Wetland Science News

In wake of drought and fires, turtle habitat becomes death trap

By Louis Sahagun Los Angeles Times October 4, 2014

Biologists strode along the cracked, dry mud surrounding this evaporating north Los Angeles County lake last week, pausing periodically to pick up an emaciated turtle and wash alkaline dust off its head and carapace. "A lot of these animals are severely ill and starving," said Tim Hovey, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, as he gestured toward a group of turtles bobbing in the murky water offshore. After three years of drought, this natural 2-mile-long lake, about 15 miles west of Lancaster, has become a smelly, alkaline death trap for one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in Southern California. For full story, click here.

EPA Plans to Issue Health Advisories On Harmful Algal Blooms

By Amena H. Saiyid – Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs – October 1, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to issue by May 2015 drinking water health advisories for cyanobacteria, the harmful forms of blue-green algae that contaminated water supplies in Toledo, Ohio, and resulted in a weekend-long ban in early August, an agency official said Sept. 29. The agency is working on health advisories for microcystin L-R and cylindrospermopsin, with plans to have them out before the season of the harmful algal blooms begins next year, Betsy Southerland, director of the EPA Office of Science and Technology with the Office of Water, told participants at a Clean Water Act policy developments discussion in New Orleans. All three forms of cyanobacteria, or harmful algae blooms, release toxics. In particular, freshwater cyanobacterial blooms that produce highly potent cyanotoxins are known as cyanobacterial HABs (cyanoHABs). These species are capable of producing compounds that are hepatotoxic (affect the liver), neurotoxic (affect the nervous system) and acutely dermatotoxic (affect the skin), according to EPA. For full story, click here.


The Pacific Starfish Die-Off Continues, but There Is New Hope

By Megan Scudellari – Newsweek – September 20, 2014 

A grisly horror show is playing out along the West Coast of North America. Remains of millions of dead and dying sea stars, commonly known as starfish, litter the shoreline from Vancouver to San Diego. Those stars are the victims of a swift and brutal illness. First, the animal’s body deflates, as if drained of all its water. Then the trademark arms begin to curl, detaching from rocks. White lesions appear, like festering canker sores. Then the star explodes as organs rupture though the body wall. The arms fall off. Ultimately, the sea star dissolves, as if melted by acid, disintegrating into goo. Researchers in Washington state first noticed signs of the so-called “wasting syndrome” in June 2013 during routine monitoring of populations of bright purple and orange Pisaster ochraceus sea stars. The outbreak continued through the summer, spreading down into California’s central and southern coasts. Scientists hoped it would subside during the winter. It did not. For full story, click here.

Phragmites: A Fluffy Path to Global Rule

By Dave Taft – The New York Times – September 5, 2014

The great reed (Phragmites australis) is a handsome plant, especially at this time of year, when it is plumed with a purple shock of flowers airily waving 15 feet above our heads. But the reed’s beauty is little consolation for its rampant invasion of wetlands. Once established, the plant withstands the efforts of well-intentioned Scout troops, zealous naturalists and park grounds staffs. Even chemical applications often prove to be only temporary fixes. Phragmites spread gradually at first, like wildfire thereafter. Phragmites (pronounced frag-MITE-ees) falls into a growing category of plants that have achieved an unfortunate global presence, and that ultimately must be tolerated — except in the protection of the most valued wetlands. For full story, click here.

Vulnerable Wildlife Find Refuge at Landfill-Owned Wetland Preserve

By Clara MacCarald – Ithaca.com – September 2, 2014

Black terns have joined a growing list of species considered “vulnerable” that have been sighted at the Seneca Meadows Wetland Preserve, a restored wetland and grassland site nominated as a New York Important Bird Area. Despite its bucolic name, Seneca Meadows, Inc. owns the largest active landfill in New York State. In 2007 Seneca Meadows created the 600-acre wetland preserve as part of a mitigation measure to replace 70 acres of wetlands destroyed by a 178-acre expansion of the landfill. In 2024 the Montezuma Audubon Center (MAC) is scheduled to take over stewardship of the preserve. For full story, click here.

Genetic Engineering to the Rescue Against Invasive Species?

By Katie Langin – National Geographic Daily News – July 17, 2014

Invasive species wreak havoc worldwide, disrupting native ecosystems and inflicting more than $120 billion in damages annually in the U.S. alone. Many economically—and environmentally—damaging species, such as those mosquitoes, snakes, and carp, defy removal with existing technology. But there is good news. "Gene drives"—which could trigger a precipitous decline in invasive species by tinkering with their genetic machinery—have arrived as a fast-maturing technology, an international team of scientists announced on Thursday. "Once an invasive species arrives in a new habitat and is driving native species extinct, we don't necessarily have a lot of solutions to that. Gene drive technology could potentially cause local extinction [of the invasive species] and restore the original ecosystem," says Kevin Esvelt, a genetic engineer at Harvard University and an author of tandem papers published this week inScience and eLife. For full story click here.

Wetlands essential for migrating mallards, MU researchers find

By Eleanor Hasenbeck – The Maneater – July 29, 2014

A recent study involving MU researchers found that wetland sanctuaries, including many Missouri wetlands, are seeing plenty of use from migratory waterfowl. Researchers captured 20 female mallards in their breeding grounds in Saskatchewan, Canada, and 20 more in their wintering grounds in northern Arkansas. They attached satellite harnesses to the ducks and let them fly, tracking their flight patterns for about two years. Data was collected from 2010 to 2012 and band analysis was completed earlier this year. The study is the first of its kind, in that satellite technology allowed researchers to track birds across their entire North American migration route. The satellite technology showed how the waterfowl used wetland sanctuaries with unprecedented accuracy. Researchers were able to see the ducks’ exact position, within 18 meters, on a computer screen as they made their way north and south. For full story,click here.