Saturday, December 22, 2018

Kaua`i `ohi`a infected most deadly form of Rapid `Ohi`a Death fungus

Dead `ohi`a in Kauai forest. Credit: DLNR photo.
The "mother of the forest" on Kaua`i is under deadly attack.

The most aggressive form of Rapid `Ohi`a Death fungus has been identified in a stand of native forest on the island's east side, just months after the less aggressive type was found on the island.
The latest form is a fast-killing disease to which few or no `ohi`a are resistant.
`Ohi`a is perhaps the most significant tree of the Hawaiian forest—the canopy tree in many areas, and a nesting site for many birds. Its attractive red flowers are a major food source for Hawaiian forest birds, and its leaves and flowers are significant in Hawaiian culture.
Photos, a press release and other information are available at the website of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which announced the finding. 
Here is the press release:
(Lihue)-Detection of Ceratocystis lukuohia, the more virulent of the two fungal pathogens causing Rapid ʻŌhi‘a Death (ROD), has now been confirmed in three trees on Department of Hawaiian Home lands parcel behind Kalalea Mountain on the east side of Kaua‘i. This first detection of C. lukuohia comes after the other pathogen resulting in ROD, Ceratocystis huliohia, was detected on Kauai in three distinct locations this past year.
“These three trees that tested positive for C. lukuohia were spotted by our rapid response team as they were conducting botanical surveys across the island,” said Sheri S. Mann, Kaua‘i District Manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). “Later, a team trekked by foot to visually inspect and take samples from the tree.”
ʻŌhi‘a die for many reasons, although symptoms consistent with ROD include the sudden browning of leaves on limbs or the entire crowns of trees. The fungus is not visible on the leaves or the bark but grows in the sapwood just below the bark. The three trees that were sampled earlier this month stood out in a forest of green, because the entirety of the trees leaves had browned.
Samples were then sent to the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Hilo for the necessary laboratory testing that confirmed C. lukuohia in all three trees.
“This is obviously news we didn’t want to hear,” Mann said. “But within a day of learning the news, we scheduled a helicopter to conduct more digital mobile sketch mapping to identify any additional symptomatic trees. We followed that with pinpoint drone surveys conducted by the UH Hilo Department of Geography SDAV Lab and more tree sampling to try and determine the severity and distribution of the outbreak. It’s been a busy week.”
A benefit for Kaua‘i is the hard-earned research conducted on Hawaii Island where ROD was identified more than four years ago. Hundreds of thousands of trees have died due to ROD on Hawai‘i Island, more than 90 percent due to C. lukuohia. Earlier this year, scientists at ARS described the two-different species of fungi that cause ROD as C. huliohia and C. lukuohia. Both species are new to science.
The difference between the two pathogens is how they move through the tree and how quickly they kill.
“The pathogen enters the tree through a wound; be it a broken limb, twig or, perhaps, a scuffed up exposed root. Whereas C. huliohia may take months to years to kill an ʻōhiʻa tree, C. lukuohia can kill a tree within weeks,” said James B. Friday, the extension forester with the University of Hawaii.
The Kaua‘i ROD Working Group does not know exactly when or how the disease arrived on Kaua‘i-whether it was the result of human activity or on its own, e.g. via the wind.
Once additional lab results and drone imagery are available, the rapid response team will consult with the ROD science team to determine what management actions should be taken. 
“Our priority is to save ʻōhiʻa. It has a critical role in the ecosystem’s function,” said Tiffani Keanini, project manager of Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee (KISC). “We are currently determining the best method to contain the spread and prevent ROD from entering pristine watershed areas. At this point, we are treating the recent outbreak with rapid response actions.  As we learn more about the distribution and density of the affected area, we will likely adapt our management strategy efforts.”
The C. lukuohia detection site is located in a remote area at 550-foot elevation. This forest location is comprised of a mix of native trees and plants like ʻōhi‘a, koa, hala, and uluhe that are being crowded out by non-natives such as albizia, java plum, strawberry guava, and octopus trees. Unfortunately, any loss of a native tree will give rise to the faster-growing invasives unless aggressive native tree plantings take place.
“The Department of Hawaiian home lands supports the DLNR efforts to save the ʻōhiʻa on Kaua’i and we thank their team for their swift action to date. We will continue to monitor the situation and do all we can to assist. We encourage our beneficiaries and the public to follow the distributed guidelines to prevent more trees from becoming infected,” said Jobie Masagatani, Chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
As there is no known cure to ROD, prevention is the key to ensuring it doesn’t spread and both Kama‘aina and visitors can help by following these key five guidelines:
1) Keep your eyes open. If you see ʻōhiʻa with a limb or crown turning brown, take a picture, and contact KISC via email ( or phone (808-821-1490). Samples of the wood must be taken by trained technicians and tested in a laboratory to confirm the presence of the ROD fungi.
2) Avoid injuring ʻōhiʻa. Wounds serve as entry points for the fungus and increase the odds that the tree will become infected and die from ROD. Avoid pruning and contact with heavy equipment wherever possible.
3) Clean gear and tools, including shoes and clothes, before and after entering the forest and areas where ʻōhiʻa may be present. Brush all soil off tools and gear, then spray with 70% rubbing alcohol. Wash clothes with hot water and soap.
4) Wash your vehicle with a high-pressure hose or washer if you’ve been off-roading or have picked up mud from driving. Clean all soil off tires–including mountain bikes and motorcycles–and vehicle undercarriage.
5) Don’t move ʻōhiʻa wood or ʻōhiʻa parts, including adjacent soil. The disease can be spread to new areas by moving plants, plant parts, and wood from infected areas to non-infected areas.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Missing Hawaiian humpback whales? They're staying late in Alaskan waters, but it's still not certain why.

Hawai`i's humpback whales are missing, and now there are new clues about why.

In Hawai`i as well as other southern migration areas, steep declines in whale numbers are being reported. Researchers in Alaskan waters now report that they're seeing whales that are staying in northern waters instead of migrating.

(Image: Humpback in Sitka Sound, Mt. Edgecumbe: Humpback whale flukes are visible just on the surface with Mt. Edgecumbe on the horizon in Sitka, Alaska Sunday, October 28, 2018. Credit: Seanna O’Sullivan/UAS.)
What's not yet clear is whether they will just delay migration, perhaps because of warmer conditions in areas like Sitka Sound, or whether they can't migrate because changes in food availability have deprived them of the energy for the 30-day migration.

It is also not yet clear whether the delayed or omitted migrations will impact populations. Humpback whales make the trip to southern waters to give birth to their young.

“We are concerned that the offshore warm water anomaly known as 'the blob' and other ocean conditions has had a negative impact on humpback whale prey.” said Ellen Chenoweth, a UAS Adjunct Professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Researchers are trying to raise the funds to figure out what's going on, she said.  It is not just that the whales are staying longer, but there are indications they are in distress. A release from the University of Alaska Southeast suggests there's something serious going on: "The researchers noted that they are seeing fewer calves, skinnier whales and more whales staying longer into winter feeding on herring, partially migrating and returning or possibly not migrating at all."

“We would like to quantify the changes in the numbers and distribution of whales present in winter and try to get at the cause and effect. But we need more monitoring funds. This means we need gas in the boat, time to be out there later in the season and, more technicians to manage the data and document the whales and more time on the water,” Chenoweth said.

The UAS Whale Research and Education Support fund will support the research. Donations can be made here. 

The dramatic change in migration habits mars a textbook success story in whale conservation.
Humpback whale populations had been drawn so low by whaling that they were listed as endangered in 1973 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 
By the 1980s, numbers that winter in Hawai`i had risen from a few thousand to more than 11,000. Almost all of those whales summer in southeastern Alaskan waters where the feed on schools of capelin, juvenile walleye pollock, sand lance, Pacific herring and krill.  

The dramatic increase in humpback populations continued into the 2010s, but appeared to stop and then drop a couple of years ago.

“There is a substantial decline in the number of whales we’re seeing. But when we look very closely at least in the waters off Lahaina (Maui), which is where most of the whales congregate, that decline is very much accounted for by the drop in the number of mother and calf pairs,” said Rachel Cartwright, a California State University researcher who heads the Keiki Kohola project.

An Associated Press story reviewed the reports of declining whale numbers in the islands. 

Cartwright said that reduced food supplies in the northern feeding waters are among the suspects for the decline. Chenoweth said Alaskan fisheries officials are also concerned about the impact of feeding whales on winter populations of schooling herring.
Early indications are that the first decline in humpback whales was caused by direct killing of the animals by the whaling fleets of the 1800s and 1900s. The cause of the new decline may be indirect: the impact of climate change on water temperatures and prey availability. 

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Kauai pilot whale strandings punctuated by seven separate stranding incidents in a week down under

Dead pilot whales Kalapaki Beach. Credit: Author
Whale strandings—like the one that killed five pilot whales on an East Kaua`i beach last year--remain among the most mysterious of natural occurrences.

Kaua'i residents were traumatized the morning of Oct. 13, 2017, as glossy black pilot whales lay gasping on the sand at Kalapaki Bay. When well-meaning citizens shoved them back into deep water, most returned to the sand.

Boaters in canoes and power craft patrolled the bay, trying to keep remaining members of the pod from stranding. Eventually, five big whales were dead.

Seven strandings within the past week of more than 200 whales of several species in New Zealand and Australia has refocused attention on marine mammal strandings.

In all those southern hemisphere strandings, as in the Kaua`i stranding, the cause was not immediately apparent.

And in the Kaua`i case, despite intensive studies over a full year, scientists have been able to identify no obvious trigger.

"We still have no smoking gun but we're still looking," said David Schofield, stranding coordinator for NOAA's Pacific Islands Regional Office.

One of the Kaua`i animals, an older one, had signs of degenerative disease in earbones, but that was unlikely a cause of stranding, he said. One whale had about 10 pounds of marine debris in its gut, but that, too, was not a likely cause, Schofield said.

When animals are diseased, they are often malnourished. These whales weren't starved. There was fresh food in their bellies. There were no obvious signs of disease identified in a well-staffed mass necropsy that continued through the night of the strandings.

They weren't damaged by sonar: No sonar vessels were operating in the area, and in any case, the necropsies found none of the kind of inner ear damage caused by high-intensity sonar.

There were no signs of disease apparent within the first few weeks after the stranding.

Muscle and organ samples were sent to specialized laboratories, but tests for pesticides or rat killers like diphacinone were negative. (Diphacinone was of interest because it had been used in a rat control effort on Lehua Islet in the weeks before the strandings.)

Researchers are still working on laboratory studies of possible contaminants in the whale tissues, and tissue samples remain in storage.

"We keep the file open. As new science becomes available, we may go back and look again," Schofield said.

A series of seven separate strandings by different whale species in New Zealand and Australia—all within the past week--adds to the enigma.

Mystery is often the case in explaining whale strandings. And it’s just as much a puzzle this week in New Zealand and Australia.

Within the space of seven days, whales drove themselves on five separate New Zealand beaches from the North Island down to little Stewart Island, which lies south of Aotearoa's South Island, and even to the remote Chatham Islands, which lie in the Pacific east of New Zealand. And another two species died this week on the same beach, but in separate strandings in southern Australia.

Ninety pilot whales went ashore on the Chatham Islands today. An estimated 50 were dead or in such bad shape that wildlife officials euthanized them. A few were able to refloat themselves and may survive.

Four days earlier, 145 pilot whales went ashore on remote Mason's Bay on Stewart Island. They were the same species as in the Kaua`i 2017 stranding. All the Stewart Island whales died on a beach so isolated that it is only accessible by foot trail or by air. An aerial photo shows the one to two-ton whales scattered by the dozens along the shore, like so many akule drowned in a surround net.

On the North Island, 12 pygmy killer whales went ashore on one beach this past week. A few were reportedly pushed back into the water and may have survived, but at least half were dead. A sperm whale died on another North Island beach, and a pygmy sperm whale on still another.

Meanwhile, in Australia, 27 pilot whales and a humpback whale were spotted dead this week on a remote beach in Croajingolong National Park, which is in Victoria, the southernmost district on the Australian mainland.

They were spotted by air. By the time wildlife officials were able to get there, some of the pilot whales were still alive, but were so severely traumatized that they were put down. The humpback seems to have stranded earlier and was already dead, Australian wildlife officials said.

And once again, at this point nobody knows why. It is a long distance between these locations. From Stewart Island to the northern beaches of North Island is nearly 1,000 miles. From the Chathams in the Pacific to Victoria in the Tasman Sea is 2,000 miles.

There are lots of theories, many being proposed without evidence.

Folks looking for a common thread in the latest strandings have suggested climate change, but that's a guess. And it wouldn’t explain that the largest known stranding occurred a century ago. One thousand pilot whales stranded and died in the Chatham Islands in 1918.

The New Zealand stranding response organization Project Jonah, says it might be illness, parasites, pollution, injury from boat strikes, human undersea seismic work or sonar, disorientation due to shallow waters, boat noise, undersea volcanic or earthquake activity, and in some cases, simple geological traps—whales swimming into a bay a high tide an being unable to leave at low tide.

There is, in many of these cases, a kind of community unity. Once one whale is in trouble, the others stay in support—even at the risk of dying.

"Whatever the reason for the initial stranding, social cohesion may result in mass beaching. Their strong social bonds may prevent them deserting a helpless member. Going to their aid, these animals may then also become stranded themselves," says Project Jonah.

Strandings occur seasonally in some parts of the world, although not in Hawai`i. The stranding season is just beginning in the Australia-New Zealand area. Schofield recalls working Cape Cod, where there was also seasonality.

"In wintertime, when you saw certain tides, sea conditions and moon phase, you could almost predict them," he said.

And even so, the causes remain a mystery.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

New federal climate report: Hawaii impacts severe and already here

Climate change isn't coming; it's already here.

A new national report lays out the many ways in which the Hawaiian Islands are already in the grip of severe changes, from our nearshore waters to our highest peaks.

The short version: Fresh water supplies are threatened in multiple ways; Coastlines are eroding and rising salt water is damaging coastal infrastructure; Fisheries are seeing lower yields; Wildlife is disappearing.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, looks at the effects of the global climate crisis across the nation, and includes an entire section on Hawai`i and the Pacific.

Climate indicators and impacts.
From 4th NCA Vol2
It follows up on Volume 1, the Climate Science Special Report, which came out about this time last year. The research effort was established by congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

“This report makes it clear that climate change has arrived far sooner and as a greater threat than we previously thought,” said the East-West Center's Victoria Keener, who served as regional lead for the Hawai`i-Pacific chapter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the latest version of the report adds new information in the ways different climate impacts interact. "There is now information available on the interconnectedness of different sectors, and how this can lead to ripple effects," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist with the organization. Examples: heat waves are linked to power outages, drought to crop losses, warming oceans to loss of coral reefs.

Keener emphasized the local impacts, and said immediate action is crucial:

"We're already seeing threats in Hawai`i and the Pacific… In the mid-2000s, Hawai`i had the worst drought on record… Here on O‘ahu, we already see road closures during morning rush hour because of flooding, and with sea level rise we’ll see this more and more. Our Pacific Island neighbors on atolls will face sustainability challenges sooner rather than later. The world’s largest insurers recently stated that climate change is creating an ‘uninsurable’ world. Only by acting now can we hope to effectively manage these risks,” Keener said.

The City and County of Honolulu's chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro said one action is particularly critical: " Given the hurricane threats and flooding we’ve already seen, everyone’s new year resolution should be to get off of fossil fuel as fast as we possibly can—it’s the only way to protect our safety and long-term security.”

The islands depend on fresh water, and water supplies are threatened by droughts that reduce groundwater recharge, reduced rainfall that shrinks streamflow, flooding during increasing storm events that spread pollutants, saltwater intrusion along coasts that turns nearshore groundwater brackish and much more.

Zena Grecni, a Yale-educated climate assessment specialist with NOAA at the East-West Center, said "the leadership at the state and county level is critical."

Both Grecni and Keener cited the city Board of Water Supply for its aggressive efforts to protect Honolulu water supplies from the impacts of climate change. Keener said community groups in various places on the Islands are also leaders in addressing climate change.

In a public statement on the climate report, the East-West Center listed some of its key findings:

Dependable and safe water supplies are threatened by rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, sea level rise, and increased risk of extreme drought and flooding. Islands are already experiencing saltwater contamination due to sea level rise, which is expected to catastrophically impact food and water security, especially on low-lying atolls.

Sea level rise has accelerated and is now damaging critical infrastructure such as transportation and housing, as well as beaches, ecosystems and cultural sites. In Hawai‘i, the value of all structures and land expected to be flooded by 2100 amounts to more than $19 billion statewide. The Pacific Islands will experience sea level rise higher than the global average, projected to further accelerate strongly after mid-century. Adaptation strategies that are implemented sooner can better prepare communities and infrastructure.

Increasing ocean temperatures and acidification threaten fisheries, coral reefs, and the livelihoods they support. Widespread coral reef bleaching and death are occurring more frequently, and by mid-century these events are projected to occur annually, especially if current trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue. Bleaching and acidification will result in loss of reefs, leading to lower fisheries yields and loss of coastal protection and habitat.

These changes imperil Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being and their relationships with lands, territories, and cultural resources.

Climate change reduces the ability of habitats to support protected plant and animal species. Changes promote the spread of invasive species, threatening biodiversity, important to island people and a source of economic revenue. Some species are expected to become extinct and others to decline to the point of requiring costly protection.

“This Assessment puts out a red alert to island communities like Oʻahu and shows just how vulnerable we are at a local level to climate change,” Stanbro said.

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Do humans always wipe out the big animals, or can they sometimes coexist? Evidence from Madagascar.

Scientists generally accept the theory that once humans arrive at an isolated landscape, they quickly destroy the big animals there.

Some call it the blitzkrieg hypothesis. But there's new evidence that, at a minimum, raises questions about this theory.

(Image: Bones with tool cut marks of the Madagascar Aepyornis, the giant elephant bird. Credit:  V. Pérez, Science Advances, 5:9 (2018))

In the Hawaiian Islands, the big flightless ducks that have been called moa nalo were in the islands when the first Polynesians arrived, but were gone soon thereafter. Smithsonian researcher Storrs Olson reported that the moa nalo—which represents a class of extinct big birdsdisappeared during the early human occupation of the Islands.

Fossils of numerous such species are "contemporaneous with Polynesian culture. The loss of species of birds appears to be due to predation and destruction of lowland habitats by humans before the arrival of Europeans," Olson wrote. 

In New Zealand, the class of giant moa birds (Dinornis sp.) also disappeared with the arrival of the humans. New Zealand Geographic has a piece on that loss. 

In Madagascar, the arrival of humans has been linked to the loss of the giant elephant birds, Aepyornis maximus and other species.

But recently, researchers in Madagascar found Aepyornis bones more than 10,000 years old with human tool marks on them. Until now, humans were not believed to have been in Madagascar until 2,500 years ago or at most 4,000 years ago. Some came from Polynesian origin societies to the east and some from Africa to the west.

And Aepyornis are believed to only have gone extinct in the last couple of thousand years.

So, 10,500 years ago?

"Our evidence for anthropogenic perimortem modification of directly dated bones represents the earliest indication of humans in Madagascar, predating all other archaeological and genetic evidence by >6000 years and changing our understanding of the history of human colonization of Madagascar," write the authors of this paper, Early Holocene humanpresence in Madagascar evidenced by exploitation of avian megafauna

An article in Science reviews the issue. 

In it, paleoecologist David Burney says it's a big deal: The findings"fly in the face of all that we thought we knew about human arrival in Madagascar." Burney has worked extensively with the Kaua`i-based National Tropical Botanical Garden, and has also done considerable work in Madagascar.

If humans were there that early, why didn’t they earlier wipe out the big birds and big mammals as the theory suggests they do? And if humans were there that early, why haven't archaeologists found evidence of the human presence?

For now, two theories arise.

1) It was perhaps a small, temporary human presence—maybe a visiting group of people that killed and ate some creatures and then left, or died out.

2) Maybe they haven't found evidence because they haven’t been looking for archaeological sites that early.
That said, scientists for four decades have understood that when humans arrive, they conduct a "blitzkrieg" that wipes out many big animals. Is it possible that in Madagascar, humans were able to coexist, to survive for thousands of years without wiping out megafauna?

Depending on what researcghers uncover next, it is at least possible.

Well, and then there's the question of how humans were voyaging across oceans as early as 10,500 years ago. That's more than 5,000 years before Polynesians began plying the Pacific in their voyaging canoes.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Climate forecast: 2019 to be an El Nino year

It's been a while coming, but federal climate researchers say there's now robust evidence that the Pacific is moving into a new El Nino cycle.

For our Islands, that means a possibly dry winter, and the potential of a higher hurricane count than normal in 2019.

The Climate Prediction Center issued its new outlook today (Nov. 8, 2018), and you can look at it here

It concludes that there is now an 80 percent chance that an El Nino will form, and will stay in place right through next winter—meaning it's there during the entire 2019 hurricane season.

There are now warmer-than-normal water temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, although right now the assessment is that conditions are still neutral.

Climate forecasters' best guess is that the 2019 El Nino will not be a strong one, giving those concerned about hurricane patterns a little good news.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University publishes lots of detailed information on climate forecasts, and if you're interested in a whole lot of colorful spaghetti charts summarizing different climate models, look here

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Friday, November 2, 2018

Where are the electric pickup trucks?

Tesla's prototype pickup truck: Tesla

The electric vehicle market won’t make significant inroads in Hawai`i until there's a robust EV pickup truck available to buy.

Pickups are must-have vehicles for many Hawai`i families. They carry the surfboards, the coolers and beach chairs, the trash to the dump, the yard waste, the tools, the beach camping gear, and all the rest.

In Hawai'i, about 200,000 of our 1.2 million vehicles are light trucks and vans, about 16 percent.

But it's the Neighbor Islands where light trucks shine. Only about 12.5 of O`ahu's vehicles are light trucks. But it's 19 percent on the Big Island, 18 percent in Maui County and a whopping 24 percent on Kauai.

We tend to keep our trucks a long time. The mean age of pickups is north of 9 years. If you're interested in going EV, you might want to stretch that just a bit. We're still a year or two from folks being able to replace their old gas and diesel pickups with electric versions.

Elon Musk just energized the EV pickup arena with details on Tesla's entry into the pickup truck market, and his is certainly not the only one on the horizon.

But Musk's airing of a "futuristic-like cyberpunk" sure looks hot, with its aerodynamic design, all-wheel-drive (to get you out of the mud at the greenwaste swamp), and high-tech suspension. Here's USA Today's piece on it. 

Musk gets excited about this truck: "Well I can’t talk about the details, but it’s gonna be like a really futuristic-like cyberpunk, 'Blade Runner' pickup truck. It’s gonna be awesome, it’s gonna be amazing. This will be heart-stopping. It stops my heart. It’s like, oh, it’s great."

One downside is that it's not scheduled to be the compact pickup that many Hawai`i drivers seem to prefer. It's a large version—a pickup big enough to carry a pickup in its bed. Musk has suggested that another, smaller pickup might be in the pipeline behind that one.

Bollinger's pickup: Bollinger
There might be something like an electric pickup available from Tesla as early as next year, but we'll see. The electric truck has been just-around-the-corner for a long time now. Several look like they might be only a year or two out.

Bollinger Motors has announced a boxy EV pickup with a 200-mile range, which folks say will be for sale at $60,000. 

Bollinger's B2 looks like a cross between a Jeep and a Land Rover, but with better performance than either. Production is to start in 2020.

Condor pickup: EV Fleet; Bison: Havelaar 
EV Fleet has a pickup, the Condor, that has a 140 or so mile range. The front end of this looks like a cross between a VW Bug and a Deux Chevaux, and you can select the kind of bed you want—flat, panel, tool setup, whatever. It starts at $50,000 or so. 

The Canadian company Havelaar has its electric Bison, reportedly in the $50-60,000 range. It reports a 186-mile range, which would get you most anywhere in the Islands and back, unless you're doing long-distance cruising on the Big Island. I'm waiting on details on whether it's going to be available in the Islands. 

The company Workhorse has announced a plug-in electric pickup with 80-mile electric range on battery. It's a hybrid so you can use fuel to extend that range to north of 300 miles. 

But then all the major manufacturers have hybrid options with various levels of pure electric range. there's a Ford, a Dodge, a Chevy, a Toyota…and so on.

Pickups are clearly a big part of the market, but pure electrics are taking their time getting to mainstream. 
© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Kane`ohe corals more resilient to bleaching after 50 years of hot

Montipora capitata coral. 
Credit: Keisha Bahr
Corals in Kane`ohe Bay seem more resilient to bleaching in warming waters today than they were 50 years ago—the first evidence that coral may be gaining tolerance to rising global temperatures.

It may not be enough to keep up with the pace of climate change, but it's a hopeful sign.

“Although these results are encouraging in their indication that acclimatization/adaptation of corals and their symbionts can occur at an unexpectedly rapid rate, increased bleaching tolerance may not be enough for widespread coral survival,” said researcher Ku‘ulei Rodgers

A complex study by University of Hawai`i and Bishop Museum researchers looked at how corals responded to hot spells in 1970, and then in 2017 when the research team repeated the earlier studies. They found that corals today take longer to respond to superheated water, that they recover more readily and start growing again more quickly.

There are caveats here, but the indications are hopeful for the future of our reefs.

The new study in the journal PeerJ: The Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, is entitled "Evidence of acclimatization or adaptation in Hawaiian corals to higher ocean temperatures." The authors are UH Institute for Marine Biology scientists Steve L Coles, Keisha D. Bahr, Ku'ulei S. Rodgers, Stacie L. May, Ashley E. McGowan, Anita Tsang, Josh Bumgarner and Ji Hoon Han. Coles, a veteran coral scientist who also works with Bishop Museum, was part of the original 1970s study.

Science Daily reported on the study. 

Reef corals are two-part organisms. The coral polyp provides a home to single-celled algae called zooxanthellae. It's a mutual relationship, and corals get both their color and some of their food from the algae. When corals are stressed, as when water temperatures rise, they eject their zooxanthellae and begin to starve. They also look white, bleached.

The 1970s experiments studied how corals responded to periods of abnormally warm water. The 2017 experiments recreated those studies.

"Re-running a 50-year old experiment using the same coral species, same experimental setup, and same observer allows us to directly test changes in coral temperature tolerance,” said co-author Keisha Bahr.

After nearly five decades of increasingly warm oceans, those corals seem to behave differently now, the team said. They keep their zooxanthellae longer, and recover quicker after waters return to normal temperatures. The warming trend has been carefully tracked, and offshore sea temperature rise amounts to 1.13 degrees Centigrade from 1958 to 2014, the report says.

Why are the corals more resistant to warming?

It isn’t clear whether that's because corals are adopting more resilient zoozanthellae or whether the corals themselves are more temperature resilient. And Coles warns that it might also have something to do with cleaner waters in Kane`ohe Bay, where in the 1970s, nutrient-rich secondary treatment sewage effluent was being dumped in the bay.

"Elevated levels of dissolved nitrogen have been implicated in stimulating coral bleaching," Coles said.

"Available evidence indicates that the lower concentrations of nutrient pollutants, particularly dissolve organic nitrogen, have played an important role in the increased temperature tolerance of corals after nearly 50 years as was determined by these experiments," the paper said.

In other words, corals can respond better to change when the water is cleaner.

This evidence from a single location is important in a special way, the authors said.

"Our experiments are the first to demonstrate thermal acclimatization/adaptation to elevated ocean  temperature for corals of the same species and from the same location over the past half-century."

The three species of corals they studied are Lobactis scutaria, mushroom or plate coral, Montipora capitata, called rice or pore coral, and Pocillopora damicornis, the cauliflower or lace coral.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Random climate science: Hot seas, marine debris, changing forests and, of course, goats

They've been taking temperature measurements at San Diego's Scripps Pier for 102 years.

And on Aug. 1, 2018, they measured the highest temperature in all that time: 78.6 degrees. And summer's not even over yet. 
The same day, a half-mile offshore they measured 79.7 degrees, second highest at that location after a 2015 El Nino year measurement. 

Yeah, that's just one location, and you can get isolated peak temperatures, but large scale temperature data continue to move in one direction. The image at upper right represents global land and sea temperatures from 1880 to 2015. It comes from the National Climate Data Center.

There are still plenty of skeptics out there, but the science seems clear.

We all know about rising sea levels, California wildfires, increasing droughts, acidification of the oceans and so on. But what are some of the likely impacts that we don't hear much about?

For the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, a warming climate has other kinds of implications. Marine debris, for example, can not only be a nuisance, an entanglement threat to turtles, an ingestion threat to seabirds, but a bunch of other things.

Climate change can alter storm frequency, change current patterns, and move plastic debris into new parts of the sea and the coast, according to a study in the journal Aquatic Invasions.  

"Climate change may also increase the frequency and magnitude of storm activity capable of washing the immense amounts of plastic material now poised on the edges of the world’s coastlines into the sea," the authors write.

Have a child interested in medical school? Suggest a career in treating parasitic worms. There's evidence that a warming climate will increase the populations and virulence in a range of nasty bugs that like to bore into human tissue.

In the PLOS journal Neglected Tropical Diseases, there's this paper: " Global 'worming': Climate change and its projected general impact on human helminth infections." 

Not every nasty parasite will increase but many will, and some of those will be able to move into areas where they now don’t exist. And here's a word to get familiar with: ancylostomiasis. It is caused by a hookworm and can cause anemia in humans. Here's another: ascariasis, a disease caused by a roundworm. Both are expected to thrive in a warming climate.

There are a lot of folks in the Midwest who have felt secure that climate change will impact them minimally, since, after all, they aren't going to be impacted by rising seas or tropical storm systems. But there's increasing evidence that they can expect disruptions, too.

The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment suggests that the growing season will be longer, but that with more spring floods and summer drought, the state might not be able to take advantage of it. 

And not just Indiana. 
Northern European forests will see big species changes, with declines in species like silver fir, beech, common ash and common oak, and a better habitat for alien species like the Douglas fir, red oak and black locust. With the change in species will come a dramatic change in the natural species that rely on those forests, said a paper in the journal Global Change Biology called "How much does climate change threaten European forest tree species distributions?" 

Should you get used to goat-milk ice cream? One research paper suggests that in a more extreme environment, goats present the best option for milk and meat. 

"Goats have numerous advantages that enable them to maintain their production under extreme climate conditions. Principally, goats have higher capacity than other farm raised ruminants to effectively convert some feed sources into milk and meat," write authors Nazan Koluman Darcana and Nissim Silanikoveb in the journal Small Ruminant Research.

Additionally, they produce less methane than cattle, they write.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Big Island fish evolving without geographic barriers: this is strange stuff

Arc-eyed Hawkfish, this one from Fiji in 2008. 
Credit: NOAA photo by Julie Bedford
If you isolate populations of animals and plants long enough, they can evolve into different forms, even different species.

That's been known for a long time.

In the Hawaiian Islands, we also have lots of evidence that the isolation doesn’t require long distances. A plant or insect in one steep-sided valley can have evolved into a unique species from its relatives in the next valley.

The valley itself may be sufficient to isolate the genetic flow, and allow each group to evolve independently.

But can species isolate themselves without geographic barriers? Apparently so, and you can find examples on Hawaiian reefs.

Researchers Jonathan Whitney, Brian Bowen and Stephen Karl, all of the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology studied arc-eye hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus) off the Big Island, where they found dark-colored fish on basalt bottoms and light-colored fish in coral habitats—all within a few feet of each other.

And it turned out that the dark colored hawkfish were more closely genetically related to dark hawkfish far away than they were to their light-colored cousins nearby. The fish apparently were isolating themselves voluntarily by their preferred habitat.

Whitney, Bowen and Karl published their research in the journal Molecular Ecology, under the title, "Flickers of speciation: Sympatric colour morphs of the arc-eye hawkfish, Paracirrhites arcatus, reveal key elements of divergence with gene flow." 

They wrote: "We observed greater genetic divergence between colour morphs on the same reefs than that between the same morphs in different geographic locations. We hypothesize that adaptation to the contrasting microhabitats is overriding gene flow and is responsible for the partial reproductive isolation observed between sympatric colour morphs."

Apparently, the light-colored fish on coral select their mates from among the other light-colored fish on coral, rather than from among the dark-colored fish on the basalt a short distance away. And vice versa.

"The combination of ecological, behavioural and now genetic  studies of the arc-eye hawkfish provides compelling evidence for partial reproductive isolation resulting from ecological barriers in the absence of geographic isolation."

The hawkfish have not been sufficiently isolated to have developed into separate species, but they seem to be on their way in that direction. And that's both interesting and strange, but may be a piece to a puzzle, the authors write:

"Whether complete reproductive isolation will develop between arc-eye colour morphs remains speculation. Regardless of the outcome, P. arcatus provides a rare case confirming that partial reproductive isolation can evolve in the face of continuous gene flow, bringing us one step closer to understanding the role ecological barriers play in initiating the early stages of speciation."

©Jan TenBruggencate 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New study finds rat eradication improves fisheries around islands

Rat on palm. Credit Island Conservation, USFWS
If the rat eradication of Lehua Island ends up being successful, it could result in a more productive nearshore fishery.

Which is ironic, in that many of those fighting the eradication program were fishermen.

A new study in the journal Nature says that when rats kill off seabirds on islands, it means those birds are no longer pooping in the nearshore waters, fertilizing reefs. And that means fewer fish on those reefs.

This study was done in the Chagos Archipelago, where some islands have rats and others are rat-free. Researchers looked at both the fertility of the land on those islands and the productivity of their reefs, where erosion from the land would carry nutrients like bird-poop-sourced nitrogen.

The Chagos are atolls and reefs just south of the Equator in the Indian Ocean. Their ownership is disputed between Great Britain and Mauritius. One is Diego Garcia, which houses a U.S military base.

The results of the research were clear, said the authors, who are from Australian, British, Danish and Canadian research institutions.

On islands without rats, seabird density as well as nitrogen deposits were hundreds of times higher. Yes, hundreds: 250 to more than 700 times higher.

Those rat-free islands had reefs that had 48 percent more biomass of "macroalgae, filter-feeding sponges, turf algae and fish."

The researchers looked specifically at damselfish, and found that they both grew faster and had higher total biomass on the rat-free islands.

The theory, then, is that seabirds feed in the open ocean, deliver bird poop to the islands, and that the islands then feed the nearshore waters, which makes the waters more productive and capable of producing more fish.

"Rat eradication on oceanic islands should be a high conservation priority as it is likely to benefit terrestrial ecosystems and enhance coral reef productivity and functioning by restoring seabird-derived nutrient subsidies from large areas of ocean," the authors wrote.
Vampire mouse victim. Credit USFWS

Rats are not the only problems on islands. On Midway Atoll, near the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago, mice began eating seabirds after rats were removed from the islands there. The case of the vampire mice, which chewed into the necks of Laysan albatross, is reviewed here.

On other islands, the mice even seemed to be getting bigger on their diets of eggs and bird flesh. The Washington Post was among the many international publications that picked up the vampire mouse story.

All that said, rodents mainly go after eggs and chicks of nesting seabirds. That was the case at Lehua Island. Here is a description of the situation on the little island north of Ni`ihau before an application of a rodenticide to try to wipe out the rats.

"We found Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Red-tailed Tropicbird eggs broken open, the edges gnawed, the insides consumed. Tiny seabird chick bodies were commonplace–pulled out of burrows and half eaten. This was particularly true for the diminutive Bulwer’s Petrel–the vast majority of Bulwer’s Petrel burrows we found had bits and pieces of chick inside," wrote Andre Raine, Project Manager for the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project.

A couple of months after the 2017 rat eradication effort at Lehua, Raine said he could clearly see the difference:

"Fat, healthy Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks shuffled about in their burrows looking like animated fuzzballs. One of our burrow cameras showed a Bulwer’s Petrel chick exercising outside its burrow and actually fledging – a great omen, as this is something we have never recorded on our cameras in previous years," he wrote.

Most, but not all the rats were killed off at Lehua, and wildlife crews were back this year with rat-hunting dogs to try to kill off the survivors and protect the island's nesting seabird population.

And the island's coastal reefs and fisheries.
The removal of rats from islands is a major conservation effort. It has been done successfully at islands in Hawai`i like Mokoli`i off O`ahu and Mokapu off Molokai. When it was accomplished at Palmyra Atoll south of the Hawaiian Islands, it had the unintended effect of killing off the disease-causing Asian tiger mosquito, which had depended on rats for blood meals. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2018