Editor’s Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News is sharing three stories from the past week that you should know.
Scientists have discovered a new contender for the largest living organism.
The history: Last week we brought you a story about the oldest living creatures on earth. This week is the biggest.
A new study has shown that a giant seagrass bed off the coast of Australia is a giant self-cloning organism, reports Kate Golembiewski for the New York Times. The species, called Poseidon’s Ribbon Weed or Posidonia australis, has been spreading across an area the size of Cincinnati for more than 4,500 years.
Golembiewski writes that Posidonia is able to clone itself by creating new shoots that branch out from its root system. But it gets even weirder: Posidonia isn’t just a clone. Researchers think it could also be due to polyploidy – a hybrid between two different species that has two complete sets of chromosomes. Polyploidy occurs in many different species but commonly produces it in individuals can not reproduce. In the case of Posidonia, cloning itself is the only way to stay alive.
The big picture: Posidonia is not the only clonal plant colony in the world. One of the most famous and largest is a trembling aspen colony in Utah known as “pando,” which arose from a single seed sometime towards the end of the last Ice Age. The colony is opening now 40,000 aspens connected by a continuous root system.
Scientists fear that climate change and other ongoing environmental degradation could spell the end of Pando, which has shrunk in size in recent years. Posidonia, which is old enough to have survived the last ice age, may fare better given rapidly changing temperatures. In fact, Elizabeth Sinclair, one of the study’s authors, said that the plant’s extra genes could give it “the ability to cope with a wide range of conditions, which is a great thing about climate change.”
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Scientists can now listen for healthy corals.
The history: The world’s coral reefs are struggling to survive. climate driven marine heatwaves have caused Mass bleaching and die-offWith 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs destroyed between 2009 and 2018. Now a group of scientists have come up with a novel approach to spotting the damage: Using hundreds of reef records, they’ve trained a computer to track the health of coral reefs by listening to reports Angie Theo for Reuters.
Thriving reefs sound a bit like a campfire crackling with the cacophony of marine life. In contrast, degraded reefs are far quieter. New research has shown that artificial intelligence can recognize audio patterns that are inaudible to humans and provide fast, accurate data.
“Sound recording devices and AI could be used around the world to monitor the health of reefs and find out if attempts to protect and restore them are working,” says study co-author Tim Lamont said cosmos. “In many cases, it is easier and cheaper to deploy an underwater hydrophone on a reef and leave it there than to have experienced divers visit the reef repeatedly to study it, especially in remote locations.”
The big picture: From motion-detection cameras that provide a real-world view of endangered species’ habitats to tracking devices that monitor wildlife migration, technology is helping conservationists find solutions to critical environmental problems.
For example, Insights into the animal world, a cloud-based platform developed by Conservation International, Google and other partners, uses algorithms to identify camera trap images much faster than any researcher can. The data is critical to crafting intelligent wildlife conservation policies.
This month, Conservation International and partners launched a new app called Fin Finder, which allows customs inspectors to take a picture of a shark or manta ray fin and identify it in seconds. Powered by artificial intelligencethe app can help governments confiscate illegally traded fins.
Continue reading here.
This cat is the star of a success story.
The history: The Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat species in the world. The elusive cat, known for its distinctive amber eyes and bushy beard, has been marginalized by hunting, habitat loss and a virus that killed its main source of prey – the European rabbit. At its lowest point, fewer than 100 existed in the wild.
But now, after 20 years of dedicated conservation efforts and a successful captive breeding program, the lynx has made a triumphant return to its original habitat in Spain and Portugal, reports say Christine Dell’amore for National Geographic. Slowly but surely the population has increased and there are now around 400 individuals roaming the scrubland of southern Europe.
The big picture: The comeback cat still has a long road to recovery. Like many other large predators, the Iberian lynx needs a large, uninterrupted habitat with plenty of room to move. But right now, its thousand-square-mile territory is fragmented and honeycombed busy highways and other infrastructure. For the Iberian lynx to truly recover, the isolated populations must be able to reach each other and reproduce.
The solution is to build wildlife corridors – important passageways that allow animals to move from one safe place to another. It’s an approach that has worked for many other highly mobile species, including chimpanzees. Efforts are currently being made to reconnect the fragmented habitat and help these cats find each other again.
Continue reading here.
Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Do you want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.
Cover photo: A large seagrass bed in Honduras (© Joanne-Weston)