Human-Environment Relations: How humans relate to the environment, and how the environment relates to humans, or "The Human Factor"


A Few Winners, But Many More Losers With Climate Change in the Southwest

Dramatic distribution losses and a few major distribution gains are forecasted for southwestern bird and reptile species as the climate changes, according to just-published research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University.

Overall, the study forecasted species distribution losses – that is, where species are able to live – of nearly half for all but one of the 5 reptile species they examined, including for the iconic chuckwalla. The threatened Sonoran (Morafka’s) desert tortoise, however, is projected to experience little to no habitat losses from climate change.

Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines. The iconic pinyon jay is expected to experience from one-fourth to one-third loss in breeding habitat in the future, as its welfare is tied to declining pinyon pine habitat.

“Not surprisingly, whether a species is projected to be a winner or a loser depends primarily on its natural history and habitat needs and requirements,” said USGS scientist Charles van Riper III, the lead author on the study. “Land managers should be aware of these potential changes so that they can adjust their management practices accordingly.”

On birds:

Overall: Black-throated sparrow and gray vireo are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat. In contrast, pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are projected to experience large losses in breeding habitat. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines. (Note: species are linked to their in-depth report summaries.)

  • Black-throated sparrow: breeding range projected to increase by 34-47 percent between 2010 and 2099.
  • Gray vireo: breeding range projected to increase from 58-71 percent between 2010 and 2099.
  • Virginia’s warbler: breeding range projected to decrease slightly, by 1.5-7 percent between 2010 and 2099.
  • Sage thrasher: breeding range projected to decrease by 78 percent between 2010 and 2099.
  • Pinyon jay: breeding range projected to decrease by 25-31 percent between 2010 and 2099.
  • Pygmy nuthatch: breeding range projected to decrease by 75-81 percent between 2010 and 2099
  • Williamson’s sapsucker: breeding range projected to decrease by 73-78 percent between 2010-2099.

(Read more: USGS Release)

Image: Pygmy Nuthatch / National Park Service

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None of the world's top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use 

(Source: marxism-leninism-maoism)

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Plane Search Shows World’s Oceans Are Full of Trash

By Laura Parker

National Geographic

Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, sea trash was not a global headliner. But as hundreds of objects sighted off the Australian coast as possible aircraft debris turn out to be discarded fishing equipment, cargo container parts, or plastic shopping bags, a new narrative is emerging in the hunt for the missing plane: There’s more garbage out there than you think. Most of it is plastic. And marine life ingests it, with catastrophic consequences.

"This is the first time the whole world is watching, and so it’s a good time for people to understand that our oceans are garbage dumps," says Kathleen Dohan, a scientist at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, Washington, who maps ocean surface currents. “This is a problem in every ocean basin.”

Dohan plotted the movement of debris in a time-lapse video that shows where objects dropped into the ocean will end up in ten years. The objects migrate to regions known as garbage patches. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have two patches each, north and south. The Indian Ocean’s garbage patch is centered roughly halfway between Africa and Australia.


The term “patch” suggests this floating detritus is packed together in an oceanic version of a landfill. Instead, these “patches” are actually huge zones where debris accumulates but floats free, circulating continuously. So it’s possible for sailing ships and other small boats to inadvertently sail into a garbage patch region and encounter rubbish.


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Federal Plan To Save Prairie Chickens Ruffles State Feathers

By: Frank Morris | NPR

It’s prairie chicken mating season!

Still, it’s tough being a lesser prairie chicken these days. This type of grouse once spanned an enormous area, though now they survive mainly in pockets of Oklahoma and Kansas. Their numbers are plummeting; in 2012, the population dropped by half.

But after they were recently listed as a threatened species by the U.S. government, complaints of federal overreach and lawsuits have followed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been threatening to step in and protect the lesser prairie chicken for years, a sour prospect for farmers and ranchers, who own almost all the bird’s habitat.

"They almost think they can take over your property if you’re not doing everything you can to make sure this species survives," says Norval Ralstin, whohas thousands of acres with crops, cattle and wind turbines near Mullinville, Kan.

The wind power and oil companies that operate there don’t want the feds coming in either, so over the past few years they worked with Fish and Wildlife and came up with a grand plan.

Jim Pitman, with the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks, calls it a “range-wide plan.” He says it covers the bird’s entire habitat: parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

"It’s unprecedented," Pitman says. "It’s really difficult for state agencies to work across those political boundaries."

(Read More Here)

Photo by Jon McRoberts/AP

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Excerpt from an article in Grist (that can be read here) about the effects of climate change on North America:

"The [maps] from the report shows how temperatures have already risen — and how they are expected to continue to rise in different parts of the continent under relatively low (“RCP2.6″) and high (“RCP8.5″) greenhouse gas pollution scenarios.

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The March oil spill in the Houston Ship Channel is just one of the hundreds of spills occurring in Galveston Bay each year. Galveston Bay has averaged 285 spills a year since 1998, according to statistics from the Houston Advanced Research Center. Most of those spills are tiny compared to the March 22 incident that caused as much as 170,000 gallons to spill into the Houston Ship Channel.

But Lisa Gonzalez, vice president for the private research center, warns that the total impact of those spills does great damage to wildlife and water quality in a critical, environmentally sensitive area. “It’s like death by a thousand cuts, especially when you combine the oil spills with all of the other stressors to the bay,” Gonzalez told the Houston Chronicle.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported Friday that at least 39 dolphins, 17 turtles and 331 birds have died after the spill in and around Galveston and nearby Matagorda Island. Their carcasses were being examined to determine if the oil was a specific cause of death. But much of the oil that entered the ship channel moved out toward the Gulf of Mexico, sparing many bird habitats and beaches around Galveston Bay. Experts say it’s still unclear what species could be affected by the oil, which spilled when a ship collided with a barge carrying 700,000 gallons of heavy crude.

Galveston Bay March oil spill among 100s each year - Houston Chronicle (via dendroica)

(via dendroica)

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5 places already feeling the effects of climate change
Climate change forecasts tend to focus on how the world will look in a century, but some places need evaluation now.

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Mapping the Link between Invasive Plants and Wildfire in the Mojave Desert

The satellite image shown here is of the Mojave Desert transformed into principal components to highlight geologic formations, land use and vegetation cover. 

Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are using predictive tools to understand ecological changes driven by frequent fires due to invasive plant species in California’s Mojave Desert. 

In collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists are integrating recent advances in fire science and remote sensing tools to characterize the relationship between non-native invasive plant species and wildfire in the desert under current and changing climate conditions. 

Credit: PNNL scientist Jerry Tagestad and the U.S. Global Land Cover Facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

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Salamander’s Hefty Role in the Forest 

Early springs surprise many species  


Spring has arrived earlier throughout the world (with the exception of North America).

Spring is arriving earlier – maybe not this year for North America, but the trend is clear. This is not welcome news for Arctic creatures or the roe deer of France. And it could be awkward for flower festival organizers as well.

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