The Global Fool

our planet is our village

Small Predator Diversity Plays a Significant Role in the Spread of Infectious Diseases
Mar23

Small Predator Diversity Plays a Significant Role in the Spread of Infectious Diseases

By Roberta Attanasio Biodiversity is a term coined to describe the diversity of all living things, from human beings to microorganisms. A New York Times editorial published almost two decades ago aptly describes the importance of the biodiversity concept: “Biodiversity is a hugely important concept that stresses the coherence and interdependence of all forms of life on earth and a new willingness to appraise the meaning of that interdependence, not just for humans but for every one of life’s component parts.” The editorial goes on to illustrate the alarming effects of biodiversity loss: “Biodiversity is a way of talking about what scientists have long understood and a way of reminding the rest of us of a cardinal fact: that we are standing in the midst of the earth’s sixth great extinction of diverse species, that this extinction is driven by us and that we are not now and will never be immune to its effects.” One of these effects is the worldwide spike in infectious diseases, as suggested by a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study (Predator diversity, intraguild predation, and indirect effects drive parasite transmission) explores how the diversity of small predators shapes the transmission of parasites in wetlands. Lead author Jason Rohr said in a press release by Penn State: “In the last century, there has been an unprecedented global increase in infectious diseases and a concomitant decline in and homogenization of biodiversity. The controversial ‘dilution effect hypothesis’ suggests that the two phenomena might be linked, or that biodiversity often decreases disease risk.” The study, which included a series of laboratory experiments, field surveys and mathematical modeling, shows that — in presence of various species of dragonfly larvae — there is a reduction of frog infections caused by trematodes, which are parasitic flatworms also known as flukes. The dragonfly larvae are small predators that eat trematodes. Val Beasley, senior author of the study, said in the press release that various species of trematodes penetrate tadpoles. The trematodes sometimes kill the tadpoles. In other instances, the trematodes weaken them by causing tissue damage, kidney failure, or severe limb deformities while the tadpoles develop into frogs. He added that other vertebrate species commonly catch trematode infections from bodies of water. These vertebrate species include wildlife, domestic animals and humans — mostly children — who are commonly affected by schistosomiasis in tropical parts of the world. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease carried by freshwater snails infected with one of the five varieties of the parasite Schistosoma, a type of trematode. Although the worms that cause schistosomiasis are not found in the...

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Climate Change: A Key Driver of the Syrian Conflict?
Mar11

Climate Change: A Key Driver of the Syrian Conflict?

By Roberta Attanasio Climate change is happening here and now, with significant damage to natural systems and society. The shrinking of the Arctic sea ice, the melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, the acidification of the oceans, the sea level rise, the shifting patterns of precipitation, and the amplified threat of wildfires, are some of its well-recognized effects. There are also significant concerns related to the consequences that climate change could have on freshwater availability and agricultural productivity worldwide — resulting in increasing poverty and further weakening of fragile governments. Indeed, climate change has been identified as a “threat multiplier” — it can exacerbate political instability in the world’s most dangerous regions. “Droughts, floods, food and water shortages and extreme weather can uproot communities, cause humanitarian crises and increase the chances of armed conflict.”   Now, results from a study carried out by researchers at Columbia University and the University of California Santa Barbara (published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 2, 2015) show that the Syrian conflict has been caused, at least in part, by a record drought. The drought occurred approximately from 2007 to 2010, and was worsened by global warming. The researchers wrote: “For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest.” The Syrian uprising began in the Spring of 2011 and then escalated into an ongoing civil war, leading to one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history — neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are struggling to accommodate the displaced populations. According to the BBC, “Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. Syria’s bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighborhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.” In addition, the war has now acquired sectarian overtones. In their published study, the researchers point out that the 2007−2010 record drought caused widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. In 8 years, the Syrian urban population rose by 50%. But what caused, precisely, the widespread crop failure? According to the researchers, unsustainable farming practices led to a massive depletion of groundwater while the region was experiencing a long-term decline in rainfall. At the same time, summer temperatures rose, drying out much of the remaining moisture in the soil. Colin Kelley, leading author of the study, wrote in The Conversation: “We found that there is very little evidence to suggest that long-term trends toward higher...

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Nanoparticles and Sunscreen Products: Toxicity to Sea Life in Coastal Waters
Aug31

Nanoparticles and Sunscreen Products: Toxicity to Sea Life in Coastal Waters

By Roberta Attanasio The debate on the safety of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles contained in sunscreen products is still on. Some scientists have raised concerns about the negative impact that these tiny particles — generally between one and 100 nanometers (between one and 100 billionths of a meter) across — may have on human health. Due to their small size, nanoparticles might do harm to humans by seeping through the skin and into the bloodstream. A few months ago, despite the widespread safety concerns, Paul Wright (a toxicology expert at RMIT University) told The Guardian that sunscreen nanoparticles don’t get past the outermost dead layer of human skin cells. In contrast, Paul Westerhoff (a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment) told The New York Times that the products have not been thoroughly studied and are minimally regulated — he concluded: “I’m just saying we need to figure out if we should worry.” We need to figure out if we should worry not only in terms of human health, but also in terms of toxicity to the environment. About a year ago, Antonio Tovar-Sánchez (Department of Global Change Research, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Esporles, Balearic Island, Spain) and collaborators reported the potential effects of commercial sunscreens released in nearshore waters by beachgoers. The researchers sampled surface nearshore waters of three beaches around Majorca Island and demonstrated that sunscreen products are a significant source of organic and inorganic chemicals that reach the sea with potential ecological consequences on the coastal marine ecosystem, inhibiting the growth of some species of marine phytoplankton or adding essential micronutrients that may stimulate the growth of others. In a new study published July 28, 2014 (Sunscreens as a Source of Hydrogen Peroxide Production in Coastal Waters), Antonio Tovar-Sánchez and his collaborator David Sánchez-Quiles show that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles — when exposed to solar radiation —  produce significant amounts of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), a strong oxidizing agent able to generates high levels of stress on phytoplankton, the microscopic organisms that feed marine animals, from small fish to shrimp to whales..  The researchers went to Majorca Island’s Palmira beach on the Mediterranean along with about 10,000 beachgoers, a small portion of the more than 200 million tourists that flock to Mediterranean shores every year. Based on lab tests, seawater sampling and tourism data, they concluded that titanium dioxide nanoparticles contained in sunscreen products are largely responsible for a dramatic summertime spike in hydrogen peroxide levels in coastal waters.  The researchers point out, in a press release, that other than staying indoors, slathering on sunscreen is currently the best way to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays. However, when sunbathers...

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Ivory Poaching Drives the Global Decline of African Elephants
Aug22

Ivory Poaching Drives the Global Decline of African Elephants

By Roberta Attanasio Poaching — the illegal killing of wild animals — is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of African elephants a year.  Poachers kill elephants to hack off the tusks, which are then sold to make valuable ivory trinkets, mostly for Asian markets.  In 2012, Jeffrey Gettleman wrote in the New York Times that Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. How many African elephants, then, are slaughtered every year for their ivory? Results of a new study (Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African elephants) published a few days ago in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that, between 2010 and 2012, an estimated 100,000 elephants have been killed in Africa by poachers. These killings result in population declines of wild African elephants on the order of 2 percent to 3 percent a year — a decline that is unsustainable and could lead to their extinction in 100 years or even less. Chris Thouless of the World Wildlife Fund in Windhoek, who wasn’t involved in the study, told the journal Science: “Some of the assumptions in the paper are quite conservative, and it is possible that the real situation is worse than indicated.” Indeed, the authors of the study believe that the impact of poaching could be higher than estimated — poachers target the largest adults, whose deaths decrease birth rates and disrupt social networks. Lead author George Wittemyer, from Colorado State University, told the BBC: “We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent.” The killing of the oldest and biggest elephants, explains Wittemyer,  “means removal of the primary breeding males and removal of family matriarchs and mothers. This leaves behind orphaned juveniles and broken elephant societies.” Let’s not forget that the highly endangered Asian elephants are also subjected to poaching. However, it is the extensive decline of African elephant populations that currently has a major influence on the global elephant decline. Elephants display levels of intelligence observed only in humans, chimpanzees, dolphins and other animals capable of higher forms of thinking. Unknown to many, elephants are forest gardeners — they are essential to seed dispersal and to maintaining tree diversity.  “Witnessing the killing of known elephants, some that we have followed since they were born, has been terrible,” said Wittemyer in a press release, “Our data has become the most sensitive barometer of change during this poaching epidemic. We needed to quantify the scale of killing and figure out how to derive rigorous interpretation of poaching rates.” The authors of the study conclude that solutions to this crisis require global action — we all...

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It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying: A New Campaign to Raise Awareness of Climate Change
Aug14

It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying: A New Campaign to Raise Awareness of Climate Change

By The Editors Milton Glaser, one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States, has launched an environmental campaign to raise awareness of climate change. He is known for the ubiquitous I heart NY logo, his Bob Dylan poster, the Brooklyn Brewery logo, and a lot more. You can view a collection of his work here.  The campaign — It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying —  is based on a strong message that is meant to create a sense of urgency around climate change, a well-established major global threat. For his campaign, which defines climate change as “The most important fact on Earth“, Glaser designed a visual for buttons and posters — our planet seen as a green disk covered by black smoke, with only a narrow band of life (in still visible green) remaining at its bottom. The green section is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink for maximum impact. “There is no more significant issue on earth than its survival,” Glaser told Dezeen, one of the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazines. “The questions is, ‘how can anyone not be involved?'” And he added: “If half the people on earth wear the button even the ‘masters of the universe’ will be moved to action,” referring to the large corporations he says have prevented significant action to protect the planet against the changing climate. “Global warming” does not convey the seriousness of the problem. Glaser wants to point out what global warming really is — a death sentence — and make people more receptive to truly understand what it’s at stake here. He told Brian Lehrer (listen to the interview here): “Global warming in its own way sounds sort of reassuring and comforting … that’s terrible. You begin by attacking the phrase itself — the word and what the word means — because the truth of the matter is that the earth is dying. And wouldn’t it be nice if today was the beginning of the most important date in human history which is the date we decided not to let the earth die?” A Twitter account provides a stream of news reports and updates about the campaign. Follow this link to buy buttons ($5 for five). All proceeds will be used to produce and distribute more...

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