Environment

A study in Nature suggested that terrestrial plants may be a global source of the potent greenhouse gas methane, making plants substantial contributors to the annual global methane budget.

This controversial finding and the resulting commotion triggered a consortium (scientists from Plant Research International, IsoLife and Plant Dynamics in Wageningen, Utrecht University, and the Radboud University in Nijmegen) of Dutch scientists to re-examine this in an independent study. Reporting in New Phytologist, Tom Dueck and colleagues present their results and conclude that methane emissions from plants are negligible and do not contribute to global climate change.

The most recent census of mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park—one of only two places in the world where the rare gorillas exist—has found that the population has increased by 6 percent since the last census in 2002, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Max Planck Institute of Anthropology and other groups that participated in the effort.

Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not commit mass suicide by leaping off of cliffs into the sea. In fact, they are quite fond of staying alive. A bigger threat to the rodents is climate change, which could deprive them of the snow they need for homes and lock up their food in ice, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is launching a study to examine how these tiny but important players in the ecological health of the far North will fare in the age of global warming.

One of the challenges of managing forests is deciding among management practices, particularly when the landscape effects these practices will have are not fully known.

Since 1995, Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station scientists and their colleagues from Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Forestry have been conducting research that provides managers with a better idea of the effects—both intended and unintended—that forest management practices can have on landscapes.

Climate change could trigger "boom and bust" population cycles that make animal species more vulnerable to extinction, according to Christopher C. Wilmers, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Polychlorinated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), common in flame retardants, have shown steady increases in the environment. These compounds accumulate through the food chain, reaching high levels in top predators. A new study published in the latest issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry provides the first evidence of the harmful effects of these contaminants to a mammalian top predator, the mink.

The 11,000 members of three scientific societies with its roots in agriculture have been closely watching the reports coming out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It is the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report released on April 6, "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis" that points to the direct consequences of climate change. Leading scientists from all over the world contributed to the latest installment of this report that attributes ecosystem changes to human-induced global warming. Following the release of the report, the presidents of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) issued this statement today:

Planting and protecting trees—which trap and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow—can help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But a new study suggests that, as a way to fight global warming, the effectiveness of this strategy depends heavily on where these trees are planted. In particular, tropical forests are very efficient at keeping the Earth at a happy, healthy temperature.

The researchers, including Ken Caldeira of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology and Govindasamy Bala at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, found that because tropical forests store large amounts of carbon and produce reflective clouds, they are especially good at cooling the planet.

The nonnative invasive grass Microstegium vimineum may hinder the regeneration of woody species in southern forests. Chris and Sonja Oswalt (Forest Service Southern Research Station) and Wayne Clatterbuck (University of Tennessee) set up experiments on a mixed-hardwood forest in southwest Tennessee to study the growth of the invasive grass under different levels of forest disturbance. Study results were published online in the journal Forest Ecology and Management on March 27, 2007.

A new study coordinated by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups found that Central Africa’s increasing network of roads – which are penetrating deeper and deeper into the wildest areas of the Congo Basin – are becoming highways of death for the little known forest elephant. The study, which appears in the journal Public Library of Science, concludes that forest elephants are severely impacted by ivory poachers who use roads to gain access into their remote jungle home. In addition, roads serve as conduits of advancing human settlement fragmenting previously intact forests where elephants live.