Pacific island fisheries face collapse in the next 25 years as overfishing, population growth and climate change threaten one of the region's main economic resources, a study warned Wednesday. The report, published by the Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community, said the two billion US dollar a year industry was poorly managed, with a lack of coordination between the 22 island nations in the region. …
Iceland rejected a mackerel quota proposed by the European Union and Norway, saying it was unrealistic and would not solve the fishing spat in the north Atlantic, its negotiator said on Friday. …
A warning of high cadmium levels in a delicacy sends prices plummeting, and the seafood industry wants an apology. …
A team of researchers have been trying to identify how jellyfish may benefit from marine ecosystems destabilised by climate change and overfishing. There is concern that a rise in jellyfish numbers could prevent depleted commercially important fish stocks recovering to historical levels. However, a study by European scientists says more data is needed to understand what is happening beneath the waves. …
Speculation has been flying this week that a 2008 volcanic eruption on an Alaskan island was responsible for this year's glut of salmon in rivers in British Columbia, Canada. If confirmed, the idea will improve biologist's understanding of the notoriously unpredictable size of salmon runs, and add fuel to the controversial idea of intentionally seeding the ocean with iron to boost diminishing fish stocks. But some researchers contacted by Nature warn that the theory is "far fetched". …
Canadian Inuit and sealers will appeal a European court's refusal to suspend a ban on the import of seal products in Europe, they said Friday. …
An obscure Pacific island is set to trial a world-first scheme where residents are offered cash incentives to follow a healthy, low-pollution lifestyle, researchers said. …
City living, time pressures and a decline in the desire to explore is leaving many people 'disconnected' from the outdoors. City dwellers are becoming "terrified" of the countryside as urban pressures leave many disconnected from the great outdoors, the director general of the National Trust warns today. …
Joining wolf experts in Yellowstone national park, allows for close encounters with the much-loved but maddening creatures. …
The shooting of the Emperor of Exmoor by a trophy hunter has caused outrage. But there are more deer in Britain than for centuries – and even animal lovers accept some must be culled. Should this conservation job be a sport for wealthy amateurs? …
Nineteen of the 20 GOP candidates who are in closely contested races and have expressed a position on the issue say they have doubts about the scientific evidence for global warming. …
If Republicans win control of the House, they plan to go after the Obama administration's environmental policies and the researchers who have offered evidence on global warming, whom they accuse of manipulating data. …
The ETAP Newsletter is a living window on environmental technologies in Europe. It contains a selection of the latest news on ETAP, related events and calls for proposals: a concentration of highlights on environmental technologies initiatives in Member States or at European level … for a sustainable future in Europe! …
Roger Cone, Ph.D., and colleagues at Vanderbilt University have discovered a new gene that has powerful influences on pigmentation and the regulation of body weight.
Researchers led by Vanderbilt's Roger Cone, Ph.D., have discovered a new member of a gene family that has powerful influences on pigmentation and the regulation of body weight.
The gene is the third member of the agouti family. Two agouti genes have been identified previously in humans. One helps determine skin and hair color, and the other may play an important role in obesity and diabetes.
The new gene, called agrp2, has been found exclusively in bony fish, including zebrafish, trout and salmon. The protein it encodes enables fish to change color dramatically to match their surroundings, the researchers report Oct. 27 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
"When my graduate student, Youngsup Song, discovered a third agouti protein in the fish pineal gland, an organ that regulates daily rhythms in response to light, we initially thought we had found the pathway that regulates hunger diurnally," said Cone, chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism.
"That is the mechanism that makes you hungry during the day, but not at night," he continued. "However, Chao Zhang, a graduate student who followed up the study, ultimately discovered that this agouti protein … is involved in the rapid pigment changes that allow fish to adapt to their environment."
This phenomenon, called background adaptation, also has been observed in mammals. The coat of the arctic hare, for example, turns from brown in summer to white camouflage against the winter snow.
In contrast to mammals that have to grow a new coat to adapt to a changing environment, fish, amphibians and reptiles can change their skin color in a matter of minutes.
Like other bony fish, the peacock flounder can change the color and pattern of its skin to blend into the sea floor. Roger Cone, Ph.D., and colleagues have discovered a gene that enables this color change. Photo by Jimmie Mack
The first agouti gene, which produces the striped "agouti" pattern in many mammals, was discovered in 1993. The same year, Cone and his colleagues at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland reported the discovery of the gene that encoded the melanocortin-1 receptor, a key player in the pigmentation story.
They demonstrated that the agouti protein prevented the melanocortin-1 receptor in melanocytes (pigment cells) in the skin from switching on production of black-brown pigment, and instead shifted the pigment to yellow-red hues.
The second agouti gene encodes agouti-related protein (AgRP), which blocks a melanocortin receptor in the brain. It prevents the melanocortin-4 receptor from inhibiting food intake, and thus stimulates eating.
In the current paper, Cone's group reports that the newly discovered protein, AgRP2, regulates expression of the prohormone genes pmch and pmchl, precursors to melanin-concentrating hormone, which has a pigment-lightening effect.
"Together, the versatile agouti proteins and melanocortin receptors are responsible for regulation of body weight, the banded patterns of mammalian coats, and even red hair in most people," Cone said. The current work shows that agouti proteins are also involved in the camouflage mechanisms used in thousands of fish species.
Cone, who came to Vanderbilt in 2008, has spent most of his career studying how the melanocortin receptors in the brain regulate body weight. He and his colleagues have published more than three dozen papers elucidating elements of this complex signaling system.
Zhang is the first author of the PNAS paper, a collaborative effort of scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Oregon, as well as Vanderbilt.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.
Plan agreed by world leaders in Japan foresees increase in protected areas on land and sea and reaches a landmark agreement on Access and Benefit Sharing .
Aerial view of the Iguacu Falls in the Atlantic Forest, Brazil. Putting a larger area of the planet under protection including inland waters, and prioritizing the conservation of fresh water ecosystems, are crucial to secure important biodiversity and the delivery of vital services from nature to people. © CI/photo by John Martin
The new global deal to protect nature agreed at the Conference of the Parties (COP10) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan today represents a critical step in slowing the current extinction crisis and ensuring that developing countries and their indigenous traditional peoples benefit from the natural wealth harbored in their forests and oceans, said Conservation International today.
Representatives from 193 governments participating in the CBD in Nagoya for the past two weeks agreed on a global action plan to prevent the extinction of threatened animals and plants and conserve intact habitats over the next decade. The targets established eight years ago to "significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss" by 2010 were not met at a global level, despite individual progress by some nations, but this new agreement offers more hope and a much more comprehensive plan.
"This conference must be viewed as a success and a major global achievement. We were able to solve the key issues that were blocking the negotiations and ended up with a strategic plan with 20 targets to protect biodiversity over the next decade. Countries were able to come together as a global community and look beyond their national agendas to focus on the future of life on Earth and its essential role in human development and poverty alleviation. We were optimistic from the beginning and are happy with the end result," said Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International, who followed the negotiations from the beginning of the conference.
He added: "This agreement comes at a critical time as the pressures on the environment are growing fast and the responses have been too weak. It is especially timely in light of the UN climate talks in Cancun coming up in a month, and many of the countries at the CBD highlighted the needed for greater collaboration between these two conventions."
In particular, Conservation International is pleased with the target to increase protected areas coverage by 2020 – 17 percent of the land surface of the planet and 10 percent of the marine realm. "Protected areas are the most effective tool available to us to protect biodiversity. Our goal in Nagoya was to get 25 percent on land and 15 percent in marine, and we still believe that much higher targets are necessary to maintain the full range of critical ecosystem services essential for human well-being. We are currently at 13 percent. The 17 percent target calls for special emphasis on areas of greatest importance biodiversity, and it is now essential that we focus this additional 4 percent of land on filling the gaps in the highest priority areas for biodiversity to ensure that this increase is strategic and that it have maximum impact. As for the oceans, the agreed percentage represents a ten-fold increase over the roughly 1 percent currently protected and is an ambitious goal.
The agreement on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), which was one of the most contentious points of this summit, was also a remarkable achievement for developing countries and have been a contentious issue since the earliest days of the Convention in 1993. "I won't say it's a miracle that we achieved this agreement, but it is surely historic", said Mittermeier.
With the slow progress of talks in the first week, there was fear that Nagoya would wind up like Copenhagen, but the success of this final day helped to validate the importance of global conventions like these in creating conservation policies and promoting actions on the ground. What is more, we applaud the $2 billion commitment by Japan three days ago, which really demonstrated to the delegates that the financial aspect of the convention was being taken seriously.
Conservation International (CI): Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. To find out more about CI's policy positions and activities at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, please visit the website.
Few fish are famed for their parenting skills. Most species leave their freshly hatched fry to fend for themselves, but not discus fish. Jonathan Buckley from the University of Plymouth, UK, explains that discus fish young feed on the mucus that their parents secrete over their bodies until they are big enough to forage. 'The parental care that they exhibit is very unusual,' says Buckley. Intrigued by the fish's lifestyle, Buckley's PhD advisor, Katherine Sloman, established a collaboration with Adalberto Val from the Laboratory of Ecophysiology and Molecular Evolution in Manaus, Brazil, and together with Buckley and Richard Maunder set up a colony of breeding discus fish to find out more about their strange behaviour. The team published their discovery, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, that discus fish parent their young like mammalian mothers on 29 October 2010 in The Journal of Experimental Biology.
Unfortunately, discus fish are notoriously difficult to bred and keep in captivity. 'Hobbyists didn't succeed in rearing them until the 1970s,' explains Buckley. Having imported 30 adults from breeders in Malaysia, the team reproduced the breeding conditions in the Amazon during the dry season to encourage the fish to spawn. They lowered the water level and left it for a few hours before topping the tank up with cold water, and repeated the process until the pair was ready to lay their eggs. Buckley also collected samples of the orange mucus from the fish's flanks before they spawned and at various stages after the eggs had hatched, and monitored the parent's behaviour as their offspring grew.
During the first 3 days after hatching, the fry remained attached to the cone where the parents laid their eggs, absorbing the yolk and gaining strength until all of the fry were able to swim independently. Then they left the cone en masse and began feeding on their parents' mucus, feeding for up to 10·min by biting at the parent's side until the parent expertly 'flicked' the shoal over to its partner to continue feeding. The parents diligently fed their young intensely for 2 weeks. However, 3 weeks after hatching the parents' behaviour began to change as they started swimming away from their young for brief periods. At the same time the fry began biting their parents less and investigating other food sources. By the fourth week the parents were actively swimming away from their brood for the majority of the time and the fry barely bit them at all.
'There are a lot of parallels between the discus fish's parental care and the parental care that we see in mammals and birds,' says Buckley. Initially the parents invest all of their effort in raising their current batch of young, but wean the offspring when their investment in the current brood might begin affecting later broods. Buckley suspects that he sees signs of the conflict often seen between mammals and their young – where parents want to wean their offspring and the offspring continue pursuing them – in the fish's chasing behaviour during the third week after hatching.
Monitoring the composition of the parents' mucus before they spawned and through to the end of their parental responsibilities, Buckley found a huge increase in the mucus's antibody and protein levels when the parents laid their eggs, similar to the changes seen in mammalian milk around the time of birth. The protein and antibody levels remained high until the third week and returned to pre-spawning levels during the fourth week after hatching. Buckley suspects that the sudden increase in protein levels at spawning is hormonally regulated, much like the changes in mammalian milk, and is keen to find out more about the hormones that regulate the fish's mucus supply as they care for their young.
REFERENCE: Buckley, J., Maunder, R. J., Foey, A., Pearce, J., Val, A. L. and Sloman, K. A. (2010). Biparental mucus feeding: a unique example of parental care in an Amazonian cichlid. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 3787-3795.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY ON: 29 October 2010.
An international team of Mycologists and Ecologists studying Atlantic sea turtles at Cape Verde have discovered that the species is under threat from a fungal infection which targets eggs. The research, published in FEMS Microbiology Letters , reveals how the fungus Fusarium solani may have played a key role in the 30-year decline in turtle numbers.
"In the past 30 years we have witnessed an abrupt decline in the number of nesting beaches of sea turtles worldwide," said Drs. Javier Diéguez-Uribeondo and Adolfo Marco from Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas- CSIC Spain. "While many of the reasons for this are related to the human impact of the costal environment it has been suspected that the decline is also due to pathogenic microorganisms."
Fusarium solani is a complex fungal strain which represents over 45 phylogenetic and biological species. The fungus is distributed through soil and can cause serious plant diseases. The fungus is known to have infected at least 111 plant species spanning 87 genera and has also been shown to cause disease in other animals with immunodeficiency.
During embryonic development turtle eggs spend long periods covered by sand under conditions of high humidity and warm temperatures, which are known to favor the growth of soil-born fungi.
Dr Diéguez-Uribeondo's team focused their study on the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) population on Boavista Island, Cape Verde, off the West African coast. While Boavista Island represents one of the most important nesting regions for this species a high hatching failure rate is driving population numbers down.
The team sampled egg shells with early and severe symptoms of infection, as well as diseased embryos from sea turtle nests located in Ervatao, Joao Barrosa and Curral Velho beaches and discovered 25 isolates of F. solani associated with egg mass mortalities.
Although this fungal species has been previously described in association with different infections in animals, its relationship to hatching failure had not been investigated before this study.
The finding that strains of F. solani may act as a primary pathogen in loggerhead sea turtles represents an extremely high risk to the conservation of loggerhead sea turtles across the area.
However, the description of these particular fungal strains causing this infection may help in developing conservation programs based on artificial incubation and may aid the development of preventative methods in the field to reduce or totally erase the presence of F. solani in turtle nests.
"This work reveals that a strain of F. solani is responsible for the symptoms observed on turtle nesting beaches," concluded Dr Diéguez-Uribeondo. "This shows that the infection represents a serious risk for the survival of this endangered species, while also showing immunologists and conservationists where to focus their research."
The change in the ice mass covering Antarctica is a critical factor in global climate events. Scientists at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences have now found that the year by year mass variations in the western Antarctic are mainly attributable to fluctuations in precipitation, which are controlled significantly by the climate phenomenon El Nino. They examined the GFZ data of the German-American satellite mission GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). The investigation showed significant regional differences in the western coastal area of the South Pole area.
Two areas in Antarctica are of particular interest because of their potential sensitivity to global climate change: the Antarctic Peninsula, which is currently experiencing a warming exceeding the global mean and the disappearance of large ice shelf areas, and the Amundsen Sector of West Antarctica, where currently the largest flow rates and mass loss of the Antarctic Ice Sheet is occurring. For some glaciers the ice thickness is decreasing rapidly, and glaciers and ice streams are notably retreating back into the interior. With 0.3 millimeters per year, both regions are currently contributing considerably to the global sea level change of about three millimeters per year.
In the study, the mass balance of both regions is reevaluated from gravity data of the satellite mission GRACE. As a result, the estimates were lower than those of conventional mass balance methods. "With the GRACE time series, it was for the first time possible to observe how the large-scale ice mass varies in the two areas due to fluctuations in rainfall from year to year," said the GFZ scientists Ingo Sasgen. It has long been known that the Pacific El Niño climate phenomenon and the snowfall in Antarctica are linked. The complementary piece to the warm phase El Nino, the cold phase known as La Nina, also affects the Antarctic climate: "The cooler La Nina years lead to a strong low pressure area over the Amundsen Sea, which favors heavy rainfall along the Antarctic Peninsula - the ice mass is increasing there. In contrast, the Amundsen area is dominated by dry air from the interior during this time. El Nino years with their warm phase lead to precisely the opposite pattern: reduced rainfall and mass loss in the Antarctic Peninsula, and an increase in the Amundsen Sectorfield, respectively" explains Professor Maik Thomas, head of the section "Earth System Modelling" at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (Helmholtz Association).
The recording of the entire ice mass of the South Pole and its variations is a central task in climate research and still raises many unanswered questions. In principle, the study could show that the continuous gravity data of the GRACE satellite mission contain another important medium-term climate signal.
Sasgen, I. Dobson, H., Martinec, Z. and Thomas, M., "Satellite Gravimetry Observation of Antarctic Snow Accumulation Related to ENSO," Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2010), doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.09 .015.
LIFEnews - October 10
The first marine plan area extends up to 200km into the North Sea off the east coast of England
A swathe of the North Sea has been chosen as the first area off England's coast to get a marine planning system. The marine plan aims to bring to the sea the same level of planning as councils have on land. …
WWF calls on Chile’s newly established Ministry of Environment to advance fast on establishing new marine protected areas (MPAs) in the country’s waters to secure vital protection for valuable and threatened marine life, including the endangered blue whale. …
Sierra Leone is closing its international shipping registry to foreign-owned fishing vessels in a move intended to reduce illegal catches in its seas and around the world, the fisheries minister said on Thursday. …
NOAA Fisheries scientists onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer are collecting plankton samples from Hawaii to the U.S. West Coast and collecting floating plastic debris from the so-called “great Pacific garbage patch,” a concentrated area of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris, mainly small bits of plastic, collects in the calm center of this high pressure zone. Although plankton — small, drifting organisms — are at the base of the ocean food chain, the microscopic bits of plastic can also be ingested by fish and other animals. …
Canada's Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said Thursday she was disappointed with a European court's refusal to suspend a ban on the import of seal products in Europe. …
A virulent and deadly pathogen in America is exterminating a predator that is vital to farmers for controlling insect pests. …
Scotland's golden eagle population has been granted extra protection. The Scottish government said special protection area (SPA) status would cover six new sites where the birds of prey are known to exist. The 350,000 hectares of northern and western Scotland includes parts of the Cairngorms, Moidart and Glen Etive and is in addition to eight older sites. …
For a grey seal pup, the first few days of life appear to be an insouciant affair. Lying with mum, whiskers fluttering in a sea breeze, watching waves lap ashore. But as the BBC launches a series of seal webcams - offering a unique opportunity to watch live footage of the animals as they breed on the coast of Scotland - new research published this month suggests that the life of a grey seal pup is anything but easy. …
Flamingos in the wild use pigments as "cosmetics" to enhance the colour of their plumage, according to scientists. Researchers studying greater flamingos in the wetlands of southern Spain found that the birds rubbed pigmented secretions onto their feathers. …
Sounds of killer whales played to scare seals away from a fish farm instead attracted a pod of whales into a loch off the Outer Hebrides, it is thought. …
Anti-whaling activists are gathering on November 5th to protest the beginning of the Japanese whaling season. …
Copper sulfate has emerged as an effective treatment for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, also known as "Ich," a protozoan parasite that appears as white spots on infected fish, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist.
Aquatic toxicologist David Straus with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) investigated copper sulfate as a method to control both Ich in catfish and a fungus—Saprolegnia—on catfish eggs. Straus works at the ARS Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.
Ich is considered the most prevalent parasite worldwide in ornamental fish, baitfish and food fish, according to Straus. Ich is less common in U.S. aquaculture because of management techniques, but when it occurs, it can kill all the fish in a pond or raceway. It is calculated that Ich was directly responsible for $1.2 million in losses to the catfish industry in 2003.
The freshwater fungus Saprolegnia is another major pathogen in fish culture, killing eggs and invading wounds and lesions on juvenile and adult fish.
Straus found copper sulfate is an effective treatment for Ich on fish and fungus on eggs. According to Straus, copper sulfate is the only practical treatment to control Ich in catfish ponds that average about 10 acres in area. It is easy to use, effective and inexpensive, and is safe for the user to handle.
Current approved treatments for fungus on eggs, such as formalin and hydrogen peroxide, are much more expensive. Also, both compounds are hazardous, and there are human safety concerns as well as required storage precautions.
Copper sulfate is not currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for therapeutic use in aquaculture, but regulatory action has been deferred pending the outcome of Straus' ongoing research. The chemical is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an algicide and molluscicide. Fish farmers use copper sulfate to control cyanobacteria that cause off-flavor in fish, and to control snails that transmit parasitic flatworms to fish.
Read more about this and other aquaculture-related research in the October 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Contact: Sharon Durham
United States Department of Agriculture -- Research, Education and Economics