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🦌 Humans Are Destroying Animals’ Ancestral Knowledge
« on: September 07, 2018, 12:11:38 AM »

Humans Are Destroying Animals’ Ancestral Knowledge

Bighorn sheep and moose learn to migrate from one another. When they die, that generational know-how is not easily replaced.
Ed Yong
2:00 PM ET

A bighorn sheep in Yellowstone National ParkWilliam Campbell / Getty

In the 1800s, there were so many bighorn sheep in Wyoming that when one trapper passed through Jackson Hole, he described “over a thousand sheep in the cliffs above our campsite.” No such sights exist today. The bighorns slowly fell to hunters’ rifles, and to diseases spread from domestic sheep. Most herds were wiped out, and by 1900, a species that once numbered in the millions stood instead in the low thousands.

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In the 1940s, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department began trying to move bighorns back into their historic habitats. Those relocations continue today, and they’ve been increasingly successful at restoring the extirpated herds. But the lost animals aren’t just lost bodies. Their knowledge also died with them—and that is not easily replaced.

Bighorn sheep, for example, migrate. They’ll climb for dozens of miles over mountainous terrain in the spring, “surfing” the green waves of newly emerged plants. They learn the best routes from one another, over decades and generations. And for that reason, a bighorn sheep that’s released into unfamiliar terrain is an ecological noob. It’s not the same as an individual that lived in that place its whole life and was led through it by a knowledgeable mother.
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“The translocated animals were literally let out of a livestock trailer and started looking around at their new environment,” says Matthew Kauffman from the University of Wyoming. “And they almost entirely failed to migrate.”

Kauffman knows this because the translocated sheep were often fitted with radio collars, allowing him and his colleagues to compare their movements to those of bighorns that lived in the same place for centuries. Within those longstanding herds, between 65 and 100 percent of the sheep migrated. But in the translocated herds, fewer than 9 percent migrated—only the sheep that had been moved into established populations that already knew the land.

The team also used satellite images to measure how closely the sheep were tracking the waves of emerging greenery. Then, they compared the animals’ performance to two kinds of simulated sheep—naive ones that moved around at random, and omniscient ones that had perfect knowledge of the local plants. “Some of the recently translocated herds tracked the green wave no better than the ones that wandered randomly,” says Brett Jesmer, who led the work. The older herds did far better—“not as well as the omniscient ones, but closer,” he says.

“This changes how we think about wildlife habitats,” Kauffman adds. “Wildlife researchers have always focused on the physical landscape. How much grass is there? How many conifers? Then you can ask how good that habitat is for a sage grouse or a grizzly bear. But our work suggests that the true measure of habitat quality for mobile animals is both the physical attributes of the landscape and the knowledge that animals have of how to make a living there. Put naive animals into awesome habitats and they may perform really poorly, while animals that know how to exploit landscapes that have been degraded could do really well.”

Scientists have long wondered how migrating animals know where to go. In some cases, that knowledge is innate. Sea-turtle hatchlings read the Earth’s magnetic field to head off in specific directions, while hybrid songbirds will travel along routes that are halfway between those of their parents. In other cases, learning clearly matters. Whooping cranes get better at migration with age, and groups that include at least one elder are much better at staying on course.

A once-captive dolphin has introduced her friends to a silly trend.

Ecologists have long speculated that ungulates—hooved animals such as deer, bison, and sheep—also learn to migrate, since many species seem to adopt the movement patterns of their mothers and peers. By studying the translocated bighorns, using data gleaned from their collars, Kauffman’s team has finally confirmed this long-standing assumption.

To an extent, ungulates can find emerging greenery through local smells and sights. “But they also possess excellent spatial memory,” Jesmer says. “They can remember when a path greened up and time their movements to go to that area the next spring.” Their mental maps are the foundation of migration. They’re the difference between an animal that’s just going after nearby shoots, and one that’s moving long distances across the terrain in anticipation of greenery that it knows will arrive.

That knowledge takes time to accrue, which the team showed by studying both the bighorns and five groups of translocated moose. The more time these animals spent in a new place, the better their surfing ability was, and the more likely they were to migrate. Jesmer thinks this process likely occurs over generations: Individuals learn to move through the world by following their mothers, and then augment that inherited know-how with their own experiences. “Each generation, you get this incremental increase in knowledge,” Jesmer says. For sheep, he says, learning how to effectively exploit their environment takes around 50 to 60 years. Moose need closer to a century.

That knowledge allows the animals to find plants early, when they’re young, tender, and more easily digested. And by eating high-quality plants, they can more easily pack on the fat and protein that gets them through harsh winters. “When they lose that knowledge, their populations will suffer,” Jesmer says.

Wildlife conservation isn’t just about raising the numbers on a population count. It’s also an act of cultural preservation. When rangers stop poachers from killing an elephant matriarch, they’re also saving her memories. When conservationists preserve routes over which bighorn sheep can travel, they’re keeping the animals’ traditional knowledge alive for future generations.

Cultural losses are harder to see than disappearing habitats or declining populations, but they’re no less important, says Isabelle-Anne Bisson from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “It’s another angle that’s crucial to document, in the face of unprecedented landscape and climate changes,” she said. Humans have increasingly parceled the landscape into smaller and smaller chunks. We lay roads, erect fences, and build towns—all of which restrict the movements of wild animals and make migration more challenging.

Recognizing these problems, conservationists have increasingly tried to modify fences, create overpasses, and minimize development along so-called migration corridors. But Kauffman emphasizes that these corridors aren’t real physical things, like tracks or roads. “The corridor exists in the minds of these animals,” he says. “If you sever it with a highway and then un-sever it with an overpass, the animals wouldn’t necessarily immediately start using it again, because they wouldn’t automatically have the memory of it. They’d need to relearn.”

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Offline Surly1

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Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2018, 03:53:40 AM »
Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds
The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilisation, say the world’s leading scientists

Cattle in the Amazon rainforest.
Cattle in the Amazon rainforest.
Photograph: Michael Nichols/National Geographic/Getty Images

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

“We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”

Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.

The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.

Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.

“Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” he said. “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause – 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction – while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished

Wildlife losses around the world

Chemical pollution is also significant: half the world’s killer whale populations are now doomed to die from PCB contamination. Global trade introduces invasive species and disease, with amphibians decimated by a fungal disease thought to be spread by the pet trade.

The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.

“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens,” he said. The UK itself has lost much of its wildlife, ranking 189th for biodiversity loss out of 218 nations in 2016.

The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83%, due to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams. “Again there is this direct link between the food system and the depletion of wildlife,” said Barrett. Eating less meat is an essential part of reversing losses, he said.

The Living Planet Index has been criticised as being too broad a measure of wildlife losses and smoothing over crucial details. But all indicators, from extinction rates to intactness of ecosystems, show colossal losses. “They all tell you the same story,” said Barrett.

Conservation efforts can work, with tiger numbers having risen 20% in Indiain six years as habitat is protected. Giant pandas in China and otters in the UKhave also been doing well.

But Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said the fundamental issue was consumption: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.”

The world’s nations are working towards a crunch meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, when new commitments for the protection of nature will be made. “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it,” said Barrett. “This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”

Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline RE

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🦌 Mass loss of wildlife caused by human consumption, WWF says
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2018, 04:02:21 AM »

 Science & Environment
Mass loss of wildlife caused by human consumption, WWF says

<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

    1 hour ago

Is your food destroying Brazil's savanna?

"Exploding human consumption" has caused a massive drop in the global wildlife population in recent decades, the WWF conservation group says.

In a report, the charity says losses in vertebrates species - mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles - averaged 60% between 1970 and 2014.

"Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions," the WWF's Living Planet Report adds.

It urges policy makers to set new targets for sustainable development.

The Living Planet Report, published every two years, aims to assess the state of the world's wildlife.

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The 2018 edition says only a quarter of the world's land area is now free from the impact of human activity and the proportion will have fallen to just a 10th by 2050.

The change is being driven by ever-rising food production and increased demand for energy, land and water.
Media captionThe Truth Behind My Fried Chicken

Although forest loss has been slowed by reforestation in some regions in recent decades, the loss has "accelerated in tropical forests that contain some of the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth", the report notes.

It says South and Central America suffered the most dramatic decline in vertebrate populations - an 89% loss in vertebrate populations compared with 1970.

Marine freshwater species are particularly at risk, the report says. Plastic pollution has been detected in the deepest parts of the word's oceans, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific.

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Freshwater species - living in lakes, rivers and wetlands - have seen an 83% decline in numbers since since 1970, according to the report.

The WWF calls for "a new global deal for nature and people" similar to the 2015 Paris agreement to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Decision makers at every level need to make the right political, financial and consumer choices to achieve the vision that humanity and nature thrive in harmony on our only planet," the report says.

The data, gathered from peer-reviewed studies, covers more than 16,700 populations belonging to 4,000 species around the world.

The WWF's methodology has been criticised. One conservationist told the BBC in 2016 that the data in the 2016 report was skewed towards western Europe, where figures were more readily available.


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