(NASA) #ClimateChange National US Weather Report: Extraordinary heat events occur around the planet during most summers, but the current heatwave in the Pacific Northwest is truly exceptional #AceNewsDesk report — Kindness – Wisdom💥

#AceNewsReport – June.30: The heat began to build up late last week, and the effect is apparent in this map (above) which shows land surface temperatures on June 25 in Washington. The data show that around noon on that day, surface temperatures in Seattle reached 120°F (49°C), and the worst was yet to come. By […]

(NASA) #ClimateChange National US Weather Report: Extraordinary heat events occur around the planet during most summers, but the current heatwave in the Pacific Northwest is truly exceptional #AceNewsDesk report — Kindness – Wisdom💥

Some coastal areas are more prone to devastating hurricanes. Meteorologist explains why via The Current

Warm water, little wind shear and moisture spark storms but coastlines and offshore shelves help determine strength.

Some coastal areas are more prone to devastating hurricanes – a meteorologist explains why — The Current

Every coastline in the North Atlantic is vulnerable to tropical storms, but some areas are more susceptible to hurricane destruction than others.This story also appeared in The Conversation

To understand why as the region heads into what’s forecast to be another busy hurricane season, let’s look more closely at how tropical storms form and what turns them into destructive monsters.

Ingredients of a hurricane

Three key ingredients are needed for a hurricane to form: warm sea surface water that’s at least about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.5 C), a thick layer of moisture extending from the sea surface to roughly 20,000 feet and minimal vertical wind shear so the thunderstorm can grow vertically without interruption.

These prime conditions are often found in the tropical waters off the west coast of Africa.

Hurricanes can also form in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, but the ones that start close to Africa have thousands of miles of warm water ahead that they can draw energy from as they travel. That energy can help them grow into powerful hurricanes.

Wind currents set most tropical storms on a course westward from Africa toward the Caribbean, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Some drift northward into the midlatitudes, where the prevailing winds shift from west to east and cause them to curve back out into the Atlantic.

Others encounter cooler ocean temperatures that rob them of fuel, or high wind shear that breaks them apart. That’s why tropical cyclones rarely hit northern states or Europe, though it does happen.

Time of season also influences hurricane paths

Early in the season, in June and July, sea surface temperatures are still warming and atmospheric wind shear slowly decreases across the open Atlantic. Most early-season hurricanes develop in a small area of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico where prime conditions begin early.

They typically form close to land, so coastal residents don’t have much time to prepare, but these storms also don’t have ideal conditions to gain strength. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Central America, are more likely to see hurricane strikes early in the season, as the trade winds favor an east-to-west motion.

As surface waters gain heat over the summer, hurricane frequency and severity begin to increase, especially into the peak hurricane months of August through October.

Toward the end of the season, trade winds begin to shift from west to east, ocean temperatures start to fall, and cold fronts can help divert storms away from the western Gulf and push them toward the Florida Panhandle.

Shape of the seafloor matters for destructiveness

The shape of the seafloor can also play a role in how destructive hurricanes become.

Hurricane strength is currently measured solely on a storm’s maximum sustained wind speeds. But hurricanes also displace ocean water, creating a surge of high water that their winds push toward shore ahead of the storm.

This storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane, accounting for about 49% of all direct fatalities between 1963 and 2012. Hurricane Katrina (2005) is a prime example: An estimated 1,500 people lost their lives when Katrina hit New Orleans, many of them in the storm surge flooding.

If the continental shelf where the hurricane hits is shallow and slopes gently, it generally produces a greater storm surge than a steeper shelf.

YouTube Poster

As a result, a major hurricane hitting the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast – which has a very wide and shallow continental shelf – may produce a 20-foot storm surge. However, the same hurricane might produce only a 10-foot storm surge along the Atlantic coastline, where the continental shelf drops off very quickly.

Where are the hurricane hot spots?

A few years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analyzed the probability of U.S. coastlines’ being hit by a tropical storm based on storm hits from 1944 and 1999.

It found that New Orleans had about a 40% chance each year of a tropical storm strike. The chances rose for Miami and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, both at 48%. San Juan, Puerto Rico, which has seen some devastating storms in recent years, was at 42%.

Hurricanes, which have sustained wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour, were also more frequent in the three U.S. locations. Miami and Cape Hatteras were found to have a 16% chance of a direct hit by a hurricane in any given year, and New Orleans’ chance was estimated at 12%.

Each of these locations is vulnerable to a hurricane because of its location, but also its shape. North Carolina and Florida “stick out like a sore thumb” and are often grazed by hurricanes that curve up the east coast of the U.S.

The probability that a named storm tropical storm or hurricane will affect a location at some point during hurricane season. Todd Kimberlain/AOML NOAA

Climate change changes the risk

As sea surface temperatures rise with the warming of the planet, more areas outside of these usual hurricane regions may see more tropical storms.

I analyzed tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic that made landfall from 1972 to 2019 to look for changes over the past half-century.

During the first six years of that period, 1972-77, the Atlantic averaged four direct hits per year. Of those, 75% were in the usual hurricane-prone areas, such as the Southern United States, the Caribbean and Central America. Six storms made landfall elsewhere, including New England, Canada and the Azores.

By 2014-19, the Atlantic averaged 7.6 direct hits per year. While the U.S. took the majority of those hits, Europe has been showing a steady increase in cyclones making landfall. Major hurricanes – those with sustained wind speeds of 111 miles per hour and above – are also more common than they were in the 1970s and ‘80s.

See data on when and where hurricanes hit

While southern coastal locations of the United States may be the most vulnerable to tropical cyclone impacts, it is important to understand that a devastating cyclone can hit anywhere along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting another busy season in 2021, though it is not expected to be as extreme as 2020’s record 30 named storms. Even if an area hasn’t experienced a hurricane in several years, residents are advised to prepare for the season as if their area will take a hit – just in case.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Get past the headlines with a closer look at issues in Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

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The American alligator’s tail can regenerate giving them a functional advantage when living in murky aquatic habitats via Awesome facts

The American alligator’s tail can regenerate like that of other reptiles

Some lizards have developed strategies to regrow their docked tails, but until now little was known about the much larger American alligator’s ability to regenerate it. A team of scientists has discovered that the youngest alligators can recover part of this limb, but this differs from the original structure.

The case of the lizards, with their “removable” tails, is well known. These small vertebrates are capable of re-creating nerve cells, like other lizards, and regenerating this limb. The strategy of shedding the tail is common to escape predators, but what about much larger reptiles, such as the American alligator?

So far, it was not well documented if this crocodilian, one of the largest in the American continent, could have this ability to recover its enormous tail. A team from Arizona State University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, both in the United States, shows for the first time that the youngest specimens, caught in the wild, had recovered their tail up to 18% of the full length of their body, although they were morphologically different from the original sections.

To analyze the structure of the regenerated limbs, the scientists performed MRIs and X-rays combined with anatomical and tissue organization studies. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that the new tails lacked skeletal muscle – unlike other lizards – and formed complex structures with a central skeleton composed of cartilage and surrounded by fibrous connective tissue intertwined with blood vessels and nerves.

“What makes the alligator interesting, apart from its size, is that the re-growing tail shows signs of regeneration and wound healing within the same structure,” explains Cindy Xu, lead author and researcher at the American university.

This overproduction of connective tissue was similar to wound healing or fibrosis in mammals, the scientists found. “We were surprised to discover scar-like connective tissue rather than skeletal muscle in the regenerated crocodile tail,” Xu adds.

The partial limb growth of these crocodiles does share similarities with the regenerated tails of New Zalanda tuataras and the regenerated limbs of adult Xenopus frogs, which have a cartilaginous endoskeleton surrounded by connective tissue without skeletal muscle.

What does regeneration contribute?

The study confirms that between the different species of reptiles and other animals, the regenerative capacity varies, and can be costly. In the case of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), scientists believe that regenerating their tails can give them a functional advantage when living in murky aquatic habitats.

The regenerated alligator tail is different from the original. Although the scales grow back, a tube of cartilage (in yellow) replaces the bone (in ocher) and skeletal muscle does not reappear (in red). In its place is a large amount of fibrous connective tissue (in pink). / Arizona State University

This finding provides more information on how reptiles are the only amniotes – a group of animals with backbones among which humans are found – to maintain the ability to recover their lost limbs. “The ancestors of alligators, dinosaurs and birds separated about 250 million years ago. The study shows that the alligators have retained the cellular machinery to regenerate complex tails while the birds have lost that capacity ”, emphasizes Kenro Kusumi, co-principal author, and professor and director of the School of Life Sciences of the University of the State of Arizona . So at what point in evolution was this ability lost? So far, scientists have found no evidence of fossils of dinosaurs, whose lineage led to modern birds, with regenerated tails.

Furthermore, understanding how different animals can regenerate tissues could help develop medical therapies, according to the researchers. The team hopes that these findings will uncover new therapeutic approaches to repair injuries and treat diseases such as arthritis

Some lizards have developed strategies to regrow their docked tails, but until now little was known about the much larger American alligator’s ability to regenerate it. A team of scientists has discovered that the youngest alligators can recover part of this limb, but this differs from the original structure. The case of the lizards, with […]

The American alligator’s tail can regenerate like that of other reptiles — Awesome Facts to learn on Virtual Science

Colorado Fire: Containment Grows, Crews Monitoring Lines For Heat via CBS Denver

Containment on the Grizzly Creek Fire near Glenwood Spring grew to 71%, up from 68% reported on Friday.

Absolutely fabulous pic via Grizzly Creek Fire: Containment Grows, Crews Monitoring Lines For Heat — CBS Denver

Freshwater Mussels via The Ephemeral Stag

 

Walking along the riverbanks, lake sides, and pond shores across the world are empty open shells that were once the shield of protection to many freshwater bivalves, also known as freshwater mussels. I, personally, have even seen shells mixed into “river rock” on playgrounds. When I was a child, I even cut my foot on one hiding in the tiny pebbles of my parks swing set. I never thought much about them. When we would go to the lake to fish or swim, I would collect them like I was a mermaid princess collecting pearls. I would take them home and keep them in my fish tank, which helped my fish live for years. My beta fish named “fish” lived over 6 years because of his little friends (or a parent who lied… time will never know). How little did I know that twenty years later I would be doing the exact same thing. This time instead of a mermaid princess, I get to act in a scientific and ecological manner.

Mussel beds die off due to pollution, water diversion and invasive species.

Worldwide some conservations and ecological organizations estimate upwards to 1,000 species of freshwater mussels and other organizations claim its more like 900 different species. North America houses a known 300 different freshwater mussel species. The US Fish and Wildlife Services claims the North America has the highest diversity in freshwater mussel species in the world. There are many hot spots for mussels in the US including but not limited to the Mid-West and the Appalachian Mountains. It is estimated that over 70% of the endanger freshwater mussels are found in these two areas. Tennessee by itself historically housed 129 of the nation’s freshwater mussel species. Now with in Tennessee, it is estimated to house only 40 species.

There are many types of species in one general area. Most can live harmoniously.

Pre-European Colonization (don’t get me started on that mess) times are in my opinion the most ecologically balanced times in North America. Natives understood the balance between nature and humans. The first uses of mussels in the now US, was by these Natives and was probably food based. Archaeologist and anthropologist have found multiple sites of discarded shells on the banks of rivers around tribal sites. They probably were not a primary food source for the tribes, but the evidence does point to a culinary use. Later, (when Europe sent a bunch of “Karenz” over) there was significant uptick in trade for the shells.

Mussel buttons

During colonization and Pre-Modern day (prior to 1970s), freshwater mussels were harvested from riverbanks by the masses not for food or trade but for buttons. Yes, buttons. The “clammers” would use boats and drag the river bottoms looking for mussel beds. They would then shell the poor creature, sand down the roughness, and punch holes through out the shell. These punch outs would then be polished and punched for buttonholes. This type of harvested lasted longer than it should have unfortunately. It wasn’t until the 1900, this type of industry slow due to massive die off of the natural mussel beds.

Dead mussels littering the banks of rivers.

So, what is so fascinating about freshwater mussels? Conservationist around the world are trying to save the species we have left. They act as a natural water filtration system as well as food for fish and castration. They are what is called a “niche” species. So basically, without them we won’t have freshwater ecosystems. They have a rough outer shell that is semi curved on both sides. The shell open for them to eat, breath, mate, and move (yes, they move). Inside is the organs and soft tissue. If you ever open one, it kind of looks like an oyster but smaller.

A freshwater mussel using a lure to bring a host fish close enough to release its offspring into the nose of the host fish.

Freshwater mussels can live in almost any collection of freshwaters from pond and stream all the way to lakes and major rivers. Each species has its preferred depth and habitat. Also, the majority of freshwater mussel need fish to act as a host when mating. Some will even use their soft tissue disguised as a fish or prey to lure in the host fish. These may seem like simple creatures on the surface but they in fact are surprisingly in genius.

A mussel bed on the river floor

While we try to restore, what a boat load of people destroyed, there are still massive problems in their ecosystem that threatens the survival of the species. During the decades between 1930s to 1970s and even later there were over 80,000 dams built in the US, in an effort to use hydro power and control water flows and regulate flood waters. As well as dams the US dug canals and channels to divert water flows. There are over 18,000 canals in the US to this date. Both cause problems for the freshwater mussel by many factors. The waters become deeper in areas that were shallow before which can cause less area the mussels can survive in. It stops or impinges on the migration of the host fish species, causing reproduction to dwindle.

Dead mussels along a pond bank

Newer problems like pollution is not only affecting the host and phytoplankton that they feed on but the mussels themselves. There are multiple studies showing the biological affects of heavy metals, chemical and other man made pollutants. These contaminations cause lower body mass, lowered behavioral movement, and lowered overall survivability for the individual. It’s like if you have to live in your neighbors trash dump. You can’t find food. You can’t find love. And you won’t survive long periods of time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lastly, invasive species are also causing a threat to the native freshwater mussels. Many species will come in on boats from other areas and take advantage of the new area. Other mussels, like the Zebra Mussel of Russia, leach off others for nutrients and other sustainable substances. There are new policies of how to maintain and care for the boats traveling in different waters, in order to slow the progression of the spread. However, it will take a lot of help from us as humans to undo our mistake.

Invasive Zebra Mussels attached to a native freshwater mussel

Protecting endangered species should be a priority for conservationists. A creature like the freshwater mussel is overlook so many times. It is important to know how vital they are to the ecosystem and how not to cause them more harm. Things you can do to help the protect these creatures is 1. To vote in all elections. Do your research! 2. Cut down on plastic usage. Many plastics and industries run off contaminate the water. 3. Spread your knowledge! A lot of people don’t see freshwater mussels as creatures that need protection or that they even exist and why they are important.

Sources

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/americas-freshwater-mussels-are-going-extinct-heres-why-that-sucks/

https://www.knowablemagazine.org/article/living-world/2019/hidden-strengths-freshwater-mussels

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/freshwater_mussels/index.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/12/freshwater-mussels-die-off-united-states/

https://molluskconservation.org/MUSSELS/What_Mussel.html

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/clams/mussels.html

https://xerces.org/endangered-species/freshwater-mussels/about

Walking along the riverbanks, lake sides, and pond shores across the world are empty open shells that were once the shield of protection to many freshwate

via Forgotten Mussels — The Ephemeral Stag

Cleaning up oil spills with hair via Science Everyday

Adsorption of oil with hair is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent.

What this means is that hair allows oil to coat, hence effectively absorbing it. And given the surface area, cheap costs, and renewability of hair, this is a great solution.

Hair clippings are a low-tech, yet remarkably effective method to tidy up oil spills In fact, a San Francisco-based environmental non-profit organisation, Matter of Trust, has collected donations of thousands of pounds of human hair to clean up after the thousands of oil spills that happen each year.

Oil spills are an example of the havoc humanity often wreaks on the environment. In the last thirty odd years, the issue of oil spills and their effects has become a much talked about topic (And for all the wrong reasons).

So, how does an oil spill happen?

Oil spills happens when liquid petroleum is released into the environment by vehicle, vessel or pipeline.

It happens on a large scale and is mostly seen in water bodies. We’re not talking about a few litres here and there. We’re talking about millions of litres of oil spilling into the ocean.

Take the case of the M/T Haven Tanker Oil Spill. This devastating event watched approximately 45 million litres of oil fall into the ocean. Not only is this a significant loss, but the damages inflicted upon the environment have long lasting consequences.

And this is just one oil spill out of the many. Hundreds of oil spills take place every year. The news of many which don’t even reach us. Crude oil can be released by tankers on land. In water bodies, the spill occurs due to drilling rigs, offshore oil platforms and wells.

While the sources of oil spills are many, the solutions are limited.

Oil floats on water and prevents sunlight to pass through it. The shiny substance that you see sometimes on top layer of water is nothing but oil which makes it difficult for plants and sea animals to survive.

Underwater plants die. Oil weighs down the wings of birds that can no longer fly easily. It contaminates food, water and destroys the entire ecosystem.

See the source image
Birds struggling in oily water. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-gulf-anniversary-20150418-story.html

Unfortunately, cleaning up of oil spill is no easy task. Various factors need to be considered before carrying out operations. Some of them being amount of oil spilled, temperature of water, type of beaches and many more.

Currently methods used involve skimmers, dispersants an bio degradant technology. But is there a better way?

The answer lies in your hair.

Have you ever noticed how your hair becomes greasy when you don’t wash it for a while? Why does this happen? It happens because hair is adsorbent.

Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules from a gas, liquid or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent.

What this means is that hair allows oil to coat, hence effectively absorbing it. And given the surface area, cheap costs, and renewability of hair, this is a great solution.

Hair can also be washed repeatedly and this does not damage its ability to absorb oil. The average person takes around 150 haircuts in their lifetime. Hair is low-cost, easily available and a great alternative to chemical treatments.

This idea was the brainchild of Phil McCrory, a former hairdresser from Alabama and it has the potential to change the environment completely.

One of the most important takeaways from this, is how simple solutions can be used to bring around large change. I hope this encourages each one of you to try learning new things. Because, the solution of the biggest global problems lie in the simplest, most unassuming of places. And it might even be your barber’s floor.

-Adyesha Singhdeo

References

https://www.sciencealert.com/could-human-hair-be-used-to-clean-up-oil-spills

Donate Your Hair to Clean Up the Oil Spill

 

How Are Oil Spills Cleaned Up?

Cleaning oil spills with hair

Bringing innovative solutions to life.

 Hair clippings are a low-tech, yet remarkably effective method to tidy up oil spills In fact, a San Francisco-based environmental non-profit organisation, Matter of Trust, has collected donations of thousands of pounds of human hair to […]

via Cleaning up oil spills with hair — Science Everyday

Technology can help Us save the Environment and Achieve Global Sustainability by Preventing further Degradation via Scientific Inquirer

The use of big data can help scientists’ chart not only the degradation of the environment but can be part of the solution to achieve sustainability, according to a new commentary paper.

The paper, ‘Opportunities for big data in conservation and sustainability’, published today in Nature Communications, said increased computing speeds and data storage had grown the volume of big data in the last 40 years, but the planet was still facing serious decline.

Lead author Dr Rebecca Runting from the University of Melbourne’s School of Geography says that while we currently have an unprecedented ability to generate, store, access and analyse data about the environment, these technological advances will not help the world unless they lead to action.

“Big data analyses must be closely linked to environmental policy and management,” Dr Runting said. “For example, many large companies already possess the methodological, technical, and computational capacity to develop solutions, so it is paramount that new developments and resources are shared timely with government, and in the spirit of ‘open data’.”

Commentators noted that 2.3 million km2 of forest was lost over the years 2000 to 2012 and that dynamic marine and coastal ecosystems have revealed similar declines. An analysis of over 700,000 satellite images shows that Earth has lost more than 20,000 km2 of tidal flats since 1984.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently seeing governments making rapid (health) decisions based on fairly sophisticated data analysis,” Dr Runting said. “There may be opportunities to learn from this and achieve a similarly tight coupling of analysis and decision-making in the environmental sector.”

Co-author Professor James Watson from the University of Queensland said with platforms like Google Earth Engine and the capacity of satellites to track and send information quickly to computers, big data was capable of identifying eco-health risks globally.

“What the big data revolution has helped us understand is the environment is often doing worse than what we thought it was. The more we map and analyse, the more we find the state of the environment, albeit Antarctic ice sheets, wetlands, or forests, is dire. Big data tells us we are running out of time,” Professor Watson said.

“The good news is the big data revolution can help us better understand risk. For example, we can use data to better understand where future ecosystem degradation will take place and where these interact with wildlife trade, so as to map pandemic risk.”

Dr Runting said big data has been pivotal in quantifying alarming spatial and temporal trends across Earth. For example, an automated vessel tracking and monitoring system is being used to predict illegal fishing activity in real-time.

“This has allowed governments quickly investigate particular vessels that may be undertaking illegal fishing activity within their jurisdiction, including within Australian waters,” she said. Similarly, Queensland’s Statewide Landcover and Trees Study uses satellite imagery to monitor woody vegetation clearing, including the detection of illegal clearing.

Professor Watson cited a similar example. “Global forest watch has been a game change for monitoring the state of the world forests in near real time. This can help identify illegal activities and informed active enforcement of forest conservation around the world,” Professor Watson said.

The paper also noted positive environmental changes due to human intervention such as greening seen in large expanses in China, which was driven by large scale national policies, including forest conservation and payments for restoration.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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Clearer water, cleaner air: the environmental effects of coronavirus (video) —

 

From crystal clear waters in the canals of Venice to dramatic falls in pollution levels in major cities, the coronavirus pandemic has had a number of positive effects on the environment as millions across the world are placed under lockdown. Video: France 24

via Clearer water, cleaner air: the environmental effects of coronavirus (video) —

Earth just had its second-warmest December-February on record

Originally posted on The Extinction Chronicles: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/13/climate-change-earth-had-second-warmest-winter-record/5043841002/ Doyle Rice USA TODAY AD 0:13 SKIP Only the El-Niño-fueled winter of 2015-16 was warmer. Some of the most extreme warmth was in Russia, which smashed its record for warmest winter. Thanks to human-caused global warming, “this period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.…

via What winter? Earth just had its second-warmest December-February on record — Exposing the Big Game

Lake Mendocino invasive mussel species inspections now seven days a week — The Ukiah Daily Journal

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Mendocino announced it will now be conducting inspections seven days a week for invasive mussel species, with help from the Sonoma County Water Agency, an increase from the current weekend inspections. The inspections will start every day on Sunday, March 1, and the inspectors will be looking […]

via Lake Mendocino invasive mussel species inspections now seven days a week — The Ukiah Daily Journal

Sunrise, palm trees, buildings, boats. — Cool San Diego Sights!

This chilly January morning I enjoyed a brisk walk. I brought out my camera when it was light enough for good photographs. Come follow me from the County Administration Building north along San Diego Bay for a short distance. After returning back south, we’ll turn away from the water and head east on Ash Street, […]

via Sunrise, palm trees, buildings, boats. — Cool San Diego Sights!

DNA Sequencing Saves Endangered Species

NEWS_2.26.16_Myanmar_Fig1.jpg DNA profiling, a technique where investigators compare the base pair order of DNA found at the crime scene to a suspect’s DNA. Now, another type of genetic analysis – DNA barcoding – is being used to combat illegal wildlife trading.

Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be right behind drugs and weapons in terms of size and profits, with experts estimating a yearly wildlife black market of $70 billion. Wildlife is sold as exotic pets, trophies and souvenirs, luxury items, religious items, and alternative medicines. High profits and low risks attract transnational criminal syndicates to this business. Because illegal wildlife trading funds and strengthens these criminal networks (networks that are also involved in human, drug, and weapon trafficking) it is considered a threat to global and national security. Wildlife trafficking can also have a long term negative effect on local communities. Finally, there is the very real environmental impact.

Animals and plants that are illegally traded are put under enormous stress. Sadly, endangered species are often targeted because their rarity increases their market value. The decrease/disappearance of these species can affect the health of the entire ecosystem. Accessing these animals provide an additional layer of ecological damage. In 2010, 179 nations came together to form the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to combat illegal wildlife trade.

A major challenge in enforcing CITES and other wildlife trade laws is that poachers will often disguise their product. For example bones, horns, and medical plants are often ground into powders before transport. This is where DNA barcoding proves a valuable tool. DNA barcoding uses a combination of genetic, taxonomic, and computational analysis to rapidly identify the species of a confiscated sample. Briefly, DNA is extracted from the confiscated sample and then sequenced at one or more pre-established genetic locations. These sequences are then searched against a database of sequences from voucher specimens. A match between the sample and several voucher specimens allows the sample to be classified down to genus or species.

NEWS_2.26.16_ParrotEggs_Fig2.jpgAn example is the 2003 case against Joao Migel Folgosa. Mr. Folgosa was apprehended at the Recife Internal Airport of Brazil when police discovered him hiding 58 eggs under his shirt. Based on egg morphology – and Mr. Folgosa history as an exotic pet trafficker – officials suspected that the eggs were parrot. However, they were unable to specify the species. Because Brazil has 21 endangered parrot species but 83 species overall only limited charges could be brought against him. The case was further weakened by Mr. Folgosa claim that the eggs were from quails.

NEWS_2.26.16_ThumbTwelve years later Dr. Miyaki and colleagues picked up this cold case. They retrieved tissue samples from the 58 eggs/embryos and isolated DNA from each. Then, using a combination of primers, they amplified and sequenced the DNA at two locations in the mitochondrial genome. Finally, they compared their results to publically available records in BOLD (Barcode of Life Data System) and Genbank. Through this process they were able to positively identify 57 of the eggs. All 57 were parrot eggs. More specifically fifty belonged to Alipiopsitta Xanthops (a IUCN vulnerable species), three belonged to Ara ararauna, and four were either Amazona aestiaval or Amazona ochrocephala.

This research illustrates how DNA barcoding could be used to prosecute criminal traffickers. However, the connected case also emphasizes an obstacle that still need to be overcome, making the DNA technology affordable and available to law enforcement in many countries. Many hope that new developments in nanopore sequencing will enable this. Equally important to the use of DNA barcoding in criminal investigations is developing a robust database. This database must (a) have all possible taxa are represented, (b) be readily accessible and searchable, and (c) be able to withstand the scrutiny of a legal investigation. Two organizations working towards these two goals are the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge and the Barcode of Wildlife Project.

To explore DNA barcoding with your students check out kit #338 – Exploring Plant Diversity with DNA Barcoding.

 

via DNA Sequencing to Save Endangered Species