Warming Oceans Put More Stress on Whales

GLAND, Switzerland, May 21, 2007 (ENS) – Climate change is making life more difficult for whales, dolphins and porpoises that must adapt to shrinking sea ice and decline in their prey species, according to a new study released by conservationists ahead of next week’s annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

Climate change impacts are greatest in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and the report finds cetaceans such as belugas, narwhals, and bowhead whales that rely on icy polar waters for habitat and food are likely to suffer most from the reduction in sea ice.

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May 22, 2007

The cetaceans also must deal with changes in sea temperature and the freshening of seawater due to melting ice and increased rainfalls, finds the new report, “Whales in hot water?” published by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the global conservation organization WWF.

“Whales, dolphins and porpoises have some capacity to adapt to their changing environment,” said Mark Simmonds, international director of science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, WCDS. “But the climate is now changing at such a fast pace that it is unclear to what extent whales and dolphins will be able to adjust, and we believe many populations to be very vulnerable to predicted changes.”

Accelerating climate change adds to disturbances from other human activities, such as chemical and noise pollution, collisions with ships, and entanglement in fishing nets, which kills some 1,000 cetaceans every day, the conservation groups report.

The Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice as early as the year 2020, according to a report issued in April by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.

As sea ice shrinks, there will be more human activities, such as commercial shipping, oil, gas and mining exploration and development as well as military activities, in previously untouched areas of the Arctic, the conservation groups warn.

“This will result in much greater risks from oil and chemical spills, worse acoustic disturbance and more collisions between whales and ships,” said the report’s lead author Wendy Elliott, from WWF’s Global Species Programme.

Other projected impacts of climate change listed in the report include the reduction of available habitat for several cetacean species, such as river dolphins, that are unable to move into colder waters.

Cetacean survival is also threatened by the acidification of the oceans as they absorb growing quantities of carbon dioxide, an increased susceptibility of whales, dolphins and porpoises to diseases, and reduced reproductive success, body condition and survival rates, the report finds.

Krill, a tiny shrimp-like marine animal that is dependent on sea ice, is the main source of food for many of the great whales, but the krill population is declining in key areas, the report finds.

In the Antarctic, sea ice is decreasing in several areas, resulting in massive declines in krill which spend the winter under the ice.

In January 2006, a 30 year study published by an international team of scientists showed that El Nino ocean warming events affect the availability of krill in the Southern Ocean. This in turn affects the number of calves produced by southern right whales in the South Atlantic, as ENS reported at the time.

Southern right whales, Eubalaena australis, migrate from the South Atlantic to the Southern Ocean to feed. Following an El Niño event, changes in sea temperatures affect the availability of krill, which is the main diet of these whales.

Keith Reid from British Antarctic Survey said in January 2006, “These results help us to understand processes in three connected oceans and are crucial to predicting the consequences of climate change on the whales.”

The conservation groups warn that the cumulative impact of climate change on other human induced impacts on cetaceans, such as pollution, bycatch and overfishing, means that reducing all threats to cetaceans is now essential for their long-term survival.

The two conservation organizations are urging governments to cut global emissions of carbon dioxide by at least 50 percent by the middle of this century.

They point to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which showed may be possible to limit global warming if the world’s greenhouse gas emissions start to decline before 2015.

The two organizations are calling on the International Whaling Commission, IWC, to facilitate research on future impacts of climate change on cetaceans, including by supporting a special climate change workshop in the coming year.

They are urging the International Whaling Commission to detail cetacean conservation and management plans in view of the climate change threat, and in addition to increase efforts and resources to fight all the other threats to cetaceans.

The Commission is already beginning to consider the impacts of the warming climate on whales, dolphins and porpoises.

At an IWC Symposium on the State of the Conservation of Whales in the 21st Century that took place April 12 and 13 April at UN Headquarters in New York, delegates discussed whether the IWC is sufficiently robust to cover the full range of threats that whales face, such as climate change.

While the 69 delegates from around the world, met specifically to explore policies for resolving the current impasse over commercial and scientific whaling at the International Whaling Commission, their discussion extended into options for dealing with the effects of climate change on cetacean survival.

“The scientists who spoke to this issue argued that although the RMP [Revised Management Procedure] model is simple, it was tested against a wide range of complexities, including ecosystem effects,” wrote Symposium Chair Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, president of the New Zealand Law Commission and commissioner to the IWC.

“Other participants were less convinced and some argued that there are also moral and ethical considerations that should be taken into account,” Palmer wrote in his summary of the Symposium’s deliberations.

The Palmer report as well as the conservationists’ report “Whales in hot water?” will be available to the delegates from 75 IWC member nations when they convene on May 28 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Public release date: 21-May-2007

Climate change threatens wild relatives of key crops
At risk are vital genetic resources for resisting drought, pests

ROME, ITALY (22 May 2007) — Wild relatives of plants such as the potato and the peanut are at risk of extinction, threatening a valuable source of genes that are necessary to boost the ability of cultivated crops to resist pests and tolerate drought, according to a new study released today by scientists of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The culprit is climate change, the researchers said.

According to the study, in the next 50 years as many as 61 percent of the 51 wild peanut species analyzed and 12 percent of the 108 wild potato species analyzed could become extinct as the result of climate change. Most of those that remained would be confined to much smaller areas, further eroding their capacity to survive. The study also examined wild relatives of cowpea, a nutritious legume farmed widely in Africa. It found that only two of 48 species might disappear. However, the authors predict that most wild cowpeas will decline in numbers because climatic changes will push them out of many areas they currently inhabit.

“Our results would indicate that the survival of many species of crop wild relatives, not just wild potato, peanuts and cowpea, are likely to be seriously threatened even with the most conservative estimates regarding the magnitude of climate change,” said the study’s lead author, Andy Jarvis, who is an agricultural geographer working at two CGIAR-supported centers – the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture and Bioversity International, with headquarters in Rome. “There is an urgent need to collect and store the seeds of wild relatives in crop diversity collections before they disappear. At the moment, existing collections are conserving only a fraction of the diversity of wild species that are out there.”

Extinction of crop wild relatives threatens food production because they contain genes for traits such as pest resistance and drought tolerance, which plant breeders use to improve the performance of cultivated varieties. The reliance on wild relatives to improve their cultivated cousins on the farm is expected to intensify as climate change makes it too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry for many existing crop varieties to continue producing at their current levels.

The results of the study were announced on International Biodiversity Day, organized by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Jarvis and his colleagues looked specifically at the effects of climate change on the three crops in Africa and South America. The scientists focused on the two continents because this allowed them to consider how known populations of wild plants would fare in a wide variety of growing conditions. They found the impact of climate change is likely to be more pronounced in some species than in others but that, in general, all three groups of species would suffer.

Though not apparent to the average consumer, the wild relatives of crops play an important role in food production. All food crops originated from wild plants. But when they were domesticated, their genetic variation was narrowed significantly as farmers carefully selected plants with traits such as those related to taste and appearance as well as to yield. When trouble arises on the farm-attacks by pests or disease or, more recently, stressful growing conditions caused by climate change-breeders tend to dip back into the gene pool of the robust wild relatives in search of traits that will allow the domesticated variety to overcome the threat.

In recent years, genes available in wild relatives have helped breeders develop new types of domesticated potatoes that can fight devastating potato blight and new types of wheat more likely to survive drought conditions. Wild relatives of the peanut have helped breeders provide farmers with varieties that can survive a plant pest known as the root knot nematode, and resist a disease called early leaf spot. In fact, according to the report, more than half of new domesticated peanut varieties developed in the last five years have incorporated traits from wild relatives. Cowpea wild relatives are known to be a reservoir of genes that could confer resistance to major insect pests. In the US alone, the value of the improved yield and quality derived from wild species is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Jarvis said the vulnerability of a wild plant to climate change can depend on its ability to adapt by, for example, extending its range as warming in its native regions becomes too hot to handle. One reason wild peanut plants appear to be so vulnerable to climate change is they are largely found in flat lands and would have to migrate a long way to reach cooler climates, a predicament exacerbated by the fact that peanuts bury their seeds underground, a meter or less from the parent plant. That limits the speed at which seeds can move into more favorable climates. By contrast, plants in mountainous locations could theoretically survive by extending their range slightly up a slope, even by only a few meters, to find cooler weather. What scientists must do, Jarvis said, is identify which wild relatives are most likely to suffer from climate change and give them priority for conservation.

“The irony here is that plant breeders will be relying on wild relatives more than ever as they work to develop domesticated crops that can adapt to changing climate conditions,” said Annie Lane, the coordinator of a global project on crop wild relatives led by Bioversity International. “Yet because of climate change, we could end up losing a significant amount of these critical genetic resources at precisely the time they are most needed to maintain agricultural production.

Research that identifies crop wild relatives threatened by climate change is part of a broader CGIAR effort to anticipate and blunt the effects of global warming on agriculture. In the local, national, and international policy arenas, CGIAR researchers are generating innovative options to foster adaptation to climate change. In addition, new research at CGIAR-supported centers focuses on understanding the impacts of shifting climate patterns on natural resources, such as water, fisheries, and forests, and on planning for improved management of these resources to meet the needs of growing populations as the climate changes.

About Bioversity International

Bioversity is the world’s largest international research organization dedicated solely to the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. It is non-profit and independently operated. For more information, please visit www.bioversityinternational.org.


The CGIAR is a strategic agricultural research alliance dedicated to generating and applying the best available knowledge to stimulate agricultural growth, raise farmers’ incomes, and protect the environment. It supports 15 research centers worldwide conducting groundbreaking work to nourish the future. These include Bioversity International, CIAT and IITA. For more information, please visit www.cgiar.org.

Scoop News http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0705/S00588.htm

Biodiversity in grave danger
Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 3:47 pm

Press Release: Green Party

Biodiversity in grave danger

“There’s little to celebrate on today’s International Day for Biological Diversity, given that global warming is causing massive species extinction, fish stocks could be exhausted in our lifetime and Japan now wants to include the endangered humpback whale in its annual “scientific” catch,” Green Party Conservation Spokesperson Metiria Turei says.

The theme this year is Biodiversity and Climate Change, and according to the United Nation’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, climate change is likely to be the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss by the end of the century.

“There is strong scientific agreement that we are experiencing the largest mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. The current trend has 30 percent of all known species vanishing before the end of the century. That’s up to 150 species a day becoming extinct,” says Mrs Turei.

“Climate change and biodiversity are intricately linked – climate change is creating conditions that plant and animal life cannot react to quickly enough to survive, and in turn, the loss of species will increase the rate at which climate change occurs. By protecting biodiversity resources, we can lessen the impact of climate change.

“Warming oceans are having a terrible impact on marine biodiversity. Combined with over-fishing, some research suggests fish stocks will be effectively wiped out by 2048. Coral bleaching is causing die-offs amongst coral reef communities right across the globe. The reduction in plankton means oceans absorb less carbon dioxide, just as mass deforestation pushes more carbon into the atmosphere.

“I just hope that the importance of preserving biodiversity is at the forefront of the thinking of those attending the International Whaling Convention meetings beginning next week. It’s expected that Japan will once again push for an end to the moratorium on whaling.

“More than a thousand whales will be hunted and killed by whaling nations this year, quite aside from the 300,000 whales and dolphins that drown in fishing nets, and the incalculable number that are killed by pollution, ship strikes, the impacts of sonar or climate change. It seems unconscionable that the international community allows this slaughter to continue.

“I can only echo Chris Carter’s advice to the Japanese, that if they do include 50 humpback whales – an endangered species – in their catch this year, it will be seen as a highly provocative act.

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