Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Sharks have distinct ‘social personalities’, new study reveals

But that could be about to change after new research has found that sharks possess distinct “social personalities” and that most, though by no means all, are actually quite sociable.

A groundbreaking study by Exeter University has established for the first time that the level of sociability varies between sharks – with each individual consistently exhibiting behaviour that is relatively more or less social than its peers.

Personality traits such as aggression and curiosity have long been identified in all sorts of animals, but until now their sociability levels have remained untested.

Not only is this the first time that sharks have been shown to possess social personalities – it is the first time that any animal species has been shown to possess a social personality, claims Dr David Jacoby, one of the report’s authors.

As such, the research has huge implications, both for sharks and the wider animal kingdom, he said.

The key to unpicking a shark’s sociability is how they choose to keep safe when they are still juvenile – less than a year old – and still at risk from bigger fish.

For social sharks, this involves pushing for the ‘safety in numbers’ adage, by forming conspicuous groups with other well-connected individuals. Meanwhile, the anti-social ones favour a bit of solitary camouflage, in the hope that they won’t be spotted by would-be predators, according to a study published today in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

“We define personality as a repeatable behaviour across time and contexts. What is interesting is that these behaviours differ consistently among individuals. This study shows, for the first time, that individual sharks possess social personalities,” said Professor Darren Croft, of Exeter University.

“In the wild these small juveniles can make easy prey items for larger fish, so different anti-predator strategies are likely to have evolved,” he added.

In the study researchers from Exeter University and the Marine Biological Association of the UK tested for social personality by recording the social interactions of groups of juvenile small spotted catsharks in captivity in different types of habitat.

This species – formally known as Scyliorhinus canicula – is found throughout the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, but during the test the sharks were monitored in large tanks containing three habitats in Plymouth.

“We found that even though the sizes of the groups forming changed, socially well-connected individuals remained well-connected under each new habitat. In other words, their social network positions were repeated through time and across different habitats,” said Dr Jacoby, who was at Exeter University at the time of the research but has since moved to the Zoological Society of London.

“These results were driven by different social preferences (ie. Social/antisocial individuals) that appeared to reflect different strategies for staying safe. Well-connected individuals formed conspicuous groups, while less social individuals tended to camouflage alone, matching their skin colour with the colour of the gravel substrate in the bottom of the tank,” Dr Jacoby added.

The way catsharks demonstrate their sociability is relatively limited. It essentially boils down to congregating in groups and sometimes rubbing against each other. By day, the species spends most of its time resting, often lying on top of one another on the seafloor in their natural habitat – throughout the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The researchers were able to quantify how “well-connected” – or sociable – each shark was by observing how many interactions they had with its colleagues. Those that cluster tended to gather in groups of two, three or four.

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Is Civilization Natural?


A view of Seattle from the Bullitt Center.

Brad Kahn/Flickr

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Brad Kahn/Flickr

A view of Seattle from the Bullitt Center.

A view of Seattle from the Bullitt Center.

Brad Kahn/Flickr

So, there’s the city and then there’s the country, the built environment and the wilderness, nature and civilization. Whatever name the dichotomy goes by, we usually think of the world humans create and the world outside their creations as separate and unequal.

But as we enter the Anthropocene — an era in which human activity represents a principle driver of planetary changes — it may be time to rethink this ancient polarity. It’s a question that has more than academic importance. How we resolve this split may have a lot to do with our chances for creating a technological society that can last for more than a century or so. That’s because the Anthropocene is really the “Age of the City.”

Since the dawn of cities some 8,000 years ago, we have always lived between the poles of the world we built and the world outside. The city and nature are the Yin and Yang of human experience, with a host of assumptions, ethics and values pinned to either side.

The city was civilization, and the world outside its gates was chaos and danger. On the other hand, the city was the nexus of corruption, while the natural environment was an unspoiled Eden, an original wilderness requiring protection from our greed.

But now, more than half the people on the planet live in a city or a suburb of one. And it’s projected that by 2050, more than 80 percent of all human beings will be living in urban areas. That is why the Anthropocene and the city are so strongly coupled. It’s the resource needs of cities, and the feedback those needs generate, that are so strongly affecting the planet. What scientists call the “coupled Earth systems” of atmosphere — hydrosphere, cryosphere, geosphere and biosphere — are changing because of our cities and their requirements. That is why all our city building now makes traditional distinctions between the natural environment and the built environment less meaningful.

To understand the breadth of urbanization’s impact, consider what Steven Koonin, the director of NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, calls the “Dark Spaces.” When you look at a map of the Earth at night, what you see are cities showing up as dense luminous webs of light. You also see thin tendrils of highways that connect the cities. Beyond that, there are large sections of Dark Space. But while these Dark Spaces might seem the true domain of wilderness, the truth is far more complex.

Look around a city and what do you see? Cars, streetlights, air conditioners, heating units. All of them consume energy. But where does that energy come from? It originates in places like the oil-rich Alberta Tar Sands or West Virginia’s mountaintop removal coal mining. It comes from something the writer Venkat Rao has called “Hamiltonian Cathedrals” (after Alexander Hamilton and his vision of American industrialization). Hamiltonian Cathedrals are the sites of vast industrial-scale resource development. But in spite of their scale, Hamiltonian Cathedrals are, generally, entirely hidden to the world of the city dweller.

Those vast scales of resource extraction in the Dark Spaces are needed to feed the ever-growing cities in which we humans now choose to live. It’s the feedback of all that resources consumption in cities (as in climate change) that means there is little space on the planet that can truly be thought of as “untouched.” And as Luis Bettencourt, a physicist at the Santa Fe Institute who works on cities, notes:

“The way we’ve been drawing these resources from nature and into the cities is simply not sustainable. An urbanized planet will need more energy, but it is crucial we get it in different ways: that is possible but requires massive change.”

Something, therefore, has to change — and our polar ideas of nature vs. civilization may be the first thing that needs to go.

This week, I was in Seattle working with University of Washington professor Marina Alberti, who leads the Urban Ecology Research Lab. Dr. Alberti is a wonderfully creative researcher who likes to think in terms of cities as “hybrid ecosystems.” She takes the idea of “hybrids” from genetics. Hybrids can be a step along the way to developing new species. Seeing the city as a hybrid ecosystem means thinking about how cities depend on the natural flows of water, clean air and soil to function properly. It also means seeing how cities change those flows to create something new that didn’t exist before. For example, recent studies have shown how vacant lots create new habitats and road corridors can function as routes of seed dispersal for many plant species. Researchers also have seen some songbirds changing their behavior in urban environments as compared with natural ones.

These examples show plants and animals creating new behaviors in the environments we created for ourselves. As we come to understand that response more deeply, there’s the possibility for cities themselves to change with the goal of becoming more resilient and sustainable in the face of the Anthropocene challenges. It’s about human and natural systems evolving together.

This possibility of “co-evolution” means cities will need to become far more responsive to what used to be thought of as nature lying outside their domains. It means recognizing how deeply the city relies on natural systems and thinking creatively about working with those systems rather than paving everything over.

There are, for example, ideas about edging coastal cities with wetlands for storm surge protection. Then there is urban farming — including their most radical version, the vertical skyscraper farm. Whether these ideas can work or not, each is an attempt to rethink how the natural world appears within and serves urban spaces.

One concrete strategy for addressing this issue of sustainability and resilience is to make cities act more like nature. Think about how forests get everything they need from whatever moves through where they stand. Building cities that use this principle is called biomimicry — and it means bringing more of the services nature provides to the city back within its confines.

I had a chance to see this in practice during a visit to the Bullitt Center in Seattle, which is billed as one of the “greenest buildings in the world.” You can think of it as “extreme green.” All the water and all the power the building needs are drawn from whatever falls on this multistory building and its site. The roof splays away from the building’s walls like the canopy of a tree maximizing the surface area for solar collection (while the building draws power from the grid in the winter, it generates enough electricity in the summer to make up the difference). Extending from the third floor there is a wetlands “garden” (complete with horsetails) that purifies the building’s water before returning it back to the ground.

With all of its innovations, the Bullitt Center is designed to be an experiment in biomimicry (among other ideas). And it seems to be working. After a year in operation, the Bullitt has shown that it is possible to become more fully “passive” in terms of resource impact.

So do we have to live with the nature vs. city split?

There will always be a day-to-day distinction between living in urban spaces and getting away into nature. But as far as our civilization building goes, we need to go beyond the old distinctions. With the dawning of the Anthropocene we’ve become a true planetary species. That’s what gets the astronomer in me really interested. With all our city building, it’s the entire planet that we’re changing now. And once we get to that scale, the distinction between nature and not-nature has to get updated. We need a perspective that’s more sustainable and more resilient if we’re going to make it for another 100, 500 or 5,000 years.

If we’re building cities that affect the entire planet, maybe it’s time to start thinking like one. Maybe it’s time to think how nature and cities can evolve together.

You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4

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Looking back on 5774: A year of environmental triumph and tragedy

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Tradition holds that our planet was fashioned on Rosh Hashanah. This period, as we prepare to begin celebrating the birthday of Mother Earth on Wednesday evening, is a fitting one in which to consider Israel’s accomplishments and transgressions in nurturing its small but holy corner of creation. On reflection, we find reason for both encouragement and alarm.

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Nature Conservancy of Canada and TD Forests help protect forests for species at risk

TORONTO , Sept. 26, 2014 /CNW/ - Endangered Canada lynx, endangered mainland Nova Scotia moose, wood turtles and other at risk species are being supported through five new forest conservation projects. The sites, totalling 2,142 acres (867 hectares) of forest have been saved across Canada through a partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and TD Bank Group (TD). The announcement was made as part of National Forest Week ( Sept 21 – 27).

The sites, located in Alberta , Ontario , Quebec , New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador were protected in part thanks to the TD Forests program and provide habitat for some of Canada’s most threatened species. Conservation work will continue this fall with additional properties to be protected.

Since the program launch in 2012, NCC has protected over 32,000 acres (12,950 hectares) in six different forest habitat types. TD’s five-year contribution is the largest corporate commitment in NCC’s history.


“Forests support a rich diversity of plant and animal life that relies on a healthy ecosystem to thrive. Among their many roles, forests purify water, regulate and cool climate, absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and provide habitat and shelter for countless species,” said John Lounds , President and CEO with the Nature Conservancy of Canada . And with Canada being home to 10 per cent of the world’s forests, we sometimes take them for granted,”.

 ”More than 90 percent of Canadians have said forests are important to them, and for good reason,” says Karen Clarke-Whistler , Chief Environment Officer, TD. “Forests form the backdrop of our communities, where we live, work and play – and they perform an essential role in cleaning the air and moderating temperatures. As our world becomes more urbanized it is essential to protect forests and the valuable habitats they represent. That’s why we made protecting critical forest habitat a key pillar of TD Forests.”

Newly Protected Properties:

St. Fintans, NL : 600 acres (243 hectare) of Northern shield boreal forest in western Newfoundland featuring 200 year old trees.  The property also surrounds a river with Atlantic salmon and supports habitat for threatened Newfoundland marten.

Halls Hill, NB:  347 acres (140 hectares) of Acadian forest with red pine, red maple, balsam fir and birch trees in the Chignecto Isthmus, the only route for terrestrial wildlife to move in and out of Nova Scotia connecting it to the rest of North America .  The Chignecto Isthmus provides habitat for endangered Canada lynx and moose which are endangered in mainland Nova Scotia . It also known as the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s “Moose Sex Corridor Project”.

Mount Foster, QU: 326 acres (132 hectares) in Quebec’s Green Mountains, about 30 kilometers near the town of Sutton.  It provides habitat for numerous species at risk, including wood turtle, Bicknell’s thrush, and green mountain maidenhair fern. This Appalachian mixed forest has sugar maple, beech, white ash, eastern hemlock, yellow birch trees. It is one of the last regions where extensive wilderness remains relatively intact in southern Quebec .

Powder Island, ON : 399 acres (161.5 hectares). Located in the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, less than one kilometer off the coast of Lake Superior near Rossport.  Northern Shield boreal forest with white spruce, jack pine and balsam fir trees.

Near Leduc, AB : 478 acres (193 hectares) of mixed wood boreal forest located in the Upper North Saskatchewan River Basin includes stands of  aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, tamarack, white and black spruce.  The property also features a herd of 40 elk.

For more information on each of the projects, please visit:

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The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the nation’s leading land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962 NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 2.7 million acres (over 1.1 million hectares), coast to coast. For more information visit:

Launched in 2012, TD Forests is a major conservation initiative built around two pillars – reduce (paper use) and grow (forested areas). The Nature Conservancy of Canada has been engaged in the “grow” pillar to increase the amount of forested lands protected and cared for in Canada and through its conservation partners in the U.S. TD and NCC are also engaging more Canadians in the mission to conserve our forests, which will safeguard not just the trees, but all the living things that rely on forested habitats. For more information, visit TD Forests.

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SOURCE Nature Conservancy of Canada

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Teaching children to appreciate their natural environment


Triangle’s Asian community launches Dragon Boat Festival

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Make the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area your destination of choice this fall!

QUEBEC CITY, Sept. 25, 2014 /CNW/ – How would you like to connect with nature this fall? Until October 26, Environment Canada is inviting you to the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area (NWA). The NWA offers a number of activities for nature lovers, birdwatchers, hikers and photographers looking to discover wildlife in its natural environment.

The Focus on the Geese activity will once again be offered every day from September 27 to October 26. With our naturalist guides, witness the Greater Snow Geese that stop at the NWA in search for food. Visitors who want to know how many geese are at the NWA can check the Nature section of Environment Canada’s website at

The On the Trail of Fox GPS rally, new this fall, helps visitors discover and learn about the biodiversity they encounter when walking along the La Cédrière, L’Allée d’ormes, Le Moqueur-chat and Bois-sent-bon trails. Did you know that the NWA contains more than 22 forest stands, and is home to 700 plant species, 30 mammal species and 180 bird species, including some that are at risk? Why not go on an outing and enjoy the fall colours.

This initiative is part of the Government of Canada’s efforts under the National Conservation Plan to connect Canadian families with our natural spaces. Through this plan, the Government is building a stronger Canada, a country that cares about conserving its natural heritage and a country where we can all enjoy the beauty of nature from coast to coast to coast.

Quick Facts

  • The Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area is part of a Canadian network of 146 protected areas aimed at conserving important habitats for wildlife, some of which are at risk.
  • The organized activities make it possible to support the objectives of the National Conservation Plan by connecting Canadians to nature in order to increase their appreciation of nature and to build a “community of stewards” among Canadians of all ages.
  • You can get information on the activities, services offered and fees by calling 418-827-4591 or sending an e-mail to



“Under the National Conservation Plan, our Government is connecting Canadians to nature by expanding conservation programs aimed at families and improving access to our country’s world-class green urban spaces, like the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area.”  

The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council

Related Products

Website of the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area
Map of the hiking trails in the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area
Cap Tourmente brochure – Nature as far as the eye can see!
National Conservation Plan

Environment Canada’s Twitter page

Environment Canada’s Facebook page


SOURCE Environment Canada

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Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise corpse

Thought to be the last living member of the Pinta Island subspecies of giant tortoise, in his twilight years George became a figurehead for conservation efforts on the Galapagos, the Ecuadorian-owned archipelago famous for its profusion of unique species. Earlier this year, George’s body was transported to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was treated by taxidermists and put on display.

George was due to return to the Galapagos in January 2015, to be exhibited at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, where he had lived since being discovered on nearby Pinta in 1971. Researchers had previously believed Pinta Island tortoises to be extinct, after the island’s vegetation – and their food source – was wiped out by non-indigenous feral goats.

However, officials from the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment have pooh-poohed the plan, saying George must instead be permanently displayed in the capital, Quito, where he will be seen by a greater number of visitors. This month, it was announced that a bronze replica would be sent to the Islands. Speaking to El Universo last weekend, Santa Cruz’s Mayor, Leopoldo Bucheli, called the decision “outrageous”, saying: “George is an icon and should return  to Galapagos.”

The country’s Environment Minister, Lorena Tapia, said she agreed that it would be best if Lonesome George could return home, but added in a statement: “Preserving Lonesome George’s body requires special conditions, like moisture, temperature, physical space and security, in addition to the annual retouching made by the experts. At present, there is no site like this in the Galapagos.”

Named after George Gobel, a 1950s US television comedian, Lonesome George was approximately 100 years old when he died, which in fact made him relatively young for a giant tortoise. Although he died from natural causes related to old age, scientists had expected him to live for several more decades. The world’s oldest documented living reptile is a Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan who lives on St Helena and is thought to be 182 years old.

During his lifetime, scientists made numerous attempts to have George mate with females of similar subspecies and thus preserve his line, but while his companions laid several clutches of eggs, none ever hatched. Following his death, some of George’s cells were preserved in the hope of one day cloning him.

There had also reportedly been plans afoot to take George on a world tour, where he would have undergone photocalls with world leaders and promoted awareness of conservation endeavours in the Galapagos and beyond. Writing in The Guardian, Henry Nicholls, the author of the 2006 book Lonesome George, suggested the tour ought to be staged posthumously.

George, Nicholls wrote, “may not have been aware of his talents, but he was able to communicate the conservation message far more powerfully, with more dignity, than most humans. I think we have an ethical obligation to allow him to continue his work on as grand a scale as possible.”

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