the 42 page summary a bit daunting, but don’t look forward to it… But because it’s important to share hope and stories of real progress, I thought I’d churn through the news cycles and find some cases of things going well in the natural world.

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