High-value opportunities exist to restore tropical rainforests around the world – here’s how we mapped them : The Conversation

The green belt of tropical rainforests that covers equatorial regions of the Americas, Africa, Indonesia and Southeast Asia is turning brown. Since 1990, Indonesia has lost 50% of its original forest, the Amazon 30% and Central Africa 14%. Fires, logging, hunting, road building and fragmentation have heavily damaged more than 30% of those that remain.

These forests provide many benefits: They store large amounts of carbon, are home to numerous wild species, provide food and fuel for local people, purify water supplies and improve air quality. Replenishing them is an urgent global imperative. A newly published study in the journal Science by European authors finds that there is room for an extra 3.4 million square miles (0.9 billion hectares) of canopy cover around the world, and that replenishing tree cover at this full potential would contribute significantly to reducing the risk of harmful climate change

But there aren’t enough resources to restore all tropical forests that have been lost or damaged. And restoration can conflict with other activities, such as farming and forestry. As a tropical forest ecologist, I am interested in developing better tools for assessing where these efforts will be most cost-effective and beneficial.

Over the past four years, tropical forestry professor Pedro Brancalionand I have led a team of researchers from an international network in evaluating the benefits and feasibility of restoration across tropical rainforests around the world. Our newly published findings identify restoration hotspots – areas where restoring tropical forests would be most beneficial and least costly and risky. They cover over 385,000 square miles (100 million hectares), an area as large as Spain and Sweden combined.

The five countries with the largest areas of restoration hotpots are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Six countries in Africa – Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, South Sudan and Madagascar – hold rainforest areas where restoration is expected to yield the highest benefits with the highest feasibility. We hope our results can help governments, conservation groups and international funders target areas where there is high potential for success.


Source: High-value opportunities exist to restore tropical rainforests around the world – here’s how we mapped them : The Conversation

North Korea: Sexual Violence Against Women by Officials | Human Rights Watch

North Korean officials commit sexual violence with little concern for the consequences, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government fails to investigate and prosecute complaints, or to provide protection and services to victims, and even asserts that the country is implausibly free of sexism or sexual violence.

The 86-page report, “‘You Cry at Night, but Don’t Know Why’: Sexual Violence against Women in North Korea,” documents unwanted sexual contact and violence that is so common in North Korea it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life. Many North Koreans told Human Rights Watch that when an official in a position of power “picks” a woman she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money, or other favors. Women interviewed said that the sexual predators include high-ranking party officials, prison and detention facility guards and interrogators, police and secret police officials, prosecutors, and soldiers. Fearful of social disgrace and retaliation, and with few, if any, avenues for redress, North Korean women rarely report abuse.

“Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret,” said Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director. “North Korean woman would probably say ‘Me Too’ if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.”


Source: North Korea: Sexual Violence Against Women by Officials | Human Rights Watch

Dispatches: No ‘Honor’ in Murder in Pakistan | Human Rights Watch

They planned to shoot 19-year-old Saba Qaiser in the head, put her body in a bag, and dump it in the river. It’s pure luck that they didn’t succeed. Saba was wounded but not dead, and managed to drag herself out of the river. Her attackers? Her father and her uncle, who sought revenge on Saba after she married without their permission.

Source: Dispatches: No ‘Honor’ in Murder in Pakistan | Human Rights Watch

Dispatch from Atauro: Night Hikes, Bat Caves and a Trove of New Species

Original post from Human Nature

‘…………..  David Emmett is currently part of a team searching for new species on the island of Atauro in the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste. Read previous blogs from his expedition.

The CI team sets up a live trap to capture a civet to see if Atauro’s population is different from that found on Timor-Leste’s mainland. (Photo courtesy of Timor-Leste Rapid Assessment Program team)
The CI team sets up a live trap to capture a civet to see if Atauro’s population is different from that found on Timor-Leste’s mainland. (Photo courtesy of Timor-Leste Rapid Assessment Program team)

In my last post, I noted how the water supply on Atauro is rarely more than a trickle. Late last week our freshwater team turned up something very surprising: a flowing stream that even some of the island’s residents didn’t know about.

The freshwater team, led by CI Timor-Leste Country Director Trudiann Dale, hiked for hours over rough terrain until they discovered the water flowing out of a limestone cave system. Within the crystal-clear water, the team found a range of freshwater insect species.

Creatures of the Night

Later, we took a night hike in the rainforest, which proved to be extremely challenging. Guided by a barefoot Timorese man who was as agile as a mountain goat, we spent several hours scrambling down valleys and over fallen trees. Fortunately, our efforts were rewarded.

First, we saw a civet — a small mammal with a raccoon-like face — high in the trees. Then we caught three geckos of an undescribed species! Only one individual of this kind of reptile had ever been found before. Our records will help to ensure the species is properly named and that a proposed protected area includes the locations where it lives.

After hair samples were taken to confirm this species of civet, it was released unharmed back into its Atauro Island habitat. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)
After hair samples were taken to confirm this species of civet, it was released unharmed back into its Atauro Island habitat. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

We set a few live traps to see if we could capture a civet, a task we knew would be extremely difficult. If we caught one, we’d be able to find out if the island’s civet population was different from the mainland civet.

The next morning we returned to the traps. Most were empty … but one contained a civet! We couldn’t believe our luck.

The animal looked like a dark-colored palm civet. By comparing its DNA to that of other civets, we’ll learn whether it’s a new species. We took photos and videos of the civet, fed it fruit to keep it nourished and collected several hairs for the DNA sample. We then set the civet free and watched it scamper up a tree, none the worse for wear.

To the Bat Caves

Another group of mammals that has been poorly surveyed in Timor-Leste is bats. We have therefore begun a preliminary study to map bat caves and ensure that their most important habitats are included within our proposed protected area.

Our initial survey has so far turned up three bat species:

  • A small fruit bat, with a face like a tiny dog and tough, thin wings.
  • A large insectivorous bat, with an odd-shaped nose and large ears that allow it to use vibrations to detect insects.
  • A tiny insectivorous bat no more than 3 centimeters in length!

It’s incredible to see these marvels of nature up close — bats are truly amazing beasts. After measuring and collecting DNA samples from the bats, we released them, hoping to catch more in the coming days.

A Future Tourist Destination?

While conducting our survey, we’ve also been assessing the ecotourism potential of the area. If Timor-Leste can benefit financially from protecting nature on this small island, then there is a greater likelihood that it will be well-managed and kept intact. Our initial assessment is that if the area is managed carefully, it has huge tourism potential. We have found some fabulous walks, breathtaking viewpoints and pristine snorkeling sites.

Yesterday we visited a particularly spectacular site: a long, narrow valley that runs down to a small village by the sea. Lined by high limestone cliffs, the valley was full of caves and festooned with massive fig trees. The valley’s rainforest is kept damp by the lack of full sunlight and the clouds and sea mist that cover the hills each night. The trees were draped in orchids and ferns, and noisy birds flew through the canopy.

As we walked down the path, I saw a large tokay gecko in a hollow tree. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it was a huge female covered in bright orange spots — guarding eight eggs that were in the middle of hatching! We watched three eggs hatch as the mother looked on guardedly, displaying a maternal instinct unusual to see in a lizard.

An Unexpected Discovery

As I was about to walk farther down the path, I heard a distinctive squeak. Much higher-pitched than a bird or mouse, the sound meant only one thing: a shrew. These small insectivorous mammals are widespread around much of the world, but only one had ever been found in Timor, and none on Atauro!

I stood absolutely still and waited. The tiny shrew came out from under a rock and began rummaging in the leaves. I leapt over and grabbed a handful of leaves where it had been and quickly stuffed them in a bag. I peered in to see if I’d caught it — success! The first record for the island, and almost definitely an undescribed new species of mammal.

This unidentified species of shrew is the first shrew ever recorded on Atauro Island, an unexpected discovery for the CI team. Only one other shrew had ever been found in all of Timor-Leste in the last century. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)
This unidentified species of shrew is the first shrew ever recorded on Atauro Island, an unexpected discovery for the CI team. Only one other shrew had ever been found in all of Timor-Leste in the last century. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

That night, we were full of excitement discussing our list of species likely new to science: a rodent, a shrew, at least two lizards and probably a wide range of plants and freshwater insects. It’s amazing that such a small island can hold so much rare and unstudied life.

Again, I was struck by the fact that when people respect nature and truly value the gifts it provides, everyone benefits: the people who rely on the forests for fresh water, the visiting tourists who come for stunning views of forest and pristine coral reefs, the sharks offshore that swim in protected waters — and of course, the tiny shrews that call the forest home.

David Emmett is the senior vice president of CI’s Asia-Pacific field division. Read other dispatches from this expedition.  ………….’


Insight – Britain’s bank tax jump threatens to push HSBC, StanChart to new home

Original post from Reuters

‘………LONDON |

Plague outbreaks that ravaged Europe for centuries were driven by climate changes in Asia

This could be so, you only have to look at avian influenza or bird flu.

Original post from The Conversation.

A reblog

Should’ve checked the weather in China. L. Sabetelli / Wellcome, CC BY

The Black Death struck Europe in 1347, killing 30-50% of the European population in six violent years. It wasn’t a one-off epidemic: it signalled the start of the second plague pandemicin Europe that lasted for hundreds of years and only slowly disappeared from the continent after the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.

These outbreaks were traditionally thought to be caused by rodent reservoirs of infected rats lurking in Europe’s cities, or potentially by rodent reservoirs in the wilderness. But our research, published in the journal PNAS, suggests otherwise.

If the “reservoir” thesis were correct, we would expect plague outbreaks to be associated with local climate fluctuations, through changes in agricultural yields and primary productions in forests, affecting the number of urban and wildlife rodents, resulting in more plague. We found that Europe’s plague outbreaks were indeed associated with climate fluctuations – but in Asia.

Body collecting in London, 1665.

The Black Death came to Europe from Asia. Historical records tentatively map it back to outbreaks in 1345 in Astrakhan and Sarai, two trade centres located on the Volga river near the Caspian Sea.

Where the Black Death came from before it hit those cities is not known, but by recovering fragments of DNA from the teeth of plague victims in Europe, the closest currently known living relatives of this medieval strain of the plague causing bacteriaYersinia pestis are circulating in marmots and long-tailed ground squirrels in north-west China.

The great gerbil also still harbours the plague bacteria in Central Asia today. W. Ryan Easterday, CC BY-NC-SA

Some dominant narratives on the plague are poorly substantiated. One being that medieval plague was transmitted by black or brown rats and their infected fleas jumping to humans. This was indeed how the third plague pandemic in the 19th and 20th centuries was transmitted – but there is poor archaeological evidence there were many rats across much of northern Europe in the Middle Ages aside from small populations of black rats in harbour towns, and no historic records that rats played a role in the disease.

“Rodent reservoirs” represent another dominant narrative. The idea is that the disease was introduced in medieval Europe once (the Black Death epidemic) after which it settled into local rats or wildlife rodents, and continued to cause outbreaks in European cities for hundreds of years.

How Asian climate fluctuations led to plague outbreaks in Europe. Schmid et al / PNAS, CC BY-NC-SA

This is the narrative we aimed to substantiate through evidence, but which we ended up challenging. Using tree-ring based climate records from Europe and Asia, we showed that plague reintroductions into European harbours were associated with periods of wet conditions, followed by a drought, across large parts of Central Asia.

These conditions were tough for rodents in the region, traditionally the hosts of the plague bacterium, and their numbers would plummet. Infected fleas would seek new hosts, often latching onto passing human traders or their camels, though we don’t yet know exactly how the plague made the journey westward. What we do know is that, 14-16 years after the rodent-killing drought, we would often find plague reintroduced into Europe.

The chart below shows these climate fluctuations in Central Asia preceded the Black Death in 1347, the Italian plague of 1629, and the Great Plague of Marseille a century later, but notably not the London plague of 1665 or the outbreak in Vienna the following decade.

Plague outbreaks during the second pandemic, mapped to climate events in Asia. Schmid et al / PNAS, CC BY-NC-SA

This followed a pattern that we associate with current-day plague outbreaks. What is the implication of such a finding? In terms of our understanding of the past plague pandemics, it provides a different perspective as to how the disease moved across Eurasia, driven by climate events that were and still are frequently occurring.

It implies that there might never have been permanent reservoirs of plague among European rodents. While alpine marmotsmight have been affected and transmitted plague in medieval Europe, we found no indications that they can form a long-term reservoir, as their cousins in Asia do.

Furthermore, the observation that plague disappeared from the European mainland, while outbreaks in the Middle East and northern Africa continued to follow upon climate events in Central Asia strongly suggests that the reason why plague disappeared from Europe should be phrased not in terms of why its reservoirs disappeared, but why the disease could no longer spread efficiently across the continent. It gives historians, epidemiologists and biologists new questions to ask in their quest to reconstruct what exactly happened during one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.