In some regions of the United States it felt more like April or May during the month of February (and now March). Yay! Flip flops and shorts! What could be so bad about that? For some plants and animals an early spring (or really a pattern of earlier springs due to climate change) can cause ecological mismatches. Flowers may bloom before the arrival of pollinators. Certain insects that are a key part of the diet of a migrating bird species might emerge before the arrival of those migrating birds. Different species follow different environmental queues and in a changing climate different species adapt at a different pace. So those seasonal phenomena (migration, breeding, etc…) can be out of whack due to a shift in temperature.
The study of those seasonal phenomena within the context of climate is called phenology. The USA National Phenology Network or NPN (under the United States Geological Survey) focuses entirely on this subject through monitoring and research via scientists and citizen scientists around the country. You can become an NPN citizen scientist by joining Natures Notebook. Sign up and begin recording your observations today and your data will be used by scientists and land managers to better understand and manage for the biological implications of climate change. Sit in your backyard with a notebook and a pencil, an easy way to contribute to science.
About the Illustration: Lilacs and Swallowtails-acrylic paint and rice paper. The lilac is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Recently the NPN created maps of the United States that illustrate the arrival of spring across the country based on temperature data from NOAA and extended spring indices-observations of the leafing out and blooming of lilacs and honeysuckles across the country are used as an indicator of leafing out of other plant species. Why lilacs and honeysuckles? Because they are both common flowering plants found across the country.
A bright note from the conservation world in 2016! Wild tiger populations are on a rise for the first time in a century, an estimated 3,890 now roam the earth-up from 3,200 in 2010. India houses most of the world’s wild tigers. The country has taken tiger conservation seriously. Russia, Nepal, and Bhutan are also seeing conservation successes.
Although this is encouraging these numbers do not indicate habitat quality (i.e. habitat fragmentation) or the status of subspecies. Populations in some countries are not well accounted for at this time and in places like Indonesia habitat destruction for the palm oil industry are negatively impacting tiger populations. Poaching for the black market (mostly for Chinese traditional medicines) and habitat destruction and fragmentation are the major causes in the decline of wild tiger populations in recent years. They are still a concern but coordinated conservation efforts and enforcement are helping tigers make a come back after a path towards extinction.
Reports of two-headed sharks have increased through the years. Is it due to overfishing which reduces the size of the gene pool and allows for more of these genetic mutations to occur (think inbreeding)? Or is it just easier to report these observations (through scientific papers and social media)? It is a difficult topic to research since most of these sharks never survive. But it is a critical question that needs to be answered. Is it overfishing? Increased reporting? Pollution? Or something else entirely. Global shark populations are not doing well as it is, genetic mutations could be an additional silent threat.
Meet the Pangolin, a scaly mammal that eats insects and hangs out in trees or burrows in the ground. It’s keratin-based scales are meant for protection from predators, a unique adaptation for a mammal. There are eight species of pangolin found in Asia and Africa. Unfortunately this unique critter has the dubious title of “most trafficked mammal” due to rampant poaching for it’s meat. During the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), delegates voted to ban all trade of all extant species of pangolin.
About The Illustration: Watercolor ink and micron pens. Originally I had him playing the piano but I removed the piano and now he looks a bit awkward. Oh well.
For those of you with little ones or have little ones in your life in some way-consider picking up a copy of “Roly Poly Pangolin” by Anna Dewdney. She’s the author of the Llama Llama books. A portion of each sale goes to pangolin conservation in Vietnam.
Devil Rays (Modula spp.) are one of the species up for discussion during CITES Conference of the Parties 17 in South Africa. CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. An international agreement between governments to make sure trade of wild animals and plants does not lead to extinction. Rays and sharks are not doing well and a number of species are up for discussion during the conference.
About The Illustration: Acrylic Ink with brush and pen.